Conceptual or semantic fields

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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 field” we understand closely knit sectors of vocabulary each characterized by a common concept. For example, the words black, blue, green, red, yellow, whitemay be described as making up the semantic field of colours.

The members of the semantic field are not synonyms but all of them are joined together by some common semantic component. It may be the concept of colour in the above-given examples. This semantic component common to all the members of the field is called the common denominator of meaning.

All members of the field are semantically interdependent as each member delimits and determines the meaning of its neighbours and is, in its turn, semantically delimited and determined by them. It follows that the word-meaning is, to a certain extent, determined by the place this word occupies in its semantic field. Thus a 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.

Some semantic fields may be very extensive and cover big conceptual areas, such as space, time composed of words belonging to different parts of speech. These large semantic fields may contain small lexical groups of words belonging to the same part of speech and linked by a common concept. These small groups are called lexico-semantic groups.

The criterion for joining words together into such 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 lexico-semantic group. For example, the word saleswoman may be analyzed into the semantic components ‘human’, ‘female’, ‘professional’. So the word saleswomanmay be included into the following lexico-semantic groups: (1) under the heading of ‘human’ together with the words man, girl; (2) under the heading ‘female’ together with the words girl, wife; (3) under the heading ‘professional’ together with the words dealer, teacher.

Different meanings of a polysemantic word make it possible to refer the same word to various lexico-semantic groups. E.g. the word catchmay refer to the lexico-semantic group together with the words understand, comprehend, realizeand to another group with the words get, capture, obtain.

Hyponimic (or hierarchical) structures and lexico-semantic groups

Another approach to the classification of vocabulary items into lexico-semantic groups is hyponimic relations between words. By hyponymy is meant a semantic relationship of inclusion. For example, vehicleincludes car, truck, bus and so on; oakimplies tree. Thus the hyponymic relationship may be viewed as the hierarchical relationship between the meaning of the general and the individual terms.

The general term, e.g. vehicle, tree, is referred to as the classifier and serves to describe the lexico-semantic group.

The individual terms contain or entail the meaning of the general term in addition to their individual meanings which distinguish them from each other.

In such hierarchical structures certain words may be both classifiers and members of the groups. This may be illustrated by the following hyponymic structure:








The more specific term is called hyponym of the more general. And the more general term is called the hyperonym or the classifier.

Synonymy and antonymy

Words may also be classified by the criterion of semantic similarity and semantic contrasts into synonyms and antonyms.

Synonymsare words different in their sound-form, but similar in their denotational meaning and interchangeable at least in some contexts. For example, to begin, to start, to commence, initiate, originate, create, arise.

Synonyms may also be defined as words belonging to the same part of speech and possessing one or more identical or nearly identical denotational meanings, interchangeable, at least, in some contexts, without any considerable alteration in denotaional meaning, but differing in phonemic shape, morphemic composition, shades of meaning, connotations, affective value, style, valency and idiomatic use.

Synonyms form a synonymic set comprising a synonymic dominant. The synonymic dominant is the most general synonym containing the specific features rendered by all the other members of the set.For example, the word ghostin the setspecter, phantom, spirit, spook.

If the difference in the meaning of synonyms concerns the notion or the emotion expressed, the synonyms are classed as ideographic synonyms. For example, lonely, alone.

Contextual synonyms are similar in meaning only under some specific distributional conditions. For example, the verbs bear, suffer, standare semantically different and not interchangeable except when used in the negative form can’t bear, can’t suffer, can’t stand.

Antonymsare words different in their sound-form and characterized by different types of semantic contrast of their denotational meaning and interchangeable at least in some contexts.

For example, to ask, toanswer.

Antonyms may also be defined as two or rarely more words of the same part of speech that are identical in style and nearly identical in distribution, associated and used together so that their denotative meanings render contrary or contradictory notions. For example, the antonymic pair love :: hate. There are derivational antonyms: unknown :: known; useful :: useless.

Polysemantic words may have antonymous meanings in their semantic structure; for example, to dust means “to wipe the dust” and “to spread the dust”. This feature is called enantiosemy.

Antonyms may be grouped into contradictories, e.g. dead :: alive, contraries, e.g. cold :: hot, and incompatibles, e.g. red entails the exclusion of black, blue yellow.

Lecture 6. Word-structure

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