ТОП 10:

Divergences in the semantic structure of words

The semantic structure of words presents a complicated problem as the so-called correlated words of the T languages are far from being identical in this respect. The only exception is some groups of monosemantic words which will be dealt with later.

Divergences in the semantic structure of words of the S and T languages are one of the primary cases of lexical transformations. These divergences or dissimilitudes are connected with certain peculiar features of a word or a group of words. Even words which seem to have the same meaning in the two languages are not semantically identical. The primary meanings of correlated words often coincide while their derivative meanings do not. Thus there is only partial correspondence in the structures of polysemantic words as their lexical semantic variants do not cover one another. Semantic correlation is not to be interpreted as semantic identity and one-to-one correspondence between the semantic structures of correlated polysemantic words in the two languages is hardly ever possible.

Such partial correspondence may be illustrated by the following analysis of the correlated words стіл and table. Their primary meanings denoting the same article of furniture are identical. But their secondary meanings diverge. Other lexical semantic variants of the word table are: part of the machine-tool; slab of wood (stone); matter written on this; level area, plateau; palm of hand, indicating character of fortune, etc. Lexical semantic variants of the word стіл are: їжа, харчі, (стіл і квартира, дієтичний стіл); заклад, відділ у канцелярії (паспортний стіл, стіл знаходок) etc.

Not infrequently the primary meaning (and sometimes the derivative meanings as well) of an English word consist of more than one semantic component or some, forming the so-called “bundles” of semantic elements. This is usually reflected in dictionaries which give more than one Ukrainian equivalent of each LS of the English word.

The analysis of the polysemantic word “mellow” shows that it can modify a wide variety of objects and notions: fruit, wine, soil, voice, man, etc. Each sphere of its application corresponds to a different derivative meaning and each meaning (consisting of several semes) accordingly has two or more Ukrainian equivalents.

1. стиглий, м’який, соковитий (про фрукти); 2. витриманий, старий (про вино); 3. приємний на смак; 4. подобрішавший з віком (про людину); 5. м’який, густий (про голос и колір, фарбу); 6. пухкий, родючий (про грунт); 7. розм. веселий, на підпитку.

It also follows from the above example that there is no single Ukrainian word with a similar semantic structure corresponding to the word “mellow” and comprising all its meanings.


Different valency


The aptness of a word to appear in various combinations is described as its lexical valency or collocability which amounts to semantic agreement. Collocability implies the ability of a lexical unit to combine with other lexical units, with other words or lexical groups. A word as a lexical unit has both paradigmatic and syntagmatic collocability. The lexical meaning of a word is revealed in either case. The contexts in which a word is used bring out its distribution and potential collocability, thus the range of lexical valency of words is linguistically determined by the lexical meaning of words, by the compatibility of notions expressed by them and by the inner structure of he language word-stock.

It should be noted that valency comprises all levels of language – its phonological, syntactical and lexical levels. Only lexical valency will be considered here.

A detailed analysis of factual material shows that valency in the English language is broader and more flexible than that in the Ukrainian language. This fact confronts the translator with additional difficulties, as it enables a writer to use unexpected individual combinations. It follows that valency may be obligatory non-obligatory and words accordingly fall into two categories: “open” or discrete words and “closed” or non-discrete ones. The adjective “aquiline” is a classical example of a word with a closed valency (ср. the Ukrainian adjective кромішний).

Every language has its established valency norms, its types of word combinations, groups of words able to form such combinations. This especially concerns traditional, obligatory combinations while individual combinations give greater scope to translators. Individual collocability is by no means arbitrary and must not violate the existing models of valency. As a writer may bring out a potential meaning of some word he is also able to produce unexpected combinations. Such individual but linguistically justifiable collocations belong to the writer’s individual style in the way as his epithets or metaphors and may be regarded as an effective stylistic device, e.g.

She had seen many people die, but until now, she had never known a young foreign death. (R.Godden).

У неї на очах вмирало багато людей, але досі їй не траплялося бачити, як помирав іноземець, та ще й такий юний.

