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The Notion Of A Semantic Field English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 5523 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The purpose of the present chapter is to discuss the notion of a semantic field, verbs which form semantic fields, verbs of perception and bodily sensation as well as metaphorical use of the verbs: to see.

Semantics is the term which describes the study of meaning. It constitutes a part of linguistics, similarly like meaning constitutes a part of language. What semantics is interested in, is relation which occurs between linguistic units, like words or sentences, as well as the world. It is interested in how sentences which appear in natural language show reality and in what way they relate to people’s mental representations of reality.

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There are several kinds of semantics: pragmatic semantics, which deals with the meaning of utterances in context, sentence semantics, which occupies with the meaning of sentences and meaning relations between them, lexical semantics, which concerns the meaning of words and the meaning relations which appear in the vocabulary of a language. There are also two perspectives: philosophical or linguistic. The first concerns the logical properties of language, the nature of formal theories as well as the language of logic. The second occupies with all aspects of meaning which appear in natural languages, beginning from the meaning of complex utterances in given contexts and separate sounds in syllables.

According to Saussurean and post-Saussurean structural semanticists, “the meaning of any linguistic unit is determined by the paradigmatic and syntagmatic relations which hold between that unit and other linguistic units in a language-system. Lexemes and other units that are semantically related, paradigmatically or syntagmatically, within a given language can be said to belong to, or to be members of, the same field; and a field whose elements are lexemes, is a lexical field”. Therefore, it is a paradigmatically and syntagmatically constructed vocabulary’s subset.

The strongest version of field-theory assumes that a language’s vocabulary constitutes closed set of lexemes which can be divided into a set of lexical fields that is divided into subsets. Another assumption of field-theory is that closed sets of lexemes, which can be open or indeterminate, are both the vocabulary and each of the fields in the vocabulary. What is more, the whole vocabulary is said to be a field which consists of the same elements as the lexical fields. [1] 

The theory of semantic field, which is interested in the analysis of sense, was proposed by a number of German and Swiss scholars in the 1920s and 1930s, especially by Ipsen, Jolles, Porzig and Trier, however, its origins can be found in the middle of nineteenth century. According to Jost Trier, “the vocabulary of a language is an integrated system of lexemes interrelated in sense”; still, the system is changing. We can observe that lexemes which existed in the past are disappearing now as new lexemes replace them but we also observe that the relations of sense which hold between a particular lexeme as well as neighbouring lexemes in the system, are changing all the time. Any extending of lexemes concerns a corresponding narrowing of one or more neighbours of them. According to Trier, the fact that it intends to catalogue the changes which took place in the meanings of individual lexemes as a whole or separately, instead of examining changes in the whole structure of the vocabulary through time, is one of the most important drawbacks of traditional diachronic semantics. Trier compared the structure of one lexical field at one time with the structure of a lexical field at another time. In spite of the fact that they constitute different lexical fields, as they belong to different synchronic language-systems, they concern the same conceptual field and that is why they are comparable. Trier claims that the part-whole relationship between particular lexemes which are interpreted within the lexical field, is identical or similar to the part-whole relationship between the lexical fields and the whole vocabulary. “Fields are living realities intermediate between individual words and the totality of the vocabulary; as parts of a whole they share with words the property of being integrated in a larger structure and with the vocabulary the property of being structured in terms of smaller units.” [2] For instance, the lexical field of colour terms involves the lexemes: black, white, red, green, yellow, blue, orange etc. and similarly, the lexical field of colour terms, as well as those of kindship terms, military ranks, vehicles, among others are only parts of the whole English vocabulary. In addition, the general lexeme red can be considered a lexical field within which the particular lexemes scarlet, crimson, vermillion can be interpreted.

A lexical field is consisted of the set of lexemes in every language-system which cover the conceptual area and gives structure to it using the relations of sense between them; and every lexeme will cover some conceptual area which may be constructed in the same way as a field by another set of lexemes. Therefore, the sense of a lexeme constitutes a conceptual area within a conceptual field, and a concept is a conceptual area which is connected with a lexeme. Comparing two diachronically different lexical fields, which belong to the same conceptual field, it can be found that no changes can be observed either in the set of lexemes which belong to the two fields or in sense-relations which appear between them; that one lexeme replace another one, however, without changes in the internal structure of the conceptual field, that no changes in the set of lexemes can be observed but a change in the internal structure of the conceptual field; that some lexemes replaced others and the internal structure of the conceptual field has changed as well; and finally, that some changes in the internal structure of the conceptual field caused that one or more of the lexemes has been added or lost.

