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Synonymy. Classification of Synonyms


In general there are two basic principles of grouping words together according to the properties of their content side. They are:

1. To classify words proceeding from the basic types of semantic relations.

2. To group words together starting off with associations connecting the given words with other vocabulary units.

According to these principles of classifying linguistic units the following

semantic classes (or categories) can be singled out: synonyms, lexical and terminological sets, lexico-semantic groups, semantic fields, antonyms.

Synonyms are usually defined as words belonging to one part of speech, close in meaning and interchangeable at least in some contexts. Synonyms are characterized by either the semantic relations of equivalence or by the semantic relations of proximity. As the degree of semantic proximity may be different, different types of synonyms can be singled out. Full (total) synonyms, i.e. words characterized by semantic equivalence, are extremely rare.

The degree of semantic proximity is best of all estimated in terms of the aspects of meaning, i.e. the denotational, the connotational, and the pragmatic aspect.

The highest degree of proximity is observed in synonyms which have similar denotational aspects but differ either in the connotational (1) or the pragmatic (2) aspect of meaning.

1. The difference in connotation may be illustrated by the words famous meaning “known widely, having fame” and the word notorious which is defined as “widely known because of smth. bad, for example for being criminal, violent, immoral”. Thus, the word famous implies a positive emotive evaluation, and the word notorious – negative.

2. The difference in the pragmatic value of words is found in a far greater number of words than the difference in the connotational aspect. It can be observed in synonymic pairs consisting of a native and a borrowed word. In most cases the native word is more informal, whereas the foreign word has a learned or abstract air, cf.: bodily – corporal. In a few cases these synonymic values are reversed, e.g. deed - action, foe – enemy.

Taking into account the difference of synonyms by the three aspects of their

meaning they may be classified into stylistic, ideographic and ideographic-stylistic synonyms.

Stylistic synonymy implies no interchangeability in context because the underlying situations are different, e.g. children – infants, dad – father. Stylistic synonyms are similar in the denotational aspect of meaning, but different in the pragmatic (and connotational) aspect. Substituting one stylistic synonym for another results in an inadequate presentation of the situation of communication.

Ideographic synonymy presents a still lower degree of semantic proximity and is observed when the connotational and the pragmatic aspects are similar, but there are certain differences in the denotational aspect of meaning of two words, e.g. forest – wood, apartment – flat, shape – form. Though ideographic synonyms correspond to one and the same referential area, i.e. denote the same thing or a set of closely related things, they are different in the denotational aspect of their meanings and their interchange would result in a slight change of the phrase they are used in.

Ideographic-stylistic synonymy is characterized by the lowest degree of semantic proximity. This type of synonyms includes synonyms which differ both in the denotational and connotational and/or the pragmatic aspects of meaning, e.g. ask – inquire, expect – anticipate. If the synonyms in question have the same patterns of grammatical and lexical valency, they can still hardly be considered interchangeable in context.

Each synonymic group comprises a dominant element. This synonymic dominant is the most general term potentially containing the specific features rendered by all the other members of the synonymic group. In the series leave-depart-quit-retire-clear out the verb leave, being general and both stylistically and emotionally neutral, can stand for each of the other four terms. The other four can replace leave only when some specific semantic component prevails over the general notion. For example, when it is necessary to stress the idea of giving up employment and stopping work quit is preferable because in this word this particular notion dominates over the more general idea common to the whole group.


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