Synonyms are usually defined as words coinciding in their core meanings. The number of common semantic features should prevail over the number of distinctive features (cf. Apresjan 2009: 539). In this research tradition, synonyms proper are defined as lexical units revealing peripheral, insignificant distinctive features. Otherwise we are dealing with near-synonyms. One task of lexical semantics is to identify and describe semantic features that distinguish between synonymic words. Conventional dictionaries are rarely capable of fulfilling this task. Exceptions are special dictionaries of synonyms such as NOSS (2004) based on a solid semantic theory. All methods of synonymy research are based on the analysis of relevant contexts, although each method focuses on specific aspects of the contextual behavior of synonyms.
Within the semantic theory developed by Apresjan (1995, 2000, 2009), 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 identical semantically. This approach makes it possible to single out all relevant distinctive semantic features of every lexeme in question by analyzing diagnostic contexts.
The basic idea of Fillmore’s theory of frame semantics (1982, 1985) is that the meaning of a single word cannot be understood without access both to 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.
The third method can be labeled the constructional approach. It has been developed since large text corpora became available. Its basic assumption is that (near-)synonyms are sensitive to specific constructions. The method is based on corpus evidence (cf. Janda & Solovyev 2009, Divjak 2010, Divjak & Gries 2008). Examples are the words революция ‘revolution’ and переворот ‘coup’. Both words are sensitive to constructions [во имя N] ‘for the sake of N’ and [на благо N] ‘for the benefit of N’. In the Russian National Corpus the construction во имя революции ‘for the sake of revolution’ occurs 35 times, and на благо революции ‘for the benefit of revolution’ 2 times, whereas there are no hits for на благо переворота ‘for the benefit of coup’, and only one hit for во имя переворота ‘for the sake of coup’ dated 1880, i.e. a context that obviously does not conform to the present-day usage norms. The difference in constructional embedding can be explained by the fact that революция is directed towards noble long-term objectives, which is not the case with переворот.
In our talk we will develop this approach to lexical synonymy by analyzing the constructional behavior of the words восстание ‘uprising’, бунт ‘riot’ and мятеж ‘mutiny’.
Lawrence, Kansas, 2012.
Seventh Annual Meeting of the Slavic Linguistics Society in Lawrence, Kansas, USA