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Semplates are a new descriptive and theoretical concept in lexical semantics, borne out of our work on several lexical domains, e.g. in the Ethnobiology, Language and landscape and Put and take subprojects. A semplate can be defined as a configuration consisting of distinct layers of lexemes, each layer drawn from a different form class, mapped onto the same abstract semantic template. Within such a lexical layer, the sense relations between the lexical items are inherited from the underlying template. Thus, the whole set of lexical layers and the underlying template form a cross-categorial configuration in the lexicon. The lexicon taking part in semplates usually does not display any overt formal indication of its participation in the semplate, and semplates are therefore not always easy to spot. Once identified, however, they can unlock a wealth of semantic and cultural information. While they seem to have escaped descriptive and theoretical attention until now, semplates may in fact be quite common, perhaps especially in lesser-known languages spoken in small-scale, traditional settings. The semplates we have found to date structure lexicon in the domains of landscape and space (with examples from Jahai, Tongan, Tzeltal, and Yélî Dnye), ethnobiology (Jahai and Kuninjku), and caused motion (Yélî Dnye).


The Tzeltal 'tilted world' semplate, structuring directional nouns, relational nouns and motion verbs.


Representative publications

  • Levinson, S. C., & Burenhult, N. (2009). Semplates: A new concept in lexical semantics? Language, 85, 153-174. more >

Contact persons

Niclas Burenhult and Stephen C. Levinson

Last checked 2013-10-30 by Mark Dingemanse


Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics

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