The meaning of khrónos in Ancient Greek: a diachronic perspective

The present paper deals with the semantics of the polysemous lexeme khrónos across various stages in Ancient Greek. By endorsing a Principled Polysemy approach to lexical meaning, we investigate the emergence of the first attested meaning of khrónos and the ensuing development of its other senses to be distinguished on the grounds of a set of criteria (i.e., meaning extension, grammatical features and concept elaboration). The data used in the study stem from a tailor-made special-purpose historical corpus constructed by the authors and cover three different stages of Greek, from Homeric to the 1st c. B.C. The methodology used is both quantitative and qualitative. The findings of the corpus analysis suggest that there is an association between the diachronic stage and the occurrence of khrónos. As expected, our data show that the increase in the frequency of the lexeme under examination seems to correlate with the diffusion of its meanings, which appear to increase abruptly from the first stage to the second. Furthermore, the findings of the qualitative analysis of khrónos indicate that its earliest attested meaning is Duration from which all other meanings are historically derived. This finding lends support from a diachronic perspective to Duration being the Sanctioning Sense of khrónos in the Greek language. Finally, a crucial finding of this study is that in the early stages of Greek, unlike Modern Greek, Duration instantiated equally two distinct but parallel lexical patterns, which manifest a conceptualization of Duration either as distance or as quantity. In conceptual terms, this entails that initially Ancient Greek afforded two equivalent mental representations of Duration.

Keywords: Semantics of time, principled polysemy, semantic extension, Ancient Greek


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