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VII. Explain how the following italicized words became homonyms



 

1. a) Eliduc's overlord was the king of Brittany, who was very fond of the knight, b) "I haven't slept a wink all night, my eyes just wouldn't shut." 2. a) The tiger did not spring, and so I am still alive, b) It was in a saloon in Savannah, on a hot night in spring. 3. a) She left her fan at home. b) John is a football fan. 4. a) "My lady, ... send him a belt or a ribbon Ч or a ring. So see if it pleases him." b) Eliduc rode to the sea. 5. a) The Thames in London is now only beautiful from certain viewpoints Ч from Waterloo Bridge at dawn and at night from Cardinal's Wharf on the South Bank. b) Perhaps the most wide-spread pleasure is the spectacle of the City itself, its people, the bank messengers in their pink frock coats and top hats. 6. a) The young page gave her good advice: no need to give up hope so soon. b) The verb to knead means to mix and make into a mass, with the hands or by machinery, especially, mix flour and water into dough for making bread. 7. a.) Ads in America are ubiquitous. They fill the newspapers and cover the walls, they are on menu cards and in your daily post. b) "Is that enough?" asked Fortune. "Just a few more, add a few more," said the man. 8. a) The teacher told her pupils to write a composition about the last football match, b) Give me a match, please. 9. a) I can answer that question, b) He had no answer. 10. a) Does he really love me? b) Never trust a great man's love. 11. a) Board and lodging, £ 2 a week. b) The proficiency of students is tested by the Examining Board. 12. a) A rite is a form in which a ceremony or observance is carried out. b) I would write letters to people. c) He put the belt on himself, and was rather careful to get it right.

 

VIII. Do the following italicized words represent homonyms or polysemantic words? Explain reasons for your answers.

 

1. 26 letters of the ABC; to receive letters regularly. 2. no mean scholar; to mean something. 3. to propose a toast; an underdone toast. 4. a hand of the clock; to hold a pen in one's hand. 5. to be six foot long; at the foot of the mountain. 6. the capital of a country; to have a big capital (money). 7. to date back to year 1870; to have a date with somebody. 8. to be engaged to Mr. N; to be engaged in conversation. 9. to make a fire; to sit at the /ire(place). 10. to peel the bark off the branch; to bark loudly at the stranger. 11. A waiter is a person who, instead of waiting on you at once, makes you wait for him, so that you become a waiter too.



 

IX. To revise what you have learned from the preceding chapters, say everything you can about the italicized words in one of the following aspects:

 

A) etymology, b) word-building, c) homonymy.

 

A boy came home with torn clothes, his hair full of dust and his face bearing marks of a severe conflict.

"Oh, Willie," said his mother. "You disobeyed me again. You must not play with that Smith boy. He is a bad boy".

"Ma," said Willie, washing the blood from his nose, "do I look as if I had been playing with anybody?"

A) etymology, b) word-building, c) stylistic characteristics

 

"But I love the Italians," continued Mrs. Blair. "They are so obliging Ч though even that has its embarrassing side. You ask them the way somewhere, and instead of saying "first to the right, second to the left" or something that one could follow, they pour out a flood of well-meaning directions, and when you look bewildered they take you kindly by the arm and walk all the way there with you."



(From The Man in the Brown Suit by A. Christie)

A) stylistic characteristics, b) semantics, e) word-building.

 

Once in the driving seat, with reins handed to him, and blinking over his pale old cheeks in the full sunlight, he took a slow look round. Adolf was already up behind; the cockaded groom at the horses' head stood ready to go; everything was prepared for the signals, and Swithin gave it. The equipage dashed forward, and before you could say Jack Robinson, with a rattle and flourish drew up at Soames' door.

(From The Forsyte Saga. by J. Galsworthy)

A) homonymy, b) word-building.

 

Soames arrived on the stroke of time, and took his seat alongside the Board, who, in a row, each Director behind his own inkpot, faced their Shareholders.

In the centre of this row old Jolyon, conspicuous in his black, tightly-buttoned frock-coat and his white moustaches, was leaning back with finger-tips crossed on a copy of the Directors' report and accounts.

