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Post by sahakyan on Thu Feb 24, 2011 7:52 pm

Ι. Definition of synonymy
Lexical units may also be classified by the criterion of semantic similarity and semantic contrasts. The terms generally used to denote these two types of semantic relatedness are synonymy and antonymy.
Synonymy is often understood as semantic equivalence. Semantic equivalence however can exist between words and word-groups, word-groups and sentences, sentences and sentences. For example, John is taller than Bill is semantically equivalent to Bill is shorter than John. John sold the book to Bill and Bill bought the book from John may be considered semantically equivalent.
As can be seen from the above these sentences are paraphrases and denote the same event. Semantic equivalence may be observed on the level of word-groups, Thus we may say that to win a victory is synonymous with to gain a victory, etc.
Here we proceed from the assumption that the terms synonymy and synonyms should be confined to semantic relation between words only. Similar relations between word-groups and sentences are described as semantic equivalence. Synonyms may be found in different parts of speech and both among notional and function words. For example, though and albeit, on and upon, since and as are synonymous because these phonemically different words are similar in their denotational meaning.
Synonyms are traditionally described as words different in sound-form but identical or similar in meaning. This definition has been severely criticised on many points. Firstly, it seems impossible to speak of identical or similar meaning of words as such as this part of the definition cannot be applied to polysemantic words. It is inconceivable that polysemantic words could be synonymous in all their meanings. The verb look, e.g., is usually treated as a synonym of see, watch, observe, etc., but in another of its meanings it is not synonymous with this group of words but rather with the verbs seem, appear (cf. to look at smb and to look pale). The number of synonymic sets of a polysemantic word tends as a rule to be equal to the number of individual meanings the word possesses.
In the discussion of polysemy and context we have seen that one of the ways of discriminating between different meanings of a word is the interpretation of these meanings in terms of their synonyms, e.g. the two meanings of the adjective handsome are synonymously interpreted as handsome — ‘beautiful’ (usually about men) and handsome — ‘considerable, ample’ (about sums, sizes, etc.).
Secondly, it seems impossible to speak of identity or similarity of lexical meaning as a whоle as it is only the denotational component that may be described as identical or similar. If we analyse words that are usually considered synonymous, e.g. to die, to pass away; to begin, to commence, etc., we find that the connotational component or, to be more exact, the stylistic reference of these words is entirely different and it is only the similarity of the denotational meaning that makes them synonymous. The words, e.g. to die, to walk, to smile, etc., may be considered identical as to their stylistic reference or emotive charge, but as there is no similarity of denotational meaning they are never felt as synonymous words.
Thirdly, it does not seem possible to speak of identity of meaning as a criterion of synonymity since identity of meaning is very rare even among monosemantic words. In fact, cases of complete synonymy are very few and are, as a rule, confined to technical nomenclatures where we can find monosemantic terms completely identical in meaning as, for example, spirant and fricative in phonetics. Words in synonymic sets are in general differentiated because of some element of opposition in each member of the set. The word handsome, e.g., is distinguished from its synonym beautiful mainly because the former implies the beauty of a male person or broadly speaking only of human beings, whereas beautiful is opposed to it as having no such restrictions in its meaning.
Thus it seems necessary to modify the traditional definition and to formulate it as follows: synonyms are words different in sound-form but similar in their denotational meaning or meanings. Synonymous relationship is observed only between similar denotational meanings of phonemically different words.
II. Stylistic reference
Differentiation of synonyms may be observed in different semantic components — denotational or connotational. Thus buy and purchase are similar in meaning but differ in their stylistic reference and therefore are not completely interchangeable. That department of an institution which is concerned with acquisition of materials is normally the Purchasing Department rather than the Buying Department. A wife however would rarely ask her husband to purchase a pound of butter. It follows that practically no words are substitutable for one another in all contexts.
This fact may be explained as follows: firstly, words synonymous in some lexical contexts may display no synonymity in others. As one of the English scholars aptly remarks, the comparison of the sentences the rainfall in April was abnormal and the rainfall in April was exceptional may give us grounds for assuming that exceptional and abnormal are synonymous. The same adjectives in a different context are by no means synonymous, as we may see by comparing my son is exceptional and my son is abnormal.
Secondly, it is evident that interchangeability alone cannot serve as a criterion of synonymity. We may safely assume that synonyms are words interchangeable in some contexts. But the reverse is certainly not true as semantically different words of the same part of speech are, as a rule, interchangeable in quite a number of contexts. For example, in the sentence I saw a little girl playing in the garden the adjective little may be formally replaced by a number of semantically different adjectives, e.g. pretty, tall, English, etc.
A more acceptable definition of synonyms seems to be the following: synonyms are words different in their sound-form, but similar in their denotational meaning or meanings and interchangeable at least in some contexts.
