Topic 11 – The word as a linguistic sign. Homonymy – sinonymy – antonymy. ‘false friends’. Lexical creativity

Topic 11 – The word as a linguistic sign. Homonymy – sinonymy – antonymy. ‘false friends’. Lexical creativity



1.1. Aims of the unit.

1.2. Notes on bibliography.


2.1. On the origin and nature of words.

2.2. The power of words: language and religion.


3.1. Words and meaning within language as a system.

3.2. On defining semantics, linguistic semantics, and semiotics.

3.2.1. What is meaning?

3.2.2. Semantics: the study of meaning.

3.2.3. Linguistic semantics: language and meaning.

3.2.4. Semiotics: the study of signs.

3.3. On the nature of the linguistic sign.

3.3.1. Ferdinand de Saussure and linguistics.

3.3.2. The linguistic sign : signifié vs. signifiant.

3.3.3. Synchronic vs. diachronic studies.

3.3.4. Syntagmatic vs. paradigmatic relations.


4.1. Homonymy.

4.1.1. On defining homonymy.

4.1.2. Homonymy vs. polysemy.

4.1.3. Absolute vs. partial homonymy.

4.1.4. Types of homonyms.

4.2. Synonymy.

4.2.1. On defining synonymy.

4.2.2. Absolute vs. partial synonymy.

4.2.3. Types of synonyms.

4.3. Antonymy.

4.3.1. On defining antonymy.

4.3.2. Types of antonyms.

4.4. Minor types of semantic relationships.

4.5. False friends.

4.6. Lexical creativity

4.6.1. On defining lexical creativity.

4.6.2. Creativity and productivity.

4.6.3. Types of lexical creativity.





1.1. Aims of the unit.

The present study is aimed to serve as the core of a survey on the notion of the word as a linguistic sign, and in particular of the major processes of homonymy, synonymy, and antonymy, and other minor processes, such as hyponymy and hypernymy and meronymy, together with the concepts of false friends and lexical creativity. In order to discuss these notions in more detail, we shall provide first some background knowledge on word associations in order to frame the discussion in terms of lexical semantics. Since these processes are part of lexis within a theory of linguistics, word knowledge background on this issue is a useful framework to discuss what it means to know a word in order to explain lexical acquisition and processing.

The structure of this study shall be divided into four main sections. Chapter 2 provides a historical background on the origin of words in order to relate it to Chapter 3, which provides the reader with a theoretical account of words within a theory of linguistic s. Therefore, we shall include a) those terms that are necessary to discuss the aspects of knowing a word concerning meaning and organization, such as the arbitrariness of the sign, paradigmatic and syntagmatic relationships, and so on; (b) Saussure’s view on the nature of the linguistic sign; and (c) the different kinds of lexical knowledge which will provide us a framework to explain the processes of homonymy, synonymy, antonymy, minor types, false friends, and lexical creativity. In fact, this section is an introductory and elementary account of key terminology so as to prepare the reader for the linguistic background which is analysed in subsequent sections.

Chapter 4 provides a theoretical discussion of the process of homonymy, synonymy, antonymy, minor types, the notions of false friends and lexical creativity. Chapter 5 provides future directions for some lexical implications on language teaching, and Chapter 6 draws a conclusion from all the points involved in this study. Finally, in Chapter 7, bibliography will be listed.

1.2. Notes on bibliography.

In order to offer an insightful analysis and survey on the word as a linguistic sign, we have dealt with the works of relevant figures in the field. For instance, an approach to the nature of words as linguistic signs is namely provided by Ferdinand de Saussure in his work Cours de Linguistique Générale (1916,1983), since he represents one of an active group of scholars in Prague School whose research has put the linguistic sign at the forefront of contemporary applied linguistics. Two more reference books, still indispensable, is that of Cruse, Lexical Semantics (1983) in which we are presented careful considerations to the many complex kinds of sense-relations and types and Aitchinson, Thesaurus construction and use: a practical manual.(2000).

Another essential work on this field is Bauer, English Word-Formation (1983), and other classic references of interest are those of Aitchinson, Words in the mind: An introduction to the mental lexicon (1994); and Lyons Linguistic Semantics, An Introduction (1995), Besides, other influential works on the origins and development of vocabulary are Crystal, Linguistics (1985), Baugh & Cable, A History of the English Language (1993), and Algeo Problems in the origins and development of the English language (1982).

In order to do so, we shall follow the most prominent figures in this field from the past to the present-day are and Schmitt (2000). Other contributions are drawn from F. R. Palmer (1981) and Nelson (1974). Ludwig Wittgenstein (1953). Finally, for more information on educational implications, see B.O.E. (2002), and for future directions in vocabulary assessment, see Vocabulary in Language Teaching (2000) by Norbert Schmitt.

Finally, three good places for vocabulary research on the Internet are: (1); (2); and (3)


In this section, we address those historical sources that account for the nature and origin of words in order to provide a relevant framework to understand what it means to know a word and the subtlety and magic of lexis. We shall see below that the study of words has indeed a respectable history, and that we need all this information to satisfy the demands of subsequent chapters on theoretical matters.

2.1. On the origin and nature of words.

The origin and nature of words is linked to the concepts of language and communication process. Since ancient times the way of improving communication preoccupied humans beings as they had a need for communicating and presenting reality through messages. In fact, the existence of words traces back some forty or fifty thousand years since it is related to the homo sapiens and the first appearance of language.

Research in cultural anthropology (Crystal, 1985) has shown that the origins of communication are to be found in the very early stages of life when there was a need for animals and humans to communicate adequately for their purposes, in order to express their feelings, attitudes and core activities of everyday life. However, even the most primitive cultures had a constant need to express their ideas by other means than gutural sounds and body movements as animals did. Concerning humans, their constant preoccupation was how to turn thoughts into words .

Hence, before language was developed, non-verbal codes were used to convey information by means of icons and symbols which were presented, first, by means of pictorial art, and further in time, by writing. Also, an art that sprang from the tangible, were probably grimaces, gestures, pauses, and laughter as bodily paralinguistic movements that belong to a situation which is not exclusively oral but it is part of an extraordinary heritage linked to body language and meaning.

At first, this primary orality was consequently in charge of preserving and memorising for the future the narratives of the past, and therefore, acquiring knowledge of this type was an anthropological task based on language, that is, on a combination of spoken and heard sounds. This oral communication, which involves numerous kinetic and corporal elements, has undergone over the centuries a series of changes ranging from oral to written systems and, more recently, the present world of mass communication, technological and visual extensions.

2.2. The power of words: language and religion.

According to Crystal (1985), most primitive cultures developed a deep-rooted connection between divinity and language, and therefore, approached language with a clearly religious purpose. They firmly believed in the power of language, and they felt that the word had a life of its own. Thus, there are regular tales in the anthropological literature of natives where alphabets began to be interpreted mystically, as a proof of the existence of God.

Similar stories are not hard to find in other cultures. Thus, the god Thoth was the originator of speech and writing to the Egyptians. The Babylonians attributed it to their god, Nabû. A heaven- sent water -turtle with marks on its back brought writing to the Chinese, it is said. According to Icelandic saga, Odin was the inventor of runic script. And Brahma is reputed to have given the knowledge of writing to the Hindu race (Crystal 1985).

The apparently miraculous power of language is early appr eciated by children, thus a cry produces comfort, makes food materialize, and in a sense, controls objects, people and situations. Also, there is a clear awareness of word taboos, for instance, name -calling is a highly effective insult. For the primitive also, it is not difficult to see how language can control everything around.

It is only a short step from the belief that words were somehow connected with things to the notion that words were things with a separate existence in reality. In fact, the notion of word-souls is found in places as far apart as Ancient Egypt, modern Greenland, and the pages of Plato. Words, then, were seen as all- powerful and are clearly involved with religious beliefs and superstitious and mystical ideas. Thus, runes were originally charms, and the power of a charm or an amulet depended largely on the writing upon it, the more spiritual the subject-matter, the better the charm.

Furthermore, magic formulae, incantations, rhythmical listing of proper names, and many other rites exemplify the intensifying power of words. In folklore, there are many examples of forbidden names which could control not only physical objects but also devils or people. However, examples of this kind abound in the history of cultures. They only indicate how deeply ideas about words and language can come to be ingrained within the individual or group psyche, and how they exercise considerable influence in the development of particular issues to be examined later.


In this section, we provide the reader with a theoretical approach to the word as a linguistic sign. Therefore, we shall start by defining several terms that are necessary to discuss the role of words within a theory of linguistics in order to provide a relevant framework to explain the processes of homonymy, synonymy, antonymy, false friends, and lexical creativity. In order to do so, we shall follow the most prominent figures in this field from the past to the present-day, namely Ferdinand de Saussure (1916; 1983), Ludwig Wittgenstein (1953), Crystal (1985), Cruse (1986), Lyons (1995), and Schmitt (2000). Other contributions are drawn from Nelson (1974), F. R. Palmer (1981) and Baugh & Cable (1993).

In fact, this section is an introductory and elementary account of key terminology and technical terms on word as a linguistic sign so as to prepare the reader for the linguistic background which is analysed in subsequent sections. We shall deal with a number of concepts which are fundamental to the whole enterprise of putting the word as a linguistic sign on a sound theoretical footing, that is, a theory of linguistics (language) and semantics (meaning) that leads us to lexical semantics, on the discussion of word meaning. We would like to emphasize the fact that everything that is dealt with here hangs together and is equally relevant throughout.

