Lexical semantics

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					Lexical semantics
      What does lexical semantics do?

It analyses the meaning of words
or to be more precise
of content lexemes
But what are content lexemes?
                Content words

go         in          she        walk
horse      beautiful be           might
the        clearly
Content words: words that are rich in meaning and
belongs to an open class (new members can be
introduced all the time).
Function words: words that are poor in meaning and
belong to a closed class (limited number of members,
new ones cannot be introduced)
go      clear            going         she
her     went             clearest
How many words?

go    goes        went     gone     going

Word form: Any form that occurs on the surface. So
go, going, went, goes, gone are five different word
Lexeme: more abstract notion; the common ground
to word forms (e.g. GO – go, went, going goes, gone).
Susan is 5’8” tall.
Susan is smaller than Ben, but taller than Petra.
In this session we will be trying to find out what kind
of meaning relations there are between words in the
vocabulary of a language and what they can really tell
us about meaning.
Describing meanings in terms of relations between
words is not so much a help in the semantic analysis
of individual words but rather helps to examine the
organization of meaning in our minds or, to be more
precise, in our mental lexicons.
                 Mental lexicon

list of all words that a native speaker knows. Entries
include information on pronunciation, morphological
and syntactic properties (e.g. which word class, in
which contexts it can be used, etc.) and on meaning.
            How is it organized?

Like a dictionary?
  based on one principle
hug [hVg], hugs, hugging, hugged.
When you hug someone, you put your arms around them and
hold them tightly because you like them or are pleased to see
them. EG During our infancy, our parents cuddle and hug us
In an instant we were hugging and kising.
huge           [hju:dZ],                      huger,
is extremely large in size. EG Huge wooden earrings dangled
from her ears
huh [hV, h@]
You say ‘huh’, in informal English at the end of a question to
indicate that you are asking someone to agree with our or to
reply in a particular way; used especially in American
           Or like a network?

on many levels, according to several principles
              What is a network?

A system of elements that are variably linked to each
Links can be of different nature and different
      The mental lexicon as network

Words are connected to each other in complex and
manifold ways.
Lexical semantics looks at these connections.
   Of what nature can these links be?
hug – hi – hem – hasten
mere – Lear – here
admire – fire – attire

nationalism – nihilism – existentialism – capitalism

hit – meet – write – say

ex lege – nill and void
              The links can be:

Lexical semantics is, of course, interested in the
semantic connections
we drank orange juice

white wine
 Syntagmatic and paradigmatic relations

Paradigmatic relations: elements which stand in
opposition to each other – level of choice
Syntagmatic relations: elements mutually influence
each other (specification) – level of combination
         Syntagmatic relationships

Mutual influence through combination
white wine
wine shifts the meaning of white beyond the
boundaries that it normally has (towards yellowish).
We now will draw a tree for this sentence
sentence shifts the meaning of tree towards a
metaphorical interpretation.
Find words that are related to the red ones
and try to describe the type of relationship
If you walk around with a big emotional or spiritual void, you
are constantly feeling empty. That emptiness can be
experienced as discomfort or tension in its mild stages,
becoming pain, depression and hopelessness in its more acute
stages. Just as a starving animal will eat anything to get rid of
its hunger pangs, so you may seek any kind of relationship to
get rid of the pain of your aloneness. Whether the
relationships is healthy or unhealthy, loving or abusive,
fulfilling or draining will be unimportant to you, at least in
the beginning. Just the thought “I am in a relationship” will
temporarily take the edge off of your “appetite.”
                Sense relations

Relations between the meanings of two or more
lexemes. They form the links connecting words in the
What is the meaning relationships between
        the following word pairs?

flower : rose
fish : shark
move : swim
green : olive
countries : Moçambique

Relationship of inclusion between two lexemes where one
lexeme is included in the meaning of the other.
The more specific element is called the hyponym, the more
general one is the superordinate (or hypernym).
Superordinate             country            clothes
Hyponym                   Angola             trousers
Lexemes that are hyponyms of the same superordinate are
called co-hyponyms. Rose, tulips, forget-me-nots, coronation
are thus co-hyponyms of the superordinate flowers.
Consequences for the syntagmatic level

roses and other ______
bears and other _______
*Oasis and other American bands
Jim and other ______
black and blue
women and men
*men and humans
*women and feminists
She gave a talk to intellectuals and President George
W. Bush
The rose is a kind of flower
Bears are a type of animals
scarlet is a kind of red
?a stallion is a kind of horse
?a lamb is a kind of sheep
?children are a type of human beings
?Jim is a kind of student
finger – hand
eye     – face
Jupiter – solar system

Also a relationship of inclusion, but here one with a
The lexeme for the part is the meronym, the lexeme
for the whole is the holonym.
cry : weep
too : also
mercury : quicksilver

a relationship between lexemes that have the same
The two elements of synonymous relationship are
called synonyms.
           Absolute synonymy

Two lexemes are fully interchangeable in any
powerful : strong
strong glasses
?powerful glasses
Boys don’t cry, so try to be strong
Boys don’t cry, so try to be powerful
cry : weep
           Propositional synonymy

If the truth values of a sentence are not changed. This
means no matter which synonym I am using, it should
not affect the situation I am describing with a
This costs 20 bucks
This costs 20 $
                Near synonymy
This involves lexemes which are sufficiently close in
huge : large
chuckle : giggle : smile
great : super : excellent
What is the meaning relation between the
          following word pairs?