According to some critics, field-theory can be well-grounded only for abstract words’ analysis, however, there is no evidence which supports this statement.

Trier’s theory of conceptual and lexical fields assumes that there is an unstructured substance of meaning, which underlies the vocabularies of all languages. “Every language articulates reality in its own way, thereby creating its own particular view of reality and establishing its own unique concepts.”

As opposed to Trier, Porzig introduced a notion of semantic fields claiming that there are the relations of sense between pairs of lexemes which are joined syntagmatically which resulted in a controversy which theory was best. Porzig’s theory was relied on the relationship within collocations which are consisted of a noun and a verb or a noun and an adjective. These two lexemes in each collocation are connected by an essential meaning-relation. Lexemes differ on account of the freedom with which they can be mixed in collocations with other lexemes. On the one hand, there are adjectives as good or bad which can collocate with almost every noun, and, on the other hand, there is an adjective as rancid which can collocate only with butter. [3] 

The theory of semantic fields is connected with direct or indirect attempts of studying the structure of some semantic or lexical fields, such as the hierarchy of military ranks, numerals, colour as well as kindship terms. Semantic field or semantic domain are terms used for the terms lexical field or lexical set. According to Crystal, semantic or lexical field is a “named area of meaning in which lexemes interrelate and define each other in specific ways.” For instance, the lexical field of relationship terms includes the lexemes: father, mother, son, daughter, cousin, nephew, uncle, aunt, grandfather, grandmother, etc.

According to lexical field theory, the vocabulary of language is basically “a dynamic and well-integrated system of lexemes structured by relationships of meaning”. Crystal claims that there are three kinds of difficulties which can be encounter while assigning all the words in English in lexical fields. Firstly, some lexemes can belong to fields that are imprecise and difficult to define. Secondly, some lexemes can be assigned to more than one field. For instance, orange can be assigned to the field of fruit or to the field of colour, tomato as fruit or vegetable. Another difficulty concerns the best solution in defining a lexical field in connection with the other fields and its constituent lexemes. These difficulties show the fact that the English vocabulary does not consist of discrete fields in which an appropriate place can be found by every lexeme. However, a lot of lexemes can be classified into fields and sub-fields precisely. [4] 

Words, which refer to a particular class and which divide up a semantic field, in most cases are incompatible. For instance, it is impossible to say: This is a red hat and This is a green hat of the same object. We also cannot determine the same animal as a lion and as an elephant. Language often shows this incompatibility. For example, in the following sentence: It was on Saturday that she went there, it is clear that she did not go there on some other day of the week, and in the sentence: Bill punched Mary, it is clear that he did not kick or slap her, although punch, kick and slap belong to the same semantic field. However, there are some terms which can be described as mixtures, for instance, an orange-red hat, or tigon, which is the cross between a lion and a tiger. In situation in which such terms are introduced, a number of words within the field increases and the field is divided up in greater detail. In some cases, which concern the animal names, the distinction between the terms in the field is clear as well as reflected by clear distinctions in experience. In other cases, distinctions are not so cleared. The items in the field are ‘unordered’ which means that they cannot be completed in any kind of order. So as to list them, it is necessary to do it in alphabetically. However, there are some groups of words which can be said to have some ‘order’. The examples of such words are measurements such as inch, foot, yard which can be put in order beginning from the smallest one, or numerals: one, two, three etc. [5] 

Generalization of lexical items in the semantic fields is not absolutely free. Every word is quite particular. For example, the verb change cannot replace the verb go and the other way round. The verb to travel can take place as a verb of change only in the spatial field, the verb to donate only in possessional field, the verb to become only in ascriptional, and the verb to schedule only in scheduling. Particular inference patterns occur in every semantic field. For instance, it is not possible for one object to be at two different places at the same time, in the spatial field. It can be said based on it that the object which moves from one place to another is not in its first position any longer. However, this inference does not take place in the field of information transfer. For instance, if Bill gives some information to Harry, it can be said that except for Harry no one else have the information, but since information unlike objects can be in more than one place at the same time, Bill still may have the information as well. [6] 

Language built up semantic fields or zones of meaning and they are linguistically limited. Vocabulary, grammar and syntax are adapted to the organization of these semantic fields. He task of classification schemes which are built up by language is to differentiate objects by ‘gender’ or by number. In languages in which intimate or formal discourse by means of pronouns is distinguished, this distinction stresses the elements of a semantic field that are called the zone of intimacy. [7] 

In semantic field analysis, organizations of words into fields occur based on an element of meaning they share. Such a field can be constructed from words which refer to drinking vessels or verbs of communication such as speak order, warn, promise, etc. Set of agreed criteria for forming semantic fields does not exist, in spite of the fact that ‘common component’ of meaning can be one. Making for account of word meaning which is more clear if a word is examined within the semantic space’s context which space concern other words semantically related is one of the arguments for a semantic field vocabulary’s description.