3.1. Words and meaning within language as a system.

This section deals with the relationship between words and meaning within language as a system. From the field of linguistics, since language is defined as a highly elaborated signaling system with particular design features, we find the distinction between human and animal systems as they produce and express their intentions in a different way. Yet, the most important feature of human language that differs from animal systems’ is to be endowed with an auditory vocal channel which allowed humans to develop language.

Therefore, within the human system, we may establish a distinction in terms of types of communication, where we distinguish mainly two, thus verbal and non-verbal codes. Firstly, the verbal code is related to those acts in which the code is the language, both oral and written (i.e. singing or writing a letter ); and secondly, when dealing with non-verbal devices, we refer to communicative uses involving visual and tactile modes, such as kinesics, body movements, and also paralinguistic devices drawn from sounds (whistling), hearing (morse) or touch (Braille).

As we have previously mentioned, prior to language development, non-verbal codes were used to convey information, and therefore meaning, by means of icons and symbols which were presented by means of pictorial art, gestures, and further on, by writing. Later developments in the directio n of the study of meaning were labelled during the nineteenth century under the term semantics , which had a linked sense with the science related to the study of signs, semiology, also known as semiotics. The development in the direction of explicit messages and knowledge was soon followed by anthropologist researchers interested in the findings of written accounts in earlier societies (i.e. icons and symbols found in burial sites and prehistoric caves).

3.2. On defining semantics, linguistic semantics, and semiotics.

The study of signs is directly related to the fields of semantics, linguistic semantics, and semiotics. However, before examining these three concepts, we shall start with the most fundamental question of all, the question to which semantics , linguistics and non- linguistic, seeks to provide a theoretically satisfying answer: what is meaning? by means of well-known philosophical theories.

3.2.1. What is meaning?

According to Lyons (1995), many answers have been proposed by philosophers, linguists and others in the past and more recently in order to answer the question of what meaning is and what we understand by this word. The term ‘meaning’ can be defined in many ways, but the definition most pertinent to linguistics is that meaning is ‘the function of signs in language’ . This understanding of meaning corresponds to the German philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s definition (1953) by which he states that ‘the meaning of a word is its use in the language’, that is, the role a word plays in the language.

Although the term semantics was coined in the nineteenth century, the subject of meaning has interested philosophers for thousands of years. The Greek philosophers were the first people known to have debated the nature of meaning, by holding two opposing views. Thus, first, the naturalist view, held by Plato and his followers, claimed that there as an intrinsic motivation between a word and its meaning since word meanings emerge directly from its sound, that is, each language sound like what they mean. Thus, onomatopoeic words such as bow wow, splash, snif, meow, boom, chirp, whoosh , and so on. In fact, just a few words follow this convention.

On the other hand, the conventionalist view, held by Aristotle and his followers, claimed that the connection between sound and meaning is completely arbitrary, and is a matter of social convention and agreement between speakers. Hence, its similarity to current trends on this issue. However, it is worth noting that the meaning of a word is arbitrary from the point of view of the real world, and therefore, often motivated by the system of the language it is a part of. We make the distinction between meaning and concept, since the term ‘meaning’ is a category of language and concept is the totality of real world knowledge about an item. Therefore, we may know the meaning of a word without knowing everything about the concept referred to by that meaning.

In fact, there are several distinguishable and well-known philosophical theories of meaning which seek to provide an answer to the question of What is meaning? among which we may mention (1) the referential theory , whereby ‘the meaning of an expression is what it refers to’; (2) the mentalistic theory, by which ‘the meaning of an expression is the concept associated with it in the mind of the person who knows and understand the expression’; (3) the behaviourist theory, whereby ‘the meaning of an expression is either the stimulus that evokes it or the response that it evokes, or a combination of both, on particular occasions of utterance’; (4) the meaning -is-use theory, by which ‘the meaning of an expression is determined by its use in the language’; (5) the verificationist theory, by which ‘the meaning of an expression is determined by the verfiability of the sentences containing it’; and finally, (6) the truth-conditional theory, whereby ‘the meaning of an expression is its contribution to the truth-conditions of the sentences containing it’ (Lyons, 1995:40).

We must bear in mind that meaning is to a large extent imposed and arbitrary rather than inherent in the nature of things, and therefore, it differs from one language community to another. This is why it is often very difficult to translate from one language to another, especially if the two languages are used by people with very different ways of looking at the world (i.e. colours, weather, food, clothes item, and so on ). Yet, the study of all these nuances is carried out by the field of semantics.

3.2.2. Semantics: the study of meaning.

As seen before, since ancient times the way of improving communication preoccupied humans beings as they had a need to express some basic structures of the world and of human life, such as feelings, attitudes and everyday situations. Although the term ‘meaning’ has been a subject of study for thousand of years, the study of meaning as such was labelled during the nineteenth century under the term semantics, which had a linked sense with the science related to the study of signs, semiotics.

Thus, semantics , which derives from the Greek form ‘sêma’ (sign ) is by definition ‘the study of meaning in language ’. Linguists study meanings of words (lexical semantics) and phrases or sentences (sentential or compositional semantics), as well as how meaning is shaped by social context (pragmatics). In subsequent sections we shall consider some concepts in lexical semantics (or word meaning) in order to relate words semantically by means of the major types of semantic relationships between words such as homonymy, synonymy and antonymy, from which we get homonyms, synonyms and antonyms respectively. Also, we shall see other minor types such as hyponym and hypernym.

Studies of symbolism began in the modern sense of the word only when people had learned to analyse the content of a message from the form. Thus, the German philosopher G.F.W. Hegel (1770-1831) laid down the road for later research in the field when he considered Babylonian and Egyptian architecture to be the best exponent of early symbolism when linking nature to religious thoughts. In fact, the earliest real study on the logic of symbolism was given by Edmund Burke (1729-97) in his work A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful from 1757. In it, Burke gives numerous examples of architecture linked to expressing feelings.

The first attempt to formulate a science of signs dates from the late nineteenth century, when a French linguist, Michel Bréal, published Essai de sémantique (1897), which was a philologica

study of language. Also, many scholars have wondered whether the language we speak determine or not the way we perceive the world. This idea was proposed and popularized by Edward Sapir (1921) and Benjamin Lee Whorf (1956), and the concept is known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. Some years later, Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) divided language into two components, symbols, and syntax as it is stated in his book, Cours de linguistique générale (1916; trans.1983). It is relevant to mention that, in the first half of the twentieth century, phonology and grammar were included in the study of meaning as another branch of linguistics.

Grammar and phonology were included as post-Saussurean semantics in the study of meaning as a branch of linguistics. Both were concerned with relations within language (sense) and relations between language and the world (reference). Generally, their study is known as structural or lexical semantics. Reference is concerned with the meaning of words and sentences in terms of the world of experience: the situations to which they refer or in which they occur.

3.2.3. Linguistic semantics: language and meaning.

It is worth noting that there are many different, but intersecting, branches of semantics, thus philosophical semantics, psychological semantics, anthropological semantics, logical semantics, and among many others, we shall highlight linguistic semantics for our current purposes. Hence, given that semantics is the study of meaning, linguistic semantics is defined as a branch of linguistics which establishes its own theoretical framework with respect to meaning.

Linguistic semantics can be held to refer either to ‘the study of meaning in so far as it is expressed in language’, that is, systematically encoded in the vocabulary and grammar of natural languages or, alternatively, as ‘the study of meaning within linguistics’. Since the field of linguistic semantics is connected to a theory of language, it deals similarly with linguistic and non- linguistic features which are meaningful to word and meaning.

Thus, features such as arbitrariness (no link between form and meaning), iconicity (similarity between form of the sign and what it signifies), and onomatopoeic words (phonological and orthographical similarities). Among non-verbal components we may mention prosodic features (particular intonation-contour and stress-patterns in spoken utterances) and paralinguistic features, that is, body language (gestures, posture, eye movements, facial expressions) in order to modulate and punctuate the utterances produced.

Also, the feature of indexicality which originates in the notion of gestural reference together with the use of deictic terms (personal pronouns, demonstrative adjectives, and so on). When dealing with written language, we find punctuation marks (full stop, period, comma, question-marks) which is considered to be meaningful for both spoken and written language, and capitals, italics, underlining , and so on.

3.2.4. Semiotics: the study of signs.

The term semiotics1 (also called semiology) is drawn from Greek’s mantikós (significant) and sêma (sign), which means ‘a feature of language or behaviour which conveys meaning’. Meaning, then, has a prominent role on ‘the study of signs’, that is, what signs refer to, and of responses to those signs. Signs are used conventionally within the language system since semiotics investigates the study of signs in communication processes in general (i.e. oral, written, paralinguistic).

Therefore, semiotics concerns itself with the analysis of both linguistic and non- linguistic signs as communicative devices and with their systems. Therefore, it deals with patterned human communication in all its modes and in all contexts. When the act of communication is verbal, the code is the language. Regarding the structured use of the auditory- vocal channel, it may result in speech, but also non-verbal communicative uses of the vocal tract are possible by means of paralanguage, such as whistling or musical effects.

