HomeClear vs approximate categorization: searching for signs of differentiation

Clear vs approximate categorization: searching for signs of differentiation

Catégorisation claire versus approximative : à la recherche d’indices de différenciation


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Published on Thursday, February 21, 2019 by Céline Guilleux


Ces dernières décennies, les recherches sur la catégorisation claire et/ou approximative et leurs manifestations en langue ont produit de nombreux travaux exploitant les dimensions syntaxiques, sémantiques, pragmatiques, psycholinguistiques, philosophiques, logiques, etc. La thématique est particulièrement intéressante du fait que ces deux opérations trouvent des réalisations formelles similaires, et ce, dans des langues appartenant à des familles différentes.


International Conference organized by the Universities of Strasbourg and Latvia

3 & 4 october 2019

University of Strasbourg Conference room, MISHA


In recent decades, research on clear and/or approximate categorization and their manifestations in language has been generating a number of studies on syntax, semantics, pragmatics, psycholinguistics, philosophy, logic, etc. This is particularly interesting because these two operations have formally similar realizations even in languages belonging to different language groups. The existence of a large number of metalinguistic nouns in French and in other languages[1] (Flaux and Van de Velde 2000: 26; Mihatsch 2007, 2016) such as sorte, type, espèce, forme, genre, manière, mode, variété, façon testifies to the productivity of these realizations. If these nouns serve to both categorize and approximate, the fundamental question one can raise is that of identifying the processes of interpretation concerned, since there is not always a consensus on interpretation. The parameters of specification are not clearly established thus leaving much to intuition. In fact, besides the highly grammaticalized cases (such as certain uses of genre in modern French as in fais pas genre tu t’y connais en catégorisation, hein ? or tipo / tipo che in Italian as in ecco una foto tipo che vi può fare la gentilissima fotografa!), it is hard to find criteria, especially in syntax, that would distinguish the two processes – the categorization by approximation and the clear categorization. The number and the nature of interpretations or of semantic and pragmatic effects also remain to be clarified.

First, from a conceptual point of view, a number of questions are pending: if we can categorize either in a strict manner or by approximation, where is the line to be drawn? What does it mean to approximate (see among others Bat-Zeev Shyldkrot et al. 2014, 2016; Gerhard & Vassiliadou 2014, 2017a, b)? Does a categorization by approximation cease to be a categorization? The issue becomes even more complex when we start questioning the meaning of categorization in general (placing an X in Y) and categorization in language. In fact, the possibilities offered by language vary from denominated categories, lexically and semantically structured fields to apprehend, formulate realities to ad hoc categorizations. Psycholinguistic studies suggest for instance that cognitive categories do not necessarily engage with their lexical counterparts (Kahlaoui et al. 2010).

Finally, it is sufficient to take into account the communicative intentions which imply (have in mind) the use of one or the other of these types of categorization: for example, the absence of denomination, the difficulty of identifying a reality to denote, the complexity of the world, the hesitation of the speaker as to his knowledge of the world or the language, the value-based judgements (good or bad copy), etc., adding to these more pragmatic phenomena, such as a tendency towards modality, which leads to approximate interpretations where clear categorization cannot be excluded. With a view to clarification, this conference is open to all dimensions of the issue and welcomes proposals in monolingual or plurilingual perspectives, as well as synchronic and diachronic ones, relevant to the following axes: 

The match between a construction and a semantic specification (syntax-semantics interface)

In a given context, can we associate an interpretive type with formal correlates? It is essential to determine the relevance of the tests proposed for the identification, testing and evaluation of the various types of readings as well as their operativeness. The syntax-semantics interface manifests itself either in the form of a battery of tests applied to a precise structure, such as the nature of the determinant in un/une espèce de, or the determiner’s definiteness (a / the kind of a / the), gender and number agreements inside and outside the NP, dislocations / transformations, predicative positions, etc. (Rouget 1997; De Smedt et al. 2007; Keizer 2007; Davidse et al., 2008; Brems 2011), either by showing that a given interpretation is associated in a privileged way with a construction (type nouns as head of the binominal NP, as postdeterminers, as part of descriptive modifiers etc.). Thus, the French works on genre-preposition mostly consider this last as an “approximator”, whereas the structures un/le/ce genre de are seen as categorizers (Rosier 2002 for example). In short, since there are clear and approximate readings, is the search for formal marker a mode of access to the disambiguation of readings in context? 

