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Lecture IV Componential analysis and semantic features


Lecture IV Componential analysis and semantic features

LeadLead-in remark
How to distinguish bicycle, motor cycle and car? Bicycle: Bicycle: [TWO WHEELS], [PROPELLED BY PEDALS] PEDALS] Motor cycle: [TWO WHEELS], [PROPELLED BY ENGINE] cycle: ENGINE] Car: Car: [FOUR WHEELS], [PROPELLED BY ENGINE] Things are differentiated by their features. Words follow features. the same principle, i.e. different words have different meanings as they contain different features. features.

Semantic features
The linguistic meaning of a word is the set of abstracted characteristics necessary to distinguish the category which the word names from all other categories. The categories. analysis of word-meaning is often seen as a process of wordbreaking down the sense of a word into its minimal components. components. A very simple example of this is provided by the words man, woman, boy, girl, and other, related words man, woman, boy, girl, in English. English.

These words all belong to the semantic field ‘the human race’, and the relation between them may be appropriately represented by a two-dimensional ‘field diagram’: twodiagram’:

‘male’ ‘adult’ ‘young’ ‘man’ ‘boy’ ‘human’

‘female’ ‘woman’ ‘girl’

The diagram shows two dimensions of meaning: that of meaning: ‘sex’ and that of ‘adulthood’; a third dimension is ‘adulthood’; presupposed by the isolation of the field as a whole: that whole: between ‘human’ and ‘non-human’ species. The ‘nonspecies. dimensions of meaning themselves will be termed SEMANTIC COMPONENTS or FEATURES. FEATURES.

Another way to represent these senses is to write formulae in which the dimensions of meaning are expressed by feature symbols like HUMAN and ADULT. The meanings of the ADULT. individual items can then be expressed by combinations of these features: features: Man Woman Boy Girl +HUMAN +HUMAN +HUMAN +HUMAN +ADULT +ADULT -ADULT -ADULT +MALE -MALE +MALE -MALE

These formulae are called the COMPONENTIAL DEFINITIONS of the items concerned: they can be concerned: regarded, in fact, as formulated dictionary definitions. definitions.

The term COMPONENTIAL ANALYSIS has often been used for the method of analysis illustrated here, that of reducing a word’s meaning to its ultimate contrastive elements. elements. It bears some resemblance to the mathematical process of factorizing a number, e.g. 10=1×2×5. 10=

A particular characteristic of componential analysis is that it attempts as far as possible to treat components in terms of binary opposites, e.g. [±MALE] and [±FEMALE]. opposites, FEMALE]. Notationally there is an advantage in such binary terms in that we can choose one only as the label and distinguish this in terms of pluses and minuses. Thus, [MALE] and minuses. [FEMALE] are written as [+MALE] and [-MALE]. MALE].

Componential analysis enables us to have an exact knowledge of the conceptual meaning of words. Two words. words are synonymous if they contain all the same sense components, e.g. both father and male parent can be given the same definition [+HUMAN +ADULT +MALE +MARRIED] even though they clearly differ in connotation, the one (Which one? And what exactly?) having exactly?) connotative meaning, the other evoking no association. meaning, association.

A knowledge of the semantic features of words helps us to choose the right word or collocation. Some words require collocation. a human subject while some do not. For example, verbs not. of perception and cognition usually take a human subject as in ‘John forgave your rudeness’, but a tree or a door cannot forgive unless used metaphorically. Question: Now metaphorically. Question: could you express such semantic feature of forgive? forgive? [+HUMAN SUBJECT -]

The chief drawback of componential analysis is the impossibility of making a list of the infinite number of semantic features. features.

Semantic features usually used to distinguish nouns include [±ANIMATE], [±MALE], [±VEGETABLE], [± [± [± [±ADULT], [±ABSTRACT], [±COUNTALBE], etc. [± [± Semantic features to distinguish verbs include [±DYNAMIC], [±STATIVE], [±CAUSATIVE], [± [± [±VOLITIVE], [±COMPLETIVE] [±DURATIVE], etc. [± [±

Dynamic vs. stative
How to distinguish dynamic and stative verbs? Consider learn and know. know. 1. Be able to be used in progressive aspect or not? (1) He is learning English. (dynamic) English. English. (2) * He is knowing English. (stative) 2. Be able to be used in pseudo-cleft sentence or not? pseudo(3) What I did was to learn English. (dynamic) English. (4) * What I did was to know English. (stative) English.

3. Be able to be used in imperative sentence or not? (5) I persuade her to learn English. (dynamic) English. English. (6) * I persuade her to know English. (stative)

Five types of dynamic verb: verb: ★ Activity verb: abandon, ask verb: ★ Process verb: change, grow verb: ★ Sense verb: ache, itch verb: ★ Transitional verb: die, land verb: ★ Momentary verb: knock, hit verb: Two types of stative verb: verb: ★ Sense and cognition verb: love, know verb: ★ Relational verb: equal, seem verb:

Dynamic adjectives can be used in imperative sentences and progressive aspects. Consider: aspects. Consider: (7) a. Be careful. (dynamic) careful. b. * Be tall. (stative) tall. (8) a. He is being cruel. (dynamic) cruel. b. * He is being clever. (stative) clever.

Exercise
See P86-7. 86-


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