of form and meaning:Meaning
is the central and the most important concern of lexicography. The reader consults
a dictionary primarily to know the meaning of a lexical unit. The entire work
of a dictionary is oriented towards providing meanings of the lexical units in
as clear and unambiguous a way as possible.
word 'meaning' itself has different meanings. Ogden and Richards have enumerated
22 definitions of meaning in their work The Meaning of Meaning (186-187). Adam
Schaff has collected various meanings of meaning for criticism (1962, 227). Meaning
has been studied in many disciplines viz. philosophy, psychology, logic and linguistics
from different points of view but no simple solutions to the problem as to what
is meaning have been found out.
branch of linguistics which studies meaning is Semantics or Semasiology. The relation
between form and meaning, and the place of meaning in linguistic structure have
been variously discussed by different works on the subject. There is no scope
for discussing in detail all the theoretical aspects of semantics in this work.
Our concern would be mainly to examine the relation between the form and the meaning,
the different components of meaning, their interrelationships, the relation of
meaning between different lexical units in the general frame work of the lexical
system of a language, all from the point of view of their treatment in a dictionary.
problem of meaning has been approached in different ways in linguistics, some
of which are briefly examined here. The three more commonly known approaches or
theories treat meaning as a thing, as an idea and as a behaviour.1
the first theory the meaning of a word is treated as the thing named by it. Thing,
here, refers to concrete objects like chair, actions like read and kill, states
like understand and know, abstract notions like honesty and courage and qualities
like green or red.
theory has a number of limitations. It does not cover function and relation words
like English no, Hindi se, kaa etc. nor does it account for such objects as phoenix,
unicorn etc. which have only fictitious and mystic existence. Two expressions
naming the same thing do not mean the same. e.g. the morning star and the evening
star both refer to the same object 'the planet Venus' but have different meanings.
An object may be referred to differently by different phrases at different occasions.
The same woman may be referred to as a mother, a daughter, a wife by different
persons. An apple may be called an apple or a fruit at different occasions.
theory, called the ideational or the mentalistic theory, postulates that the meaning
of an expression is the idea or thought associated with the expression in the
mind of the speaker or hearer. In this theory the notion of ideas is conceived
as mental pictures and images. This accounts for objects like unicorn, phoenix
not covered by the earlier theory. But this theory is also not free form shortcomings.
The mental pictures and images change from person to person and from occasion
to occasion. The same object may object may evoke different ideas at different
occasions. table may be associated with a piece of furniture for writing at onetime
and a present being given at the time of some function. This theory covers fairly
satisfactorily the physical and concrete objects. But what about words for abstract
notions like honesty, virtue, and chasity? These words might be associated with
different mental images in different persons. Grammatical words like no, how do
not produce any mental picture in the speaker-hearer. This theory also fails to
cover a large number of sound forms or expressions.
third theory, the behaviourl or the causal theory, holds that the meaning is not
associated with ideas or mental pictures but with the manner in which a hearer
responds to a word. In other words, the meaning of an expression is the stimulus
that produces the utterance and the response it elicits from the hearer. This
again fails to account for all the expressions. Even a nonsense expression may
evoke stimulus and may get responses in the same way as a meaningful one. A hearer
may respond to a stimulus in more than one way and all of them may be quite different
from the one actually intended by the speaker. This theory again is not adequate
to account for a correct meaning of meaning.
or denotative meaning:The most widely accepted theory of meaning, based on
the first, is the theory of abstraction or referential theory, also called the
theory of signification. It is based on the conceptual or cognitive aspect of
meaning. This theory recognises the following three components of meaning:-
sound form or the linguistic sign,
(2) the concept underlying the form, and
(3) the actual referent, that part of the extra linguistic world which the
linguistic sign refers to.
components have been given different names by different writers:
sound form ||
|signifie ||signifier/significant ||signified
|| sign || |
or pada ||
to this theory the relation between the sound form and referent is not direct.
It is imputed and is mediated by concept or designation. Ogden and Richards have
given the following basic or semiotic triangle to depict the way the meaning is
related to the form and thing/referent.
or reference or concept
sound form or symbol referent
remark, "between a thought and a symbol a causal relation holds, between
the thought and referent there is also a relation more or less direct, between
the symbol and the referent there is no relevant relation other than the indirect
one (imputed relation)". (Ogden and Richards 1952, 10-11)
is this concept formed? A person observes different objects of the extralinguistic
world and marks different occurrences of the referent. He compares the similar
and contrasting features of this referent with those of the other referents. This
enables him to make abstractions and form a general idea or concept of the thing
in his mind.
a person sees a cat at the first occasion he may not know what to call it. But
when he sees it again and again, he finds that it has certain characteristics,
it mews, it drinks milk, it has a long tail etc. These characteristics of the
'referent' make the speaker form a concept of its picture in his mind. He compares
them with similar other 'things' with the same characteristics. He understands
that all referents having these characteristics are animals. The association of
the linguistic form cat with the thing of the above description makes him understand
that this particular animal is a cat. In formation of this idea he first observes
the general features and then specific features. The former help him in locating
it in a class and the latter to particular thing/referent, He observes that the
features associated with cat are different from those of a dog, the latter barks,
it is bigger in size etc.
may take another example. When one sees a chair repeatedly he discovers certain
qualities or features associated with it. He finds that it has four legs, it is
used for sitting, it has a backrest and it usually (not always) has hands. He
associates these features with the linguistic form chair by hearing it and concludes
that all things having these characteristics are chairs. These features are different
from those of a stool, a table, or a cot, all pieces of furniture, sharing some
features with chair and not sharing some others. On the basis of these features
the person forms the concept of the referent in his mind. These features are,
thus, crucial or criterial for the formation of the concept. Every word has a
bundle of such features which in their totality are crucial for the determination
of the meaning of a word. It is not only the presence of these features which
is crucial for the determination of the meaning even their absence is equally
crucial. e.g. man and child both share some common features like being human.
So this is a positive or plus feature. But whereas man has the feature of adult
child does not have it. In the latter case adult is a negative or minus feature
It is clear from the foregoing discussions that meaning is an
abstraction or generalization based on the semantic feature of the events or things.
The notion of abstraction is not confined to the objects which have actual and
concrete referents in the extra-linguistic world only but extends to cover such
fictitious and imaginary referents as unicorn, fairy etc. it is also applicable
to abstract notions like honesty, virtue and actions as beat, kill etc.
classes of lexical units like attitudinal symptoms like hallo, Hindi are, Skt.
