MEANING RELATIONS IN PARADIGMATICS AND SEMANTIC CLASSIFICATION OF WORDS
Modern English has a very extensive vocabulary. A question naturally arises whether this enormous word-stock is composed of separate independent lexical units, or it should perhaps be regarded as a certain structured system made up of numerous interdependent and interrelated sub-systems or groups of words. This problem may be viewed in terms of the possible ways of classifying vocabulary items.
Attempts to study the inner structure of the vocabulary revealed that in spite of its heterogeneity the English word-stock may be analysed into numerous sub-systems the members of which have some features in common, thus distinguishing them from the members of other lexical sub-systems. Words can be classified in various ways. Here, however, we are concerned only with the semantic classification of words. Classification into monosemantic and polysemantic words is based on the number of meanings the word possesses. More detailed semantic classifications are generally based on the semantic similarity (or polarity) of words or their component morphemes. The scope and the degree of similarity (polarity) may be different.
§ 45. Conceptual (or Semantic) Fields
Words may be classified according to the concepts underlying their meaning. This classification is closely connected with the theory of conceptual or semantic fields. By the term “semantic fields” we understand closely knit sectors of vocabulary each characterised by a common concept. For example, the words blue, red, yellow, black, etc. may be described as making up the semantic field of colours, the words mother, father, brother, cousin, etc. — as members of the semantic field
1 In practical language learning thematic groups are often listed under various headings, e. g. “At the Theatre”, “At School”, “Shopping”, and are often found in textbooks and courses of conversational English.
of kinship terms, the words joy, happiness, gaiety, enjoyment, etc. as belonging to the field of pleasurable emotions, and so on.
The members of the semantic fields are not synonyms but all of them are joined together by some common semantic component — the concept of colours or the concept of kinship, etc. This semantic component common to all the members of the field is sometimes described as the common denominator of meaning. All members of the field are semantically interdependent as each member helps to delimit and determine the meaning of its neighbours and is semantically delimited and determined by them. It follows that the word-meaning is to a great extent determined by the place it occupies in its semantic field.
Thus the semantic field may be viewed as a set of lexical items in which the meaning of each is determined by the co-presence of the others*
It is argued that we cannot possibly know the exact meaning of the word if we do not know the structure of the semantic field to which the word belongs, the number of the members and the concepts covered by them, etc. The meaning of the word captain, e.g., cannot be properly understood until we know the semantic field in which this term operates — the army, the navy, or the merchant service. It follows that the meaning of the word captain is determined by the place it occupies among the terms of the relevant rank system. In other words we know what captain means only if we know whether his subordinate is called mate or first officer (merchant service), commander (‘navy’) or lieutenant (‘army’).
Semantic dependence of the word on the structure of the field may be also illustrated by comparing members of analogous conceptual fields in different languages. Comparing, for example, kinship terms in Russian and in English we observe that the meaning of the English term mother-in-law is different from either the Russian тёща or свекровь as the English term covers the whole area which in Russian is divided between the two words. The same is true of the members of the semantic field of colours (cf. blue — синий, голубой), of human body (cf. hand, arm — рука) and others.
The theory of semantic field is severely criticised by Soviet linguists mainly on philosophical grounds since some of the proponents of the semantic-field theory hold the idealistic view that language is a kind of self-contained entity standing between man and the world of reality (Zwischenwelt). The followers of this theory argue that semantic fields reveal the fact that human experience is analysed and elaborated in a unique way, differing from one language to another. Broadly speaking they assert that people speaking different languages actually have different concepts, as it is through language that we ‘"see” the real world around us. In short, they deny the primacy of matter forgetting that our concepts are formed not only through linguistic experience, but primarily through our actual contact with the real world. We know what hot means not only because we know the word hot, but also because we burn our fingers when we touch something very hot. A detailed critical analysis of the theory of semantic fields is the subject-matter of general linguistics. Here we are concerned with this theory only as a means of semantic classification of vocabulary items.
