Antonyms may be defined as two or more words of the same language belonging to the same part of speech and to the same semantic field, identical in style and nearly identical in distribution, associated and often used together so that their denotative meanings render contradictory or contrary notions.

Contradictory notions are mutually opposed and denying one another, e. g. alive means not dead and impatient means not patient. Contrary notions are also mutually opposed but they are gradable, e. g. old and young are the most distant elements of a series like: old : : middle-aged : : young, while hot and cold form a series with the intermediate cool and warm, which, as F.R. Palmer points out, form a pair of antonyms themselves. The distinction between the two types is not absolute, as one can say that one is more dead than alive, and thus make these adjectives gradable.

Another classification of antonyms is based on a morphological approach: root words form absolute antonyms (right : : wrong), the presence of negative affixes creates derivational antonyms (happy : : unhappy).

The juxtaposition of antonyms in a literary text emphasises some contrast and creates emotional tension as in the following lines from Romeo and Juliet (Act I, Scene V):

My only love sprang from my only hate\ Too early seen unknown, and known too late!

One of the features enhancing the pathetic expressiveness of these lines is contrast based on such pairs as love : : hate; early : : late; unknown : : known. The opposition is obvious: each component of these pairs means the opposite of the other. The pairs may be termed antonymic pairs.

Antonyms have traditionally been defined as words of opposite meaning. This definition, however, is not sufficiently accurate, as it only shifts the problem to the question of what words may be regarded as words of opposite meaning, so we shall keep to the definition given at the beginning of the present paragraph.

14 . . 209

The important question of criteria received a new and rigorously linguistic treatment in V.N. Komissarovs work. Keeping to the time-honoured classification of antonyms into absolute or root antonyms (love : : hate) and derivational antonyms, V.N. Komissarov breaks new ground by his contextual treatment of the problem. Two words, according to him, shall be considered antonymous if they are regularly contrasted in actual speech, that is if the contrast in their meanings is proved by definite types of contextual co-occurrence.

Absolute antonyms, then, are words regularly contrasted as homogenous sentence members connected by copulative, disjunctive or adversative conjunctions, or identically used in parallel constructions, in certain typical contexts.

In the examples given below we shall denote the first of the antonyms A, the second B, and the words they serve to qualify Xand Y, respectively.

1. If youve obeyed all the rules good and bad, and you still come out at the dirty end ... then I say the rules are no good (M. Wilson).

The formula is:

A and (or) = all


not A but (on the contrary)

2. He was alive, not dead (Shaw). The formula is:

3. You will see if you were right or wrong (Cronin).

The formula is:

A or

4. The whole was big, oneself was little (Galsworthy). The formula is: X is A, and Y, on the contrary,

A regular and frequent co-occurrence in such contexts is the most important characteristic feature of antonyms. Another important criterion suggested by V.N. Komissarov is the possibility of substitution and identical lexical valency. This possibility of identical contexts is very clearly seen in the following lines:

There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, That it hardly becomes any of us To talk about the rest of us (Hock).

Members of the same antonymic pair reveal nearly identical spheres of collocation. For example the adjective hot in its figurative meaning of angry and excited is chiefly combined with names of

unpleasant emotions: anger, resentment, scorn, etc. Its antonym cold occurs with the same words.

The diagnostic force of valency is weaker than that of regular cooccurrence.

Unlike synonyms, antonyms do not differ either in style, emotional colouring or distribution. They are interchangeable at least in some contexts. The result of this interchange may be of different kind depending on the conditions of context. There will be, for instance, no change of meaning if ill and well change places within the sentence in the following: But whether he treated it ill or well, it loved nothing so much as to be near him (Wells). Or a whole sentence receives an opposite meaning when a word is replaced by its antonym, although it differs from its prototype in this one word only: You may feel he is clever : : You may feel he is foolish.

As antonyms do not differ stylistically, an antonymic substitution never results in a change of stylistic colouring.

The possibility of substitution and identical valency show that semantic polarity is a very special kind of difference implying a great deal of sameness.

In dealing with antonymic oppositions it may be helpful to treat antonyms in terms of marked and unmarked members. The unmarked member can be more widely used and very often can include the referents of the marked member but not vice versa. This proves that their meanings have some components in common. In the antonymic pair old : : young the unmarked member is old. It is possible to ask: How old is the girl? without implying that she is no longer young. W.C. Chafe says that we normally talk about a continuum of wideness as width and not about a continuum of narrowness. Thus, the usual question is: How wide is if? and not How narrow is it? which proves the unmarked vs marked character of wide vs narrow. In the antonymic opposition love : : hate, there is no unmarked element.

Some authors, J.Lyons among them, suggest a different terminology. They distinguish antonyms proper and complementary antonyms. The chief characteristic feature of antonyms proper is that they are regularly gradable. Antonyms proper, therefore, represent contrary notions. Grading is based on the operation of comparison. One can compare the intensity of feeling as in love attachment liking indifference antipathy hate. Whenever a sentence contains an antonym or an antonymic pair, it implicitly or explicitly contains comparison.