Hale 'o', pragmatic operators like please, deictic markers H. yah, 'this vah 'that'
and abstract relations or relation words like Hindi meN 'in' English from etc.
are also covered by the notion of abstraction. These lexical units, although they
do not have actual referents in the extra-linguistic world, are comparable to
them in that they either carry the information comparable to that conveyed by
the denotative words, or they stand for them as yah 'this' vah 'that or denote
the relational functions which make the communication possible. All these classes
of lexical units have been stabilized as part of the language and have their own
communicative value. The lexicographer includes and describes them in the dictionary
although the mode and type of their definition and description is different from
those of the denotational words.2
the concepts are abstractions and generalizations, they are basically identical
for all people at a period of time. But they are identified and described differently
in different languages so that the features determining the meaning become language
specific. What is crucial in one language may not be the same in another. What
is denoted by hand and arm in English has only one word in Rusian ruka. Bhojpuri
gor? denotes both the objects denoted by English leg and foot. The hole of the
needle is described differently by different languages. "We speak of the
eye of a needle, but the Kekehi Indians of Guatemala call it the face of the needle,
the Lahu of South East Asia and the Piros of Peru speak of the nostril of the
needle, the Haka Chins of Burma call it the mouth of the needle, the Tiddims of
Burma refer it as the ear of the needle, the Milta Zapotecs in Mexico say the
face of the needle and the Amuzgsos likewise of Mexico talk about the hole of
the needle. (Nida 1958, 285)
most notable lexical items in which languages differ in the organisation of the
concepts into linguistic forms are kinship terms, terms for colour and words denoting
time. The English word brother-in-law has seven equivalent in Hindi, bahanoii.
'sister's husband's big brother', devar 'husband's small brother', nandoii 'husband's
sister's husband' and saad?huu 'wife's sister's husband'. Hindi bhaiyaa or daadaa
'elder brother' has the following words in Bengali denoting the order of the brothers
according to age:
'eldest brother', mejdaa 'elder brother' (younger to the eldest)' sejdaa 'elder
brother (younger to mejdaa)' raangaa daa 'elder brother 'elder brother' (younger
to sejdaa) and chodaa 'elder brother' (immediately elder to the speaker). Oriya
has only niila to denote both blue and green. English has eleven colour terms
as compared to two in Jale, three in Tiv, six in Tamil and twelve in Angami. Garo
has for English go and come a single verb re. Re indicates movement on somebody's
part, but it does not indicate anything about the direction of the movement. English
has no equivalent word for this. Garo raa covers areas of both bring and take.
raa can often be translated by the English word carry although it cannot be used
for a broader range of behaviour than carry. (Burling 1970, 10-11).
word carry in many language of India does not nave an exact corresponding word
in English. There are more than one words referring to the different modes and
objects of carrying.
|1. the place surrounded
by wall with roof where people live, living place.|
birth place, motherland, native-place.|
a place for accommodating anything,|
we compare all these meanings we find that (1) is direct or central in an tie
meanings. The other meanings are derived form it and are indirect or secondary
having some additional semantic features. (2) is a semantic extension as the home
of birth of which one is native i.e. the permanent or ancestral home, (3) is based
on the notion of the inhabitants of a home who are related (may or may not live
together), (4) is the place that houses an office. Other meanings are also related
to (1) in the same way (9) is a figurative one, meaning house or abode of some
event which when extended denotes the main reason (10) is used in combination
will bat?an 'button' and actually signifies the house of a button.
|3. age (as in aayukaal
'time of age')|
yama 'the god of death' |
relation between (1), (2) and (3) is clear. (2) and (3) are developed from (1),
(4), denotes the end of the time of life, and (5) is one who causes it. Here again,
we find that (1) is the direct or central meaning and other meanings are derived
from it. We may examine some further examples and find out the relation-ship of
reedy sugarcane, |
girdle formed of reed worn by Brahmin celibate students |
to awake, |
to understand, to know, |
to watch, |
to be vigilant, |
to rise. |
a tale, story,|
a fable, feigned story,|
an account, elusion,|
talk, conversation, speech,|
a variety of prose composition. |
leaf of a plant,|
leaf that is used as a plate to take food,|
a palm leaf,|
a page of manuscript,|
an ear ornament,|
a playing card, and |
the spoke of cart wheel. |
meanings are related to each other (Reddy 1966. 72).
all these cases we find that one meaning is central or direct. This meaning is
the denotative meaning and has no supplementary or additional semantic features.
The other meanings are derived and have additional semantic features.
words are used to denote these terms:
or denominative ||
or primary ||
subsidiary or secondary|
or primary ||
All these words are used synonymously
and are based on the
logical relationship of the multiple meanings of a word. Other terms viz. 'dominant'
and 'basic' or 'original' for central meaning are closely related to those noted
above. The former is based on frequency parameter and the latter on the etymological
and historical. They are also generally used for the earlier terms.
determination of the primary or central or dominant meaning is a basic problem
faced by the lexicographer. He has to fix them, interrelate the different meanings,
find out the different subsenses characteristic of each meaning and arrange them
in his dictionary in some systematic way. Different criteria may be used to find
out the basic meaning.
commonly used and widely accepted as reliable criterion is that of etymology.
The meaning which is etymological or is nearest to the etymological is considered
the basic or the central meaning: e.g.,
(2) burning sensation,
(3) the fire of love
(4) love, affection,
is derived form Skt agni ‘fire’ and that
is the central, basic and direct meaning.
founder or first leader
title used in personification etc.,
these (1) is the etymological and the central meaning.
anga / aNg
body of human being esp. trunk as opposed to head (with its submenaings
– breast of a woman, uterogenital canal, selfhood),
nature of a person, aptitude, talent, flair,
part, portion, branch, a specific direction, aspect,
such participation (and other collocational sub-meanings) (Kelker, 1969,
these meanings, (1) is the central. All others are extended and transferred
from (1) which is the etymological meanings. All the meanings of Skt. kathaa
are derived from the (1) which is derived from kath ‘to tell’ ‘relate’.
But this is
not always the situation. Sometimes the etymological sense is relegated
to a secondary meaning and the derived meaning attains the status of the central
(3) made crisp of baking or roasting,
(4) hard etc.
word is derived form Sanskrit khara ‘sharp’ meaning (2) here
(1) an eunuch
(esp. one employed to be in attendance in a royal harem),
a respected man, chief,
A caste of the Gujarati Muslims.
word has its origin from khwaja (Persian) meaning ‘chief’ (3).
a determination of primary and secondary senses is possible only when the etymological
and historical senses can be determined with the help of comparative reconstruction
and historical attestation of the words. This is possible generally with
written languages only. What about the following?
1. shelter, |
2. shade. |
1. call (to get attention) |
2. invite. |
1. win (in a contest), |
succeed (in an attempt). |
1. eat, |
2. corode, |
In a language where the etymological
and historical studies have not been done it is impossible to apply this criterion.
Even in the languages with written literature, many a time the historical sense
is lost and the speaker ceases to discriminate between the basic and non-basic
senses. The word crane in the meaning of (1) bird and (2) a machine is an oft
quoted example. Sometimes the relatedness of even these words is not perceived
by the native speaker. This leads to the development of homonymy.
the etymological criterion, the lexicographer may apply contextual and statistical
criteria to help him determine the central meaning.
statistical criterion to determine the central meaning of words pertains to the
frequency of its occurrence in the language. A frequency count of meanings has
shown that the individual meanings of a word differ in frequency. The more frequently
occurring meaning is taken as the basic meaning. The frequency of the word table
in its meaning 'a piece of furniture' is highest (52%) of all the uses of this
word; the meaning 'an orderly arrangement of facts' (as in census tables) is 35%
and all other meanings have only 13% of use. Another example from the same source
would make this point clearer. (West. 1959).