Another point should be discussed in this connection. Lexical groups described above may be very extensive and may cover big conceptual areas, e g. space, matter, intellect, etc.1
Words making up such semantic fields may belong to different parts of speech. For example, in the semantic field of space we find nouns: expanse, extent, surface, etc.; verbs: extend, spread, span, etc.; adjectives’ spacious, roomy, vast, broad, etc.
There may be comparatively’small lexical groups of words belonging to the same part of speech and linked by a common concept. The words bread, cheese, milk, meat, etc. make up a group with the concept of food as the common’ denominator of meaning. Such smaller lexical groups consisting of words of the same part of speech are usually termed lexico-semantic groups. It is observed that the criterion for joining words together into semantic fields and lexico-semantic groups is the identity of one of the components of their meaning found in all the lexical units making up these lexical groups. Any of the semantic components may be chosen to represent the group. For example, the word saleswoman may be analysed into the semantic components ‘human’, ‘female’, ‘professional’.2 Consequently the word saleswoman may be included into a lexico-semantic group under the heading of human together with the words man, woman, boy, girl, etc. and under the heading female with the words girl, wife, woman and also together with the words teacher, pilot, butcher, etc., as professionals.
It should also be pointed out that different meanings of polysemantic words make it possible to refer the same word to different lexico-semantic groups. Thus, e.g. make in the meaning of ‘construct’ is naturally a member of the same lexico-semantic group as the verbs produce, manufacture, etc , whereas in the meaning of compel it is regarded as a member of a different lexico-semantic group made up by the verbs force, induce, etc.
Lexico-semantic groups seem to play a very important role in determining individual meanings of polysemantic words in lexical contexts. Analysing lexical contexts 3 we saw that the verb take, e.g,, in combination with any member of the lexical group denoting means of transportation is synonymous with the verb go (take the tram, the bus, etc.). When combined with members of another lexical group the same verb is synonymous with to drink (to take tea, coffee, etc.). Such word-groups are often used not only in scientific lexicological analysis, but also in practical class-room teaching. In a number of textbooks we find words with some common denominator of meaning listed under the headings Flowers, Fruit, Domestic Animals, and so on.
§ 46. Hyponymic (Hierarchical) Structures and Lexico-Semantic Groups
Another approach to the classification of vocabulary items into lexico-semantic groups is the study of hyponymic relations between words. By hyponymy is meant a semantic relationship of inclusion. Thus, e.g., vehicle includes car, bus, taxi and so on; oak implies tree;
1 See, e. g., Roget's Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, London, 1973.
2 See ‘Methods ... ‘, § 6. p. 216.
3 See ‘Semasiology’, § 41, p. 48.
horse entails animal; table entails furniture. Thus the hyponymic relationship may be viewed as the hierarchical relationship between the meaning of the general and the individual terms.
The general term (vehicle, tree, animal, etc.) is sometimes referred to as the classifier and serves to describe the lexico-semantic groups, e.g. Lexico-semantic groups (LSG) of vehicles, movement, emotions, etc.
The individual terms can be said to contain (or entail) the meaning of the general term in addition to their individual meanings which distinguish them from each other (cf. the classifier move and the members of the group walk, run, saunter, etc.).
It is of importance to note that in such hierarchical structures certain words may be both classifiers and members of the groups. This may be illustrated by the hyponymic structure represented below.
Another way to describe hyponymy is in terms of genus and differentia.
The more specific term is called the hyponym of the more general, and the more general is called the hyperonym or the classifier.
It is noteworthy that the principle of such hierarchical classification is widely used by scientists in various fields of research: botany, geology, etc. Hyponymic classification may be viewed as objectively reflecting the structure of vocabulary and is considered by many linguists as one of the most important principles for the description of meaning.
A general problem with this principle of classification (just as with lexico-semantic group criterion) is that there often exist overlapping classifications. For example, persons may be divided into adults (man, woman, husband, etc.) and children (boy, girl, lad, etc.) but also into national groups (American, Russian, Chinese, etc.), professional groups (teacher, butcher, baker, etc.), social and economic groups, and so on.
