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THEMATIC AND IDEOGRAPHIC GROUPS. THE THEORIES OF SEMANTIC FIELDS. HYPONYMY




A further subdivision within the lexico-grammatical groups is achieved in the well-known thematic subgroups, such as terms of kinship, names for parts of the human body, colour terms, military terms and so on. The basis of grouping this time is not only linguistic but also extra-linguistic: the words are associated, because the things they name occur together and are closely connected in reality. It has been found that these words constitute quite definitely articulated spheres held together by differences, oppositions and distinctive values. For an example it is convenient to turn to the adjectives. These are known to be subdivided into qualitative and relative lexico-grammatical groups. Among the first, adjectives that characterise a substance for shape, colour, physical or mental qualities, speed, size, etc. are distinguished.

The group of colour terms has always attracted the attention of linguists, because it permits research of lexical problems of primary importance. The most prominent among them is the problem of the systematic or non-systematic character of vocabulary, of the difference in naming the same extra-linguistic referents by different languages, and of the relationship between thought and language. There are hundreds of articles written about colour terms.

The basic colour name system comprises four words: blue, green, yellow, red; they cover the whole spectrum. All the other words denoting colours bring details into this scheme and form subsystems of the first and second order, which may be considered as synonymic series with corresponding basic terms as their dominants. Thus, red is taken as a dominant for the subsystem of the first degree: scarlet, orange, crimson, rose, and the subsystem of the second degree is: vermilion, wine red, cherry, coral, copper-red, etc. Words belonging to the basic system differ from words belonging to subsystems not only semantically but in some other features as well. These features are: (1) frequency of use; (2) motivation; (3) simple or compound character; (4) stylistic colouring; (5) combining power. The basic


terms, for instance, are frequent words belonging to the first thousand of words in H.S. Eatons semantic frequency list", their motivation is lost in present-day English. They are all native words of long standing. The motivation of colour terms in the subsystem is very clear: they are derived from the names of fruit (orange), flowers (pink), colouring stuffs (indigo). Basic system words and most of the first degree terms are root words, the second degree terms are derivatives or compounds: copper-red, jade-green, sky-coloured. Stylistically the basic terms are definitely neutral, the second degree terms are either special or poetic. The meaning is widest in the four basic terms, it gradually narrows down from subsystem to subsystem.

The relationship existing between elements of various levels is logically that of inclusion. Semanticists call it hyponymy. The term is of comparatively recent creation. J. Lyons stresses its importance as a constitutive principle in the organisation of the vocabulary of all languages. For example, the meaning of scarlet is included in the meaning of red. So scarlet is the hyponym of red, and its co-hyponym is crimson, as to red it is the superordinate of both crimson and scarlet. Could every word have a superordinate in the vocabulary, the hierarchical organisation of the lexical system would have been ideal. As it is there is not always a superordinate term. There is, for instance, no superordinate term for all colours as the term coloured usually excludes white and black. F.R. Palmer gives several examples from the animal world. The word sheep is the superordinate for ram, ewe and lamb. The word dog is in a sense its own superordinate, because there is no special word for a male dog, although there is a special term for the female and for the little dog, i.e. bitch and pup. Superordinates are also called hyperonyms, this latter term is even more frequent. Some scholars treat this phenomenon as presupposition, because if we say that some stuff is scarlet it implies that it is red. One may also treat synonymy as a special case of hyponymy (see Ch. 10).

Thematic groups as well as ideographic groups, i.e. groups uniting words of different parts of speech but thematically related, have been mostly studied diachronically. Thus A.A. Ufimtseva wrote a monograph on the historical development of the words: eorþe, land, grund;, mideanzeard, molde, folde and hruse.

The evolution of these words from the Old-English period up to the present is described in great detail. The set in this case is defined by enumerating all its elements as well as by naming the notion lying at the basis of their meaning. Many other authors have also described the evolution of lexico-semantic groups. The possibility of transferring the results obtained with limited subsets on the vocabulary as a whole adaptive system remains undefined. Subsequent works by A.A. Ufimtseva are devoted to various aspects of the problem of the lexical and lexico-semantic system.

All the elements of lexico-semantic groups remain within limits of the same part of speech and the same lexico-grammatical group. When; grammatical meaning is not taken into consideration, we obtain the so-called ideographic groups.