(space) takes less room, not enough room to turn
round. (in) make
room for (figurative), room for improvement.
to my room, bed room, sitting room, drawing
room, bath room (plural-suite,
lodgings). My room in coll-
ege, to let rooms . .
basic meaning is the one which occurs to us when we hear or see the word. For
example when we hear the word head in isolation without any context the meaning
which occurs to us instantly is 'part of body_______'. When we hear the word aag
the meaning 'fire' comes first. This meaning is thought of as the representative
meaning of the word without context by the majority of speakers. The secondary
meanings occur only when used in a context.
the Hindi examples aag, the meaning 'fire' is generally thought of by the speaker.
The other meanings like 'burning sensation' occur only when we hear them in contexts
like tumhari baatne mere sariir meN aag lagaadii 'Your words have produced burning
(sensation) in me'.
the first meaning occurs whenever one utters the word or hears it, the other two
meaning are found only when used in such contexts as :
puujaa karnaa; ‘to give punishment’;
usane apnaa kaam banaane ke liye saahab ko kaaphii puujaa
car,haaii. ‘He gave big amount of bribe to the officer to get his work done’.
The central meaning occurs in various and vastly different contexts especially
in different types of free collocations. The secondary meanings occur in
some contexts only. Whereas table as ‘a piece of furniture’ occurs
in many contexts and combinations, in the meaning of ‘the persons seated at a
table’ it occurs only in a few contexts like ‘keep the table amused’ and
in the meaning of ‘food provided at’ also in limited contexts like ‘he keeps
a good table’. Both of these meanings are not very common.
in the sense of ‘fire’ occurs in more contexts and has many sub-meanings like
‘hunger’ etc., but in the sense of ‘lust of love’ it occurs in limited contexts
vocables develop special senses for some technical languages. The central
meaning is used for the general sense and the derived meaning is used for the
technical sense and for specialized contexts.
piece of furniture, |
bottom of sea, a river, lake etc., layer of rock stone etc. (geography),
garden plot, piece of ground (for flowers, vegetables etc.,) as in seed-bed (geography)
vowel (grammar) |
sentiment (aesthetics) |
paper tagged by a thread, |
certified paper (legal). |
of the central meaning is its use in the general language. Special meaning
is used for restricted language viz. slang, jargon etc.,
cunning fellow (restricted) |
a thing, |
girl (slang), |
wine (slang) |
|Kannada|| tiirtha ||water,
pox (taboo) |
of polysemy in a dictionary: How does a lexicographer find multiple meanings
of a lexical unit and make sense discrimination among the different senses?
He analyses all the contexts in which a lexical unit occurs and by comparing the
different usages similar and dissimilar in different contexts he extracts the
different meanings. for this he has to collect a fairly large selection
of contexts. e.g.
(1) ab kyaa samy hE ‘what is the time now?’ |
(2) uskaa samay aajkal kharaab cal rahha hE‘Now
a days he is having bad time’,
aane par sab ¶hiik
ho jaayegaa ‘Everything will be alright
when time comes’, |
samay milne par meraa kaam kar diijiyega
‘please do my work when you get time’.
the lexicographer compares all these contexts he finds that the word samay
has been used in the following senses here:
from the following contexts, the lexicographer extracts the different meanings
of ‘make’ noted against each sentence:
cloth is made from cotton. ‘manufacture’
why don’t you make yourself useful ‘cause to be or become’
make a living from ones’ writings ‘earn’
they made me repeat the story ‘compel’, ‘force’, ‘cause’
We may examine
the following usages of the Telugu word manci from which its different
meanings are extracted.
‘a good fellow’
‘a kind heart’
‘good quality goods’
(Reddy 1966, 84)
determination of different meanings involves the analysing of all the contexts
and all the combinatorial possibilities of a lexical unit. The sum total
of the meanings and sub-meanings of a lexical unit forms the semantic range of
a word. From this total semantic range the lexicographer examines the word
in a particular context and finds out that in such and such situation a word has
such meaning. In other words the context individualizes the relevant meaning
form the total semantic range of a word and eliminates the possibilities of other
meanings. Thus in usne apnii patnii ko patra likhaa ‘he wrote a letter
to his wife’, the meaning ‘letter’ of the word patra is brought forth and
other meanings viz. ‘leaf’ etc., are limited.
has paid the electric bill’ the meaning of bill ‘an account of money
owed’ is abstracted and the other meanings viz. ‘written on printed notice’, ‘poster’,
‘placard’ and ‘proposed law to be discussed by a parliament’ are eliminated.
multiplicity of meanings is a source of ambiguity in a language. The lexicographer
faces this problem whenever he has to deal with polysemous words. So he
has to define his lexical unit in such a way that there is no possibility of its
being interpreted in one way or the other.
ambiguity of meaning is removed by context which, as stated earlier, determines
the relevant meaning in that particular situation.
That the context removes ambiguity of meaning has been stressed
by many l8inguists and grammarians. Bhar,tr,hari enumerates 15 contextual
factors which help in determining meaning. (Raja 1969, 48 ff). he
says that the vākya ‘the sentence-context’ and the prakaran,a
“context of situation” help in disambiguating the polysemy of a word (Raja
1969, 53 also Reddy 1966, 72). The role of context in determining the meaning
of a word has been one of the basic principles of semantics in modern linguistics3.
ambiguity created by polysemy is more frequently seen in what we may call depleted
or incomplete contexts. Let us examine the following:
It is a difficult case
He has gone to bring paper
acchaa lagtaa hE ‘the mark or an ornament
these sentences the words case, paper and t(iikaa are polysemous.
has the following meanings (besides others)
instance or example of the occurrence of something, actual state of affairs.
(med.) person suffering from a disease,
(law) question to be decided in a law court.
the following meanings (besides others)
substance manufactured from wood, fibre, rags etc., in form of sheets used
for writing, printing….,
a set of printed examination questions on a given subject.
has the following meanings
a mark on the forehead,
an ornament worn by ladies on the forehead.
in such sentences can be removed by quoting fuller contexts as the following:
The doctor said it is a difficult case,
He has gone to bring today’s paper,
usko sone ka t)iikaa acchaa lagtaa hE. ‘golden ornament on
forehead suits her’.
a matter of fact that the major and the most important task of the lexicographer
is to find out the different meanings of a word and present them in a dictionary.
In order to present the meaning in an umambiguous way he gives illustrative examples.
meanings of a word could also be discriminated by the interpretation of these
meanings in terms of their synonyms in a dictionary.
period or epoch ||yug,
sthiti, haalar |
congregation,gathering, convention, conference |
little, trivial, triffling, paltry,
feeble, frail, delicate |
of an incident, either fictitious or fiction like in interest whether told
tale, kathaa, kahaanii, hakiikat, kissa,etc.. |
(2) the incident, the action, the fact in question ___, (from Kelkar 1969.
57) || thing,
matter, bhaag, prasanga, vastu, ciz. |
parvata, giri, meru |
tree || vr,kÀa,
way of sense discrimination of polysemous words is by applying antonyms to the
different senses of a polysemous word.
hard (antonym naram, mulaayam) |
difficult (antonym aasaan) |
cruel (antonym saday ) |
going a long way down form the top (opposite of shallow) |
(of colour) strong, dark (opposite of light) |
profound (opposite of superficial) |
meanings to the lexical units, the lexicographer uses all the criteria described
in chapter 5 for the sense discrimination of a polysemous word. He may not use
all of them at a time an overt manner, but he has to keep a clear picture of all
these in his mind.
sometimes more than one sense appears to be dominant or central. e.g.
