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Combinatorial profile and synonymy: Russian synonyms from the semantic field of power
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures.
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures.
2012 (English)In: BASEES Annual Conference 2012, Cambridge, 2012Conference paper, Presentation (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Since the semantic field theory was introduced in the 1920s and 1930s (Ipsen 1924, Trier 1931), it has been developed in hundreds of studies. Surprisingly, the semantic field POWER has been overlooked by researchers. However, this field is of considerable interest not only for specialists in lexical semantics but also for journalists, politicians, lawyers and other professional groups. The semantic field of power is covered in Russian by such words as революция (revolution), переворот (coup), восстание (uprising), бунт (mutiny), мятеж (revolt), путч (putsch), заговор (conspiracy, plot), свержение (overthrow), выступление (protest action, march), протест/акция протеста (protest action) etc. In this paper, we concentrate on the words восстание (uprising), бунт (mutiny) and мятеж (revolt) that can be considered near-synonyms.

The delimitation of synonyms is among the most productive and topical areas of contemporary lexical semantics, and an enormous number of studies have been devoted to the subject. Synonymy has been investigated from different theoretical perspectives and with the help of various tools at the disposal of present-day linguistics, including theoretical semantics (Apresjan 1974, 2009, Wierzbicka 1992, 1997), corpus linguistics using elements of statistical analysis (Divjak & Gries 2006, Janda & Solovyev 2009), and academic lexicography (Apresjan 1995, 2004).Unlike traditional dictionaries of synonyms, present-day dictionaries of synonyms are based on sound theory. They take into consideration all important relevant results within this field (cf. Rosselli 1990, Urdang 1991, Apresjan 2004). Jurij Apresjan (2004, 2009) has been constantly developing operational criteria for distinguishing synonyms (2009: 200-213). Synonymy research has also been the topic of international conferences (cf. Re-thinking synonymy 2010, , ”La synonymie” 2009). Nevertheless, the two synonymic rows in the six languages we plan to investigate have never been described before.

The relevance of the problems, which will be concidered in the present study, is based on our previous research. We have studied the words революция (revolution), переворот (coup), восстание (uprising) and мятеж (revolt) in Russian (Dobrovol’skij & Pöppel 2012a, 2012b, 2012c, 2012d) and identified distinctive semantic features of these words (see 5.).

Our study is based on three main methods of linguistic analysis – synonymy analysis along the lines of the Moscow Semantic School, Frame Semantics in the sense of Fillmore, the Construction Grammar approach and the principles of cross-linguistic analysis developed by Haspermath.

(a) We will approach our analysis from the position of the Moscow Semantic School using the semantic theory developed by Apresjan (1995, 2000, 2004, 2009). Within this theory, contexts profiling semantic differences between synonyms play the central role. If a lexical unit cannot be replaced by its (near-)synonym in a given context it proves that the synonyms are not semantically identical. This approach makes it possible to single out all relevant distinctive semantic features of every lexeme in question by analyzing diagnostic contexts.

(b) We will also use Charles Fillmore’s theory of Frame Semantics (Fillmore 1977, 1982, 1985). The basic idea of Fillmore’s theory is that the meaning of a single word cannot be understood without access to both the essential knowledge that relates to the word and its combinatorial properties. In order to describe a word’s semantics and to distinguish between (near-)synonyms, one has to study the range of its semantic and syntactic valences, i.e. its combinatorial profile. This enables us to fill the slots of corresponding frames, i.e. to postulate all obligatory and facultative participants in the situation pointed to by the lexeme in question. Examples are the words бунт ‘riot’ and мятеж ‘revolt’ in Russian. Бунт can often start on a ship or in prison i.e. slot “location” of the frame БУНТ is specified, in contrast to МЯТЕЖ. This difference between the words бунт and мятеж can obviously not be fixed within the lexicographic definitions of the meanings of these words but this difference is extremely important for the native-like usage. Therefore it is also important to address the theory of Frame Semantics along with Apresjan’s method (2004, 2009) of synonym discrimination.

(c) In the analysis of lexical co-occurrences we are also going to use some Construction Grammar approaches. The method has been developed since large text corpora became available and can be labeled constructional approach based on corpus evidence (Janda & Solovyev 2009, Divjak 2010, Divjak & Gries 2008). Its basic assumption is that

(near-)synonyms are sensitive to specific constructions. Examples are the words революция ‘revolution’ and переворот ‘coup’ in Russian. They are sensitive to the constructions [ВО ИМЯ N] ‘for the sake of N’ and [НА БЛАГО N] ‘for the benefit of N’. The constructions ‘for the sake/benefit of revolution’ occur often, whereas ‘for the sake/benefit of coup’ do not occur in the present-day contexts. This can be explained by the fact that революция is directed towards noble long-term objectives, which is not the case with переворот.

The recent development of the theory of Frame semantics and Construction Grammar shows that both approaches tend to converge.

An analysis of combinatorial properties of these words in present-day Russian demonstrates a number of relevant distinctive features. Most of them have not yet been fixed in dictionaries. The main task of our research is to find out semantic contrasts between these near-synonyms.

Another important aspect is to study diachronic shifts that took place over the last hundred years. As compared to political texts written between two Russian revolutions of 1917, the use of мятеж (revolt), бунт (mutiny), and восстание (uprising) in the present-day discourse reveals some features that differ from the usage of that time. This means that a present-day semantic map cannot be mechanically projected onto the state of language in previous periods of linguistic development. Otherwise there is a great risk of misunderstanding historical texts, especially of misinterpreting the intentions of authors and their political platform.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Cambridge, 2012.
Keyword [en]
delimination of sysnonyms, semantic field POWER, near-synonyms, construction grammar
National Category
Research subject
Linguistics; Slavic Languages
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-84717OAI: diva2:581311
BASEES Annual Conference 31 March-2 April 2012, Cambridge
Available from: 2012-12-30 Created: 2012-12-30 Last updated: 2012-12-30

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