However, when we refer to non -verbal communication, visual and tactile modes are concerned. They may be used for a variety of linguistic purposes such as the use of sign languages. For instance, the receiver may get the message by sound (as in speech and birdsong), by sight (as in written language, reading, morse or traffic signs) or by touch (as in the Braille alphabet of the blind or secret codes).

Within the study of signs, we may distinguish three types: icons, symbols, and indexes. For instance, from the presence of a red flag or smoke, anyone with the requisite knowledge can infer the existence of what it signifies, danger or fire. There is an important difference between both signs, since smoke is a natural sign of fire, causally connected with what it signifies, whereas the red flag is a conventional sign of danger, which is a culturally established symbol. These distinctions between the intentional or non- intentional, on the one hand, and between what is natural and what is conventional, or symbolic, on the other, have long played a central part in the theoretical investigation of meaning and continue to do so.

Hence, in the twentieth century, and more recently, in this century, the field of linguistics as the scientific study of language, has seen a quite extraordinary expansion. The study of language has held a notorious fascination for some the greatest thinkers of the century and their relevant contributions, namely Ferdinand de Saussure (1916), Edward Sapir (1921), Ludwig Wittgenstein (1953), Benjamin Lee Whorf (1956), and Noam Chomsky (1972), whose influence has been felt far beyond linguistics.

As this section deals with semiotics, we need to look at the concept of ‘sign’ in relation to the main theoretical basis of these relevant linguists, and in particular, to Saussure’s ideas as it was he who laid the foundation principles of semiotics. However, before discussing some relevant concepts, necessary for us to draw a distinction between the concepts of icons, symbols, and indexes in order to accurately deal with the concept of sign.

(1) First, icons are defined as those signs whose signifier bears a close resemblance to the thing they refer to (i.e. a photo, non-smoking signs, animal-crossing). Thus, a traffic sign which shows the silhouette of a car and a motorbike would be highly iconic because there is an image as a reference. Onomatopoeic words are iconic as well, although they are just a few (i.e. whisper, cuckoo, splash, crash, and so on ).

(2) Second, symbols are defined as conventional and culturally established signs, that is, there is no natural relationship between them and their meanings, that is, between the signifier and the signified2 . Most words, though, are symbolic signs, thus again traffic signs with no image references, but colours (i.e. a white background with a red circle around it, which signifies ‘something is forbidden’).

(3) Third, indexes are said to lie between the concepts of icons and symbols. An index is defined as a sign whose signifier (sound or image) is associated with a particular signified (concept) because we have learnt it previously, conventionally or culturally. For instance, a thermometer is an index of ‘temperature’ as well as a weathercock, a barometer and a sundial; other examples emerge from films where, for instance, the passing of time is shown by the quick for ward movement of the clock-hands.

It is worth remembering that these three categories are not mutually exclusive. Thus, a sign can belong to the three types at the same time. For instance, in a TV commercial, we can see a shot of a woman speaking about make-up products (iconic), the words she uses (symbolic), and the effect of what is filmed (indexical). Also, with any kind of sign, we may learn cultural conventions that are necessary to the understanding of any sign, no matter how iconic or indexical it is. Convention is the social dimension of signs whereby there is an agreement among the users about the appropriate uses of and responses to a sign.

3.3. On the nature of the linguistic sign.

To understand the nature of the linguistic sign, we must therefore have some ideas about how language itself works. Yet, we shall review the most relevant contributions to our subject that remain outstanding, such as Ferdinand de Saussure’s concept of sign, and the main theoretical dichotomies related to this term, which will lead our study to a description of word associations within lexical semantics (i.e. homonyms, synonyms, antonyms, false friends and lexical creativity processes). These useful concepts will help us to understand relationships between lexemes in terms of their meanings.

3.3.1. Ferdinand de Saussure and linguistics.

Ferdinand de Saussure’s theoretical ideas in relation to linguistics were published in the Course in General Linguistics (Cours de Linguistique Générale) in 1916, three years after his death. This work is a collection and expansion of notes taken by Saussure during various lecture courses he gave. Yet, although there is little in the way of detailed illustration of his views, its influence has been unparalleled in European linguistics since, and had a formative role in the shaping of linguistic thought after its publication.

Saussure, as a structuralist, was interested in language as a system and structure, and his ideas were applied to any language and to anything we may call a ‘signifying system’. Within this theoretical approach, Saussure describes the structures within any language which make meaning possible, although he was not interested in what particular meanings were created. He was only interested in the design of the structure itself.

In opposition to the totally historical view of language of the previous hundred years, Saussure emphasized the idea of language as a living phenomenon, of studying speech instead of written texts, of analysing the underlying system of a language in order to demonstrate an integrated structure, and of placing language firmly in its social milieu. We shall extract four main theoretical dichotomies from his work, thus (1) signifié vs. signifiant; (2) synchronic vs. diachronic studies ; (3) langue vs. parole; and (4) syntagmatic vs. paradigmatic relations within a language system, but before we shall analyse Saussure’s view of the linguistic sign.

3.3.2. The linguistic sign: signifié vs. signifiant.

Following Crystal (1885), Saussure’s main contribution was to clarify the concept of language system, and his view of meaning. A naturalistic view of language that had taken place since Plato saw the relationship between ‘words’ and ‘things’ as a naming process by which things were associated with a word or na me. Saussure accepted there were two sides of meaning, but emphasized their relationship was arbitrary.

Saussure (1983) names the two notions ‘concept’ vs. ‘acoustic image’ (the latter, not as a physical sound but rather the psychological imprint of the sound), and also ‘content’ vs. ‘expression’. The linguistic sign, then, is made of the union of a concept and a sound image. His labels for the two sides were signifié (also signified, concept, content) which means ‘the thing signified’ or the concept of a word, and signifiant (also signifier, acoustic image, expression) which means ‘the thing which signifies’ or the form of a sign.

Saussure was insistent that meaning was a relationship between two equally participating characteristics (the objects, ideas, etc. on the one hand, and the language used to refer to them on the other). He calls this relationship of signified to signifier a linguistic sign . For him, the sign is ‘the basic unit of communication, a unit within the language of the community’, and therefore, Saussure sees language as ‘a system of signs’.

The linguistic sign, as the combination of a signifier and a signified, has two main characteristics. First of all, as stated before, the bond between them is arbitrary, that is, there is no natural, intrinsic, or logical relation between a particular acoustic sound and a concept. For instance, we refer to the concept of ‘house’ with different acoustic sounds in different languages (i.e. English ‘house’, German ‘Haus’, Spanish ‘casa’, French ‘maison’). The second characteristic is that the signifier or the auditory signifier, is linear, that is, it exists in time. Thus, you cannot say two words at the same time since language operates as a linear sequence.

3.3.2. Synchronic vs. diachronic studies.

Regarding synchronic vs. diachronic studies, Saussure highlighted the importance of language from these two distinct and largely exclusively points of view (Crystal, 1985). Synchronic studies focus on language as a living whole which exists as a ‘state’ at a particular point in time, that is, the focus in on all the linguistic activities that a language community engages in during a specific period (i.e. the language of the present-day teenagers in the area of London) regardless of any historical considerations which might have influenced the state of the language up to that time.

However, diachronic linguistics deals with historical material concerning the evolution of a language through time, as a continually changing medium, a never-ending succession of language states. Thus we may study the change from Old English to Middle English or the style changes from youth to maturity of any writer.

Saussure drew the inter-relationship of the two dimensions by means of an axis, where a horizontal line is the synchronic ‘axis of simultaneities’ which represents a language state at an arbitrarily chosen point of time. On the other hand, a vertical line is the diachronic ‘axis of successions’ which represents the historical path the language has travelled, and the route which it is going to continue travelling. This distinction is necessary to be drawn since the synchronic view had been neglected before Saussure. More recently, and especially after the work of Roman Jakobson 3 the focus of attention in discussions of synchrony and diachrony has settled on the point of intersection, as clearly the potentiality for change in a language system is a factor to be considered regarding language competence3

3.3.3. Langue vs. parole.

This relationship to language competence leads us on to the second Saussurean diachotomy: the distinction between langue and parole. This distinction is related once more to the concept of language and sign since Saussure insisted that language was not a thing but a form, a structure, a system where signs are both material/physical (like sound) and intellectual (like ideas). This notion is important as you can distinguish between the two, but you cannot separate them.

Similarly, Saussure made a distinction between three main senses of language. He envisaged langage (human speech as a whole) to be composed of two aspects, which he called langue (the language system) and parole (the act of speaking). Following Crystal (1985) langage is that faculty of human speech present in all normal human beings due to heredity, but which requires the correct environmental stimuli for proper development.

The arbitrary nature of the sign explains why ‘langage’ (language) is a system (langue) which arises in social relations, and in order to set up those relations between any particular sound image and any particular concept (paroles). Langue was considered by Saussure to be the totality of a language as ‘the sum of word-images stored in the minds of individuals’(1983), and argued strongly that the characteristics of langue are really present in the brain, not simply abstractions. He presented langue as a social phenomenon.

The concept of parole is defined as the concrete act of speaking on the part of an individual, that is, the controlled psycho-physical activity which we hear. It is a personal dynamic, social activity, which exists at a particular time and place and in a particular situation, as opposed to langue , which exists apart from any particular manifestation in speech. The term parole denotes the product or products of speech.

