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Виды синонимов. Синонимические ряды. Синонимическая доминанта. Эвфемизмы как специальный вид синонимов. Дифференциация синонимов

Taking up similarity of meaning and contrasts of phonetic shape, we observe that every language has in its vocabulary a variety of words, kindred in meaning but distinct in morphemic composition, phonemic shape and usage, ensuring the expression of most delicate shades of thought, feeling and imagination. The more developed the language, the richer the diversity and therefore the greater the possibilities of lexical choice enhancing the effectiveness and precision of speech.

Thus, synonyms are words only similar but not identical in meaning. This definition is correct but vague. E. g. horse and animal are also semantically similar but not synonymous. The basis of a synonymic opposition is formed by the first of the denotational component. It will be remembered that the term oppositionmeans the relationship of partial difference between two partially similar elements of a language. A common denotational component forms the basis of the opposition in synonymic group. All the other components can vary and thus form the distinctive features of the synonymic oppositions.

Synonyms can therefore be defined in terms of linguistics as two or more words of the same language, belonging to the same part of speech and possessing one or more identical or nearly identical denotational meanings, interchangeable, at least in some contexts without any considerable alteration in denotational meaning, but differing in morphemic composition, phonemic shape, shades of meaning, connotations, style, valency and idiomatic use. Additional characteristics of style, emotional colouring and valency peculiar to one of the elements in a synonymic group may be absent in one or all of the others.

To have something tangible to work upon it is convenient to compare some synonyms within their group, so as to make obvious the reasons for the definition. The verbs experience, undergo, sustain and suffer, for example, come together, because all four render the notion of experiencing something. The verb and the noun experience indicate actual living through something and coming to know it first-hand rather than from hearsay. Undergo applies chiefly to what someone or something bears or is subjected to, as in to undergo an operation, to undergo changes. Compare also the following example from L.P. Smith: The French language has undergone considerable and more recent changes since the date when the Normans brought it into England. In the above example the verbundergo can be replaced by its synonyms suffer or experience without any change of the sentence meaning. The difference is neutralised.

Synonyms, then, are interchangeable under certain conditions specific to each group.

A further illustration will be supplied by a group of synonymous nouns: hope, expectation, anticipation. They are considered to be synonymous, because they all three mean ‘having something in mind which is likely to happen’. They are, however, much less interchangeable than the previous group because of more strongly pronounced difference in shades of meaning.

Taking into consideration the corresponding series of synonymous verbs and verbal set expressions: hope, anticipate, expect, look forward to, we shall see that separate words may be compared to whole set expressions. Look forward to is also worthy of note, because it forms a definitely colloquial counterpart to the rest. It can easily be shown, on the evidence of examples, that each synonymic group comprises a dominant element. This synonymic dominant is the most general term of its kind potentially containing the specific features rendered by all the other members of the group, as, for instance, undergo and hope in the above.

The synonymic dominant should not be confused with a generic term or a hyperonym. A generic term is relative. It serves as the name for the notion of the genus as distinguished from the names of the species — hyponyms. For instance, animal is a generic term as compared to the specific names wolf, dog ormouse (which are called equonyms). Dog, in its turn, may serve as a generic term for different breeds such as bull-dog, collie, poodle, etc.

Synonyms possess one or more identical or nearly identical meanings. To realise the significance of this, one must bear in mind that the majority of frequent words are polysemantic, and that it is precisely the frequent words that have many synonyms. The result is that one and the same word may belong in its various meanings to several different synonymic groups.

A fresh metaphor — fresh: : original: : novel: : striking.

To begin a fresh paragraph — fresh: : another: : different: : new.

Fresh air — fresh: : pure: : invigorating.

A freshman — fresh: : inexperienced: : green: : raw.

To be fresh with sb — fresh: : impertinent: : rude.

Synonyms may also differ in emotional colouring which may be present in one element of the group and absent in all or some of the others. Lonely as compared with alone is emotional. Both words denote being apart from others, but lonely besides the general meaning implies longing for company, feeling sad because of the lack of sympathy and companionship. Alone does not necessarily suggest any sadness at being by oneself.

If the difference in the meaning of synonyms concerns the notion or the emotion expressed, as was the case in the groups discussed above, the synonyms are classed as ideоgraphiс synonyms, and the opposition created in contrasting them may be called an ideographic opposition.

In a stylistic opposition of synonyms the basis of comparison is again the denotational meaning, and the distinctive feature is the presence or absence of a stylistic colouring which may also be accompanied by a difference in emotional colouring. The general effect of poetic or learned synonyms when used in prose or in everyday speech is that of creating an elevated tone. The study of synonyms is a borderline province between semantics and stylistics on the one hand and semantics and phraseology on the other because of the synonymic collocations serving as a means of emphasis.

