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SYNONYMY AND ANTONYMY
9.1. Synonyms: the problems of definition and classification. Synonymic sets.
9.1. Synonymy (or synonymity), in the traditional sense of the word is similarity of meaning.
One of the most controversial problems in modern linguistics is the problem of criteria of synonymy, i.e. what words should be considered synonyms.
There are three main criteria:
(1) the notional criterion,
(2) the semantic criterion,
(3) the substitution criterion, or the criterion of interchangeability.
Traditional linguistics used the notional criterion and defined synonyms as words of the same part of speech conveying the same notion but differing either in shades of meaning or in stylistic characteristics.
This definition has been criticised. First, " notion" is not a linguistic term; second, " shade of meaning" is vague, it lacks precision.
In modern research on synonymy, the semantic criterion is used. Synonyms are defined as words with the same denotative component but differing in connotative components.
e.g. hearty (neutral) - cordial (lit),
pass away (lit) - die (neutral) - pop off (coll),
overweight (neutral) - fat (negative).
Yet, synonyms differ not only in the connotative component but in the denotative component as well.
e.g. to look, to seem, to appear don't differ in their connotations; they mean " to give the impression", but seem suggests an opinion based on subjective impressions and personal reaction, while look implies an opinion based on general visual impression; appear often suggests a distorted impression, for ex.: She seemed a capable woman, intent on her work.
He looks a playwright, his appearance fits the part.
His tongue could make the worse appear the better reason.
The difference between the verbs lies in the denotative components.
So, synonyms are words similar in their denotations. The difference in their denotative components cannot exceed certain limits. In language, difference can count more than similarity. If you know that the words copy and forge are similar in meaning this is all very well, but it may not help you in choosing the correct word to be applied to the particular situation. (Forge means " illegally copy smth, esp smth. written or printed"). Synonyms are both the same and different, that's why they can be opposed to each other,
e.g. Is she a pretty girl? - Not pretty, only attractive.
Pretty and attractive are synonyms, they both mean " of pleasant appearance".
The third criterion of synonymy, i.e. the criterion of interchangeability has been much criticized. According to it, synonyms are defined as words interchangeable in all or at least some contexts. True, some synonyms are interchangeable in some environments (but not in others),
e.g. deep/profound sympathy, but only deep water.
But this gives us little measure of synonymy (or similarity of meaning); it merely indicates the collocational possibilities, and these do not seem necessarily to be always closely related to nearness of meaning.
e.g. rancid occurs only with bacon or butter; addled with eggs and brains,
but this is not a matter of their meaning (" stale, bad, rotten").
On the one hand, substituting one synonym for another changes the utterance as synonyms do not mean exactly the same.
e.g. He glared at her (=looked angrily) ≠ He stared at her ≠ He gaped at her (= look with an open mouth and in surprise).
On the other hand, words that are not synonymous may be interchangeable in some contexts.
e.g. flower and rose are not synonyms but are related in terms of hyponymy and can be substituted one for the other: He admired the rose/the flower.
He can be substituted for man: The man/He entered the room.
Thus, the criterion of interchangeability cannot be accepted as a valid one.
The only existing classification of synonyms wasworked out by Academician Vinogradov. It comprises 3 types of synonyms:
1. ideographic synonyms, conveying the same notion but deffering in shades of meaning,
2. stylistic synonyms, differing in stylistic characteristics,
3. absolute (total) synonyms, coinciding in all shades of meaning and stylistic characteristics.
This classification is open to criticism. Firstly, absolute synonyms are very rare; the language tends to get rid of them (e.g. spirant and fricative). It does not seem necessary to include them in the general classification. Secondly, the term " shade of meaning" is vague. Thirdly, synonyms may differ both in denotative components and stylistic characteristics,
e.g. handsome " of fine form or figure" - pretty " attractive in dainty or graceful way" - bonny " comely; healthy looking; pleasing". (N.Eng & Sc)
Synonyms are usually arranged in sets (i.e. groups). The number of synonyms in such sets may vary from 2 up to a dozen or even more (and may be different in different dictionaries),
e.g. beautiful, good-looking, handsome, pretty, lovely, fair, bonny, comely, beauteous, attractive.
Strictly speaking, members of synonymic sets are not words but lexico-semantic variants, so one polysemantic word may enter different sets of synonyms,
e.g. poor ¹ - inferior, unsatisfactory, imperfect;
poor ² - penniless, needy, impoverished.
A characteristic pattern of English synonymic sets is a group of synonyms including a native word (of Anglo-Saxon origin) and a foreign one (borrowed from Latin, Greek or French),
e.g. brotherly - fraternal, buy - purchase, world – universe.
(The native words are usually shorter and less learned.)
There are examples, too, of triples (i.e. sets of three): one native word, one French and one Latin,
e.g. kingly - royal - regal (though with this set it's the word of the French origin that's today in more common usage).
A synonymic set has a central word, called the dominant synonym; it expresses the meaning common to each synonym in the set. It is characterized by:
1) high frequency of usage,
2) broad combinability, i.e. ability to combine with various word classes,
3) broad general meaning, i.e. its meaning more or less " covers" the meaning of the other synonyms, so it may be substituted for any of them,
4) neutral stylistic reference.
e.g. In the set to surprise - to astonish - to amaze - to astound the dominant synonym is to surprise;
to copy (the dominant synonym) - to forge - to pirate - to fake - to counterfeit,