(2) written letter or document, note,
both the meanings (1) and (2) appear to be
central. Which of the two should be given first in arrangement of meanings and
how should the subsenses be grouped? For the arrangement of meanings the basic
meaning which is either etymological or is determined by frequency etc. may be
given first, and the related senses may be grouped together on the basis of their
the five meanings of Bengali kaal, given earlier, (1) and (4) may be treated by
some as almost equally dominant. In that case the lexicographer has to relate
the different senses to these two. (2) and (3) go with the meaning (1), and (5)
with (4). They are to be arranged in that order.
word kalam has the following main meanings:
(2) a painter's brush,
(3) a school or style of painting,
(5) cutting or chopping.
these (2) and (3) will be related with (1) and (5) with (4).
arrangement of these meanings is governed by the type of the dictionary.
Homonymy: in polysemy the different meanings of a word are related and have
developed from one source. The lexicographer is faced with quite a different type
of problem when he comes across the following situation:
Hindi word man has the following meanings:
mind; (2) desire, wish; (3) maund. Here we find that the meanings (1) and (2)
are related, (2) is developed from (1) but the (3) can not be related to any of
first two meanings are etymologically connected, while the third is not.
word seal has the following meanings:
(1) kind of fish eating sea animal
(2) to hunt a seal,
(3) a piece of wax, lead etc., stamped with a design
(4) something used instead of a seal e.g. a paper disc, stuck to, or an impression
stamped on a document,
(5) to put a seal.
these (1) and (2) are related in the sense that (2) is derived form (1). In the
same way (3), (4) and (5) are related. (4) and (5) are developments of the (3).
But there is no such relationship between (1) and (2) on the one hand and (3),
(4) and (5) on the other. None is a development form either.
can a lexicographer call them the different meanings of the same word? they are
not related. Rather they are the different meaning of different words. Instead
of treating man as one word with 3 meanings the lexicographer treats it as two
words one with one meaning and the other with two e.g.
‘a kind of fish eating sea animal’ |
(2) ‘to hunt a fish’ |
‘piece of wax, lead etc., stamped with design’. |
‘something used instead of a seal…’ |
‘to put a seal…’ |
may examine the following words and see the same point:
bark n. 'the noise made by a dog'; bark n. 'the skin of a tree'; bark n. 'a sailing
n. 'a pluse cake': bar?aa adj. 'big'|
n. 'garland' : maalai n. 'evening'|
pron. 'he' : tu n. 'ditch'|
kaanaa n. 'one eyed'; kaanaa n. 'bank, side'|
n. 'day', 'time', naad?u v. 'to enter' ; naad?u n. a country. |
'till the end of the world': aakalpam 'ornamental decoration'|
kaadi n. 'load of a cart', kaadi v. 'to scorch' |
aki pp 'by', 'with'; aki v. 'own', 'possess' |
anda p. 'then' ; anda n. 'hunch of a bull' |
thing found in these pairs of words
is that their spellings and pronunciation are identical and the meanings are not
related. Such words which are identical in spelling and pronunciation and have
different unrelated meanings are called homonyms and the phenomenon is called
when we examine the following words we find a different situation: Eng. lead 'guide'
or 'take' and lead 'soft heavy feasily melted metal
'; tear 'to pull sharply
apart' and tear 'drop of the salty water coming form the eye
identical in spelling they are pronounced differently (li:d) and (led), (tEa)
words are called homographs. Closely related to them are the words of the following
Right, write, rite; bye, by; reign, rain
different in spelling they are pronounced identically (rait), (bai), (rein).
are called homophones.
we compare all these three types of words described above, we find that the homonyms
are words identical in both spelling and pronunciation and have different unrelated
meanings; the homographs are words identical in spelling but different in pronunciation,
these again having different meanings and homophones are words different in spelling
but identical in pronunciation also having different meanings.
and homophones are not of much importance to the lexicographer, because they are
quite different lexical units and pose no problem of relatedness of meaning or
their arrangement. The homographs because of the identity of their spelling are
treated like homonyms in the dictionary.4
problem is rare in many Indian languages because of the syllabic script used by
treating homonymy the lexicographer has to keep in view the different types of
homonyms. In some cases there may be total identity in all the forms of a paradigm
and its colocational possibilities. In others it may be only partial.
us consider the following examples:
|| seal1 || ‘animal’||
seals || ||
seal’s || ||
seal’s || |
‘of tunes’ |
find here that all the forms in the paradigms of the words seal1 and seal2, sur1
and sur2 are identical and from their forms one does not get any indication of
their belonging to one word or the other. Such homonyms are called full homonyms
or word homonyms. They are generally found in words belonging to the same parts
type of homonyms a lexicographer has to mark is found in the folloing cases:
senaa n. ‘army’ senaa v. to hatch an egg
dir. pl. senaaeN ‘armies’
pl. senaaoN of ‘armies’ setaa different inflected
forms of senaa
sonaa v. ‘to sleep’
sotaa, different inflected
sone etc. forms of sonaa
‘alive’ (present participle of jiinaa to ‘live’),
these examples only a few word forms are identical. Such homonyms are called partial
homonyms or homonyms of word forms. In partial homonymy generally the canonical
forms and some forms are identical and some other forms are not identical.
may meet some other cases of the following type which appear as partial homonyms:
‘conquered’ (past tense of jiitnaa ‘to win’)
oblique form of sonaa ‘gold’,
an inflected form of sonaa ‘to sleep’.
‘sleeping’ an inflected form of sonaa ‘to sleep’
first two pairs of words do not present any difficulty because they are only some
inflected and regular and predictable forms of the words. Since the lexicographer
enters only canonical forms these words are not considered for the dictionary
entry. But the last example is a little different. In this sotaa 'a stream' is
itself a canonical form and deserves an entry. The identity of spelling of this
form with the second word may tempt a lexicographer to enter the second one also
a head word5. But when the forms are minutely examined such difficulty does not
treating homonyms, the lexicographer has to see if the difference in the meaning
of these words is only lexical or also grammatical. When we compare Eng seal n.
'animal' and seal n. 'wax' and Hindi baal n. 'boy' and baal n. 'hair' we find
that both the words belong to the same parts of speech. The difference lies only
in their lexical meaning. Such homonyms are lexical homonyms. A lexicographer
may be tempted to give these under one entry6.
we compare such pairs as Hindi senaa n 'army' and senaa v. 'to hatch eggs' Malto
ula adv. 'in day time', Ao Naga aki pp. 'by' and aki v. 'possess', we find that
the difference is not only confined to the lexical meaning but the grammatical
categories are also different. Such homonyms are called lexico-grammatical homonyms.
dictionaries7 treat polysemous words occurring in more than one parts of speech
as homonymous and give separate entries for them. Such cases are called partial
homonyms or grammatical homonyms. In these cases the words have the same canonical
form but different paradigms and structural patterns e.g., verbs occurring both
as transitive and intransitive, lexical units occurring as noun, verb, adjective
seal n. ‘wax…’: seal v. ‘to put a seal’
Drink v.: drink n.
