Semantic overload

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

In linguistics, semantic overload is a property of terms which have more than one meaning and are used in ways that convey a meaning which draws on its divergent constituent concepts. Overloading is related to the psychological concept of information overload, and the computer science concept of an overloaded expression. A term that is semantically overloaded is a kind of "overloaded expression" in language that causes a certain small degree of "information overload" in the receiving audience.

An example of this is the Basque word herri which can be translated as nation; country, land; people, population and town, village, settlement.,[1] amongst other things leading to difficulties in translating the indigenous term Euskal Herria.

Expletives are also notable for this quality, and conversely this quality is also a contributor to why such terms may be regarded as crude or inappropriate.

Language planning[edit]

Minority languages which expand into new domains frequently suffer from semantic overloading by attempting to use existing terms to cover concepts for which the language has no terms readily available. One such example from Scottish Gaelic is the over-use of the word comhairle (originally "advice, counsel") for concepts such as "committee", "council" and "consultation" as exemplified by Donald MacAulay in dh'iarr a' chomhairle comhairle air a’ chomhairle chomhairleachaidh "the committee sought advice from the consultative council", resulting in a sentence which is opaque in meaning.[2][3]


  1. ^ Aulestia, G. Basque-English Dictionary (1989) University of Nevada Press ISBN 0-87417-126-1
  2. ^ McLeod, Wilson Faclair na Pàrlamaid, a critical evaluation (2001) Department of Celtic and Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh
  3. ^ MacAulay, Donald New Gaelic (1986) Scottish Language, 5, 120-25