(Ibid.)

 

CHAPTER 10

Synonyms:

Are Their Meanings the Same or Different?

 

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.

In the following extract, in which a young woman rejects a proposal of marriage, the verbs like, admire and love, all describe feelings of attraction, approbation, fondness:

 

"I have always liked you very much, I admire your talent, but, forgive me, Ч I could never love you as a wife should love her husband."

(From The Shivering Sands by V. Holt)

 

Yet, each of the three verbs, though they all describe more or less the same feeling of liking, describes it in its own way: "I like you, i. e. I have certain warm feelings towards you, but they are not strong enough for me to describe them as "love"," Ч so that like and love are in a way opposed to each other.

The duality of synonyms is, probably, their most confusing feature: they are somewhat the same, and yet they are most obviously different. Both aspects of their dual characteristics are essential for them to perform their function in speech: revealing different aspects, shades and variations of the same phenomenon.

 

"Ч Was she a. pretty girl?

Ч I would certainly have called her attractive."

(Ibid.)

 

The second speaker in this short dialogue does his best to choose the word which would describe the girl most precisely: she was good-looking, but pretty is probably too good a word for her, so that attractive is again in a way opposed to pretty (not pretty, only attractive), but this opposition is, at the same time, firmly fixed on the sameness of pretty and attractive: essentially they both describe a pleasant appearance.

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.

The first extract depicts a domestic quarrel. The infuriated husband shouts and glares at his wife, but "his glare suddenly softened into a gaze as he turned his eyes on the little girl" (i. e. he had been looking furiously at his wife, but when he turned his eyes on the child, he looked at her with tenderness).

The second extract depicts a young father taking his child for a Sunday walk.

 

"Neighbours were apt to smile at the long-legged bare-headed young man leisurely strolling along the street and his small companion demurely trotting by his side."

(From Some Men and Women by B. Lowndes)

 

The synonyms stroll and trot vividly describe two different styles of walking, the long slow paces of the young man and the gait between a walk and a runof the short-legged child.

In the following extract an irritated producer is talking to an ambitious young actor:

"Think you can play Romeo? Romeo should smile, not grin, walk, not swagger, speak his lines, not mumble them."

(Ibid.)

 

Here the second synonym in each pair is quite obviously and intentionally contrasted and opposed to the first: "... smile, not grin." Yet, to grin means more or less the same as to smile, only, perhaps, denoting a broader and a rather foolish smile. In the same way to swagger means "to walk", but to walk in a defiant or insolent manner. Mumbling is also a way of speaking, but of speaking indistinctly or unintelligibly.

Synonyms are one of the language's most important expressive means. The above examples convincingly demonstrate that 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 а Ќего ≈. 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.

The skill to choose the most suitable word in every context and every situation is an essential part of the language learning process. Students should be taught both to discern the various connotations in the meanings of synonyms and to choose the word appropriate to each context.

 

Criteria of Synonymy

 

Synonymy is associated with some theoretical problems which at present are still an object of controversy. Probably, the most controversial among these is the problem of criteria of synonymy. To put it in simpler words, we are still not certain which words should correctly be considered as synonyms, nor are we agreed as to the characteristic features which qualify two or more words as synonyms.

Traditional linguistics solved this problem with the conceptual criterion and defined synonyms as words of the same category of parts of speech conveying the same concept but differing either in shades of meaning or in stylistic characteristics.

Some aspects of this definition have been criticized. It has been pointed out that linguistic phenomena should be defined in linguistic terms and that the use of the term concept makes this an extralinguistic definition. The term "shades of meaning" has been condemned for its vagueness and lack of precision.

In contemporary research on synonymy semantic criterion is frequently used. In terms of componential analysis synonyms may be defined as words with the same denotation, or the same denotative component, but differing in connotations, or in connotative components (see Ch. 7).

Though not beyond criticism, this approach has its advantages and suggests certain new methods of analysing synonyms.

A group of synonyms may be studied with the help of their dictionary definitions (definitional analysis). In this work the data from various dictionaries are analysed comparatively. After that the definitions are subjected to transformational operations (transformational analysis). In this way, the semantic components of each analysed word are singled out.