Cut v. cut n. cut adj.
‘to be folded’; kekhre vt ‘to fold’
Kekhre n. ‘fold’.
Madia id adj. ‘this’: id pron. ‘this’
gaanaa v. ‘to sing’ gaanaa n. ‘song’
Although etymologically related, such words
are given in the dictionaries separate entries form the practical point of denoting
the grammatical features and distributional characteristics of these words. This
would be more helpful for a common reader especially for learning the generating
power of the language.
lexicographer should look at homonyms from the point of view of their origin.
How do homonyms appear in a language? This will help the lexicographer in establishing
the relatedness of meanings and distinguishing homonyms from polysemous words.
The homonyms have the following sources in a language:
Homonyms come in a language because of the convergent phonetic development of
two or more different lexical units. Most of the homonyms in a language have their
origin in this way. Phonetic changes pertaining to the loss of affixes, simplification
of conjunct consonants, loss of syllables etc. affecting either one of the words
or both of them lead to creation of homonymy, e.g.
kaam 'work' < Skt karma : kaam 'desire'
Sonaa 'gold'< Skt svarn?a: sonaa
sat 'powder'<Skt sattva: sat 'seven' <Skt sapta.
sound n. 'strait' OE. Sund. 'swimming'
Sound 'healthy' OE. Zesund 'healthy'.
of this types are in plenty in Pali and Prakrits.
Homonyms appearing by this
process are etymologically unrelated. But in these cases also, even after the
phonetic convergence, the two words may be taken as polysemous e.g., English ear
'organ of hearing' and ear 'spike of corn' are etymologically unconnected, but
the two words are treated as related by some persons because the spike of the
corn is considered as the ear of the corn in the same way as eye of needle, mouth
or river, foot of hill etc. (Ullmann 1957, 128; Zgusta 1971; 77).
Divergent sense development of polysemous words:
course of time the different related meanings of a word become so very different
that the relatedness of meanings is no longer perceived and the words are treated
as homonyms. But this is very fluid and uncertain field. Much depends on the speaker's
judgement which is not infrequently subjective. e.g.
OE. cest chest 'large
Chest 'part of human body'
homonyms also have their origin in the language by borrowing form different languages.
These borrowings may also undergo phonetic changes. The homonyms of this type
may be of different types:
One word is borrowed from another language: e.g.
aam n. ‘mango’ <Skt. Aamra
Aam adj. ‘general’ <Pers. aam ‘general
piir n. ‘pain’ <Skt piid,aa
piir n. ‘a saint’ Pers. piir.
n. ‘bank’ Skt.
maalai n. ‘evening’ Dravidian
Maalai n. ‘garland’ Indo-Aryan
mean ‘average’ Latin medianus
mean ‘think’ OE. marnan
raaju ‘king’ < Skt. raajaa
‘to kindle fire’ Telugu
Sometimes both the words of the pair of homonyms are borrowed:
kavi n. ‘poet’ < Skt. kavi
kavi n. ‘monkey’ < Skt. kapi
kamaan ‘bow’ Persian
kamaan ‘order’ Eng. command
gallaa ‘noise’ Arabic. Gul
gallaa ‘crowd’ Pers. galla.
vaatam ‘argument’ < Skt. vaada
Vaatam ‘breeze’ < Skt. vaara
‘an employee’ < Arabic amin
Aamin ‘amen’ < English amen
when the number of homonyms is larger more than one words are borrowed.
ari ‘enemy’ <Skt. ari
ari ‘lion’ < Skt. hari
ari ‘rice’ Malayalam
particular type of homonyms found in Sanskrit are those formed by
These words are split differently for
different meanings. These words are etymologically different. e.g.
a-japa ‘one who does no worship’ aja-pa
‘protector of goats’
sa-mudra ‘with seal’ : samu-dra
suta-pa ‘the drinker of soma’ : su-tapa
‘practicing great austerity’8.
of the most controversial points in semantics having a direct bearing on lexicography
has been the differentiation between polysemy and homonymy. The general principle
of differentiation has been the relatedness of the meanings. If the meanings are
related it is a case of polysemy, if not, it is a case of homonymy. The question
of relatedness of meanings can be viewed form two points of view: historical and
synchronic. Historically related meanings are those which can be traced back to
the same source that is the meanings are etymologically connected or one meaning
can be derived form the other. If they are not etymologically connected they are
not related and are homonyms.
consideration has the intuition of the speakers of the language as its basis.
If the speakers perceive relationship between the meanings of a word it can be
said that the meanings are related and form the semantic structure of one and
the same word. if the speaker feels the meanings are not related it is a case
of homonymy. But the intuition is not always a reliable guide. It can be quite
subjective. The speakers may establish relatedness of meaning where there is none
etymologically. We have noted the example of ear earlier.
speaker may find the meanings unrelated in spite of the fact that these are derived
form the same source. English crane 'bird' 'crane' a 'machine' may be treated
as unrelated although the latter is a figurative extension of the same. Zgusta
(1971, 85) In such cases the etymology is not relevant. An example from Nida may
make it clearer. The form stock may occur in three very different types of contexts,
e.g. he has a lot of stock in the warehouse, he sells stocks and bonds, he feeds
the stock on his farm well. Though historically these three sets of meanings are
related, for many present day speakers of English there seem to be no meaningful
connections. (Nida, 1975, 13)
the Hindi speaker may not find the two meanings of artha 'meaning' and 'wealth'
related, although they are etymologically related. The two meanings of Hindi kar
'hand' and 'tax' may again be treated as unrelated.
some cases the figurative extensions of the meaning may not be recognisable by
the speakers e.g. in he will foot the bill the meaning of foot may not be related
to foot 'the part of the body'. But if the meaning of foot which occurs in the
foot of the column is taken into consideration a relation may be established in
the sense that a person pays the sum at the foot of the bill. (Nida, 1975, 128)
two meanings of the Tamil word miin 'fish' and 'star' may be treated differently
by different speakers. Some speakers may not find any relationship between these
observe form the above discussion that distinction between polysemy and homonymy
is very uncertain and as observed by Lyons (1968, 406) is 'in the last resort
indeterminate and arbitrary'.
can a lexicographer do then? If etymological evidence is available he can depend
on it. But in such cases where the etymological sense is lost he has to depend
on the interpersonal impressions of the native speakers.
etymological relationship can be established generally in respect of languages
where some studies have been done. But in case of languages where such studies
are not available the lexicographer has to depend either on the intuition of the
native speaker or on his own intuitions.