Consequently, according to Lyons (1995) the Saussurean distinction has frequently been misrepresented in English, and also in several other European languages including German and Russian, as a distinction between language and speech. The essential distinction, anyway, is between a system (comprising a set of grammatical rules and a vocabulary) and the products of (the use of ) the system. This brings us to a point which must be made about the Chomskyan distinction between ‘competence’ and ‘performance’, which has also given rise to a good deal of theoretical confusion.

We must note that the term parole is the only object available for direct observation by linguists and therefore, it is identical with the Chomskyan notion of ‘performance’ (like the term ‘behaviour’). What Chomsky calls ‘competence’ in particular natural languages, is stored neurophysiologically in the brains of individual members of particular language-communities, and may be identified for

present purposes with Saussure’s langue.

As Chomsky distinguishes ‘competence’ from ‘performance’, so Saussure distinguishes ‘langue’ from ‘parole’. However, ‘performance’ cannot be identified with ‘parole’ as readily as ‘competence’ can be identified with ‘langue’. Thus, ‘performance’ applies to the products of the use of the language-system, whereas ‘parole’ applies to the products of the use of the system.

3.3.4. Syntagmatic vs. paradigmatic relations.

The distinction between syntagmatic and paradigmatic relations is also drawn from Saussure’s ideas on language structure or of any signifying system. For him, everything in the system was based on the relations that can occur between the units in the system and on relations of difference, where the most important type of relation between units in a signifying system is the syntagmatic relation, that is, a linear relationship between the signs which are present in the sentence (Crystal, 1985).

In spoken or written language, words come out one by one because language, as stated before, is linear. Thus, we would refer to this particular configuration of signs in a more abstract way as a structure, where word order governs meaning. We must note that each language has a word order structure, for instance, English (subject-verb-object), German (subject-object-verb), Spanish (may vary depending on the type of sentence ), and so on.

In written and spoken language, syntagmatic relations are essential in discourse where the ideas of time, linearity, and syntactical meaning are important. Yet, there are other kinds of relations that exist outside of discourse which are to be called paradigmatic relations (also called associative by Saussure). A paradigmatic relationship is a particular kind of relationship between a sign in a sentence and a sign not present in the sentence, but part of the rest of the language.

For example, imagine a sentence like ‘He is an architect’ in a lexical axis. The horizontal axis is where syntagmatic relations are to be found, and on the vertical axis, paradigmatic ones. Then, there is a clear relationship in the syntagmatic axis between the sign he and the rest of words in the sentence (part of speech: subject function ) and, on the other hand, on the paradigmatic axis, with the pronouns I, she, you, we, they although they are not present in the sentence. This set of signs form a little system in themselves (personal pronoun sub -system), one of which can be used at this point in the structure, and only one (not ‘you he can do it’).

In fact, signs are stored in our memory, not in syntagmatic links or sentences, but in associative groups. The idea of associative groups or linkages are not in the structure of language itself, but in our minds whereas syntagmatic relations are a product of linguistic structure. However, it is worth remembering that both syntagmatic and paradigmatic relations are necessary to carry out the complete analysis of any sentence.

Whereas syntagmatic relationships involve the contiguity (occurring in close proximity) of words in language, paradigmatic relationships are more semantic in nature. Associative (or paradigmatic) relations establish word associations in various ways. Thus, (1) first, the meaning of a word depends to some extent on its relationship to other similar words, often through sense relations (semantic linguistics) and (2) words in a family are related to each other through having a common base form, but different inflectional and derivational affixes (etymology) (Schmitt, 2000).

Of the two dimensions, the paradigmatic has been the more fully studied, as part of the explication of a language’s sense -relations. A sense-relation, as its name suggests, is a relationship between sentences in which we perceive their lexemes to be in some kind of systematic correspondence. We intuitively see a connection between them. When analysing these relationships in detail, we may distinguish several types, among which some are considered to be major types: homonymy, synonymy, and antonymy, and others are considered to be minor types: hyponyms, hypernyms, and meronyms. When teaching “concepts”, we teach “meanings of words” where the main strategy is to draw on meaning relationships.


On examining the role of words as a linguistic sign, we deal with lexical semantics, which examines the relationship among word meanings between words at a paradigmatic level, and therefore with the fairly traditional concepts of homonymy, synonymy, and antonymy. These concepts are mainly studied from two branches of linguistics: etymology, on the origin of words, and semantics, on the study of meaning of words. Therefore, in the following sections, when we look at words, phrases, and sentences as meaningful units, we also have to deal with the fact that, on the one hand, a single form may be combined with several meanings and, on the other, the same meaning may be combined with several word-forms. This fact is well recognized in traditional grammar and lexicography (Lyons, 1995).

When addressing the term ‘word’, we have to take into account two quite different distinctions which is quite relevant to our concerns, that is, (1) the distinction between words as tokens (individual units) and words as types (groups of individual units); and similarly (2) the difference between words as forms and words as expressions. Hence, a sentence may be composed, for instance of thirteen word-forms as individual items (i.e. ‘If you call him tonight, he may come and have dinner on time) and less word-expressions as grammatical categories (i.e. subject, pronouns, verbs, time adverbs, and so on). It is word-expressions, not word-forms, that are isted and defined in a conventional dictionary according to an alphabetic ordering.

However, not all the expressions listed in a dictionary are words. Some of them are traditionally called phrases or phrasal expressions . The expressions of a language fall into two sets . The first set is made up of finite lexically simple expressions, that is, lexemes which are the vocabulary-units of a language, out of which the members of the second set, lexically composite expressions, are constructed by means of the grammatical (i.e. syntactic and morphological rules) rules of the language

All these distinctions account for what is commonly referred to as word-meaning, and the concepts of homony my, synonymy, and antonymy as major types, and also other minor types, such as hyponymy and hypernymy, taxonomy and meronymy All these concepts would also need to be formulated somewhat differently in relation to particular theories of phonology, syntax and morphology from a rather traditional view of the grammatical and lexical structure of languages. We should also include the concepts of false friends and lexical creativity in order to study and classify all posible lexical relations into sense-relations in paradigmatic terms.

4.1. Homonymy.

4.1.1. On defining homonymy.

The term ‘homonymy’ emerges from Greek ‘homonymos’, from ‘homos’ (equal) and ‘onoma’ (name). Following Lyons (1995), homonyms are traditionally defined as words which have the same pronunciation, same spelling but different meaning (i.e. ‘bank’ as ‘financial institution’ vs. ‘sloping side of a river’,‘bear’ as ‘animal’ vs. ‘carry’, and cleave meaning ‘to cut’ vs. cleave meaning ‘to adhere’), that is, words that have the same form but different meanings. As we shall see later, we may distinguish two main types of homonyny concerning pronunciation and spelling: first, homophones with the same pronunciation, different spelling, and different meaning (i.e. see ‘look at’ vs. sea ‘ocean’), and homographs with the same spelling, different pronunciation, and

different meaning (i.e. ‘wind’ /wind/ ‘air in motion’ vs. wind /waind/ ‘move in a twisting manner’). It is worth noting that homonyms cannot be predicted by any rules of grammar or diction since you cannot systematically search the dictionary for homonyms. You just have to find them. Yet, the definition of homonymy is still defective in that it fails to take account of the fact that, in many languages, most lexemes have not one, but several forms. Therefore, we shall start by establishing two main distinctions: (1) between homonymy and polysemy , and (2) between absolute and partial homonymy.

4.1.2. Homonymy vs. polysemy.

Regarding the distinction between homonymy and polysemy, we must point out that whereas homonymy (whether absolute or partial) is a relation that holds between two or more distinct lexemes, polysemy , or multiple meaning, is a property of single lexemes (i.e. plain: clear, unadorned, obvious; chip: piece of wood, food, elec tronic circuit). Yet, this traditional distinction is not always clear-cut since there are many instances about which native speakers will hesitate or be in disagreement. For instance, sometimes it is impossible to tell whether two words of identical form are true homonyms (historically unrelated) or polysemous homonyms (historically related), such as ice scate vs. skate the fish: skate fish (from Old English skata’) ice skate (from Dutch schaat’).

Regarding (1) homonymy, there are two major types, based upon whether the meanings of the word are historically connected or result from coincidence. Yet, in theory the two criteria that are usually involved in this connection are (i) etymology (the historical source of words) and (ii) relatedness of meaning, that is, resulting from coincidence (Lyons, 1995).

(i) For instance, most native speakers of English would probably classify (a) ‘bat’ (‘furry mammal with membranous wings’) and (b) ‘bat’ (‘implement for striking a ball in certain games’) as different lexeme s. However, these two words do indeed differ in respect of their historical source, since ‘bat’ (a) traces back to a regional variant of Middle English ‘bakke’, and ‘bat’ (b) to Old English ‘batt’ meaning ‘club, cudgel’. Another example is ‘bank’ meaning ‘financial institution’ from French whereas ‘bank’ meaning ‘shore of a river’ has Scandinavian origin.

(ii) Coincidental homonyms are the result of such historical accidents as phonetic convergence of two originally different forms or the borrowing of a ne w word which happens to be identical to an old word. There is usually no natural link between the two meanings: the bill of a bird vs the bill one has to pay; or the bark of a dog vs the bark of a tree.

