Semantic changes in urban-related terminology - a linguistic inquiry


The use of terminology - or of specialized language - in the fields of architecture and urban-related disciplines (i.a. urban planning, urban morphology) poses a set of issues that concern both bi-lingual and mono-lingual settings (cf. Kropf 2011). As words are used, they undergo changes that lead to both predictable behaviour and new creative variations (Tantucci, Culpeper and Di Cristofaro:2017). Among the most ‘immediate’ changes, the emergence of ambiguities is arguably the one that deteriorates the function of specialized terms the most - i.e. as standardized “tools of communication” (cf. Faber 2012:13). In addition, ambiguities and a lack of standardization can impair the dissemination of research, and render the theoretical frameworks from which the terms are derived unintelligible. Understanding how specialized terms are used in real language settings appears therefore crucial to identify how the terminology changes, and to comprehend how these changes impact meaning(s) and connotation(s). We analyse how a set of English and Italian specialized terms related to the concepts of transformation, public, context, neighborhood, and experimental are used in Tactical Urbanism texts. The sources of the data are i) documents in English published by,, and; ii) documents in Italian published by; iii) interviews collected by the authors during the 2017 edition of Periferico Festival (Modena, Italy). By adopting a linguistic-oriented perspective on real data, firstly we describe how each term is used in each dataset by looking at each term’s occurrences through the analysis of its collocates (i.e. words that occurs within the neighbourhood of another word). Then we conduct a Behavioural Profile Analysis (Gries 2011) to identify semantic similarities and differences in the analysed terms across the two languages (English and Italian) and across two registers (Italian texts and Italian interviews). The results - both in textual and graphical form - are twofold: first, they will provide a “map” of how specialized terms are synchronically similar/different across both bilingual and monolingual settings. Second, they will shed light on the their uses and how these affect meanings and connotations of the analysed terms.

29 Aug 2018 13:00
Rome, Italy

Faber, Pamela, ed. A cognitive linguistics view of terminology and specialized language. Walter de Gruyter, 2012.
Gries, Stefan Th. ‘Behavioral Profiles: A Fine-Grained and Quantitative Approach in Corpus-Based Lexical Semantics’. The Mental Lexicon 5(3), 2011:323–46.
Kropf, Karl. ‘Urbanism, Politics and Language: The Role of Urban Morphology’. Urban Morphology 15(2) 2011:157–161.
Tantucci, Vittorio, Jonathan Culpeper, and Matteo Di Cristofaro. ‘Dynamic resonance and social reciprocity in language change: the case of Good morrow’. Language Sciences 68:6-21, 2018.

Matteo Di Cristofaro
Researcher, Lecturer

My research interests include language analysis, cognitive sciences, and Artificial Intelligence.