strong : weak
man : woman
high culture : popular culture

Relationship of opposition between two lexemes.
The two lexemes of an antonymic relationship are
called antonyms.
         Complementary antonyms

dead : alive
male : female
Antonyms with no space between them so that the
negation of the one automatically implies the other.
They are not gradable:
she is more female than Judie
Jim is very dead
              Gradable antonyms

long : short
good : bad
There is some space between the two antonyms so
that the negation of one does not automatically imply
the other.
What is the meaning of low?
The Empire State Building is lower than the World
Trade Center
What is the meaning of old?
Baby John is older than Baby Tim
The break was very short indeed. But it was still
longer than the breaks they allowed us at the other
?Yesterday it was hot. But it was still colder than the
day before
?The coffee is cold, but it’s hotter than the one I had
             Converse antonyms

behind : in front of
parents : children
buy : sell
borrow : lend
Are used to describe a situation from two different

There are also relationships between lexemes that
have the same form but differ in meaning.
Consequently, they are ambiguous.

Two lexemes have the same form but two completely
different meanings.
like ‘love’ vs. like ‘as’
bear ‘the animal’ vs. bear ‘carry’
fair ‘colour’ vs. fair ‘character’

Two lexemes have the same form but different
meanings. But the different meanings are related.
single    CD
          ticket for one direction
          tennis with one player on each side of the
           Just binary relationships?

grey – blue – green – yellow – black – white – red –
pink – violet – purple

These lexemes, which all represent colours, show that
binary lexical relations are not the only aspect that is
of relevance since usually lexemes entertain tight
relationships with a whole number of other words.
Such sets are called semantic fields (lexical fields)
                 Semantic field

A set of lexemes that entertain particularly strong
relations with each other.
The semantic field covers a particular conceptual area
(e.g. colours, family relationships, animals, etc.).

          Centum               Satem

Celtic Germanic Greek Romance

 West Germanic North Germanic East Germanic

English German Dutch Afrikaans...

Hierarchical fields (i.e. primarily identified through
relations of hyponymy) that represent classificatory
systems (often used in sciences).


Mammals      Fish   Birds   Amphibians Reptiles



Tree kangaroo

in taxonomies we find well-developed levels, formed
by all co-hyponyms of all lexemes on the higher

          Centum               Satem

Celtic Germanic Greek Romance

 West Germanic North Germanic East Germanic

English German Dutch Afrikaans...


Mammals      Fish   Birds   Amphibians Reptiles



Tree kangaroo
                 Linear fields
Scales with two poles
beautiful – pretty – plain – ugly
fantastic – good – average – mediocre – poor – bad
breeze – wind – gale – hurricane
second – minute – hour – day – week – month – year –
decade – century – millenium
January – February – March – April – May…
author      publisher novel       chapter
write       editing     file      literature
story       cover       book      new edition
Is this a semantic field?
If yes, how does it differ from what we have dealt
with so far?
    loose organization
    not just one word type
    paradigmatic and syntagmatic relationships
    no full covering of the conceptual area

Lexemes that tend to occur together – whether it is
next to or in close vicinity to each other – are called
The two elements in a collocation relationship are
called collocates.
A lexeme can be said to collocate with another one.
   Collocation as relationship between
            individual words

pack     of wolves
herd     of cows
swarm    of bees
pod      of whales
school   of fish
flock    of birds

up and________
Love is a question of give and____________
The closer a syntagmatic relationship (i.e. the more likely two
lexemes are to occur together and the less likely they are to
occur independently), the more the combination moves
towards an idiomatic expression.
Idioms themselves are very inflexible and they are losing
their compositional meanings.
kick the bucket – has nothing to do with kicking or a bucket
Collocation as the relationship between a
lexeme and a whole group of other words

Which subjects can it take?
A week                 A year
two days               some time
a book                 a hippopotamus
They all seem to denote timespans
            Selectional restrictions

Information about which semantic features a word
has to have with which the original lexeme can be
The selectional restrictions of elapse would include
the information ‘the subject must have something to
do with duration’.
The selectional restrictions of to kill would contain
information ‘the object must be animate’.
              Mutual influence

Collocates usually also influence our understanding
of lexemes

Collocates help to find the intended meaning of
homonyms or polysemes.
I cannot bear this any longer
bear = stand
I like the bear with the long ears
bear = animal
Have you heard Ron Sexsmith’s new single
single = CD

Collocates help to specify (make it more precise) the
meaning of a lexeme.
We had not tree this Christmas.
tree = Christmas tree (fir tree)
Did you see the tree with the coconuts?
tree = palm tree

Collocates help to select a particular part or aspect of
the meaning of a lexeme.
she touched his head
head = physical
We have to use our heads to solve this problem
head = psychological
What is the meaning of ago?
Seven wives ago
What is the meaning of colourless?
colourless green ideas
What is the meaning of kill?
killing time
           Collocations and culture

Culture can be defined as a repertoire of concepts
(including ideas of the world and values) shared by a
The sharing of this repertoire happens in and through
verbal communication. A close analysis of the
meaning potential of a language and, more
importantly, of which meanings are used in which
combinations thus allows insights into the
construction of culture.
Collocations have something to do with the preferred
combinations of meanings, thus showing us which
patterns of concepts are predominant in our culture.
full       little
big        small

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