Synonymy: In polysemy one word has more than one meaning. As opposed to this,
there is a situation in which more than one words have the same or nearly the
same meaning. Such words are called synonyms and the phenomenon is called synonymy
or paryaava. Here, at times, different words which could have otherwise meant
something else are used to denote one thing e.g. amara 'not dying', nirjara 'not
aging' and vivudha 'learned' are used as epithets/synonyms of deva 'god'.
have a long tradition of lexicographi work on synonyms. From Nighant?u to the
present day there is a long history of dictionaries of synonyms. The origin of
dictionary making itself may be traced back to the study of the synonyms Amarakosa
has not only inspired many lexicographical works of this type in India, it has
been used for preparation of dictionaries of foreign languages also. Roget's Thesaurus
refers to this work.
there real synonyms in a language? This question has been widely discussed in
books of semantics. Our concern here will be to deal with synonyms form the point
of their sense discrimination and representation in a dictionary.
may examine the following sets of words:
‘husband (in sense of the master of the house)|
(in pejorative sense used in abuses)|
(used as bhataar)|
‘husband’ (the most beloved, in dialogues in intimate situation)|
of life, used in phrases like jiivansaathii kii talaas)|
|| Attempt ||
implies making an essentially single effort. |
stresses effort or experiment made in the hope of testing or providing something.
hightens the implication of exertion and difficulty. |
implies difficult but also suggests tentative trying or experimenting. |
implies great exertion against great difficulty and specially suggests persistent
| Bengali ||strii
‘wife’ (as in aamaar strii ‘my wife’)|
‘lady’ usually with bhadra (bhadromahilaa ‘gentle lady’) but not *aamaarmahilaa |
‘earth (in the sense of broad)|
‘earth’ (in the sense of the place of jewels)|
‘earth’ (in the sense of substance) |
used for things little further off|
used for things at a higher place|
|kitie || used
for things lower or below.
‘used for any place’|
‘a site for building a house’|
‘very thick forest specially used when someone goes for hunting’. |
‘nearby forest’. |
we analyse the semantic features of words of each set we find that there is no
indentity in all the semantic features of all the words. All the words of
each set have some common feature (or a denotational meaning). One word
in the set has only this feature while others have some additional features also.
If two words have identity in all their semantic features they are called absolute
synonyms. The occurrence of absolute synonyms not only depends on the lexical
meaning but also on the distributional characteristics of the words. How
to find out the absolute synonyms?
common test applied to know whether two lexical items are absolute synonyms or
not is the test of interchangeability and substitution. Two lexical units
can be absolute synonyms if and only if they are interchangeable for one another
in all contexts without the slightest change in their meaning. But this
is rarely found in a language. Words similar in meaning may be substituted
in some contexts but not in all contexts e.g. English exceptional and abnormal
in the sense of ‘unusual’ can be interchanged for one another in the following
sentence without any change in their meaning.
rainfall in April was abnormal / exceptional. But in the following sentence:
son is exceptional the substitution of exceptional by abnormal
gives just the opposite meaning.
lie, vaaste, hetu ‘for’ may be interchangeable in the following sentence:
yah kitaab apnii lar,kii ke lie/vaaste/hetu khariidii hE. ‘He has bought this
book for his daughter’.
in the following sentences they cannot be interchanged:
kal kalkattaa ke liee (*vaaste, *hetu) jel gayaa. ‘he went to jail for
sthaan ‘place’ may be interchanged in many contexts but in the following
sentence they cannot be interchanged. UnhoNne makaan ke lie jagah khariid
lii hE. ‘He has purchased a site for a house’.
takes us to the field of selective restrictions or collocational potentialities
of words. Some synonyms can be collocated with some words and not with others.
Eng. broad: wide, broadest sense of a word is the same as the widest
sense but we cannot say *wide transcription in place of broad transcription
*wide idea in place of broad idea. Again we can say country
wide network and not *country broad net work.
‘special’ can be interchangeable in khaas
khabaar and viśeÀa
khabar but khaas cannot be susbstituted
gr,ahand mane ‘house’. We have gr,hapraveÀa
and mane kat(t(u
jaasuus and guptacar ‘spy’ are interchangeable in jaasuus /
guptacar kaa kaam. But we have jaasuusii upanyaas ‘spy novel’
and not *guptacarii upanyaas.
laaś, murdaa, mr,tak mean ‘corpse’ but they cannot be interchanged in
the following constructions:
(*laaś, * murdaa, * mr,tak)-daah, murdaa (*śava,
* laaś, * mr,tak) ghaa¶/saraay.
a matter of fact, non-interchangeability of their components is one of the characteristic
features of the set collocations.
Another thing to be considered by a lexicographer is the distribution-patterns
of synonyms. Even if they are interchangeable in some contexts, there is
a difference in their syntactical valencies. (Apresjan 1973, 181)
to answer : to reply
former does not take a preposition but the latter takes one in the following:
to answer a question : to reply to a question
Anxious, uneasy and concerned
have some common meaning, but anxious and uneasy take about
whereas concerned takes at, for, with also besides about.
: adhik: bahut, ‘much’ bahut takes se where as adhik
does not take it. Adhik log
aaye hEN but bahut se log aye hEN
‘many people have come’
dekhnaa: taaknaa ‘to see’
dekhnaa : takes both kii or and
ko postpositions but taaknaa takes only kii or
usko/uskii or dekho ‘look at him’ and
uskii or taako ‘behold him’,
not *usko taako.
Besides this some synonyms have different paradigms, e.g. saphar and
yaatraa refer to traveling form one place to another. saphar
emphasizes the distance and yaatraa implies destination. Only yaatraa
can be pluralized. (Bahl, 1974, 20).
upkaar, saluuk, hit, hitsaadhan, bhalaa, bhallaii all
refer to something done which is directly or indirectly beneficial to come one.
ahsaan forms Action Noun Phrase with post positions ke saath, ke uupar
and par; upkaar with ke saath, par, ke prati and kaa; saluuk
with ke saath; hit, hitsaadhan and bhalaa with kaa; and bhalaaii
with ke saath and kii (Bahl 1974, 47).
While analysing the synonyms the lexicographer would see that the principle of
synonymy cannot be applied to polysemantic words. Two words may be synonymous
in some of their meanings but all the meanings of two polysemnatic words cannot
be synonymous e.g.
and haath ‘hand’
kar has the following meanings
the trunk of an elephant,
the rays of the sun.
find that these words are synonymous in only one of their meanings.
lexicographer would also note that all the meanings of a polysemantic word have
to read-baaNcnaa, adhyayan karnaa
to enquire – muaaymaa karnaa
to search- khojnaa, talaaś
to examine-aajmaanaa, parkhanaa
to understand- socnaa, samajhnaa
to feel – bhognaa
Here we find that there is no synonymy between the synonyms of the different meanings
of the word dekhnaa.
samajhnaa, khojnaa and baaNcnaa are
may compare the following set of synonyms to the five meanings of the word.
fresh (Arnold, 1973, 180).
(as in fresh metaphor) fresh, original,
fresh (as in to begin a fresh paragraph)
fresh, another, different, new;
fresh (as in a fresh
air) fresh, pure, invigorating;
(as in a fresh man) fresh, inexperienced, green, raw;
(as in to be fresh with sub. ) fresh, impertinent, rude.
find that there is no synonymy between rude, green, new, striking, the
different meanings of fresh.
occurrence of complete synonyms in a language can further be tested by assigning
antonyms to them. The synonymous words have different antonyms for their
firm and hard have the same meaning.
firm : opposite of loose (as in firm or loose decision)
hard: opposite of soft (as in hard or soft words)
deep and profound also have the same meaning
deep: opposite of shallow (as in deep or shallow water)
profound : opposite of superfluous (as in deep or superfluous knowledge)
: opposite of aasaan ‘easy’ (as
or aasaan kaam)
opposite of mulaayam (as in
the above discussion the lexicographer can find out that it is impossible to get
complete synonyms in a language. To quote Ullmann “absolute synonymy is
an extremely rare occurrence, a luxury that a language can ill afford”.