The English word-stock is extremely rich in synonyms which can be largely accounted for by abundant borrowing. Quite a number of words in synonymic sets are usually of Latin or French origin. For instance, out of thirteen words making up the set see, behold, descry, espy, view, survey, contemplate, observe, notice, remark, note, discern, perceive only see and behold can be traced back to Old English (OE. seon and behealdan), all others are either French or Latin borrowings.
A characteristic pattern of English synonymic sets is the pattern including the native and the borrowed words. Among the best investigated are the so-called double-scale patterns: native versus Latin (e.g. bodily — corporal, brotherly — fraternal); native versus Greek or French (e.g. answer — reply, fiddle — violin). In most cases the synonyms differ in their stylistic reference, too. The native word is usually colloquial (e.g. bodily, brotherly), whereas the borrowed word may as a rule be described as bookish or highly literary (e.g. corporal, fraternal).
Side by side with this pattern there exists in English a subsidiary one based on a triple-scale of synonyms; native — French, and Latin or Greek (e.g. begin (start) — commence (Fr.) — initiate (L.); rise — mount (Fr.) — ascend (L.). In most of these sets the native synonym is felt as more colloquial, the Latin or Greek one is characterised by bookish stylistic reference, whereas the French stands between the two extremes.
There are some minor points of interest that should be discussed in connection with the problem of synonymy. It has often been found that subjects prominent in the interests of a community tend to attract a large number of synonyms. It is common knowledge that in “Beowulf” there are 37 synonyms for hero and at least a dozen for battle and fight. The same epic contains 17 expressions for sea to which 13 more may be added from other English poems of that period. In Modern American English there are at least twenty words used to denote money: beans, bucks, the chips, do-re-mi, the needful, wherewithal, etc. This linguistic phenomenon is usually described as the law of synonymic attraction.
It has also been observed that when a particular word is given a transferred meaning its synonyms tend to develop along parallel lines. We know that in early New English the verb overlook was employed in the meaning of ‘look with an evil eye upon, cast a spell over’ from which there developed the meaning deceiv’ first recorded in 1596. Exactly half a century later we find oversee a synonym of overlook employed in the meaning of ‘deceive’. This form of analogy active in the semantic development of synonyms is referred to as radiation of synonyms.
Another feature of synonymy is that the bulk of synonyms may be referred to stylistically marked words, i.e. they possess a peculiar connotational component of meaning. This can be observed by examining the synonyms for the stylistically neutral word money listed above. Another example is the set of synonyms for the word girl (young female): doll, flame, skirt, tomato, broad, bag, dish, etc. all of which are stylistically marked. Many synonyms seem to possess common emotive charge.
III. Destination of synonyms
Synonymy is one of modern linguistics' most controversial problems. The very existence of words traditionally called synonyms is disputed by some linguists; the nature and essence of the relationships of these words is hotly debated and treated in quite different ways by the representatives of different linguistic schools.
Even though one may accept that synonyms in the traditional meaning of the term are somewhat elusive and, to some extent, fictitious it is certain that there are words in any vocabulary which clearly develop regular and distinct relationships when used in speech.
Here are some more extracts which confirm that synonyms add precision to each detail of description and show how the correct choice of a word from a group of synonyms may colour the whole text.
Synonyms are one of the language's most important expressive means. The principal function of synonyms is to represent the same phenomenon in different aspects, shades and variations.
And here is an example of how a great writer may use synonyms for stylistic purposes. In this extract from “Death of a Hero” R. Aldington describes a group of survivors painfully retreating after a defeat in battle:
"... The Frontshires [name of battalion] staggered rather than walked down the bumpy trench ... About fifty men, the flotsam of the wrecked battalion, stumbled past them .... They shambled heavily along, not keeping step or attempting to, bent wearily forward under the weight of their equipment, their unseeing eyes turned to the muddy ground".
In this extract the verb to walk is used with its three synonyms, each of which describes the process of walking in its own way. In contrast to walk the other three words do not merely convey the bare idea of going on foot but connote the manner of walking as well. Stagger means "to sway while walking" and, also, implies a considerable, sometimes painful, effort. Stumble, means "to walk tripping over uneven ground and nearly falling." Shamble implies dragging one's feet while walking; a physical effort is also connoted by the word.
The use of all these synonyms in the extract creates a vivid picture of exhausted, broken men marching from the battle-field and enhances the general atmosphere of defeat and hopelessness.
A carefully chosen word from a group of synonyms is a great asset not only on the printed page but also in a speaker's utterance. It was Mark Twain who said that the difference between the right word and just the right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning-bug.
Types of Synonyms
The only existing classification system for synonyms was established by Academician V. V. Vinogradov, the famous Russian scholar. In his classification system there are three types of synonyms: ideographic (which he defined as words conveying the same concept but differing in shades of meaning), stylistic (differing in stylistic characteristics) and absolute (coinciding in all their shades of meaning and in all their stylistic characteristics).