(2) The second type of homonym, the polysemous homonym, results when multiple meanings develop historically from the same word. The process by which a word acquires new meanings is called polysemy. Unlike coincidental homonyms, polysemous homonyms usually preserve some perceptible semantic link marking the development of one meaning out of the other, as in the leg of chair and the leg of person; or the face of a person vs. the face of a clock .

Since polysemy is so difficult to separate from true homonymy, dictionaries usually order entries according to i) the first recorded appearance of word or ii) frequency of meaning use. This is a problem for lexicographers, the people who study words and write dictionaries, and therefore, studies of polysemy follow these directions: (a) body parts to part of object (i.e. hands, face, fingers, nose, lip, elbow, vein of gold or of a leaf, but appendix); (b) animal to human for personality traits (i.e. stubborn as a mule, quiet as a fish, but my cat is a reat Einstein); (c) space to time (i.e. long, short, plural), (d) spatial to sound (i.e. melt, rush); (e) sound to color (i.e. loud, clashing, mellow); (f) physical, visible attribute to emotional or mental, invisible quality (i.e. crushed, big head, green with envy, yellow coward, sharp/dull, spark). Note how directionality in polysemy seems to be logically motivated by which concrete meanings give rise to abstract ones (i.e. sharp knife: sharp mind), and mundane gives rise to the technical (chip of wood: computer chip).

Generally speaking, etymology supports the intuitions of native speakers about particular lexemes, as for instance, ‘shock’ as in ‘shock of corn’ is the same as ‘shock’ as in ‘shock of hair’. Yet historically, they have different origins. On the other hand, regarding semantic change we refer to metaphoric al extensions, as in ‘foot’ meaning ‘terminal part of a leg’ and also ‘lowest part of a hill or mountain’. Metaphorical creativity is part of everyone’s linguistic competence.

4.1.3. Absolute vs. partial homonymy.

Regarding absolute vs. partial homonymy, we shall state that absolute homonyms involve three main conditions: (1) to be unrelated in meaning, (2) all their forms to be identical, and (3) the identical forms to be grammatically equivalent. Absolute homonymy is quite common as in ‘sole’ (bottom of foot or shoe ) vs. ‘sole’ (kind of fish), and ‘bear’ (animal) vs. ‘bear’ (carry). There are also many different kinds of what we refer to as partial homonymy , that is, those cases where there is identity of minimally one or two conditions in the word-form (pronunciation, spelling, and meaning), but not all the three.

4.1.4. Types of homonyms.

Therefore, we may distinguish two types of homonyms: (1) homophony and (2) homography, concerning pronunciation and spelling respectively. (1) Firstly, in a langua ge like English where spelling often diverges widely from pronunciation, there is a special type of homonym called the homophone . Homophones are defined as ‘one of two or more words which have the same pronunciation but different meaning or spelling (i.e. as the words to, too, and two /tu:/, see /si:/ vs. sea /si:/ ‘ocean’, meat /mi:t/ ‘food’ vs. meet /mi:t/ ‘gather’, and threw /thru:/ ‘pt. of throw’ vs. through ‘go across’, and similarly ant-aunt, Barry-berry-bury, liar-lyre, male -mail, and so on).

Homophones are usually true homonyms in that they derive from completely unrelated sources. There are also occasional polysemous homophones: draft (into the army), draught (of beer), or the Russian voskresenie (Resurrection): voskresenye (Sunday).

(2) Secondly, homographs are defined as ‘one of two or more words spelt alike but different in meaning or pronunciation (i.e. as in bow /bau/ ‘front or forward end of a boat’ vs. bow /bou/ ‘piece of wood curved with a tight string’ -‘the bow of a ship’ and ‘a bow and arrow’-, and similarly, dove (bird) vs. dove (p.t of dive), and tear (pull sharply apart) vs. tear (drop of water from the eyes).

Since these words are pronounced differently in each of their meaning, in English, most homographs are polysemous homographs : use (i.e. the noun vs. the verb), record (i.e. the noun vs. the verb ). But there are a few true homonyms that are homographs: wind (i.e. a noun meaning moving air vs. a verb meaning what is done to a watch or clock).

4.2. Synonymy.

4.2.1. On defining synonymy.

Synonymy is the second sense-relation which is at the core of lexical semantics in our study. This term comes from Latin synonymum and Greek synonymos, where the Latin prefix syn – means ‘the same’. Cruse (1986) defines synonyms as ‘lexical items whose senses are identical in respect of central’ semantics traits, but differ, if at all, ony in respect of what we may provisionally describe s ‘minor’ or ‘peripheral’ traits’ in which they are used.

In other words, synonyms refer to a relationship between two or more lexical units (or expressions) which have identical or a slightly different meaning as another and which differ only with respect to their supplemental or peripheral components, that is, context (i.e. look at, gaze, stare at, watch, see, and so on). Often, synonyms occur together in certain types of expressions, such as explanations and clarifications on the meaning of another word. The relationship between the two words is frequently signalled by expressions such as that is to say, or, in other words, more exactly , or or rather.

According to Aitchinson (2000), when the same concept can be expressed by two or more terms, one of these is selected as the preferred term. Then, an equivalence relationship is established since each term is regarded as referring to the same concept, which in effect substitutes for other terms expressing equivalent or near equivalent concepts. The decision is based on the needs of the majority of users such as the choice of spelling (i.e. American vs. English), the preference for scientific terms rather than popular or well- known equivalents and cultural variants that describe, broadly speaking, the same concept.

Nuances in meaning may be drawn from (1) cultural differences in English speaking countries (i.e. Australia ). For instance, we may see that the words togs-swimming costumes-bathers describe the same concept but they reflect cultural differences between areas. Thus, togs is a term used in Queensland; swimming costumes has been used in New South Wales and bathers tends to be used in South Australia and Victoria. Another criterion is given at (2) the educational level since difference between year levels in schooling may establish word differences. Thus, ‘salt’ might be used in primary schools to describe ‘sodium chloride’ which might be used by upper secondary school science students. Yest, both terms are equally valid.

Synonymy is one of the three types in which equivalent subject terms have been broadly categorised (NISO, 1994). Yet, the other two categories are lexical variants, and quasi-synonyms. Lexical variants differ from synonyms in that they are different word structures representing the same concept, for instance, hyphens and abbreviated forms (i.e. online/on-line; AIDS/Acquired Inmune Deficiency Syndrome). On the other hand, quasi-synonyms are synonyms whose meanings in ordinary usage have different properties. There are two types: first, those synonyms which are regarded as being different within a certain subject term (i.e. car parks/parking spaces, urban areas/cities ). Second, those subject terms that fall under the definition of an antonym (i.e. dryness/wetness, literacy/illiteracy).

4.2.2. Absolute vs. partial synonymy.

As in the previous section, we must draw again the distinction between absolute vs. partial synonymy (Lyons, 1995). On the notion of (1) absolute synonymy we must say that it is extremely rare to find, at least as a relation between lexemes, in natural languages as they would have identical meanings and this does not happen in any language. Also, it has been referred to as cognitive synonyms as those synonyms which have certain semantic properties in common (Cruse, 1986).

For instance, McCawley (1972) stated that when you change the structure of a sentence, and replace a synonym by another one, the total effect is destroyed (i.e. Where is he hiding? meaning in ‘normal circumstances’ and Where is he concealing? in ‘odd ones’). True synonyms or absolute cannot exist due to factors such as (a) geographical differences of dialects (i.e. autumn -fall), (b) stylistic differences (i.e. nasty smell-obnoxious effluvium-horrible stink), (c) emotive differences (i.e. liberty -freedom), (d) collocational differences (i.e. rancid -addled ), and (e) context differences (i.e. holiday -vacation ).

However, recent studies have shown that they have been admitted in scientific, medical, industrial and technological fields (i.e. Chemistry nomenclature, chemical materials). Yet, Lyons (1986) defines absolute synonyms as expressions which satisfy at least one, but not all three of the following criteria: (a) to have identical meanings, (b) synonymous in all contexts, and (c) being identical on all dimensions of meaning.

(2) On the other hand, partial synonymy meets the criterion of identity of meaning by following the condition of being semantically equivalent. They fail on being synonymous in all contexts since synonyms must not only manifest a high degree of semantic overlap and a low degree of implicit contrastiveness. Lyons relates partial synonymy to near-synonymy in lexical units which are ‘more or less similar, but not identical in meaning’ (i.e. fast, rapid, quick; begin, commence; scandalous, outrageous).

Standard dictionaries of English treat some adjectives as polysemous (i.e. ‘big’ and ‘large ’) although they may vary in the number of meanings that they assign to each. Although those certain pairs or groups of lexical items bear a special sort of semantic resemblance to one another, there is a scale of synonymity . Within the class of synonyms, some pairs of items are more synonymous than others, and raises the possibility of a scale of synonymity of semantic difference.

4.2.3. Types of synonyms.

Since synonyms are defined as words whose meanings are said to be identical or nearly identical in a range of contexts, or collocational range (Lyons (1995:62), they have been subject to many different categorisations. However, we shall establish different types of synonyms following general lines drawn from the most relevant figures in this field, thus Cruse (1986); Lyons (1995), and Aitchinson (2000).