The important point to notice is this the denial of the one member of antonymic opposition does not always imply the assertion of the other take, for instance W.H. Audens line: All human hearts have ugly little treasures. If we say that our hearts treasures are neither ugly nor little, it does not imply that they are beautiful or great.

It is interesting to note that such words as young : : old; big : : small; good : : bad do not refer to independent absolute qualities but to some-implicit norm, they are relative. Consider the following portrait of an elephant:

14* 211

The Elephant

When people call this beast to mind, They marvel more and more

At such a little tail behind

So large a trunk before.

The tail of an elephant is little only in comparison with his trunk and the rest of his body. For a mouse it would have been quite big. J. Lyons discusses an interesting example of antonyms also dealing with elephants: A small elephant is a large animal. The implicit size-norm for elephants is not the same as that for all animals in general: the elephant which is small in comparison with other elephants may be big in comparison with animals as a class.

This example may also serve to show the difference and parallelism between antonymy proper and complementarity (expressing contradictory notions).

The semantic polarity in antonymy proper is relative, the opposition is gradual, it may embrace several elements characterised by different degrees of the same property. The comparison they imply is clear from the context. Large and little denote polar degrees of the same notion. The same referent which may be small as an elephant is a comparatively big animal, but it cannot be male as an elephant and female as an animal: a male elephant is a male animal.

Having noted the difference between complementary antonyms and antonyms proper, we must also take into consideration that they have much in common so that in a wider sense both groups are taken as antonyms. Complementaries like other antonyms are regularly contrasted in speech (male and female), and the elements of a complementary pair have similar distribution. The assertion of a sentence containing an antonymous or complementary term implies the denial of a corresponding sentence containing the other antonym or complementary:

The poem is good → The poem is not bad (good : : bad antonyms proper)

This is prose → This is not poetry (prose : : poetry complementaries)

As to the difference in negation it is optional with antonyms proper: by saying that the poem is not good the speaker does not always mean that it is positively bad. Though more often we are inclined to take into consideration only the opposite ends of the scale and by saying that something is not bad we even, using a litotes, say it is good.

So complementaries are a subset of antonyms taken in a wider sense.

If the root of the word involved in contrast is not semantically relative, its antonym is derived by negation. Absolute or root antonyms (see p. 209) are on this morphological basis, contrasted to those containing some negative affix.

Thus, the second group of antonyms is known as derivational antonyms. The affixes in them serve to deny the quality stated in the stem. The opposition known : : unknown in the opening example from Shakespeare (see p. 209) is by no means isolated: far from it. It is not difficult to find other examples where contrast is implied in the morphological structure of the word itself. E. g. appear : : disappear; happiness : : unhappiness; logical : : illogical; pleasant : : unpleasant; prewar : : postwar; useful : : useless, etc. There are typical affixes and typical patterns that go into play in forming these derivational antonyms. It is significant that in the examples given above prefixes prevail. The regular type of derivational antonyms contains negative prefixes: dis-, il-/im-/in-/ir-, - and un-. Other negative prefixes occur in this function only occasionally.

As to the suffixes, it should be noted that modern English gives no examples of words forming their antonyms by adding a negative suffix, such as, for instance, -less. The opposition hopeless : : hopeful or useless : : useful is more complicated, as the suffix -less is not merely added to the contrasting stem, but substituted for the suffix -ful. The group is not numerous. In most cases, even when the language possesses words with the suffix -less, the antonymic pairs found in actual speech are formed with the prefix un-. Thus, the antonymic opposition is not selfish : : self/ess but selfish : : unselfish. Cf. selfishness : : unselfishness; selfishly : : unselfishly. E.g.: I had many reasons, both selfish and unselfish, for not giving the unnecessary openings (Snow).

Several features distinguish the two groups of antonyms. In words containing one of the above negative prefixes the contrast is expressed morphologically as the prefixed variant is in opposition to the unprefixed one. Therefore if the morphological motivation is clear, there is no necessity in contexts containing both members to prove the existence of derivational antonyms. The word unsuccessful, for instance, presupposes the existence of the word successful, so that the following quotation is sufficient for establishing the contrast: Essex was always in a state of temper after one of these unsuccessful interviews (Aldridge).

The patterns, however, although typical, are not universal, so that morphologically similar formations may show different semantic relationships. Disappoint, for example, is not the antonym of appoint, neither is unman to deprive of human qualities the antonym of man to furnish with personnel.

The difference between absolute and derivational antonyms is not only morphological but semantic as well. To reveal its essence it is necessary to turn to logic. A pair of derivational antonyms form a privative binary opposition, whereas absolute antonyms, as we have already seen, are polar members of a gradual opposition which may have intermediary elements, the actual number of which may vary from zero to several units, e. g. beautiful : : pretty : : good-looking : : plain : : ugly.