Another problem of great importance for linguists is the dependence of the hierarchical structures of lexical units not only on the structure of the corresponding group of referents in real world but also on the structure of vocabulary in this or that language.
This can be easily observed when we compare analogous groups in different languages. Thus, e.g., in English we may speak of the lexico-semantic group of meals which includes: breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper,
snack, etc. The word meal is the classifier whereas in Russian we have no word for meals in general and consequently no classifier though we have several words for different kinds of meals.
§ 47. Semantic Equivalence and Synonymy
Lexical units may also be classified by the criterion of semantic similarity and semantic contrasts. The terms generally used to denote these two types of semantic relatedness are synonymy and antonymy.
Synonymy is often understood as semantic equivalence. Semantic equivalence however can exist between words and word-groups, word-groups and sentences, sentences and sentences. For example, John is taller than Bill is semantically equivalent to Bill is shorter than John. John sold the book to Bill and Bill bought the book from John may be considered semantically equivalent.
As can be seen from the above these sentences are paraphrases and denote the same event. Semantic equivalence may be observed on the level of word-groups, Thus we may say that to win a victory is synonymous with to gain a victory, etc.
Here we proceed from the assumption that the terms synonymy and synonyms should be confined to semantic relation between words only. Similar relations between word-groups and sentences are described as semantic equivalence.1 Synonyms may be found in different parts of speech and both among notional and function words. For example, though and albeit, on and upon, since and as are synonymous because these phonemically different words are similar in their denotational meaning.
Synonyms are traditionally described as words different in sound-form but identical or similar in meaning. This definition has been severely criticised on many points. Firstly, it seems impossible to speak of identical or similar meaning of words as such as this part of the definition cannot be applied to polysemantic words. It is inconceivable that polysemantic words could be synonymous in all their meanings. The verb look, e.g., is usually treated as a synonym of see, watch, observe, etc., but in another of its meanings it is not synonymous with this group of words but rather with the verbs seem, appear (cf. to look at smb and to look pale). The number of synonymic sets of a polysemantic word tends as a rule to be equal to the number of individual meanings the word possesses.
In the discussion of polysemy and context2 we have seen that one of the ways of discriminating between different meanings of a word is the interpretation of these meanings in terms of their synonyms, e.g. the two meanings of the adjective handsome are synonymously interpreted as handsome — ‘beautiful’ (usually about men) and handsome — ‘considerable, ample’ (about sums, sizes, etc.).
Secondly, it seems impossible to speak of identity or similarity of lexical meaning as a whоle as it is only the denotational component that may be described as identical or similar. If we analyse
1 See also ‘Methods ...’,§ 5, p. 214.
2 See ‘Semasiology’, §§ 40-42, p. 47-50.
words that are usually considered synonymous, e.g. to die, to pass away; to begin, to commence, etc., we find that the connotational component or, to be more exact, the stylistic reference of these words is entirely different and it is only the similarity of the denotational meaning that makes them synonymous. The words, e.g. to die, to walk, to smile, etc., may be considered identical as to their stylistic reference or emotive charge, but as there is no similarity of denotational meaning they are never felt as synonymous words.
Thirdly, it does not seem possible to speak of identity of meaning as a criterion of synonymity since identity of meaning is very rare even among monosemantic words. In fact, cases of complete synonymy are very few and are, as a rule, confined to technical nomenclatures where we can find monosemantic terms completely identical in meaning as, for example, spirant and fricative in phonetics. Words in synonymic sets are in general differentiated because of some element of opposition in each member of the set. The word handsome, e.g., is distinguished from its synonym beautiful mainly because the former implies the beauty of a male person or broadly speaking only of human beings, whereas beautiful is opposed to it as having no such restrictions in its meaning.