It is worth noting that the probability of expressing a concept in a particular way is governed by situational factors connected to genre, formality, domain, identity, social group, and attitude. For instance, in referring to a slight injury , we may call it ‘a bruise’ whereas a doctor may refer to it as ‘a contusion’. As we may say, these nuances in meaning reveal something else about the speaker garding cultural, social, personal, and many other features.

Hence, synonyms are categorised into the following types: (1) true synonyms (also called descriptive) (i.e. sweat/perspiration), (2) stylistic (also called expressive) (i.e. huge, enormous, gigantic, colossal), (3) generic nouns and trade names (i.e. tissues/kleenex ), (4) variant names for concepts, new or existing (i.e. arid zones/deserts), (5) current names and older terms, also called loanwords (i.e. swimming costumes/bathers), (6) current jargon or slang terms (i.e. graffiti/pieces), and (7) cultural variants or dialectal differences (i.e. tramping/bushwalking; film/movie; lift/elevator ).

(1) True synonyms or absolute synonyms refer to two expressions that have the same descriptive meaning and are not affected by emotive, dialectal, collocationa l, geographical, and contextual factors among others, as in ‘big’ and ‘large’ or ‘bachelor’ and ‘unmarried man’. They are quite rare in English, and even, they have been denied by some linguists. However, they have been recently admitted in scientific, medical, industrial and technological fields due to their format of reciprocal scope which includes a reference to the other synonyms and its application for a particular audience or cultural groups (i.e. water/H2O, cosmetic surgery/lifting,urban areas/cities, radar/Radio Detection and Ranging). These type is to be included into the category of scientific and popular names (i.e. salt/sodium chloride, short sightedness/myopia ).

(2) The second type, stylistic synonyms are also called expressive by Lyons (1995). They are said to be the most common ones and are defined as ‘a lexical unit that has a similar range of reference but is differentiated by the speaker’s intention, the audience, and the situation’ (Cruse, 1986). In opposition to true synonyms, stylistic ones are, in fact, affected by several factors, such as generality (i.e. say-demand ), intensity (i.e. like-love), emotion (i.e. soft-tender), morality (i.e. deed- exploit), professional (i.e. fill in -write), literary (i.e. rise-ascend, liberty-freedom), colloquial (i.e. bring up -educate), dialectal (i.e. play (London)-lare (York), legal (i.e. last will-testament, goods and chattels), and children’s talking (i.e. mother-mum, dog -puppy) among others (Collinson, 1939).

This type is mainly applied in literature (prose and verse) since synonyms are quite useful when providing the appropriate quantity of emotion and emphasis to a literary work, and they are also useful ‘for poets’ as Aristotle stated in his Rethoric. Thus, they have been especially applied to poetry throughout history when filling in verses since the help fit harmoniously the phonetic structure of a poem. Thus, if we trace back as early as to 1390, in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, we find a big amount of French and Latin loanwords with different semantic fields.

Those adopted or adpated words already acquired various significations depending on the language used (i.e. English, French, Latin ) and consequently, synonymy, as a literary figure, was to be adopted by subsequent writers such as William Cxton (1422-1491), Sir Thomas More (1477-1535), and William Shakespeare (1564-1616) among others.

(3) The third type refer to generic nouns and trade names (i.e. tissues/kleenex, cola/Coca-Cola ). As to expressions which differ in the nature of their expressive meaning, the most obvious difference is between those which imply approval or disapproval and those which are neutral with respect to expressivity, such as ‘statesman’ versus ‘politician’, ‘thrifty’ versus ‘mean’, ‘stingy’ versus ‘economica l’, or ‘stink’ vs. ‘stench’ vs. ‘fragance’ vs. ‘smell’. The fourth type refers to (4) variant names for concepts, new or existing (i.e. arid zones/deserts, coast/seaside).

(5) The fifth type refers to current names and older terms (i.e. swimming costumes/bathers), namely refer to loanwords, which are ‘a nearly synonymous lexical unit, borrowed from another language to fill what is perceived to be a semantic gap’. According to Baugh & Cable (1993), the richness of English in synonyms is largely due to the happy mingling of Latin, French, and native elements. It has been said that in Middle Ages synonyms entered English at three levels: popular, literary, and learned (i.e. ask -question -interrogate, goodness-virtue-probity ) from English, French, and Latin respectively.

Thus, the Latinized diction of many seventeenth- and eighteenth-century writers brought up in the tradition of the classics provoked a reaction in which the “Saxon” element of the language was glorified as the strong, simple, and direct compone nt in contrast with the many abstract and literary words derived from Latin and French. Yet, superior directness is given by Latin whereas hundreds of words from French are capable of coveying a vivid image, idea, or emotion (i.e. fast-firm-secure; fire -flame-conflagration; fear-terror-trepidation; holy -sacred-consecrated; time-age-epoch).

(6) The sixth type refers to current jargon or slang terms (i.e. graffiti/pieces, bloody/disgusting ), and the seventh type refers to (7) cultural or dialectal variants, that is, different lexical units that are part of the vocabulary of different dialects but have very similar ranges of reference. Their differences emerge from different cultural backgrounds within different English-speaking countries or dialectal differences within the same country (i.e. British English vs. American English: torch/flashlight, film/movie, lift/elevator, holiday/vacation; and in different states in Australia: tramping/bushwalking ).

4.3. Antonymy.

4.3.1. On defining antonymy.

Antonymy is the third major type of sense-relations at the core of lexical semantics in our study. This term comes from Greek ‘anti’ (opposite, against) + onoma (name) and refers to the notion of oppositeness of meaning, as in good -bad, cold -hot, happy-sad, or love-hate, or antibiotic and antivirus. Of all the relations of sense, that of opposite meanings is probably the most readily apprehended by ordinary speakers in an attempt to organise reality (Cruse, 1986).

Opposites exhibit unique properties, such as the paradox of simultaneous difference and similarity at the same time since they occupy opposing poles and hence, the feeling of difference (i.e. true

false, up-down, salt-sugar). Yet, the essence of oppositeness is based on the notion of complementary pairs , where the presence of one quality or state which signifies the absence of the other and vice versa. This notion is based on a binary system which leaves out spelling and pronunciation, but not morphology since it plays an important role in the formation of anton ymous dualities (i.e. suffixes and prefixes to denote oppositeness: care-careless, usual-unusual).

Palmer (1976) claims that antonyms share the following characteristics: (i) they are fully gradable, among which most are adjectives and a few are verbs; (ii) they are members of a pair denoting degrees of some variable property such as length, speed, weight, accuracy, among others; (iii) when more strongly intensified, the members of a pair move, as it were, in opposite directions along the scale representing degrees (i.e. very light-very heavy); (iv) the terms of a pair do not strictly bisect a domain as there is a range of values of the variable property (i.e. it’s long-it’s short are contrary, not contradictory statements).

In terms of semantic features, we can contrast them to explain their meaning since one word implies the negative of the other (i.e. tall-short), that is, we should have at least one positive feature in one term’s description and negative in the other’s. However, not all antonyms are opposite in the same way as they share mutually exclusive properties (i.e. fast/slow). Therefore we may distinguish different types within this class.

4.3.2. Types of antonyms.

Aitchinson (1987) notes that some antonyms are (1) complementary pairs or true type (i.e. male/female ), while others are (2) gradable and need specification (i.e. hot/cold ). In gradeable pairs, one of them is marked and the other is unmarked; the unmarked one is used to determine the degree of one or the other, thus ‘how tall is it?’ being answered with ‘three hundred feet’. Other antonyms are (3) relational opposites (i.e. employer/employee).

Thus, (1) complementary pairs (also contradictory pairs or true type) as in married/single, complete/incomplete, are pairs of words correspond to binary features where any member of a particular set is either one or the other but not both. We deal with absolute difference, there are no intermediate states (i.e. single/married; pregnang/not pregnant) and therefore, it is not gradable, for instance, you cannot be ‘a little single or married’ or ‘a little pregnant’. ‘Other examples for people would include alive/dead, Jew/gentile, Rhesus positive / Rhesus negative .

(2) The second type is referred to as gradable pairs. They represent opposite ends of a continuum or scale (i.e. hot-cold, wide-narrow, big-small) which allows for a natural, gradual transtition between two poles. Unlike complementary antonyms, they are not contradictory but contrary relationships which can be measured on a scale, among which we usually find a number of intermediate terms (i.e. hot-cold: hot-warm-tepid-cool-cold). These intermediate terms may take, firstly, a large number of values, from ‘positive’ to ‘negative’(i.e. different: slightly different, quite different, very different, and so on ). Secondly, their meaning is relative to cultural norms, thus ‘very very old’ for American people might be over 100 years old, whereas for Chinese people it might be only 60 because of differences in life expectancy; but if you’re talking about buildings then very very old for mericans might be over 50 years old whereas for the Chinese it would be at least a millenium.

(3) The third type refers to relational antonyms which represent two opposite roles in an interdependent relationship which are not on a natural scale. Oppositeness depends on real world attitudes which share the same semantic features, but the focus or direction is reversed (i.e. tie/untie, buy/sell, give/receive, teacher/pupil, doctor/patient). They entail a logical rela tionship through symbolic systems of thinking. Entailment is a logical relationship that occurs when one meaning implies another. For instance, in Cold War thinking, the relational opposite of American is Russian; in current US politics, the relational opposite of Democrat is Republican. These are cultural relational opposites.