Many antonyms are explained by means of the negative particle: clean not dirty, shallow not deep. It is interesting to note that whereas in Russian the negative particle and the negative prefix are homonymous, in the English language the negative particle not is morphologically unrelated to the prefixes dis-, il-/im-/in-/ir- and un-. Syntactic negation by means of

this particle is weaker than the lexical antonymy. Compare: not happy : : unhappy; not polite : : impolite; not regular : : irregular; not to believe : : to disbelieve. To prove this difference in intensity V.N. Komissarov gives examples where a word with a negative prefix is added to compensate for the insufficiency of a syntactic negation, even intensified by at all: I am sorry to inform you that we are not at all satisfied with your sister. We are very much dissatisfied with her (Ch. Dickens).

Almost every word can have one or more synonyms. Comparatively few have antonyms. This type of opposition is especially characteristic of qualitative adjectives. Cf. in W.Shakespeares Sonnet LXXVI":

For as the sun is daily new and old, So is my love still telling what is told.

It is also manifest in words derived from qualitative adjectives, e. g. gladly : : sadly; gladness : : sadness. Irrespective of the part of speech, they are mostly words connected with feelings or state: triumph : : disaster; hope : : despair. Antonymic pairs, also irrespective of part of speech, concern direction (hither and thither) (L.A. Novikov calls these vectorial antonyms"), and position in space and time (far and near).

Nothing so difficult as a beginning,

In poetry, unless perhaps the end (Byron).

Compare also day : : night; late : : early; over : : under.

The number of examples could be augmented, but those already quoted will suffice to illustrate both the linguistic essence of antonyms and the very prominent part they play among the expressive means a language can possess. Like synonyms they occupy an important place in the phraseological fund of the language: backwards and forwards, far and near, from first to last, in black and white, play fast and loose, etc.

Not only words, but set expressions as well, can be grouped into antonymic pairs. The phrase by accident can be contrasted to the phrase on purpose. Cf. up to par and below par. Par represents the full nominal value of a companys shares, hence up to par metaphorically means up to the level of ones normal health and below par unwell.

Antonyms form mostly pairs, not groups like synonyms: above : : below; absent : : present; absence : : presence; alike : : different; asleep : : awake; back : : forth; bad : : good; big : : little, etc. Cases when there are three or more words are reducible to a binary opposition, so that hot is contrasted to cold and warm to cool.

Polysemantic words may have antonyms in some of their meanings and none in the others. When criticism means blame or censure its antonym is praise, when it means writing critical essays dealing with the works of some author, it can have no antonym. The fact lies at the basis of W.S. Maughams pun: People ask you for criticism, but they only want praise. Also in different meanings a word may have different aa-tonyms. Compare for example: a short story : : a long story but a short man : : a tall man; be short with somebody : : be civil with somebody.

Semantic polarity presupposes the presence of some common semantic components in the denotational meaning. Thus, while ashamed means feeling unhappy or troubled because one has done something wrong or foolish, its antonym proud also deals with feeling but the feeling of happiness and assurance which also has its ground in moral values.

A synonymic set of words is an opposition of a different kind: its basis is sameness or approximate sameness of denotative meaning, the distinctive features can be stylistic, emotional, distributional or depending on valency.

There is one further type of semantic opposition we have to consider. The relation to which the name of conversives is usually given may be exemplified by such pairs as buy : : sell; give : : receive; ancestor : : descendant; parent : : child; left : : right; cause : : suffer; saddening : : saddened.

Conversives (or relational opposites) as F.R. Palmer calls them denote one and the same referent or situation as viewed from different points of view, with a reversal of the order of participants and their roles. The interchangeability and contextual behaviour are specific. The relation is closely connected with grammar, namely with grammatical contrast of active and passive. The substitution of a conversive does not change the meaning of a sentence if it is combined with appropriate regular morphological and syntactical changes and selection of appropriate prepositions: He gave her flowers. She received flowers from him. = She was given flowers by him.

Some linguists class conversives as a subset of antonyms, others suggest that antonyms and conversives together constitute the class of contrastives. Although there is parallelism between the two relations, it seems more logical to stress that they must be distinguished, even if the difference is not always clear-cut. The same pair of words, e. g. fathers and sons, may be functioning as antonyms or as conversives.

An important point setting them apart is that conversive relations are possible within the semantic structure of one and the same word. M.V. Nikitin mentions such verbs as wear, sell, tire, smell, etc. and such adjectives as glad, sad, dubious, lucky and others.

It should be noted that sell in this case is not only the conversive of buy, it means be sold, find buyers (The book sells well). The same contrast of active and passive sense is observed in adjectives: sad saddening and saddened, dubious and doubtful mean feeling doubt and inspiring doubt.

This peculiarity of conversives becomes prominent if we compare equivalents in various languages. The English verb marry renders both conversive meanings, it holds good for both participants: Mary married Dick or Dick married Mary. In a number of languages, including Russian, there are, as J. Lyons and some other authors have pointed out, two verbs: one for the woman and another for the man.

The methodological significance of the antonymic, synonymic, conversive, hyponymic and other semantic relations between lexical items becomes clear if we remember that the place that each unit occupies in the lexical system and its function is derived from the relations it contracts with other units (see table on p. 183).

Chapter 11


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