A more modern and a more effective approach to the classification of synonyms may be based on the definition describing synonyms as words differing in connotations. It seems convenient to classify connotations by which synonyms differ rather than synonyms themselves. It opens up possibilities for tracing much subtler distinctive features within their semantic structures.
Types of Connotations
I. The connotation of degree or intensity can be traced in such groups of synonyms as to surprise — to astonish — to amaze — to astound; to satisfy — to please — to content — to gratify — to delight — to exalt; to shout — to yell — to bellow — to roar; to like — to admire — to love — to adore — to worship.
П. In the group of synonyms to stare — to glare — to gaze — to glance — to peep — to peer, all the synonyms except to glance denote a lasting act of looking at somebody or something, whereas to glance describes a brief, passing look. These synonyms may be said to have a connotation of duration in their semantic structure.
Other examples are: to flash (brief) — to blaze (lasting); to shudder (brief) — to shiver (lasting); to say (brief) — to speak, to talk (lasting).
All these synonyms have other connotations besides that of duration.
III. The synonyms to stare — to glare — to gaze are differentiated from the other words of the group by emotive connotations, and from each other by the nature of the emotion they imply. In the group alone — single — lonely — solitary, the adjective lonely also has an emotive connotation.
She was alone implies simply the absence of company, she was lonely stresses the feeling of melancholy and desolation resulting from being alone. A single tree on the plain states plainly that there is (was) only one tree, not two or more. A lonely tree on the plain gives essentially the same information, that there was one tree and no more, but also creates an emotionally coloured picture.
In the group to tremble — to shiver — to shudder — to shake, the verb to shudder is frequently associated with the emotion of fear, horror or disgust, etc. (e. g. to shudder with horror) and therefore can be said to have an emotive connotation in addition to the two others.
One should be warned against confusing words with emotive connotations and words with emotive denotative meanings, e. g. to love — to admire — to adore — to worship; angry — furious — enraged; fear — terror — horror. In the latter, emotion is expressed by the leading semantic component whereas in the former it is an accompanying, subsidiary characteristic.
IV. The evaluative connotation conveys the speaker's attitude towards the referent, labelling it as good or bad. So in the group well-known — famous — notorious — celebrated, the adjective notorious bears a negative evaluative connotation and celebrated a positive one. Cf.: a notorious murderer, robber, swindler, coward, lady-killer, flirt, but a celebrated scholar, artist, singer, man-of-letters.
In the group to produce — to create — to manufacture — to fabricate, the verb to create characterises the process as inspired and noble. To manufacture means "to produce in a mechanical way without inspiration or originality". So, to create can be said to have a positive evaluative connotation, and to manufacture a negative one.
The verbs to sparkle and to glitter are close synonyms and might well be favoured by supporters of the interchangeability criterion.
V. The causative connotation can be illustrated by the examples to sparkle and to glitter given above: one's eyes sparkle with positive emotions and glitter with negative emotions. However, this connotation of to sparkle and to glitter seems to appear only in the model "Eyes + Sparkle/Glitter".
The causative connotation is also typical of the verbs we have already mentioned, to shiver and to shudder, in whose semantic structures the cause of the act or process of trembling is encoded: to shiver with cold, from a chill, because of the frost; to shudder with fear, horror, etc.
To blush and to redden represent similar cases: people mostly blush from modesty, shame or embarrassment, but usually redden from anger or indignation. Emotive connotation can easily be traced in both these verbs.
VI. The connotation of manner can be singled out in some groups of verbal synonyms. The verbs to stroll — to stride — to trot — to pace — to swagger — to stagger — to stumble all denote different ways and types of walking, encoding in their semantic structures the length of pace, tempo, gait and carriage, purposefulness or lack of purpose: to stroll – to walk slowly, enjoing the walk; to stride – to walk quickly, being in hurry; to trot – to walk very quickly, nearly running; to pace – to walk and gently; to swagger – to walk slow and grandly; to stagger – to walk gingerly, in the fear to fall down; to stumble – to walk, getting stuck on something

VII. The synonyms pretty, handsome, beautiful have been mentioned as the ones which are more or less interchangeable. Yet, each of them describes a special type of human beauty: beautiful is mostly associated with classical features and a perfect figure, handsome with a tall stature, a certain robustness and fine pro portions, pretty with small delicate features and a fresh complexion. This connotation may be defined as the connotation of attendant features.
VIII. Stylistic connotations stand somewhat apart for two reasons. Firstly, some scholars do not regard the word's stylistic characteristic as a connotative component of its semantic structure. Secondly, stylistic connotations are subject to further classification, namely: colloquial, slang, dialect, learned, poetic, terminological, archaic. Here again we are dealing with stylistically marked words, but this time we approach the feature of stylistic characteristics from a different angle: from the point of view of synonyms frequent differentiation characteristics.
Here are some examples of synonyms which are differentiated by stylistic connotations: meal – snack – bite – snap – repast – refreshment – feast.
These synonyms, besides stylistic connotations, have connotations of attendant features.


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