(From Lyons 1968, 437).
absolute synonyms are found only in a few monosemantic words which have technical
meanings. But here again the terms are not used by the same writer or school.
They are used by different schools e.g.
: riitivijn0aana ‘stylistics’
: dhvanigraama ‘phoneme’
are some very rare cases where we may find cases of absolute synonyms. e.g.
Hydrogen : H2, Vice Chancellor : VC.
But such cases
are not found in the general language.
So when a lexicographer deals
with synonyms in his dictionary he actually describes or treats the partial synonyms
or homoionyms. In synonymy the lexicographer has to observe the overlapping
of meanings. That is to say that some meanings are identical in some of
their semantic features and can be substituted for each other in some contexts
and not in all the contexts.
lexicographer uses the synonyms mostly for defining lexical units. Synonyms
or semantically similar words are used for equating lexical units in a monolingual
dictionary by a lexicographer.
can examine the following sets of synonyms:
khaanaa, jiimnaa, bhakosnaa,
liilnaa, huurnaa, bhojan karnaa.
‘to eat’ (used as a general word)
jiimnaa ‘to eat’ (formal)
bhakosanaa ‘to devour’
liilnaa ‘to wolf’
huurnaa ‘to eat with force’
bhojan karna ‘to eat’ (formal)
We observe that in these words khaanaa
is the only word which has a simple denotative meaning. All the other
words have this meaning as also some other additional connotative meanings.
this set of synonyms the word with the denotative meaning is neutral. From
the point of view of its use, it is used more frequently. It can be called
the dominant synonym in the group. Let us examine some more examples.
English hope, expectation and anticipation. All these words
mean having something in mind which is likely to happen. Hope is
not only a belief but a desire that some event would happen. Expectation
may be either of good or of evil. Anticipation is, as a rule,
a pleasurable expectation of something good. In this group hope is
the neutral word. The words expectation and anticipation are
used by educated speakers whereas hope is a word of general use.
So in this group hope is neutral and dominant. (Arnold, 1973,
samay, kaal, vela meaning ‘time’
has the general meaning of time; kaal is the extent of time from one
point to another, vela is a definite point of part of time as in saandhyavelaa
‘evening time’, milankii vela ‘the time of meeting’.
In this set
samay is used more frequently and in different contexts and is the dominant
and neutral synonym.
hema, hiran,ya, haa¶aka,
loham, kanaka, kaan0cana meaning ‘gold’
gold in general
it has attractiveness
: it has yellow stuff
it has redness in colour
it is shining
it is fresh in colour
these words svarn,a is more frequently used and is dominant or neutral
of all the synonyms.
lexicographer uses the dominant or the neutral synonym form the set to define
or equate the non-dominant or non-neutral synonyms in his dictionary.
can be discriminated in a dictionary by analysing their different semantic features
and usages. The following possibilities of discrimination of the synonyms9
may be utilized by the lexicographe
One word is general another is specific:
khaalii : śuunya. ‘empty’
One word has more emotive value than the other:
politician : statesman
: dehaanta honaa ‘to die’
One word has a more polite expression than the other.
darśsan karnaa ‘to see’
tind,i : bhojanam ‘food’
One word is used by one social class:
janaajaa ‘dead body’
kaakii : caacii
In diglottic situations one word is used for the higher variety, the other for
(6) One word
is borrowed the other is native:
: samay ‘time’
(7) One word
is more colloquial than the other:
saaNp : sarpa
paanii : jal
One word may be more professional than the other:
: child specialist
One word is tatsama and the other is tadbhava.
karn,a : kaan
adbhutamu ‘great wonder’, abhuram ‘wonder’
(10) One word
is more literary than the other:
passing away :
One word may belong to child talk:
daddy : father
susu : peśaab
baayii : paalu
jijji : nidraa
‘to have rice’
One word may be local or dialectal:
flat : apartment
One word may be more euphemistic than the other:
uppu is a taboo in the night so Skt. lavan,am
is used by some classes, lutta ‘basket’ is used by others; cavi
‘taste’ is also used.
lexical items related to human anatomy and activities related to them are treated
as taboo in many societies. Therefore, some other words are used for them.
karnaa to secrete’
dod,d,ikelu : venakkellu` ‘to answer
the call of nature’
the same way words relating to some diseases and death etc. are also taboo.
Other words are used in their place.
cecak : śiitalaa
hEjaa : mahaamaarii ‘cholera’.
specifications will help the lexicographer to define the lexical units in a more
Antonymy: Another type of meaning relationship is what is traditionally
called antonymy. The term broadly signifies the oppositeness of meaning.
But it is open to criticism and allows different interpretations. What is
the antonym of kind? cruel and unkind both can be
good candidates for becoming antonyms of kind but unkind does not
mean cruel. Nor does not beautiful mean ugly.
Girl or man can be equally suitable candidates for becoming antonyms
of woman. The relationship denoted by antonymy may be analysed in
terms of oppositions and contrasts in the meaning of the following types:-
(1) Extreme opposites or reversives or contradictories or binary opposites:
this is the relationship of either, or i.e. the positive and negative
features of the meaning. e.g.
dead : alive
tie : untie
marnaa ‘die’ ; jiinaa ‘live’
words show binary taxonomy or ‘absoluteness of boundary’ (Leech 1974, 106) and
do not allow anything between them. In other words, they are not gradable.
Dead means not alive. There cannot be degrees of deadness
opposites or polar opposites of contraries: this contrast can be explained
in terms of scales running between two poles or extremes e.g. rich and
poor. good and bad, much and little. Hindi t(han,d,aa
‘cold’ and garam ‘hot’, uupar ‘up’ and niice ‘down’.
One can be neither rich nor poor but not neither dead nor
alive. There is a possibility of variability in terms of degrees between
the opposites. Between cold and hot there are cool and
warm. Good and bad can be judged form the degrees
of goodness and badness. In other words, these opposites allow grading.
Rich and poor may be judged from the degree of richness or poverty.
Incompatibles: this is the relation of meaning exclusiveness and not of
contradiction. Two meanings are incompatible if one contains at least one
feature contrasting with a feature in the other. e.g. red, black, blue,
yellow, day and night, morning and evening. To say day
is to say not morning, or noon etc. man and woman
are incompatible because man has +male feature and woman does
not have it. Other meanings incompatible with woman are boy, cow
etc. because they do not share features +adult and +human respectively.
Conversives: this is the relationship that exists between words like English
buy and sell, ask and reply, Hindi puuchnaa ‘ask’
and uttar denaa ‘reply’.
these there are other relationships of meaning like ‘relational’ e.g. father
and son, ‘hierarchical’ e.g. inch, foot, yard.
As in the case
of synonyms complete or absolute antonyms are also rare in a language. A
word may have more than one antonym each restricted to some context in a language
The word thin has to antonyms (1) thick as in thin slice
and thick slice (2) fat as in thin man and fat man.
The word dry may have the following antonyms, wet, moist and
: moist lip
: wet clothes
the criteria of interchangeability cannot be applied for the antonyms also.