The importance of nominal typologies

A second way to identify potentially competing readings is that of nominal typologies: how far the modalities of categorization are dependent on the type of name entering a N1 type de N2 structure? In other words, to what extent will semantic properties of some nouns condition the readings? Knowing that not all names have the same interpretative potential (Kleiber et al. 2012; Huyghe 2015), it is essential to explain what justifies a name escaping the categorical modulation, to examine what links nouns that don’t show approximation and those which do not embed lexical inclusions (e.g. odor, substance, color, movement, Kleiber 2011, 2012, 2014, etc.) and circumscribing the exact function of metalinguistic nouns when they introduce recalcitrant nouns to the approximation (see some abstract names such as names for feelings, events, etc.).

The diachronic path

This direction concerns all the hypotheses related to the process of grammaticalization and pragmaticalization of metalinguistic nouns and structures in which they appear. Is there an initial meaning on metalinguistic nouns (for example, that of categorization) or the original interpretative plurality? Is the same process observed in different languages? (Denison 2005; Brems & Davidse 2010; Voghera 2013). Mihatsch (2016) observes a general tendency in romance languages regarding the primary attestations of proper nouns: type appears much later than other taxonomic nouns. What does this tendency tell us? Thus, the medieval lexicon contains a large number of little-studied nouns “in order to mark belonging, likeness and representation”, such as figure, forme, faiture, semblance (Capin 2017: 117; Ponchon 2016).

The use of metalinguistic N in dictionaries

Within this approach, it may be necessary to verify to what extent the use of metalinguistic N in dictionaries conforms to the taxonomic, scientific use of genre, espèce, for example, or whether the N sorte ever leads to definitions by approximation, as is suggested by typologies put forward by lexicographers. Studies may equally touch upon lexicographic use of nouns, such as manière, façon, mode, type, etc.

Formants of words related to categorization or approximation meaning

Clear and/or approximate category can also be marked morphologically. Studies of formants that transfer this meaning (-oïde, -idé, presqu(e)-, for example) are welcome (cf. Anastassiadi-Symeonidi 2013).

Ad hoc categories and approximation

We distinguish two large types of categories: stable categories (e.g. natural or artefact categories) and ad hoc categories. The latter are said to come from discourse: they depend upon the context, they do not correspond to pre-established and recognized categories, and are generally created in order to satisfy a particular communicative need (Barsalou 1991; Mauri to appear). Linguistically, they are expressed by complex expressions (e.g. things we take for camping, things we save in case of fire, etc.) that constitute not denominations, but designations. Does approximation apply equally to ad hoc categories and stable ones? Both conceptually and linguistically?

Comparison of intralingual and interlingual markers

The contrastive perspective is essential in the studies of markers that seem to have followed the same route of evolution, not only because it contributes to establishing correspondences in different languages, but also and especially because it allows one to specify the particular usage of each marker (Degand 2009). In this perspective, data from parallel corpora and translation works are of undeniable help (Aijmer et al. 2006). Prosodic studies in oral contexts, the use of taxonomic nouns in teenage language and sociopragmatic variation may finally explain the overlap between some of the functions discussed above (see Beeching 2016). 

Categorization and approximation in psycho/neurolinguistics

The principles of categorization are at the center of human thought in a general manner and, in particular, at the center of all models of lexical and semantic access (Feldermeier & Kutas 2001). It is therefore worth studying the question of meaning construction and representation of our knowledge related to the processes of memory, attention, etc. We know that linguistic categories do not correspond exactly to conceptual categories (Genome & Lombrozo 2012). There is no one-to-one relationship between a possible difficulty of saying something and that of identifying and categorizing a referential object. The question of categorization related to semantic treatment is very complex, dependent upon neural networks, whose constituents are modulated by a myriad of features, characteristics and semantic representations. In order to better understand the purpose of the study of the identification, classification and categorization process, it is crucial to examine these processes in psycho/neuro-linguistics (see also, Prasada 2000; Sachs et al. 2008).