Words traditionally collocated tend to constitute clichés, e.g. a bad mistake, high hopes, heavy sea (rain, snow), etc. the translator is to find similar TL clichés, traditional collocations: груба помилка, веикі надії, бурхливе море, сильный дощ (сніг). The key word in such collocations is a noun, both semantically and structurally, while the modifying adjective plays a subordinate role. The key word is always preserved in translation but the collocated adjective is rendered by a word possessing a different referential meaning which expresses the same category (in this case – intensity) and corresponds to the TL valency norms. For example:

a bad mistake – груба помилка

a bad headache – сильний головний біль

a bed debt – неповернений борг

a bad accident –важкий нещасний випадок

a bad wound – важка рана

a bad egg – тухле яйце

a bad apple – гниле яблуко.

It should be noted that words playing a qualifying role may be not only adjectives but also verbs and adverbs, e.g. trains run – поізди ходять; to sit in dry dock – стояти в сухому доці.

The problem of semantic agreement inevitably arises in the translation of phraseological units consisting of a verb of wide meaning and a noun (collocations or set expressions). The verb is practically desemantised and the noun is the semantic centre of the collocation.

The translation of the verb is determined by the law of semantic agreement, e.g.

to make tea (coffee) – заварювати чай (каву)

to make beds – стелити постілі

to make faces – корчити гримаси

to make apologies - приноситивибачення.

Every language possesses regular and compatible collocations.

After a day of heavy selling and in spite of persistent Bank of England support, the pound closed on Monday at a new record low against the United States dollar.

Після того як впродовж усього дня посилено збувалися фунти стерлінгів і, незважаючи на стійку підтримку Англійського банку, до закриття біржі в понеділок курс фунту сягнув рекордно-низького рівня відносно долара.

The richer the semantic volume of a word is the richer is its collocability which opens up wide translation possibilities.

A detailed analysis of various collocations shows that individual and unexpected collocations in different functional styles are much more frequent in English than in Ukrainian.

Different collocability often calls for lexical and grammatical transformation, though of the collocation may have its equivalent in Russian, e.g. a “controversial question” – спірне питання but the collocation “the most controversial Prime Minister” cannot be translated as ‘самий спірний прем’єр-міністр’.


Britain will tomorrow be welcoming on an official visit one of the most controversial and youngest Prime Minister in Europe.

Завтра до Англії прибуває з офіційним візитом один з наймолодших прем’єр-міністрів Європи, який викликає найсуперечливіші думки.

Sweden's neutral faith ought not to be in doubt.

Вірність Швеції нейтралітету не підлягає сумніву.


A relatively free valency in the English language accounts for the free use of the so-called transferred epithet in which logical and syntactical modifications do not coincide.


I sat down to a very meditative breakfast.

Поринувши в роздуми, я почав снідати.


Logically the adjective “meditative” refers to the subject of the sentence whereas syntactically it is attached to the prepositional object. This unusual attachment converts it into a transferred epithet. The collocation задумливий сніданок is hardly possible in Ukrainian.


Different usage


Traditional usage of words of word combinations is typical of each language. Traditional S.L. and T.L. usage or clichés do not coincide. The words forming such clichés often have different meanings in the two language but they are traditionally used to describe similar situations. The problem of the proper selection of equivalent words and clichés can be solved only if the peculiarities of the correlated languages are taken into consideration, e.g.

He is survived by his wife, a son and a daughter.

Він залишив після себе дружину, сина й дочку.

Sometimes different usage in partly due to different vision:

The city is built on terrace rising from the lake.

Місто збудоване на терасах, що спускаються до озера.

As a matter of fact there two verbs (to rise and спускатися) may be called conversives, that is, they describe the same situation from diametrically opposite angles.

Sometimes different usage is apparent in the use of semantically complete prepositions.

He wrote under several pseudonyms, many of his essays appearing over the name of “Little Nell”. (F.Johnson).

Він писав під різними псевдонімами, багато його нарисів з’являлися під підписом «Крихітка Нелл».

Usage is particularly conspicuous in set expressions.

The New Zealand earthquake was followed by tremors lasting an hour. No loss of life was reported.

Після землетрусу в Нової Зеландії протягом години відчувалися поштовхи. Жертв не було.


The fact that the US Government was finally and firmly coming to grips with crime impressed many.

На багатьох справило враження те, що уряд Сполучених Штатів, нарешті, вельми енергійно розпочав боротьбу зі злочинністю.


Usage plays an important part in translating orders and instructions.

Commit no nuisance – зупинятися заборонено.

Usage is closely linked with the history and development of the language, of its lexical system. Hence every language creates peculiar clichés, ready-made formulae. They are never violated by the introduction of additional words or by the substitution of their components.


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