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					         HOW (DIS)SIMILAR? TELLING THE DIFFERENCE

    BETWEEN NEAR SYNONYMS IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE


 SARA GESUATO -- University of Padua, Italy -- sara.gesuato@unipd.it

               phone: +39 049 8278692 -- fax: +39 049 8278679


      TALC6 2004 -- UNIVERSITY OF GRANADA, SPAIN -- 6-9 JULY 2004


                                  INTRODUCTION

- absolute synonymity is rare (e.g. Suárez 1971) but near synonyms are not (see

Taylor 2003)


- near synonyms are characterized by different distribution and consequently different

denotational and/or connotational meanings


- yet, the distinct contextual normality of near synonyms is not easily accessible

      -- not frequently described in dictionaries

      -- not easily noticeable by foreign language learners, who are not necessarily

exposed to sufficient tokens of the near synonyms to be able to perceive and

generalize about their patterns of use


- but electronic corpora make it possible to examine the immediate co-texts of use of

near synonyms and thus identify their specific usage

      -- through instantaneous access to high numbers of occurrences of those words

                                           1
TOPIC

- small set of English near synonyms translatable in the same way into Italian


                               CONTEXT and PROCEDURE

- advanced English course for 10 third-year students of Education at the University of

Padua, year 2002-2003

      -- students did small lexical semantics projects in the language lab, which

counted towards their final grade

      -- 6 of them worked on pairs of near synonyms encountered in their readings

               --- they selected 100 random concordances of pairs of near synonyms

from the on-line Bank of English and examined relevant co-text

- teacher used same method in order to provide explanations about appropriate

context of use of additional pairs of near synonyms


                         ILLUSTRATIVE EXEMPLIFICATION

1) Nouns: ISLAND-ISLE


                               Island      Islands         Isle           Isles
Tokens                         5,172       1,770           760            258
Distribution
                 Placename 33              51              88             88
                 Generic       59          46              4              9
                 Attractive    0           0               4              3
                 description
                 Classifier    7           3               3              0
                 other         1           0               1              0

                                          2
- Examples

      -- placename (e.g. the Isle of Man; the British Isles; West of Gull Island;

Canary Islands)

      -- generic (e.g. the Greek isle where she died; the far southern isles; the fourth

largest island in the world; offshore islands)

      -- attractive description (e.g. Royals get in swim on love isle; the fairest isle

that eyes ever beheld; Ireland is the isle of smiles; the paradise isles)

      -- classifier 3 (e.g. Off the isle of Makunudu; the Indonesian island of Bali; the

two Mediterranean islands of Cyprus and Malta)



- Summary

      -- ISLE(S):

             --- more frequent in the singular form

             --- mostly occurs as part of placenames

             --- as a common noun it occurs as part of description of attractive places



      -- ISLAND(S):

             --- over six times as frequent as ISLE(S)

             --- more frequent in the singular form

             --- used as generic common noun slightly more often than as placename




                                             3
2) Adjectives: FEEBLE – WEAK

                                                            Feeble      Weak
          Total tokens                                      173         1,699
          Syntactic function
                                  attributive               76          48
                                  predicative               24          52
          Referents
                                  behavior, action          36          15
                                  person, body              25          32
                                  Message                   12          2
                                  Sound                     6           6
                                  Object                    6           3
                                  body part                 5           13
                                  behavior + message        4           2
                                  Economy                   0           11
                                  group, institution        0           3
                                  Animal                    0           2
                                  Liquid                    0           2
                                  Grammar                   0           2
                                  event, situation          0           3
                                  Other                     6           7



- Examples:

     --    attributive   use:     feeble       attempt/landlord/wind;        weak   front-

runner/excuse/economy

     -- predicative use: you are a little feeble; we went weak at the knees

     -- behavior/action: feeble attack/farce; weak policy/support

     -- person, body: feeble males; I still feel weak
                                           4
        -- message: feeble press statement; weak law reforms

        -- sound: feeble voice; weak voice

        -- concrete object: feeble pieces of white sliced bread; weak receiver

        -- body part: feeble little legs; weak muscle/heart

        -- economy: weak bonds/market/demand

        -- liquid: weak lager

        -- grammar: weak verb forms


- Summary

        -- FEEBLE:

              --- mostly used attributively

              --- most common referents: people, people‟s behavior, messages

              --- when referent is object (e.g. arsenal of drugs, version of a sandwich,

engine, soil), it may mean „unsubstantial, poor‟


        -- WEAK

              --- about 10 times as frequent as FEEBLE

              --- used indifferently both attributively and predicatively

              --- more varied referents than those of FEEBLE; mostly: people‟s

behavior, people, economy, muscles

                     ---- variety of meanings: lack of ability (weak link/spot); lack of

strength (weak muscles); mildness of illness (weak cough); dilutedness of liquid

(weak solution of blue toner); fragility of surface (weak ground); class of people (the

weak)

