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The paradoxical hybridity of words

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 November 2017

Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, and Université de Rouen
Department of Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University, and Centre for Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick
Address for correspondence: Abdou Elimam, e-mail:


Words can be matched with the concept of sign (correspondence of a signifier to a signified) as long as they act as symbol-words endowed with some semantic self-sufficiency. But in discourse, they lose their wholeness as symbol-words and metamorphose into wording-symbols. They, suddenly, appear as mere signifier entities with a more or less loose allusion to their status as cultural symbols. In discourse, words are no longer signs but tools covering ephemeral collections of neurosemes: the link of the sign breaks as soon as discourse takes over. The referential potential is no longer the schematic meaning issued from culture, but the universe of discourse under construction. This is why any attempt to account for meaning in language must integrate the neural process of meaning creation. It is now established that meaning is not the result of language activity but the result of cognition. However, what language does, via discourse, is to make this meaning communicable. For all these reasons, the task of linguistics should be to investigate the relationship between cognition and linguistic output in order to shed light on all the cognitive traces left within the surface strings. The role of morphosyntax thus has to be re-evaluated in this light.

Copyright © UK Cognitive Linguistics Association 2017 

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Abdou Elimam is a professor of linguistics, retired from French universities (Sorbonne Nouvelle, Rouen). Paul Chilton is Professor Emeritus of Linguistics, Department of Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University, and Visiting Professor, Centre for Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick.



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