Synonymic pairs like wear and tear, pick and choose are very numerous in modern English phraseology and often used both in everyday speech and in literature. They show all the typical features of idiomatic phrases that ensure their memorableness such as rhythm, alliteration, rhyme and the use of archaic words seldom occurring elsewhere. In a great number of cases the semantic difference between two or more synonyms is supported by the difference in valency. The difference in distribution may be syntactical, morphological, lexical, and surely deserves more attention than has been so far given to it. It is, for instance, known that bare in reference to persons is used only predicatively, while naked occurs both predicatively and attributively. The distinction between words similar in meaning are often very fine and elusive, so that some special instruction on the use of synonyms is necessary even for native speakers.

The study of synonyms is especially indispensable for those who learn English as a foreign language because what is the right word in one situation will be wrong in many other, apparently similar, contexts.

Contextual or context-dependent synonyms are similar in meaning only under some specific distributional conditions. It may happen that the difference between the meanings of two words is contextually neutralised. E. g. buy and get would not generally be taken as synonymous, but they are synonyms in the following examples offered by J. Lyons: I’ll go to the shop and buy some bread: : I’ll go to the shop and get some bread.

There are some other distinctions to be made with respect to different kinds of semantic similarity. Some authors, for instance, class groups like ask: : beg: : implore; like: : love: : adore or gift: : talent: : genius as synonymous, calling them relative synonyms. This attitude is open to discussion. In fact the difference in denotative meaning is unmistakable: the words name different notions, not various degrees of the same notion, and cannot substitute one another. An entirely different type of opposition is involved.

Total synonymy, i.e. synonymy where the members of a synonymic group can replace each other in any given context, without the slightest alteration in denotative or emotional meaning and connotations, is a rare occurrence. Examples of this type can be found in special literature among technical terms peculiar to this or that branch of knowledge. Thus, in linguistics the terms noun and substantive; functional affix, flection and inflection are identical in meaning. What is not generally realised, however, is that terms are a peculiar type of words totally devoid of connotations or emotional colouring, and that their stylistic characterisation does not vary. That is why this is a very special kind of synonymy: neither ideographic nor stylistic oppositions are possible here. As to the distributional opposition, it is less marked, because the great majority of terms are nouns. Their interchangeability is also in a way deceptive. Every writer has to make up his mind right from the start as to which of the possible synonyms he prefers, and stick to it throughout his text to avoid ambiguity. Thus, the interchangeability is, as it were, theoretical and cannot be materialised in an actual text.


A source of synonymy also well worthy of note is the so-called euphemism in which by a shift of meaning a word of more or less ‘pleasant or at least inoffensive connotation becomes synonymous to one that is harsh, obscene, indelicate or otherwise unpleasant. The euphemistic expression merry fully coincides in denotation with the word drunk it substitutes, but the connotations of the latter fade out and so the utterance on the whole is milder, less offensive. The effect is achieved, because the periphrastic expression is not so harsh, sometimes jocular and usually motivated according to some secondary feature of the notion: naked: : in one’s birthday suit, pregnant: : in the family way. Very often a learned word which sounds less familiar is therefore less offensive, as in drunkenness: : intoxication; sweat: : perspiration.

Euphemisms can also be treated within the synchronic approach, because both expressions, the euphemistic and the direct one, co-exist in the language and form a synonymic opposition. Not only English but other modern languages as well have a definite set of notions attracting euphemistic circumlocutions. These are notions of death, madness, stupidity, drunkenness, certain physiological processes, crimes and so on. For example: die: : be no more: : be gone: : lose one’s life: : breathe one’s last: : join the silent majority: : go the way of alt flesh: : pass away: : be gathered to one’s fathers.

A prominent source of synonymic attraction is still furnished by interjections and swearing addressed to God. To make use of God’s name is considered sinful by the Church and yet the word, being expressive, formed the basis of many interjections. Later the word God was substituted by the phonetically similar wordgoodness: For goodness sake / Goodness gracious / Goodness knows! Cf. By Jovel Good Lord! By Gum! As in:

His father made a fearful row.

He said: “By Gum, you’ve done it now.” (Belloc)

A certain similarity can be observed in the many names for the devil (deuce, Old Nick). The point may be illustrated by an example from Burns’s “Address to the Devil":

О thou! Whatever title suit thee,

Auld Hornie, Satan, Nick, or Clootie...

Euphemisms always tend to be a source of new synonymic formations, because after a short period of use the new term becomes so closely connected with the notion that it turns into a word as obnoxious as the earlier synonym.




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