Here are the results of the definitional and transformational analysis of some of the numerous synonyms for the verb to look.

 

The common denotation convincingly shows that, according to the semantic criterion, the words grouped in the above table are synonyms. The connotative components represented on the right side of the table highlight their differentiations.

In modern research on synonymsthe criterion of interchangeability is sometimes applied. According to this, synonyms are defined as words which are interchangeable at least in some contexts without any considerable alteration in denotational meaning.[4]

This criterion of interchangeability has been much criticized. Every or almost every attempt to apply it to this or that group of synonyms seems to lead one to the inevitable conclusion that either there are very few synonyms or, else, that they are not interchangeable.

It is sufficient to choose any set of synonyms placing them in a simple context to demonstrate the point. Let us take, for example, the synonyms from the above table.

 

Cf.: He glared at her (i. e. He looked at her angrily).

He gazed at her (i. e. He looked at her steadily and attentively; probably with admiration or interest).

He glanced at her (i. e. He looked at her briefly and turned away).

He peered at her (i. e. He tried to see her better, but something prevented: darkness, fog, weak eyesight).

 

These few simple examples are sufficient to show that each of the synonyms creates an entirely new situation which so sharply differs from the rest that any attempt at "interchanging" anything can only destroy the utterance devoiding it of any sense at all.

If you turn back to the extracts on p. 184Ч187, the very idea of interchangeability will appear even more incredible. Used in this way, in a related context, all these words(Ilike you, but I cannotlove you; the young man wasstrolling, and his child wastrottingby his side; Romeo shouldsmile, notgrin, etc.) clearly demonstrate that substitution of one word for another is impossible: it is not simply the context that firmly binds them in their proper places, but the peculiar individual connotative structure of each individual word.

Consequently, it is difficult to accept interchange-ability as a criterion of synonymy because the specific characteristic of synonyms, and the one justifying their very existence, is that they are not, cannot and should not be interchangeable, in which case they would simply become useless ballast in the vocabulary.

Synonyms are frequently said to be the vocabulary's colours, tints and hues (so the term shade is not so inadequate, after all, for those who can understand a metaphor). Attempts at ascribing to synonyms the quality of interchangeability are equal to stating that subtle tints in a painting can be exchanged without destroying the picture's effect.

All this does not mean that no synonyms are interchangeable. One can find whole groups of words with half-erased connotations which can readily be substituted one for another. The same girl can be described as pretty, good-looking, handsome or beautiful. Yet, even these words are far from being totally interchangeable. Each of them creates its own .picture of human beauty. Here is an extract in which a young girl addresses an old woman:

 

"I wouldn't say you'd been exactly pretty as a girl Ч handsome is what I'd say. You've got such strong features."

(From The Stone Angel by M. Lawrence)

 

So, handsome is not pretty and pretty is not necessarily handsome. Perhaps they are not even synonyms? But they are. Both, the criterion of common denotation ("good-looking, of pleasing appearance") and even the dubious criterion of interchangeability seem to indicate that.

In conclusion, let us stress that even if there are some synonyms which are interchangeable, it is quite certain that there are also others which are not. A criterion, if it is a criterion at all, should be applicable to all synonyms and not just to some of them. Otherwise it is not acceptable as a valid criterion.

 

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) [8].

However, the following aspects of his classification system are open to question.

Firstly, absolute synonyms are rare in the vocabulary and, on the diachronic level, the phenomenon of absolute synonymy is anomalous and consequently temporary: the vocabulary system invariably tends to abolish it either by rejecting one of the absolute synonyms or by developing differentiation characteristics in one or both (or all) of them. Therefore, it does not seem necessary to include absolute synonyms, which are a temporary exception, in the system of classification.

The vagueness of the term "shades of meaning" has already been mentioned. Furthermore there seems to be no rigid demarcation line between synonyms differing in their shades of meaning and in stylistic characteristics, as will be shown later on. There are numerous synonyms which are distinguished by both shades of meaning and stylistic colouring. Therefore, even the subdivision of synonyms into ideographic and stylistic is open to question.