Thus it seems necessary to modify the traditional definition and to formulate it as follows: synonyms are words different in sound-form but similar in their denotational meaning or meanings. Synonymous relationship is observed only between similar denotational meanings of phonemically different words.
Differentiation of synonyms may be observed in different semantic components — denotational or connotational.
It should be noted, however, that the difference in denotational meaning cannot exceed certain limits, and is always combined with some common denotational component. The verbs look, seem, appear, e.g., are viewed as members of one synonymic set as all three of them possess a common denotational semantic component “to be in one’s view, or judgement, but not necessarily in fact” and come into comparison in this meaning (cf. he seems (looks), (appears), tired). A more detailed analysis shows that there is a certain difference in the meaning of each verb: seem suggests a personal opinion based on evidence (e.g. nothing seems right when one is out of sorts); look implies that opinion is based on a visual impression (e.g. the city looks its worst in March), appear sometimes suggests a distorted impression (e.g. the setting sun made the spires appear ablaze). Thus similarity of denotational meaning of all members of the synonymic series is combined with a certain difference in the meaning of each member.
It follows that relationship of synonymity implies certain differences in the denotational meaning of synonyms. In this connection a few words should be said about the traditional classification of vocabulary units into ideographic and stylistic synonyms. This classification proceeds from the assumption that synonyms may differ either in the denotational meaning (ideographic synonyms) оr the connotational meaning, or to be more exact stylistic reference. This assumption cannot be accepted as synonymous words always differ in the denotational component
??? ??? ???e?e?. Thus buy and purchase are similar in meaning but dif-
fer in their stylistic reference and therefore are not completely interchangeable. That department of an institution which is concerned with acquisition of materials is normally the Purchasing Department rather than the Buying Department. A wife however would rarely ask her husband to purchase a pound of butter. It follows that practically no words are substitutable for one another in all contexts.
This fact may be explained as follows: firstly, words synonymous in some lexical contexts may display no synonymity in others. As one of the English scholars aptly remarks, the comparison of the sentences the rainfall in April was abnormal and the rainfall in April was exceptional may give us grounds for assuming that exceptional and abnormal are synonymous. The same adjectives in a different context are by no means synonymous, as we may see by comparing my son is exceptional and my son is abnormal.1
Secondly, it is evident that interchangeability alone cannot serve as a criterion of synonymity. We may safely assume that synonyms are words interchangeable in some contexts. But the reverse is certainly not true as semantically different words of the same part of speech are, as a rule, interchangeable in quite a number of contexts. For example, in the sentence I saw a little girl playing in the garden the adjective little may be formally replaced by a number of semantically different adjectives, e.g. pretty, tall, English, etc.
Thus a more acceptable definition of synonyms seems to be the following: synonyms are words different in their sound-form, but similar in their denotational meaning or meanings and interchangeable at least in some contexts.
§ 49. Patterns of Synonymic Sets in Modern English
The English word-stock is extremely rich in synonyms which can be largely accounted for by abundant borrowing. Quite a number of words in synonymic sets are usually of Latin or French origin. For instance, out of thirteen words making up the set see, behold, descry, espy, view, survey, contemplate, observe, notice, remark, note, discern, perceive only see and behold can be traced back to Old English (OE. seon and behealdan), all others are either French or Latin borrowings.
Thus a characteristic pattern of English synonymic sets is the pattern including the native and the borrowed words. Among the best investigated are the so-called double-scale patterns: native versus Latin (e.g. bodily — corporal, brotherly — fraternal); native versus Greek or French (e.g. answer — reply, fiddle — violin). In most cases the synonyms differ in their stylistic reference, too. The native word is usually colloquial (e.g. bodily, brotherly), whereas the borrowed word may as a rule be described as bookish or highly literary (e.g. corporal, fraternal).
Side by side with this pattern there exists in English a subsidiary one based on a triple-scale of synonyms; native — French, and Latin or
1 R. Quirk. The Use of English. London, 1962, p. 129.
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