Synonymy in English icon

Synonymy in English



НазваниеSynonymy in English
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Synonymy in English

Learning objectives: after you have studied the material you should be able to:

1. Define the notion of "synonymy", give the definition of the term "synonyms" by Russian and foreign linguists.

2. Speak on the criteria of synonymy, the sources of synonymy and the main synonymic patterns.

3. Give the classification of synonyms (ideographic, stylistic, absolute).

4. Analyze the entry (article) from a dictionary of synonyms.

Literature to be studied:

• "English Word" by Arnold p. 177-197.

• "A course in Modern English Lexicology" by Ginsburg.

• "English Lexicology" by Antrushina.

• "Practical Lexicology" by Kasheeva pp.70-73, ex. 1, 2; pp.76-77.

• "English Synonyms" by Potapova LA.

• "Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms". Springfield. Mass. USA. 1942.

• Потапова И.А. Краткий словарь синонимов английского языка. Пособие для учителя. Л, 1957.


A characteristic feature of a vocabulary of any language is the existence of synonyms, which is closely connected with the problem of meaning of the word.

The most complicated problem is the definition of the term "synonyms". There are a great many definitions of the term, but there is no universally accepted one. Traditionally the synonyms are defined as words different in sound-form, but identical or similar in meaning. But this definition has been severely criticized on many points.

The problem of synonymy is treated differently by Russian and foreign scientists. Among numerous definitions of the term in our linguistics the most comprehensive and full one is suggested by I.V. Arnold: "Synonyms - are two or more words of the same meaning, belonging to the same part of speech, possessing one or more identical meaning, interchangeable at least in some contexts without any considerable alteration in denotational1 meaning, but differing in morphemic composition, phonemic shape2, shades of meaning, connotation, affective value, style, emotional coloring and valence3 peculiar to one of the elements in a synonymic group."

This definition describes the notion "synonymy", gives some criteria of synonymy (identity of meaning, interchangeability), shows some difference in connotation, emotive coloring, style, etc. But this descriptive definition as well as many others has the main drawbacks - there are no objective criteria of "identity" or "similarity" or sameness of meaning. They all are based on the linguistic intuitions of the scholars.


From the definition follows, that the members of the synonymic group in a dictionary should have their common denotational meaning and consequently4 it should be explained in the same words; they may have some differences in implication connotation, shades of meaning, idiomatic usage, etc.

Hope, expectation, anticipation are considered to be synonymous because they all mean "having smth in mind which is likely to happen..." But expectation may be either of good or of evil. Anticipation is as a rule an expectation of smth good. Hope is not only a belief but a desire that some event would happen. The stylistic difference is also quite marked. The Romance words anticipation and expectation are formal literary words used only by educated speakers, whereas the native monosyllabic hope is stylistically neutral. Moreover, they differ in idiomatic usage. Only hope is possible in such set expressions as to hope against hope, to lose hope, to pin one'shopes on smth. Neither expectation nor anticipation could be substituted into the following quotation from T.Eliot: "You don't know what hope is until you have lost it".
^

Criteria of Synonymy


Not a single definition of the term synonym provides for any objective criterion of similarity or sameness of meaning as far as it is based on the linguistic intuition of the scholars.

Many scholars defined synonyms as words conveying the same notion but differing either in shades of meaning or in stylistic characteristics. In "Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms" its authors used the semantic criterion along with the criterion of interchangeability5, which we may see from the definition.

A synonym is one of two or more words which have the same or nearly the same essential6 (denotational) meaning. It is not a matter of mere likeness in meaning, but a likeness in denotation which may be expressed in its definition. The definition must indicate7 the part of speech and the relations of the ideas involved in a term's meaning.

Synonyms, therefore, are only such words as may be defined wholly8 or almost wholly in the same terms. Usually, they are distinguished from one another by an added implication or connotation, or may differ in their idiomatic use or in their implication9.

They usually are interchangeable within limits, but interchangeability is not the final test, since idiomatic usage is often a preventive of that. The only satisfactory test of synonyms is their agreement in connotation.
^

Classification of Synonyms


The outstanding Russian philologist A.I. Smirnitsky suggested the classification of synonyms

into 3 types:

1. Ideographic synonyms - words conveying the same notion but differing in shades of

meaning: to understand - to realize

to expect - to anticipate

to look - glance - stare - peep - gaze healthy - wholesome - sound - sane

2. Stylistic - words differing only in stylistic characteristics:

to begin - to commence - to high

to think - to deem

enemy - opponent - foe - adversary

to help - to aid - to assist

courage - valour - dauntlessness - grit - guts

3. Absolute (perfect, complete) - words coinciding in all their shades of meaning and in

all their stylistic characteristics. Absolute synonyms are rare in a language. In Russian, f.e.: лётчик - пилот – авиатор; языкознание – языковедение; стерня – пожня.

In English: pilot - airman — flyer – flyingman; screenwriter - scriptwriter - scripter - сценарист semasiology – semantics.
^

Synonymic Patterns


The English word-stock is extremely rich in synonyms, which can be largely accounted10 for by abundant borrowing. The synonymic resources of a language tend to form certain characteristic and fairly consistent patterns. Synonyms in English are organized according to 2 basic principles. One of them involves double, the other a triple scale. In English there are countless pairs of synonyms where a native term is opposed to one borrowed from French, Latin, and Greek. In most cases the native word is more spontaneous, more informal and unpretentious whereas the foreign one often has a learned, abstract air. They may also have emotive differences: the Saxon word is apt to be wanner and homelier than its foreign counterpart. The native words are usually colloquial. We quote a few examples of synonymic patterns double scale.