                                              5
3) Adverbs: GRATEFULLY - THANKFULLY

                                                         gratefully   thankfully
Total tokens                                             116          344
Context of use
                      sentence      adverb       („lucky 0            98
                      avoidance of something bad‟)
                      elaborate expression of thanks     13           0
                      (exchange) acceptance              22           0
                      (exchange) rejection               2            0
                      description of behavior            63           0
                      Unclear                            0            2



- Examples

        -- elaborate expression of thanks: “I gratefully acknowledge that assistance”;

“Donations of any amount are gratefully appreciated”; “I am gratefully indebted to

you”)

        -- acceptance: “They accepted gratefully”, “It was gratefully received”

        -- rejection: “...which the women gratefully declined.”

        -- description of behavior: “He lowered his head gratefully against his seat-

rest”, “David smiled gratefully”, “Bare toes curled gratefully in the air”, “I sighed

gratefully”, ““Thank you,” he told her gratefully”.

        -- sentence adverb: “This is thankfully no longer true”; “its historic and

architectural riches - Roman, Medieval and baroque - have been thankfully spared by

war”; “Thankfully there was not as much tension as in that last game”; “Thankfully

her breast cancer was diagnosed quickly”


                                             6
- Summary:

      -- thankfully expresses writer/speaker‟s point of view on event/situation being

described/reported

      -- gratefully describes attitude or manner of acting of person/people being

referred to in the sentence


4) Verbs: TO ADORE – TO WORSHIP

                                                      to adore     to worship
Tokens                                                561          229
Subject         of
adoration
                     Individuals                      54           35
                     Crowds                           29           54
                     Other groups of people           7            3
                     Unclear                          0            8
Object/place    of
adoration/worship
                     Individuals                      47           10
                     Events                           13           0
                     Objects                          11           4
                     Crowds                           4            2
                     Other (group of people, animal, 16            1
                     place, quality, situation)
                     Deity or divinized objects       1            50
                     Special (famous) people          0            13
                     Adverbial of holy place (also 0               18
                     ironic)
                     Unclear or not applicable        8            2

                                            7
- Examples:

      -- adjectival V-ing: The adoring 200-strong audience; with affectionate smiles

and adoring eyes; she was blindly adoring; the wittiest humourist, sensitive and

worshipping

      -- non-adjectival V-ing: on the pretext of worshipping at Ayers Rock; idol-

worshipping; he was soon worshipping at the shrine of Hugh Gaitskell

      -- past participles (passive): it is my duty to remind her that she is adored

      -- subjects of adoration: she had always adored her brother; the audiences

adored her; Both of my parents adore him

      -- subjects of worship: the Hosso and Sanron Sects worship Buddha; Boris

Yeltsin worships Elvis Presley;

      -- objects of adoration: we adore each other; My nieces and nephews adored a

school visit to a farm; Marie Antoinette adored fragrances; the Serjeant at Arms is

adored by tourists; one of those women who adored their husbands; he adored

Catherine‟s beauty; I happen to adore LA; Oh Come Let Us Adore Him, Christ the

Lord; Sarah adored their way of life

      -- objects of worship: scientists were accused of worshipping foreign idols; the

woman you worship; Peron, whom many Argentinians almost worship; would dig up

Kurt Cobain and worship his liver; they actually worship the Beatles

      -- place of worship: he later took a train to worship at a shrine; there is an

element that worships at the altar of carbon fibre




                                            8
- Summary:

      -- to ADORE

             --- twice as frequent as to WORSHIP

             --- meanings: (a) to like/enjoy something very much; (b) to love (and

admire) someone very much


      -- to WORSHIP

             --- meanings: (a) to pray and show respect to a deity or deity-like entity;

(b) to love and admire


                                   CONCLUSIONS

- pairs of near synonyms are characterized by distinct prototypical usages

      -- but also extendable to the contexts of use of the other member of the pair

- being aware of such prototypical context specificity may prevent incorrect use of

near synonyms

      -- method: by examining corpus data

             --- students can actively learn about grammar of words

             --- teacher can inform students about context appropriateness of given

terms through authentic examples and quantitative data


REFERENCES
      Suárez J. (1971) A case of absolute synonyms, International Journal of
American Linguistics, vol. 37, No. 7, pp. 192-195
      Taylor J. (2003) Near synonyms as co-extensive categories: „high‟ and „tall‟
revisited, Language Sciences, Vol. 25, No. 3, pp. 263-284


                                           9

				
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