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The ideographic subgroups are independent of classification into parts of speech. Words and expressions are here classed not according to their lexico-grammatical meaning but strictly according to their signification, i.e. to the system of logical notions. These subgroups may comprise nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs together, provided they refer to the same notion. Thus, V.I. Agamdzhanova unites into one group such words as light n, bright a, shine v and other words connected with the notion of light as something permitting living beings to see the surrounding objects.

The approach resembles the much discussed theory of semantic fields but is more precise than some of them, because this author gives purely linguistic criteria according to which words belonging to the group may be determined. The equivalence of words in this case is reflected in their valency.

The theory of semantic fields continues to engage the attention of linguists. A great number of articles and full-length monographs have been written on this topic, and the discussion is far from being closed.

Jost Triers1 conception of linguistic fields is based on F. de Saussures theory of language as a synchronous system of networks held together by differences, oppositions and distinctive values. The starting point of the whole field theory was J. Triers work on intellectual terms in Old and Middle High German. J. Trier shows that they form an interdependent lexical sphere where the significance of each unit is determined by its neighbours. The semantic areas of the units limit one another and cover up the whole sphere. This sphere he called a linguistic, conceptual or lexical field. His definition (here given in St. Ullmanns translation)2 is: Fields are linguistic realities existing between single words and the total vocabulary; they are parts of a whole and resemble words in that they combine into some higher unit, and the vocabulary in that they resolve themselves into smaller units. Since the publication of J. Triers book, the field theory has proceeded along different lines, and several definitions of the basic notion have been put forward. A search for objective criteria made W. Porzig, G. Ipsen and other authors narrow the conception down. G. Ipsen studies Indo-European names of metals and notices their connection with colour adjectives. W. Porzig pays attention to regular contextual ties: dog bark, blind see, see eye. A. Jolles takes up correlative pairs like right left.

The greatest merit of the field theories lies in their attempt to find linguistic criteria disclosing the systematic character of language. Their structuralist orientation is consistent. J. Triers most important shortcoming is his idealistic methodology. He regards language as a super-individual cultural product shaping our concepts and our whole knowledge of the world. His ideas about the influence of language upon thought, and the existence of an intermediate universe of concepts interposed between man and the universe are wholly untenable. An

1 See: Trier, Jost. Der deutsche Wortschatz im Sinnbezirk des Verstandes. Die Geschichte eines sprachlichen Feldes. Heidelberg, 1931.

2 See: Ullmann St. The Principles of Semantics. P. 157.


exhaustive criticism of this theory may be found in M.D. Stepanovas work.

Freed from its idealistic fetters, J. Triers theory may, if properly developed, have far-reaching consequences in modern semantics. At this point mention should be made of influential and promising statistical work by A. Shaikevitch.1 This investigation is based on the hypothesis that semantically related words must occur near one another in the text, and vice versa; if the words often occur in the text together, they must be semantically related. Words (adjectives) were chosen from concordance dictionaries for G. Chaucer, E. Spenser, W. Shakespeare and several other English poets. The material was studied statistically, and the results proved the hypothesis to be correct. Groups were obtained without making use of their meaning on a strictly formal basis, and their elements proved to be semantically related. For example: faint, feeble, weary, sick, tedious and whole healthy formed one group. Thin, thick, subtle also came together. The experiment shows that a purely formal criterion of co-occurrence can serve as a basis of semantic equivalence.

A syntactic approach to the problem of semantic fields has been initiated by the Moscow structuralist group. From their point of view, the detailed syntactic properties of the word are its meaning. Y. Apresyan proposes an analysis, the material of which includes a list of configuration patterns (phrase types) of the language as revealed by syntactic analysis, an indication of the frequency of each configuration pattern and an enumeration of meanings (already known, no matter how discovered) that occur in each pattern. Preliminary study of English verbs as constituents of each pattern has yielded corresponding sets of verbs with some semantic features in common. A semantic field can therefore be described on the basis of the valency potential of its members. Since a correlation has been found between the frequency of a configuration pattern and the number of word meanings which may appear in it, Y. Apresyan proposes that a hierarchy of increasingly comprehensive word fields should be built by considering configuration patterns of increasing frequency. Of the vast literature on semantic fields special attention should be paid to the works by G. Šcur.2


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