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SEMANTIC GROUPINGS OF THE ENGLISH LEXICON
8.1. Semantic fields.
8.3. Thematic groups.
8.1. The theory of semantic fields was developed by J.Trier and W.Porzig in 1934. It attempts to deal with words as related and contrasting members of a set. A lexical field (and if relatively small, a lexical set) is a group of words or lexemes whose members are related by meaning, reference, or use.
As the vocabulary is a system, words do not exist as separate items but are related to other words: they are components of various groups.
Words linked by a common concept make up a semantic field, or a conceptual field,
e.g. the words: blue, red, green, yellow, etc. make up the semantic field of colour.
The meanings of all such words have a common semantic component described as the common denominator of meaning,
e.g. " colour", " a military rank", etc.
All members of such a field are semantically interdependent, they interrelate and define each other.
Words making up a semantic field may belong to different parts of speech,
e.g. the semantic field " space" comprises nouns (expanse, extent, surface, etc.), verbs (expand, extend, span, spread, etc.), adjectives (spacious, roomy, broad, vast, etc.), adverbs.
Words belonging to the same part of speech which express the same concept are termed " lexico-semantic group" (LSG),
e.g. LSG " metals": iron, copper, gold, silver, etc.
LSG " kinship terms": mother, father, son, daughter, aunt, etc.
LSG " verbs of motion": run, walk, creep, fly, swim, etc.
A semantic field covers or refers to an aspect of the world. Many works of reference have been organized according to fields, from at least the time of Pliny the Elder's " Historia Naturalis" in AD 23 - 79. A recent work so organized is The Longman Lexicon of Contemporary English (1981), organized in 14 semantic fields, the first of which, " Life and Living Things", is divided into " Living Creatures, Animals/mammals, Birds, and Kinds and Parts of Plants", each group is made up in turn of labeled lexical sets, usu. of synonyms, antonyms, and associated words.
There is no absolute list of such fields in any language, nor any fixed pattern or order in which a field or a set of fields may be presented. Whether or not fields like " Kinds of Plants" or " Feelings and Sensations" have electro-chemical correlates in the brain, they have a psychological reality in large part conditioned by culture: the presentation of such fields differs from age to age and place to place,
e.g. 9th century Muslim list begins with " power and war" and concludes with " food and women"; most European lists from the 7th to the 17th century began with " God and the angels".
Words that make up such fields are incompatible. We cannot say, " This is a red hat" and at the same time of the same object " This is a blue hat". Nor can we describe a creature both as a lion and a tiger. Sentences with incompatible terms will thus contradict each other.
Fields may be unordered, that is to say, there is no natural way as far as their meanings are concerned of arranging the items in these groups in any kind of order,
e.g. there is no way in which we can arrange elephants, giraffes, rhinoceros (we don't speak about scientific classifications). Other fields seem to have some kind of order; some are hierarchically ordered (e.g. ranks); some items occur in sequences (measurements such as inch, foot, yard, etc.); some are arranged in a cycle (the days of the week, the months of the year, etc.).
On the other hand, semantic fields have a certain structure; each field has a core and one or more peripheral zones. Some items in a semantic field belong to its core; they are more general terms, stylistically neutral and characterized by the highest frequency value in speech. The others belong to the periphery.
e.g. In the LSG of colour terms, blue belongs to the core, azure " (poet) bright blue colour" belongs to the periphery. Thus, graphically, we can show the structure of a semantic field like this (some concentric circles):
Different lexico-semantic variants of a polysemantic word, i.e. a word in different meanings may enter different semantic fields,
e.g. blue belongs to the LSG of colour and in one of its minor meanings " condition of being sad" to the LSG of emotions.
Thus, the whole of the vocabulary is structured into overlapping semantic fields.
8.2. So far we have discussed groups of words naming items of a particular class (or sets of incompatible items). But there are also words that refer to the class itself. This involves us in the notion of inclusion in the sense that tulip and rose are included in flower, and lion and elephant in mammal.
The semantic relationship of inclusion is termed hyponymy: an X is a kind of Z.
The hyponymic relations may be viewed as hierarchical relations between the generic and the individual term, i.e. the superordinate term, the classifier which serves to describe the LSG, called a hyperonym, and the subordinate term of narrower or more specific meaning which comes " under" another of wider or more general meaning, called a hyponym.
e.g. The hyperonym is tree; birch, pine, oak are co-hyponyms.
Hyponymic relations are often imprecise, unstable and multidimensional. The same word may be a hyponym of several superordinates:
e.g. rug is a synonym of carpet in some contexts and a hyponym of carpet in others; axe is a tool and a weapon; a weapon is a hyponym of tool.
The same word may appear in several places in a hierarchy, in one of its meanings it may be superordinate to itself in another meaning.
e.g. Thus, animal may be used (1) in contrast with vegetable to include birds, fishes, insects, as well as mammals; (2) in the sense of " mammal" to contrast with birds, fishes, insects, to include both humans and beasts, (3) in the sense of " beast" to contrast with humans. So it occurs three times in the hierarchy.
A hyponym contains (includes) the meaning of the superordinate term and also some additional semantic components which distinguish it from its co-hyponyms,
e.g. The co-hyponyms stroll, stagger, saunter, stride all include the meaning of walk (the hyperonym); but stroll also includes the semantic components " quiet" and " unhurried", stride " energetically", " purposefully", etc.
Oddly enough, there is not always a superordinate term, e.g. there is no superordinate term for the group of adjectives blue, green, red, etc. as " coloured " usu. excludes grey, black and white.
8. 3. Another type of classification of words is known as thematic grouping.
Words in thematic groups are joined together by common contextual associations, i.e. they are regularly used together in different contexts; their contextual associations reflect relations of things and events in the real world, they are conditioned by the context of the situation which makes necessary the use of certain words.
Words making up a thematic group belong to different parts of speech and do not possess any common denominator of meaning,
e.g. tree - grow - green - leaf – branch, etc.;
journey - passenger - travel - ticket - train – luggage, etc.
In practical language learning, thematic groups are often listed under such headings as " At the Theatre", " At the Doctor", etc. and are often found in textbooks and course books.