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  • Print publication year: 2001
  • Online publication date: March 2010

5 - Conceptual Blending in Modified Noun Phrases


In this chapter, we will tackle one of the central problems of cognitive how people combine concepts in order to yield new ones. One way that psychologists and linguists have addressed this issue in the past has been to look at the interpretation of simple noun phrases like “square peg” or “trashcan basketball.” But while the appeal of the noun phrase is presumably its simplicity, the meaning construction that underlies these phrases turns out to be very complex indeed. Ironically, while it appears to be a construction – a predicate and an argument – that would present the simplest case for compositionality, the meaning of noun phrases is rarely compositional. Much like inserting a square peg into a round hole, some previous attempts to account for conceptual combination have taken compositionality as a given, and formulated mechanisms for accommodating noncompositional phenomena. In contrast, in conceptual blending theory, the goal is to formulate an account of conceptual combination that is general enough to encompass both compositional and noncompositional phenomena.

This chapter addresses the application of blending theory to concept combination coded by modified noun phrases. In section 1, traditional assumptions predication in nominal compounds are contrasted with those offered inconceptual blending theory. In section 2, I point to similarities between the difficulty associated with accounting for people's understanding of predicating adjectives and that of accounting for nonpredicating adjectives and modified noun phrases. Section 3 discusses the treatment of privative adjectives such as “fake” or “toy,” which appear to predicate the absence of certain essential properties.