Good has poor as its antonym in some contexts e.g. good result
and poor result and bad in others e.g. good boy and
lexicography the antonyms are used for the purposes of definitions. The
meaning of polysemous words can be disambiguated by antonyms. The antonyms
are also useful for discriminating the senses of polysemous words and synonyms.
(3.6 and 3.8). The lexicographer should examine the semantics features of
the antonyms while giving them as a part of the definition.
Hyponymy: another approach to the study of meaning relationship is in terms
of meaning inclusion or hyponymy. It relates to the analysis of the hierarchical
relationship between meanings. Many lexical units in a language include
the meaning of other units in them. For example vehicle includes
in it the meanings of bus, car and motorcycle, animal includes in
it the meanings of cat, dog, elephant etc. The lexical unit whose
meaning is included forms the lower rung of the hierarchical structure of meanings
and is called hyponym (Sanskrit upa+naama). The lexical unit in which
this meaning is included is the superordinate term or hyperonym (Sanskrit upari+naama),
sometimes referred to as classifier also. The hyponym, some additional meanings
which distinguished it from the class. For example dog contains besides
the meaning of animal also an additional meaning which distinguishes it from other
animals like cow, cat, horse etc. This hierarchical structure can
be shown by the following diagram:
way to describe this relationship is in terms of genus and differentia.
The hyperonym is the genus or the general term. The hyponym is the specific
Many of the terms in a hierarchical structure
occur at both the levels-the hyperonym and the hyponym. English dog is
a hyponym of animal but a hyperonym for dog, bitch and pup.
In other words, it occurs both for the class as well as the specific.
We can illustrate this by the following diagram:
the word kuttaa is both a superordinate as well as an included term.
hierarchical structure of meaning is used in lexicography for the definition of
words. A hyponym is defined in terms of a hyperonym e.g.
diiptiyuk%ta pokaa viśes$a ‘a
particular shining worm’.
English tiger ‘large fierce animal of the cat family……’
In the second
definition there are two hyperonyms animal and cat from two levels
of the hierarchical structure of the meanings.
the hierarchical structure of meaning described above is often referred to
as taxonomy. Taxonomy has been considered as a good method of organizing
the description of meaning of the lexical units of semantic domains dealing with
the phenomenon of the visible world. It can also be used for description
of the manner in which the mind perceives the outward reality. One of the
best known analysis of sets of terms into taxonomy has been Charles Frake’s treatment
of the terminology of various skin diseases known to the Subanum, a tribe living
in Mindanao in the Southern Phillipines.
notable has been the application of the principle of taxonomic structure in ethnosemantic
studies in what is called folk taxonomies. Applied to the study of a particular
sub class of lexical domains displaying certain formal related properties it has
shown that taxonomic structure is probably a universal characteristics of languages.
Even the most primitive languages have elaborate taxonomies to classify and describe
objects of their environment. Although there is difference in details of
categorizations among languages there is no language which has an inferior system
of categorization to the other.
principle of folk taxonomy can be used in lexicography, especially for primitive
and unwritten languages, for clearly defining lexical units belonging to such
sub-sets as flora and fauna etc.
Componential Analysis: we have seen that the meaning of a lexical unit
is not an unanalysable whole. It could be decomposed into its minimal distinctive
features or components which contrast with other components. For example
the senses of the words man, woman, boy and girl might be expressed
in terms of the presence or absence of certain features characterizing them.
These features can be written in a form of formula as given below:
the senses of the above words could be expressed in the following way:
method of analysis called componential analysis has been
mainly used for the purpose of describing sets of semantically related words.
It was evolved by anthropological linguists for the study of the relations in
the kinship terminology10. The relations in kinship have been
analysed in terms of various features, like the following which account for their
of the relative –male or female e.g. father and mother
Generation of the relative with Ego ( ) = Ego’s generation; +1 = Ego’s
parents generation; -1 = Ego’s children’s generation.
Consanguineal or blood relation vs. affinal relation or the relation by
Lineal or non lineal in a consanguineal relationship (father and son are
lineal, uncle and nephew are not)
Degree of collaterality among non lineal relations based on the number
of generations separating kinsmen from their common ancestors. (Southworth and
Daswani 1974, 203-204)
features are language and culture specific and may be more or less in number in
different languages depending on the nature of the organisation of the kinship
relationship in that language.
componential analysis has also been applied extensively for the study of colour
terms and pronouns.
lexicography componential analysis could be used for discrimination of synonyms
(explaining of the overlapping of meanings), distinguishing the different senses
of a polysemous word (by examining the additional semantic features and their
links in the extended meanings) and the study of other relationships of meaning
like antonymy, hyponymy etc. The application of componential analysis has some
advantages. Some unexpected features or distinctions in meaning are often
discovered in the process of a through application of such a system. It
reveals the functioning of the system in its simplest form.
But this approach has certain limitations also. It is applicable to a restricted
set of words which contain the similar and contrasting features. Componential
analysis cannot be applicable to the analysis of the connotative and emotive meanings
of the lexical unit because they analyse only the minimal features of distinctiveness.
(Southworth and Daswani 1974, 205). For example the word bhaaii is
used in the sense of ‘match’ or ‘mate’ in the following vah kumbakarn,a
kaa bhaaii hE. ‘He is a match for Kumbhakarna’. This meaning may
perhaps not be explained in terms of componential analysis so the componential
analysis explains only part of meanings.
spite of the short-comings, the componential analysis can be helpful in framing
definitions in the hierarchical order of the components.
Here it is
worth while to make a distinction between marked and unmarked words in the same
lexical set. One word might be marked for some feature while the other might
not be marked. For example bitch is +female for sex and dog is
may also be made of the classification of semantic features into semantic markers
and semantic distinguishers as used by Katz and Fodor (1963, 170-210) for the
analysis of polysemous words. The semantic markers are features present
also in the lexical meanings of other words. They put the lexical unit in
a class. The distinguishers, on the other hand, are individual features
not occurring in the lexical meanings of other words. The distinguisher
particularizes the meaning of a lexical item and differentiates it from the other.
For details Fodor, J.D. (1977, p. 9 ff) and Southworth and Daswani (1974
p. 171 ff.) and other works on semantics.
Zgusta (1971, 36.37) gives a detailed treatment of the subject.
Specially the Firthian School of Linguistics.
For arrangement of homonyms in a dictionary see Arrangement of Entries
See Tiwari and Chaturvedi 1970.
Hornby, COD, HSS, Sanskrit Dictionary (Poona), Sanskrit-English Dictionary(Monier-Williams)
Examples from Ghatage (1976-78, p. XVI).
The American College Encyclopaedic Dictionary gives the following 18 ways
in which synonyms can be discriminated:
a. Between general and specific
Between shades of meaning
g.In emotional effect
h.In levels of usage
Between literacy and colloquial usage
Effects of prefixes and suffixes
l.In British and American usage
Between borrowed and native words
n.Between literal and figurative usage
o.between concrete and abstractness
Between technical used (or occupational uses) and popular uses
In respect of action
r.Between local or provincial usage and general usage. Collinson has tabulated
the most typical differences between synonyms and has distinguished between nine
possibilities (Ulmann 1962, Chapter 6)
(1956), Lounsbury (1956), Wallace and Atkins (1960) etc.