How can we analyze meaning by r1STcj


									                                         Componential Analysis

    Componential analysis is a method that looks at each word as a bundle of different features or
components. The focus of componential analysis is on finding those features that are necessary and
sufficient for a given item to be an example of a given word. For example, the word man could be seen as
the sum of the features [+human], [+adult], [+male]. Anyone who has 11 of these features qualifies as a
man. Similarly, the word woman would be defined as [+human], [+adult], [-male], the word boy as
[+human], [-adult], [+male], and the word girl as [+ human]. [- adult], [-male]. (Note that writing features
in brackets with the symbols “+”+ and “-”          is a convention of componential analysis.)
    In contrast, the word dog would be defined as [-human], [+/- adult], [+/- male]. (The “+/-” symbol
means that it may belong to either group and still be a dog.) Componential analysis helps you find those
features which are distinctive, and which create differences among a group of related words. The features
of the words given above are summarized in the following chart.
                          Human            adult             male
  Boy                      +                   -             +
  Woman                    +                   +                        -
  Girl                     +                              -                      -
  Man                __ +                                 +                       +
  Dog                         -                       +/-                +/-

  Componential analysis can be particularly useful in helping to understand the subtle differences in
meaning between a group of related words, as is shown in the following chart:
                        high pitch              verbal             voiced           high volume
     Scream                   +                   -/+                +                    +
     Shriek                   ++                   -                 +                    +
      Shout                   +/-                 +                  +                    +
     Growl                     -                  +/-                +                   +/-
    Whisper                   n/a                 +                   -                   -
    Mumble                    -/+                 +                  +                   -/+
     Babble                   +/-                  -                 +                   +/-

   +/-: primarily positive;    -/+ : primarily negative.

   Most people, native-speakers and English teachers included. would be hard pressed if someone asked
them to explain the difference between this group of words. But by doing a componential analysis, it
becomes quite clear how the system of English vocabulary divides up the world of such verbal and non-
verbal human sounds.
   Componential analysis can be of particular benefit when you are called on to translate to or from
English. The word heir in English, for instance, means a person who has received, or will receive,
something of value after someone else died or dies. But in many other cultures, the use of the term clearly
implies that that other person has died already. (What about Chinese?)
    Another strength of this method lies in its handling of figurative language. Figures of speech tend to be
highly culture-bound. If an English speaker says the phrase “He is a dog”, they are probably commenting
on the person’s greed or selfishness, as this is a feature associated with dogs. (On the other hand, dogs are
also seen in English as very determined, so it is possible that the speaker might be complimenting
someone’s dedication and hard work, though this is less common.)
    But if the same comparison is made in Chinese, the speaker probably means to call the person a snob or
bootlicker since dogs are seen as submissive and servile. The Chinese language also has the expression
running dog, of course, for collaborators of despotic rulers.
    While calling someone a dog is insulting in both languages, the flavor of the insult is quite different. By
analyzing intensive features of the source and target items, especially those that are being highlighted in
the figure of speech at hand, the translator can get a firmer grip on the text and come up with a better way
of communicating the real meaning of the original utterance or at least avoid creating a distinctly wrong
impression by being too literal.
    In spite of the strengths discussed above, componential analysis is not completely satisfactory for the
analysis of meaning in all situations. The following are three major limitations of componential analysis.
     1) It tends to focus exclusively on denotation and leave out the connotation. In the chart above, for
example, shout usually implies a degree of urgency; growl carries with it a sense of anger and disapproval;
whisper one of secrecy; and babble is associated with babies. None of these important shades of meaning
are captured by the componential analysis.
     2) Componential analysis focuses exclusively on typical cases. The chart above categorically defines
screaming and shrieking, but what about some high-pitched, non-verbal noise between the two? The word
run, when distinguished from walk, jump and hop, may be defined as moving quickly on two feet, with no
foot on the ground for an instant in each step. The analysis, however, leaves out the meaning of run as it is
used in sentences such as

       The crabs are running around.
       The snake ran across the lawn.

Then, we may also find cases in which there is no physical movement:

       He runs the office. He is running for president.
       The car is running. The road runs across the mountain.

   3) It is often difficult, if not impossible, to define exactly what the necessary and sufficient features for
a given word are. The examples given above are fairly clear-cut, but people will not easily agree about
what are the defining features of more abstract words such as freedom, democracy, socialism and
communism. In many cases, people seem to know how words differ from each other without being able to
definitely identify their components. For example, an attempt to classify different plants will quickly fall
into highly technical biological terminology, which is not part of the knowledge-base of native speakers
even though they have no trouble distinguishing an orange tree from a lemon tree 01 a daisy from an
   Some of these weaknesses of componential analysis can h offset by turning to a method known as
prototype theory. Here. a concept is seen not as a set of critical features, but rather in terms of a most
typical instance or “prototype”. The advantage of ii is kind of analysis is that it allows for categories with
fuzzy boundaries, rather than strict, binary pluses and minuses. Such fuzzy boundaries are, in most cases,
probably much closer to the way in which the human mind actually stores words and their associated
    In prototype theory, a given noise can be viewed not simply either screaming or not screaming, but
screaming to a certain degree, depending on how similar it is to the typical case of screaming. For the same
token, a whale is a mammal to a certain degree even though the most prototypical mammal would be one
that lives on dry land, has hair, and breast-feeds its young (e.g.. a human, a dog or a monkey). While
swallows and robins are among the most typical birds of all, chickens and turkeys are less so, and ostriches
and penguins are perhaps among the least typical. An ostrich or a penguin is still a bird, but it is not at all
the image that comes to mind when someone says the word bird but gives us no additional information.
    Prototype theory is also useful in analyzing groups of words whose meanings can often blend together,
for example glass, cup and bowl. The differences between these three words are only relative, with no hard
and fast boundaries. We can distinguish a prototypical cup from a prototypical glass or bowl fairly easily.
For items which are made out of glass or ceramic and whose shape is indeterminate, however, we find that
the way in which people choose to name it actually depends not on the object itself, but on such factors as
what it is being used to serve. Thus, a single object might be called a cup when it holds tea, a glass when it
holds wine, and a bowl when it holds ice cream.


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