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 Ч to astonish Ч to amaze Ч to astound;1 to satisfy Ч to please Ч to content Ч to gratify Ч to delight Ч to exalt; to shout Ч to yell Ч to bellow Ч to roar; to like Ч to admire Ч to love Ч to adore Ч to worship.

As the table on p. 189 shows, some words have two and even more connotative components in their semantic structures. In the above list the synonymic groups headed by to satisfy and to like contain words which can be differentiated not only by the connotation of intensity but by other types which will be described later.

II. In the group of synonyms to stare Ч to glare Ч to gaze Ч to glance Ч to peep Ч 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) Ч to blaze (lasting); to shudder (brief) Ч to shiver (lasting); to say (brief) Ч to speak, to talk (lasting).

All these synonyms have other connotations besides that of duration.

III. The synonyms to stare Ч to glare Ч 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 (see the table on p. 189).

In the group alone Ч single Ч lonely Ч 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 Ч to shiver Ч to shudder Ч 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 (see the scheme in Ch. 7, p. 136).

One should be warned against confusing words with emotive connotations and words with emotive denotative meanings, e. g. to love Ч to admire Ч to adore Ч to worship; angry Ч furious Ч enraged; fear Ч terror Ч 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 Ч famous Ч notorious Ч 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 Ч to create Ч to manufacture Ч to fabricate, the verb to create characterizes 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. Yet, it would be interesting to compare the following sets of examples:

A. His {her) eyes sparkled with amusement, merriment, good humour, high spirits, happiness, etc. (positive emotions).

B. His (her) eyesglittered with anger, rage, hatred. malice, etc. (negative emotions).

The combinability of both verbs shows that, at least, when they are used to describe the expression of human eyes, they have both emotive and evaluative connotations, and, also, one further characteristic, which is described in the next paragraph.

 

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 Ч to stride Ч to trot Ч to pace Ч to swagger Ч to stagger Ч 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 (see, for instance, the quotations on p. 184Ч187).

The verbs to peep and to peer also have this connotation in their semantic structures: to peep = to look at smb./smth. furtively, by stealth: to peer == to look at smb./smth. with difficulty or strain.

The verbs to like Ч to admire Ч to love Ч to adore Ч to worship, as has been mentioned, are differentiated not only by the connotation of intensity, but also by the connotation of manner. Each of them describes a feeling of a different type, and not only of different intensity,

 

VII. The verbs to peep and to peer have already been mentioned. They are differentiated by connotations of duration and manner. But there is some other curious peculiarity in their semantic structures. Let us consider their typical contexts.

One peeps at smb./smth. through a hole, crack or opening, from behind a screen, a half-closed door, a newspaper, a fan, a curtain, etc. It seems as if a whole set of scenery were built within the word's meaning. Of course, it is not quite so, because "the set of scenery" is actually built in the context, but, as with all regular contexts, it is intimately reflected in the word's semantic structure. We shall call this the connotation of attendant circumstances.

This connotation is also characteristic of to peer which will be clear from the following typical contexts of the verb.

One peers at smb./smth. in darkness, through the fog, through dimmed glasses or windows, from a great distance; a short-sighted person may also peer at things. So, in the semantic structure of to peer are encoded circumstances preventing one from seeing clearly.

VIII. 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 proportions, pretty with small delicate features and a fresh complexion. This connotation may be defined as the connotation of attendant features.

 

IX. 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 (see Ch. 1, 2), 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 (see also Ch. 2). The word in brackets starting each group shows the denotation of the synonyms.

(Meal). Snack, bite (coil.), snap (dial.), repast, refreshment, feast (formal).

These synonyms, besides stylistic connotations, have connotations of attendant features.

Snack, bite, snap all denote a frugal meal taken in a hurry; refreshment is also a light meal; feast is a rich or abundant meal.

(Girl). Girlie (coil.), lass, lassie (dial.), bird, birdie, jane, fluff, skirt (sl.), maiden (poet.), damsel (arch.).

(To leave). To be off, to clear out (coil.), to beat it, to hoof it, to take the air (sl.), to depart, to retire, to withdraw (formal).

 

Exercises

 


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