4.4. Minor types of semantic relationships.

Once we have examined the major types of semantic relationships, for instance homonymy, synonymy, and antonymy and their main features, we shall briefly examine other minor types of semantic relationships, such as hyponymy and hypernymy, taxonomy and meronymy (Cruse, 1986).

Thus, (1) hyponymy is the lexical relation which refers to relationships of ‘inclusion’ of one class in another regarding meaning. Hyponyms are based upon a quotation that states that X is a Y, that is, subordinate terms whose meaning is included in the meaning of a superordinate term (i.e. rose- flower, car -vehicle, dog -animal, poodle-dog). Thus, ‘apple’ and ‘orange’ are hyponyms of ‘fruit’, where the more general term, ‘fruit’ is known as a superordinate or hypernym.

Yet, there is a contiguous type related to hyponymy, that of (2) taxonymy which may be regarded as a sub-species of hyponymy since the taxonyms of a lexic al item are a sub-set of its hyponyms. Taxonymy, then, is defined as the relation of dominance of a taxonomy, that is, the division which gives rise to well-formed taxonomies (i.e. from ‘creature’ we get ‘animal,bird,fish,insect’; from ‘animals’ we get ‘dog, elephant, cow, and so on’; from ‘dogs’ we get ‘spaniel, bulldog, shepherd, etc’, and so on). Taxonomy is often framed in a useful diagnostic where ‘An X is a kind/type of Y’. On the other hand, (3) meronymy is defined as ‘the semantic relation between a lexical item denoting a part and that denoting the corresponding whole’. Meronyms are similar to hyponyms but they express part-whole relationships where the equation X is part of a Y. Thus, a finger is part of a hand and a sepal is part of a flower. The re is no doubt of the central importance of fully integrated and cohesive physical objects, with well-differentiated parts, in the concepts of ‘part’ and ‘whole’, where meronyms are the ‘part’ and holonyms are the ‘whole’.

4.5. False friends.

Another related issue to the word as a linguistic sign in lexical semantics is the term false friends or false cognates (from French ‘faux amis’ /fo:zami/) for a learner of a foreign language. A false riend is a word in the foreign language which resembles a word in one’s mother tongue, but has a different meaning. Thus, for a Spanish learner of English, the following words may be false friends: actually (resembles ‘actualmente’, but means ‘in fact’), eventually (resembles ‘eventualmente’, but means ‘at last’), or realize (resembles ‘realizar’, but means ‘notice’).

As regards the meaning of the cognates, let us remember that out of 85% of the Old English word stock, only 15% has survived the Scandinavian and Anglonorman invasions; the other Old English words have either disappeared or undergone shifts of meaning or connotation (obsolete words, dialect words, place names, poetry, idioms, etc ).

It is worth noting that one should translate meanings, rather than words as some words may be deceptive cognates. Yet, choosing one ’s words is undeniably an important part of translation, and Spanish and English often find adequate word-for-word correspondences. The orthographic relatedness of Spanish and English sometimes poses potential dangers to the translator regarding nuances in meaning since words that look similar may be used in very different ways, or have completely different meanings.

For instance, the following words constipated, recipe, preservative, and embarrassed are usual in everyday language and misleading at the same time. In English if you are‘constipated’ you may ask for a ‘prescription’ at the doctor’s. However, in Spanish, you would not be ‘constipado’ but ‘estreñido’, and you would ask for a ‘receta’ (medicine) and not a ‘recipe’(food). Similarly, you might find yourself ‘embarrassed’ (but not pregnant!) if you to the same chemist’s and ask for a ‘preservative’ (‘preservativo’ in Spanish), and instead of getting a ‘condom’, you get ‘conservantes’.

There are also numerous cognates not having much in common semantically, but many mistakes caused by ‘false friends’ are due to popular etymology, analogical reasoning or an intended meaning. Note that Spanish and English have hundreds of cognates, that is, words that are basically the same in both languages, having the same etymology and similar meanings. Often, combinations such as ‘decepción’ and “deception ” are confusing, and if you make the mistake of using them in speech or writing you are likely to be misunderstood.

As we have seen, one of the great things about learning a foreign language is that many words often have the same historical roots and many similar meanings of cognates appear in semantic fields of interest : the human body, biological functions, everyday life activities, in short everything related to the common core of English vocabulary. From some cognates chosen in the family /kinship field

(i.e father, mother, brother), we observe that similarities are still more obvious in Indoeuropean languages: faeder (OE), father (En g.), vater (German), pater (Lat.), pater (Greek), pitar (Sanskrit), and pater (Indoeuropean) (Algeo, 1982:92). Yet, we may address to cultural and idiomatic references beyond the word level to the sentence level, and then, to the paragraph level where language actually lives, which will help students expand their vocabulary knowledge.

4.6. Lexical creativity.

4.6.1. On defining lexical creativity.

Lexical creativity is a term which is connected to form and meaning in linguistic creativity. What makes huma n language creative? How do we produce and understand idioms such as ‘to let the cat out of the bag,’ novel words and expressions such as ‘a dot-com company,’ and novel uses of familiar words, such as ‘The music screamed the audience into submission’? In this section, we shall explore these creative uses of language, both among adults and among children.

Also, in next chapter, we shall consider the implications of this creativity for the way we think about language acquisition, about the relationship between form and meaning, and about the architecture of the human language faculty more generally. Following Bauer (1983), the notion of creativity is related to that of productivity since, over the centuries, the productivity of word- formation has been a major factor in providing the huge vocabulary of English, and the fact that the process of creating new lexemes with new forms has not faded out.

4.6.2. Creativity and productivity.

New forms are constantly occuring nowadays in the press, particularly in headlines and advertisements, and in relation to new technologies. What about ‘e-mailing’ and ‘surfing the Internet’? However, there is a tendency to keep using new forms and uses of old forms. In this sense, the productivity of word-formation, and therefore, lexical creativity is to be called upon to explain.

Productivity is one of the defining features of human language, and is that property of language which allows a native speaker to produce an infinitely large number of sentences, many of which have never been produced before. It is assumed that productivity is to be accounted for by the rules of generative grammar. However, creativity, is the native speaker’s ability to extend the language system in a motivated, but unpredictable (non-rule governed) way (Bauer, 1983).

Both productivity and creativity give rise to large numbers of neologisms and lexical innovation, but in what follows it is only lexical creativity which will be discussed. Therefore, we shall provide a taxonomy of types of creativity.

4.6.3. Types of lexical creativity.

In fact, a taxonomy of lexical creativity is closely connected to literature, both prose and verse, where there are a lot of rhetorical figures in order to give several ‘concepts’ (signified) to a sound image (signifier). It is in the context of literature where rhetorical figures of speech are allowed to display the most surprising imagery in order to ‘decorate’, ‘colour’, and ‘foster’ any particular text on using contextual modulation.

According to Bauer (1983), we may distinguish different types of lexical creativity when addressing to formal and semantic similarity. Thus, we find (1) words which are similar in form and meaning, that is, borrowings (i.e. map/mapa, pilot/piloto) or cognates (i.e. son/syn, brew/brow); (2) words which are similar in form but different in meaning, that is, both borrowings and cognates although they reflect some kind of narrowing (i.e. rekord, present). Here we may also find false friends as deceptive words (i.e. actually/actualmente, eventu ally/eventualmente, insane/insano); (3) words which are similar in meaning but different in form (most of equivalents); (4) words which are different in form and meaning but grasp different views of reality (i.e. Am. Eng. first floor vs. Spanish primer piso); (5) different types of construction which imply the morphological structure of words (verb+particle vs prefix, i.e. put on, ponerse; put off, posponer); (6) similar in primary meaning but different in connotation (i.e. social associations) whose equivalent may be offensive or taboo (i.e. bloody, frequent in body parts (also in phonetic analogy );

Therefore, lexical creativity is namely based on four classes: (1) semantic, (2) phonological, (3) morphosyntactic, and (4) borrowings. (1) Semantic neologisms refer to the assignment of novel meanings to existing lexical items (i.e. bride, mistress, bachelor); (2) phonological, which refers to all neologisms except the semantic type which involves phonology; new words which must conform to the phonology of language; and onomatopoeias which are common in comic books (i.e. slithy, from ‘lithe and slimy’ in Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky). They are also requent in science and technology (i.e. google ); (3) morphosyntactic neologisms refer to those conditions for survival in which neologisms must survive against conservative attitudes. They are more likely to survive if they are introduced by a prominent person/publication (i.e. internet); and finally (4) borrowings, which are borrowed directly from other countries (i.e. football, corner, paella, siesta ).

Lyons (1995) states that one of the principal factor operative in semantic change is metaphorical extension, as when ‘foot’ meaning ‘terminal part of a leg’ also came to mean ‘lowest part of a hill or mountain’. This metaphorical extension is at issue when one refers to the related meanings of polysemous lexemes. He adds that metaphorical creativity is part of everyone’s linguistic competence and that deals with types of semantic change such as the following.

Thus, (1) extension and restriction (i.e. broadcast, sow seeds –from radio/TV programmes -, soap operas); (2) pejoration (worsening value) and amelioration (improvement in value), as devices to move in evaluative attitude which typically involves women, foreigners, euphemisms (i.e. mistress, Christian, boy servant). This is an attempt to cover up unpleasant facts by means of more pleasant labels (i.e. die-decease-pass away). Also, it is a phenomenon coining new names to replace

derogatory ones in order to avoid negative connotations (i.e. coloured people/Negroes/blacks/Afro-Americans- African Americans/people of colour, or deformity-handicap-disability ).