Adjectives: bodily - corporal, brotherly - fraternal, heavenly - celestial, inner - internal, learned - erudite, sharp - acute.

Nouns: fiddle - violin, friendship - amity, help - aid, wire - telegram, world - universe.

Verbs: answer - reply, read - peruse, buy - purchase.

Side-by-side with this main pattern there exists in English a pattern based on a triple scale of synonyms:

^ NATIVE FROM FRENCH FROM LATIN

to ask11 to question12 to interrogate13 belly stomach abdomen

to end finish complete

to gather to assemble collect

to rise to mount to ascent

teaching guidance instruction

The infiltration of British English by Americanisms also results in the formation of synonyms pairs, one being a traditional Briticism and the other - a new American loan: Leader - editorial; autumn - fall; government - administration; luggage - baggage; wireless -radio; lorry - truck; tin - can; long distance (telephone) call - trunk call; stone - rock; team -squad.

As a rule the Americanisms have a lower frequency index than the British counterparts. Thus, tin is more common than can, team - than squad. But luggage - baggage, lorry - truck, leader -editorial are used sometimes interchangeably.

In a few cases the American synonym has a higher frequency than its British counterpart as in the pair: commuter - a season ticket holder (Br.). Very often 2 synonyms differ stylistically. Br. Synonym is stylistically neutral while the Americanism is stylistically marked (usually as colloquial or slang): intellectual - egghead excuse - alibi angry - mad averse - allergic.

English also used many pairs of synonymous derivatives, the one Hellenic and the other Romance: hypotheses - supposition periphery - circumference sympathy - compassion synthesis - composition.

Another source of synonymy is the so-called euphemism, when a harsh word indelicate or unpleasant or least inoffensive connotation. Thus the denotational meaning of drunk and merry may be the same. The euphemistic expression merry coincides in denotation with the word it substituted but the connotation of the latter faded out and so the utterance on the whole is milder and less offensive.

Very often a learned word which sounds less familiar and less offensive or derogative: for example “drunkenness” – “intoxication”, “sweat” – “perspiration” (cf. Russian terms “экспроприация”, “раскулачивание”). The effect is achieved because the periphrastic expression is not so harsh, sometimes jocular: poor - underprivileged; pregnant - in the family way; lodger - paying guest.

Set expressions consisting of a verb with a postpositive are widely used in present day English: to choose - pick out, abandon - give up, postpone - put off, return - come back, quarrel - fall out.

Even more frequent are, for instance, such set expressions which differ from simple verbs in aspect or emphasis: to laugh - to give a laugh, to sign - to give a sign, to smoke - to have a smoke, to love - to fall in love.

Smell, scent, odor, aroma all denote a property of a thing that makes it perceptible to the olfactory sense. Smell not only is the most general of these terms but tends to be the most colorless. It is the appropriate word when merely a sensation is indicated and no hint or its source, quality or character is necessary.

Scent tends to call attention to the physical basis of the sense of smell and is particularly appropriate when the emphasis is on emanations or explanations from an external object which reach the olfactory receptors rather than impression produced in the olfactory center of the brain. Odor is oftentimes indistinguishable from scent for it too can be thought of as smth. diffused and as smth. by means of which external objects are identified by the sense of smell. But the words are not always interchangeable, for odor usually implies abundance of effluvia and therefore does not suggest, as scent often does, the need of a delicate or highly sensitive sense of smell.

^ Aroma usually adds to odor the implication of a penetrating, pervasive or sometimes a pungent quality; it need not imply delicacy or fragrance, but it seldom connotes unpleasantness, and it often suggests smth. to be savored.

Understand, comprehend, appreciate are synonyms when they mean to have a clear and true idea or conception, or full and exact knowledge, of smth. They (especially the first two) are often used interchangeably and seemingly without loss; nevertheless, they are distinguishable by fine sharp differences in meaning in precise use. In general, it may be said that understand refers to the result of a mental process, comprehend to the mental process of arriving at such a result; thus , one may come to understand a person although one has had difficulty in comprehending his motives and his peculiarities; one may be unable to comprehend a poem, no matter how clearly one understands every sentence in it. "You begin to comprehend me, do you" cried he, turning towards her. "Oh! Yes - I understand you perfectly." Sometimes the difference is more subtle; comprehend implies the mental act of grasping or seizing clearly and fully; understand, the power to receive and register a clear and true impression. "That ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, length, depth, height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge". "Some men can think of thousands of dollars, others have to think of hundreds. It's all their minds are big enough to comprehend." "And the piece of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus". "Charters is so crowded that one must be content to fell what one can, and let the rest go. Understand, we cannot." Appreciate, as here considered, implies a just judgment or the estimation of a thing's true or exact value; therefore, the word is used in reference to persons or things which may be undervaluing or overvaluing. "You are of an age now to appreciate his character." "We do not reproach him for preffering, apparently, Euripides to Aeschylus. But he should at least appreciate Euripides". "The public opinion which thus magnifies patriotism into a religion is a force of which it is difficult to appreciate the strength." "To appreciate the gulf between the ideal and the fact, we have only to contrast such a scheme as that set forth in the "Republic" of Plato with the following description of the state of Greece during the Peloponnesian War".

^ Differences Between Synonyms

Very often words are completely synonyms in the sense of being interchangeable in any content without the slightest alteration in objective meaning, feeling-tone or evocative meaning. But majority of them may have some distinctive features, which are listed below. These differences are the following:

1. Between general and specific;

2. Between shades of meaning;

1 формальное значение

2 форма

3 сочетаемость

4 следовательно

5 взаимозаменяемость

6 существенный

7 указывает

8 полностью

9 подтекст

10 объясняется

11 задавать вопросы

12 расспрашивать

13 допрашивать






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