Papers regarding more general questions on the very notions of identification, representation, classification, categorization and approximation are equally appreciated.

Submission guidelines

Language : French, English

Important dates :

  • October 2018 : 1st call for papers
  • December 2018 : 2nd call for papers
  • March 2019 : Final call for papers
  • 25 April 2019 : Deadline for submission

  • 15 may 2019 : Notification

Informations and modalities for submission : http://clap19.sciencesconf.org  

Invited conferences

  • Anna Anastassiadi-Symeonidi (Université Aristote de Thessalonique)
  • Olga Inkova (Université de Genève)
  • Georges Kleiber (Université de Strasbourg)
  • Wiltrud Mihatsch (Université de Tübingen)

Organizing Committee

Céline Benninger, Daniela Capin, Francine Gerhard-Krait, Marie Lammert, Irini Tsamadou-Jacoberger, Hélène Vassiliadou, Maria Zerva (Université de Strasbourg / University of Strasbourg) & Jelena Gridina, Irina Kalinina, Daina Turla, Elena Vladimirska (Université de Lettonie / University of Latvia)[2]

Scientific Committee

Silvia Adler (Université Bar Ilan), Jean-Claude Anscombre (Cergy-Pontoise), Anna Anastassiadi-Symeonidi (Thessalonique), Valentina Benigni (Rome), Léonie Bosveld-de Smedt (Groningen), Anne Carlier (Lille), Bernard Combettes (Nancy), David Denison (Manchester), Nadège Doignon-Camus (Strasbourg), Marco Fasciolo (Paris-Sorbonne), Nelly Flaux (Arras), Emilia Hilgert (Reims), Richard Huyghe (Fribourg), Olga Inkova (Genève), Markéta Janebová (Olomouc), Sonia Jordana Gomez (Madrid), Andra Kalnača (Riga), Evelien Keizer (Vienne), Georges Kleiber (Strasbourg), Alena Kolyaseva (Liège), Annie Kuyumkuyan (Strasbourg), Dominique Legallois (Paris Sorbonne-Nouvelle), Wiltrud Mihatsch (Tübingen), Marie-Annick Morel (Paris 3), Pierre Nobel (Strasbourg), Thierry Ponchon (Reims), Salvator Pons Borderia (Valencia), Laurence Rosier (Bruxelles), Anne Theissen (Strasbourg), Miriam Voghera (Salerno)


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Anastassiadi-Symeonidi A. (2013), L’élément -odhis en grec moderne : un cas de grammaticalisation, in Dal G. & Amiot D. (éds), Repères en morphologie, 136-149.

Barsalou L. W. (1991), Deriving categories to achieve goals, in Bower G.H. (ed.), The Psychology of Learning and Motivation: Advances in Research and Theory, San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 1-64. [Reprinted in Ram A. & Leake D. (eds.), Goal-driven learning (1995, 121-176). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press/Bradford Books]

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Bat-Zeev Shyldkrot H., Adler S., Asnes M. (2016), Nouveaux regards sur l’approximation et la précision, Paris : Honoré Champion.

Beeching K. (2016), Pragmatic markers in British English. Meaning in social interaction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Feldermeier K.D. & Kutas M. (2001), Meaning and modality: influences of context, semantic memory organization and perceptual predictability on picture processing, Journal of Experimental Psychology 27, 202-224.

Flaux N. & Van de Velde D. (2000), Les Noms en français, Paris, Ophrys.

Genome J. & Lombrozo T. (2012), Concept possession, experimental semantics, and hybrid theories of reference, Philosophical Psychology 25, 1-26.