(3) similarity in meaning by means of metaphors, that is, when a word is applied to an object or action in order to imply a resemblance. We may distinguish man-related metaphors (i.e. the clock’s hands), animal-related metaphors (i.e. cock’s foot), metaphors from the concrete to the abstract (i.e. high- light something), and synaesthetic metaphor, that is, when transferring meaning from one sense to another (i.e. warm voice, cold voice, hard feelings, tough manners); also, by means of similes, using similar terms to make comparison (i.e. life is like a bowl of cherries).

(4) Contiguity of meaning by means of metonymy , that is, when a word that refers to an attribute is substituted for the thing that is meant (i.e. Washington/The Oval-Office), or by synecdoche, that is, when a part is substituted for a whole or a whole for a part (i.e. the President/Government, continent/USA); (5) similarity of form, that is, when in folk etymology an unfamiliar word is misanalysed in terms of familiar words or morphemes (i.e Alzheimer’s disease/Old timers’ disease); and finally (6) contiguity of form, that is, when there is ellipsis and words or morphemes are lost (i.e. ( with)drawing room).


The various aspects of the meaning of words dealt with in this study is also relevant to the learning of the vocabulary of a foreign language. Differences be tween the vocabulary of the learner’s native language (L1) and that of the foreign language (L2) may lead to the following types of problems: first, false friends as cases where L1 and L2 lexemes have the same (or similar) forms, but different sense: success (‘prosperity’) v. suceso (‘event’). Second, the distinctions made in L2 which are not made in L1 (i.e. city/town vs. ciudad/ciudad ).

This study has looked at the word as a linguistic sign within lexical semantics in order to establish a relative similarity between the two languages that Spanish-speaking students would find it useful for learning English if these connections were brought to their attention. An adult Spanish ESL student generally perceives that there is a great distance from Spanish to English, but a realization of how many words there are in common between current Spanish and English can offer a learner a

‘bridge’ to the new language.

Spanish are taught in their schools that their language has a large number of internationalisms, but there is an even larger ‘bridge’ between Spanish and English than many learners realize. It’s useful for teachers as well, to recognize that this perceived distance between Spanish and English is not as great as the main difficulties in speaking which might lead them to believe. A study of lexical items shows that these two distant descendents of Indo-European have certain historical influences in common; they especially have in common a number of procedures for acquiring and forming new words. With this information, teachers can help students lessen their fear of this perceived distance.

The similarities discussed in this paper are based on a search for phonological and semantic resemblance. It is worth stressing the importance of similiarity in phonology and semantics because students learn words more easily when they can attach a new word in their L2 to a word they know in their L1. Learners assume translation equivalence in order to make their job easier. Current communicative methods may frown on explic it teaching of similarities, but we must remember that learners search for equivalents and translate from the L2 no matter how much teachers preach against it; offering learners metalinguistic information about equivalents in lexical items simply makes it official. Learners use ‘hooks’ no matter how much teachers try to avoid them in a communicatively-based classroom .

It has been suggested that a methodology grounded in part in the application of explicit linguistic knowledge enhances the second language learning process. Information about these “systematic properties” can help the teacher in the classroom. When Russian-speakers are learning English, they look for a “system” to tie the languages together and they expect the Amerian ESL teacher to know linguistics well enough to help them. Russians I have met particularly like discussions of lexical similarities. Many know etymology, Latin and Greek roots of international words, since this is the way they were taught Russian; as a result, they expect a language teacher to know these things about English.

In the Spanish curriculum (B.O.E. 2002), the study of vocabulary, has been considered an important element of language teaching, and also word- meaning devices. After all, the importance of vocabulary cannot be understated since you cannot communicate without it. The popularity of the communicative method has left the ‘teaching’ of specific linguistic information on the sidelines, but in order for ESL teachers to help students recognize new L2 words, the teachers need to know the linguistic information themselves.

Learners cannot do it all on their own. Language learners, even 2nd year Bachillerato students, do not automatically recognize similiarities which seem obvious to teachers; learners need to have these associations brought to their attention. As we have seen, understanding the notions of semantic features and sense relations is important to teachers because they are typical means of defining new words. Teachers commonly define new words by giving synonyms and antonyms, for instance, ‘come accross’ and ‘meet by chance’ or ‘shallow’ and ‘not deep’.

However, we must be aware that very few words are completely synonymous or exact opposites, and so such definitions will only be inexact representations of teh word’s true meaning. In addition, once synonyms, homonyms, and antonyms are learned, learner must be exposed to numerous contexts in order to apply particular meanings to it. One must know more than meaning to master a word. A person must be able to perceive or produce words in verbal or written modes in terms of its grammatical constraints.

So far, we have attempted in this discussion to look for similiarities and differences in word- associations between Spanish and English with obviously no claim to completeness, but only personal curiosity and a desire to bring some information to the attention of teachers who might find

it useful for their students.


The question What is meaning? tends to attract answers which are either so general as to be almost vacuous or so narrow in their definition of meaning as to leave out of account much of what ordinary users of a language think is relevant when one puts to them more specific questions about the meaning of this or that expression in their language.

In this study we have attempted to take a fairly broad view of meaning. We are also assuming that there is an intrinsic connexion between meaning and communication. As was noted earlier, this assumption is not uncontroversial. It has been strongly challenged, for example, by Chomsky, who claimed that the meaning of an expression to a concept associated with it in the mind of the person who ‘knows and understand the expression’. However, this position is one that is commonly made by philosophers, psychologists and linguists. It enables us to give a better account of the relation between form and meaning in natural languages than does any currently available alternative (Schmitt, 2000).

We would emphasize that, although we have referred here to various indistinguishable senses of the English word ‘meaning’ which may well correspond to different, but related, kinds of meaning. We have also correlated from this idea the notion of lexical semantics to lead to a discussion of words as meaningful units.

The history of semantics is a peculiarly complex one because so many fields of study are involved: it is well surveyed by John Lyons in his book Semantics, published in 1977. It is clear from this that the subject of meaning is by no means a discovery of modern linguistics; but at the same time, little of the early work has proved to be of permanent value, except for the theoretical ideas of Ferdinand de Saussure, Edward Sapir and Lee Whorf. There was much theorizing, but little strict theory on the word as a means of studying a language’s semantic system.

An early technique for investigating this system was based on the notion of semantic fields. A language’s vocabulary is organized into areas of meaning, within which words are said to be related to each other in specific ways. The analysis of word relations can be made more precise by applying the distinction between paradigmatic and syntagmatic, that is, paradigmatic relationships between words at a particular point in a sentence, and syntagmatic, when we deal with different points in a sentence. The study of the whole network of semantic relationships shich can be identified through the use of these dimensions is generally carried on under the heading of structural semantics .

Of the two dimensions, the paradigmatic has been the more fully studied, as part of the explication of a language’s sense -relations. A sense-relation, as its name suggests, is a relationship between

sentences such that we perceive their lexemes to be in some kind of systematic correspondence. We intuitively see a connection between them. When analysing these relationships in detail, and show that there are several different types, among which some are known by traditional names: synonymy, antonymy, and hyponymy as major types, and other minor types as hyponymy and hypernymy, and meronymy. Other devices were the use of false friends and lexical creativity.

There are just some of the issues which arise when we study the lexicon of a language from a structural point of view. There are several other lexical topics which also require investigation, such as the problem of how to analyse words which have more than one meaning; the problem of defining idioms accurately; the problem of deciding how much detail to allow into the definition of a word; the problem of styles of usage affecting the meanings of words. Dictionaries have principles about words, about how to define meanings, about the order in which meanings should be defined and how they should be grouped, about ways of presenting pronunciation and spelling, about ways of dealing with etymologies, about how much information to introduce concerning stylistic or idiomatic information, and so on. Dictionaries, then, put semantic information over in a certain way.

Semantics, for the linguist, must be primarily concerned with the problems of how the semantic system hypothesized for a language is organized, and what kind of model might most usefully be constructed in order to facilitate analysis. So far, we have considered the lexical s ide of the subject, together with other aspects such as phonetics and phonology, as they are involved in the symbolism conveyed by sounds in poetry.

For many years, was considered to be an irrelevance, as far as grammar was concerned. Today, the study of meaning is recognized that it is possible, and desirable, to study the meaning of a sentence, and of the grammatical categories and relationships it contains. We have already seen, in fact, that much of the debate in recent generative grammar has arisen in relation to the way we should draw a boundary between syntax and semantics, and whether it is possible to set up a basic set of semantic relations from which grammatical patterns can be derived (actor, action, location)

Thus a word’s meaning is often partially determined by contrasting it with the meanings of other related words. The study of these meaning relationships, and meaning in general, as seen before, is called semantics , and the categories of meaning relationships between words are called sense relations. Moreover, since vocabulary has proved to play an essential role in communication, it has recently assumed a more prominent status in the field of language learning.

In fact, the above definition suggests that lexicology is, more than ever, closely related to other dimensions of linguistic knowledge, such as morphology, etymology and history, semantics, phonology, and grammar, and therefore, considered to be a central element in communicative competence and in the acquisition of a second language


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