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Semantics AS Lecture Paradigmatic sense relations

Paradigmatic sense relations
• Semasiology
• Onomasiology
There are various types of sense
relations. Traditionally, semantics looks
at synonymy, homonymy, polysemy,
hyponymy, meronymy and oppositeness
of meaning which includes the
misleading familiar concept of
• Homonymy is the situation in which one word-form has
two or more very different meanings, felt to be unrelated
for example, the bank of a river, and the bank that
gives or denies you overdraft facilities. Bank (1) and
bank (2) are absolute homonyms. There are special
cases of partial homonymy – sometimes the words
sound the same but look different: for example, the
waist that you attach your belt around versus the
waste that you throw in the dustbin. These are
homophones. Alternatively, words may look identical but
sound different – thus you might weep a single tear if
you tear your best jacket. These are homographs.
• A special case of homonymy has been
identified as grammatical homonymy or
polyfunctionality. This term describes
cases in which one morphosyntactic word
is associated with two distinct lexemes
and with a set of distinct grammatical
meanings: e.g. plays – i) verb, 3rd p. sg.
pres. t. and ii) noun, common, countable,
• One form = many senses
Skirt, school, sister.
Condition on polysemy – the numerous meaning
have to be related in the cognitive unconscious
of native speakers, i.e. we should be able
analytically to define the process of meaning
derivation which have lead to the development
of the separate senses. Meaning extension
(broadening) and the reverse specialisation
(narrowing) are thw two most frequent
processes resulting in new related senses.
• What does it mean to say that words have
the same or similar meaning? If you want
to look up the synonyms a word has, then
you go to a Thesaurus, a reference book
sometimes known as a reverse-dictionary
because it is classified by meanings, not
alphabetically, by word-forms.
• One of the most important structuring relations in the
vocabulary of a language is hyponymy. This is the
relation between apple and fruit, car and vehicle, slap
and hit, and so on. We say that apple is a hyponym of
fruit, and conversely, that fruit is a superordinate
(occasionally hyperonym) of apple. This relation is often
portrayed as one of inclusion. However, what includes
what depends on whether we look at meanings
extensionally or intensionally. From the extensional point
of view, the class denoted by the superordinate term
includes the class denoted by the hyponym as a
subclass; thus, the class of fruit includes the class of
apples as one of its subclasses.
• Each hyponym has at least one additional feature or
property which makes it a specific subclass of the
general class but also inherits all the features of its
superordinate. For this reason hyponymy is defined as a
transitive ISA relationship of inheritance. It is a transitive
Hyponymy is often defined in terms of entailment
between sentences which differ only in respect of the
lexical items being tested: It's an apple entails but is
not entailed by It's a fruit, Mary slapped John entails but
is not entailed by Mary hit John.
• Another relation of inclusion is meronymy, which is the
lexical reflex of the more general cognitive category of
the part-whole relation. Examples of meronymy are:
hand:finger, teapot:spout, wheel:spoke, car:engine,
telescope:lens, tree:branch, and so on. In the case of
finger:hand, finger is said to be the meronym (the term
partonym is also sometimes found) and hand the
holonym. Meronymy shows interesting parallels with
hyponymy. (They must not, of course, be confused: a
dog is not a part of an animal, and a finger is not a kind
of hand.)
• In both cases there is inclusion in different
directions according to whether one takes an
extensional or an intensional view. A hand
physically includes the fingers (notice that we
are not dealing with classes here, but
individuals); but the meaning of finger somehow
incorporates the sense of hand, (Langacker says
that the concept "finger" is 'profiled' against the
domain "hand".)
Oppositeness of meaning
Everyone, even quite young children, can answer
questions like What's the opposite of
big/long/heavy/up/out/etc.? Oppositeness is perhaps the
only sense relation to receive direct lexical recognition in
everyday language. It is presumably, therefore, in some
way cognitively primitive. However, it is quite hard to
pin down exactly what oppositeness consists of.
– Reversives (Reverses)
– Converses
• The following pairs represent typical complementaries:
dead:alive, true:false, obey: disobey, inside:outside,
continue (V.ing):stop (V.ing),possible:impossible,
stationary: moving, male:female. Complementaries
constitute a very basic form of oppositeness and display
inherent binarity in perhaps its purest form. Some
definite conceptual area is partitioned by the terms of
the opposition into two mutually exclusive
compartments, with no possibility of 'sitting on the
fence'. Hence, if anything (within the appropriate area)
falls into one of the compartments, it cannot fall into the
other, and if something does not fall into one of the
compartments, it must fall into the other (this last
criterion distinguishes complementaries from mere
• The most extensively studied opposites are
undoubtedly antonyms. (Note that
antonymy is frequently used as a synonym for
oppositeness; but its terminological meaning
includes only gradable opposites of the
good/bad type.)
kind:cruel clever:dull pretty:plain polite:rude
long:short fast:slow wide:narrow heavy:light
strong:weak large:small thick:thin high:low
• Normal language behavior: ungradable
concepts can sometimes be graded in
speech. The reasons for this are
• John is more of a bachelor than Daniel
(i.e. more determined never to get
married, partying, had never had a
stable girlfriend, etc.)
• I am more alive now than ever (i.e.
feeling more energetic, satisfied with
my life, etc).
• Reversives belong to a broader category of directional
opposites which include straightforward directions such
as up:down, forwards:backwards, into:out of, north:
south, and so on, and extremes along some axis,
top:bottom (called antipodals in Cruse (1986)).
Reversives have the peculiarity of denoting movement
(or more generally, change) in opposite directions,
between two terminal states. They are all verbs. The
most elementary exemplars denote literal movement, or
relative movement, in opposite directions: rise:fall,
advance:retreat, enter:leave.
• The reversivity of more abstract examples
resides in a change (transitive or
intransitive) in opposite directions
between two states: tie:untie,
dress:undress, roll:unroll,
• Converses are often considered to be a subtype of directional opposites.
They are also, paradoxically, sometimes considered to be a type of
There are valid reasons for both views. Take the pair above:below, and
three objects oriented as follows:
We can express the relation between A and B in two ways: we can say
either A is above B, or B is below A. The logical equivalence between these
two expressions is what defines above and below as converses. But since
both are capable of describing the same arrangement, a unique situation
among opposites, there is some point in thinking of them as synonyms
conditioned by the order of their arguments. Consider now, however, A and
C in relation to B: clearly A is above B and C is below B, hence above and
below denote orientations in opposite directions, and are therefore
directional opposites.
• Other converse pairs with a salient directional character
are: bequeath:inherit, buy:sell (a double movement,
here, of money and merchandise). The directional nature
of some converse pairs, however, is pretty hard to
discern (husband:wife, parent:offspring, predator:prey),
although it is perhaps not completely absent.
Converses may be described as two-place if the
relational predicate they denote has two arguments (e.g.
above:below) and three-place if it has three (e.g. lend:
borrow: A borrowed B from C or C lent B to A); buy:sell
are arguable fourplace converses: John sold the car to
Bill for £5,000/Bill bought the car from John for £5,000.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Delving
into the depths of language takes a
• Cruse, A. (2011) Meaning in Language: An
Introduction to Semantics and Pragmatics.
• Fromkin, V., Rodman, R. and Hyams, N.
(2010/2007) An Introduction to Language.
Thomson/Heinle, Boston, Mass
• Hurford, J., Heasley, B. and M. Smith
(2007) Semantics: A Coursebook. CUP
• Leech, G. (1997) Semantics. Penguin.