Gerhard-Krait F. & Vassiliadou H. (2014), Lectures taxinomique et / ou floue appliquées aux noms : quelques réflexions…, Travaux de linguistique 69, 57-75.

Gerhard-Krait F. & Vassiliadou H. (2017a), Lectures taxinomique, approximative et floue : quelques pistes supplémentaires, Présentation, Syntaxe et Sémantique 18, 11-18.

Gerhard-Krait F. & Vassiliadou H. (2017b), Clapotis, murmures et autres manifestations sonores : les méandres de l’approximation catégorielle, Syntaxe et Sémantique 18, 19-43.

Huyghe R. (2015), Les typologies nominales : présentation, Langue française 185, 5-27.

Isacoff N. & Stromswold K. (à par.), Lions and tigers and bears: are they merely mammals or really scary?

Janebová M. & Martinkova M. (2018), Czech type nouns: evidence from corpora, presentation at the International Workshop Pragmatic functions of type nouns: a crosslinguistic perspective (Tübingen, 18-20/06 2018).

Kahlaoui K., Ska B., Degroot C. & Joanette Y. (2010), Neurobiological Bases of the Semantic Processing of Words, in Guendouzi J., Loncke F. & Williams M.J. (eds), The Handbook of Psycholinguistic and Cognitive Processes, Taylor & Francis Group: New-York, 99-118.

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Kleiber G. (2014), Détermination et noms de propriétés : la réponse en termes de ‘variétés’, in Hilgert E., Palma S., Frath P. & Daval R. (éds), Res per Nomen 4. Des théories du sens et de la référence, Reims : EPUR, 123-138.

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Lupu M. (2003), Concepts vagues et catégorisation, Cahiers de Linguistique Française 25, 291-304.

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Vladimirska E. (2016), Entre le dire et le monde : le cas du marqueur discursif genre, in Bat-Zeev Shyldkrot H., Adler S., Asnes M. (éds), Nouveaux regards sur l’approximation et la précision, Paris : Honoré Champion, 195-209.

Voghera M. (2013), A case study on the relationship between grammatical change and synchronic variation: the emergence of tipo(-N) in Italian, in Ramat A., Mauri C. & Molinelli P. (eds), Synchrony & Diachrony. A dynamic interface, Amsterdam: Benjamins, 283-312.

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Voghera M. (2017), La nascita delle construzioni non nominali di specie, genere, sorta e tipo: uno studio basato su corpora, in A. D’Aschille P. & Grossmann M. (a cura di), Per la storia della formazione delle parole in italiano: un Nuovo corpus in rete e nuove prospettive di studio, Florence: Cesati, 277-307.


[1] See also other labels such as taxonomic nouns, categoric nouns, classificatory nouns, hedges, type-nouns… Here is a non-exhaustive list of these types of noun in other languages : типа, вроде in Russian (Benigni 2014 ; Kolyaseva & Davidse 2016 ; Sakhno 2017), suga, tips in Latvian (Vassiliadou et al. 2018), είδος, τύπος in Greek (Anastassiadi-Symeonidi 2013), tipo, specie, sorta in Italian (Voghera 2014 ; 2017), tipo in Spanish (Mihatch 2016), druh in Czech (Janebová & Martinkova 2018), jakby in Polish (Adamczyk 2015), sort of, kind of in English (Denison 2005 ; Keizer 2007 ; Brems 2011), etc.

[2] Project PHC Osmose De la Taxinomie à l’sapproximation dans les langues naturelles funded by the Ministry of Europe, Foreign Affairs & Higher Education, Research & Innovation (MESRI).


  • 22 Rue Descartes
    Strasbourg, France (67)


  • Thursday, April 25, 2019

Attached files


  • catégorisation, approximation, sémantique


  • Céline Benninger
    courriel : benninge [at] unistra [dot] fr
  • Helena Vassiliadou
    courriel : vassili [at] unistra [dot] fr

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Céline Benninger
    courriel : benninge [at] unistra [dot] fr

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« Clear vs approximate categorization: searching for signs of differentiation », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Thursday, February 21, 2019, https://calenda.org/567703

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