In such a description, the sense relations play a significant part in joining of the words’ meanings which belong to the same semantic field. An example of arrangement of semantic fields in English vocabulary is Roget’s Thesaurus. Roget divided vocabulary into six broad ‘classes’ which are: abstract relations, space, matter, intellect, volition and affections. Each of these classes is subdivided into ‘sections’. For example, affections have the sections as generally, personal, sympathetic, moral, religious. Another two subdivisions take place in order to reach the articles or semantic fields. For instance, moral affections are subdivided into obligations, sentiments, conditions, practice and institutions. Obligations category has the articles as right/wrong, dueness/undueness, duty/dereliction and exemption. An article contains lists of words which are organized according to word class, for instance, ‘dereliction of duty’.

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In recent times Tom McArthur analyzed English semantic field and arranged words into fourteen semantic fields ‘of a pragmatic, everyday nature’, for example, Life and Living Things; People and the family; Food, Drink and Farming; Thought and Communication; Language and Grammar; Movement, Location, Travel and Transport. The broad semantic fields are subdivided. For instance, the Movement field has sub-divisions of: Moving, Coming and Going; Putting and Taking; Pulling and Pushing; Travel and Visiting; Vehicles and Transport on Land; Places; Shipping; Aircraft; Location and Direction. These subdivisions are divided into smaller groups of words which are related. For example, Travel and Visiting has a group of nine verbs of ‘visiting’, a group of ten verbs of ‘meeting people and things’, a group of thirteen nouns of ‘visiting and inviting’, and so on. [8] 

1. 2. Organization of verbs into semantic fields

“All verbs which have at least one meaning which can be related to a certain concept belong to such a field”, and, “a verb which has several meanings, consequently belongs to several fields”. The meaning of a certain verb which causes that it is assigned to a particular field is called ‘field-internal meaning’. Lexical fields can be combined to form fields of higher-order. Vocabulary is divided into hierarchical groups such as: verbs of existence: to exist, to become, to make, verbs of alteration: to stay, to change, to influence, verbs of manifestation and perception: to see, to notice, to show, relational verbs: to organize, to join, to divide, verbs of ruling of behaviour: to allow, to order, to force, verbs of verbal expression: to saw, to name, to inform. However, subfield of the one field can be placed in another one. For example, subfield of the field of ruling of behaviour could be placed in the field of verbal expression. The lexical field, apart from occurring in different relations to other lexical fields, is internally strusturable as well. Specific relations between its elements, the lexical items or subsets can be established. These relations are based on field-internal meaning of the verbs and they are a significant part of the meaning’s description. There are two types of relations between verbs: In the first type the relations concern semantic or stylistic specificity of verbs. ‘Antonymy’, ‘synonymy’, ‘hyponymy’, ‘cohyponymy’ are the terms which describe these relations. The second type concerns different verbal aspects. [9] 

The semantic fields have been divided into three groups. The first group which determines “Concrete verbs” includes fields such as Motion: go, put, and Production: make, build which refer to situations which are accessible instantly to the sense organs. Mental verbs include fields such as Cognition and Perception which provide a description of psychological processes which can be experienced by oneself but which is not seen at others. Grammatical verbs form the third group including different groups of verbs which have meaning not grammaticalized in many languages. Dynamic or modal meanings are those which they express. The lexicon’s organization can be looked at from componential or relational point of view. According to componential framework, “the internal structure of a semantic field may be looked upon as the outcome of the interaction of a set of field-specific components and a number of general field-independent components that cut across all verbal semantic fields.” For instance, verbs of Perception are grouped according to components which are field-independent. The sense modalities and the field-independent dynamic system belong to them and includes lexical aspect, for example, stative: see and dynamic: look and causative distinctions, for example, be visible and show which both ‘make visible’. All verbal semantic fields contain the distinctions within the dynamic system which are important. Some of components play a key role in constructing of a field, whereas secondary modulations are represent by others. According to Miller and Johnson Laird, “verbal semantic fields are organized around a core predicate”. For instance, Motion verbs are grouped into Travel and Possession verbs around Possess. Verbs of Physical contact such as hit, strike, beat, bunch, knock, bump into, touch, rub etc. are grouped into the core predicate Contact. The verbal semantic fields are usually grouped into one or more nuclear verbs which predominate in their fields in connection with frequency of occurrence, the number of secondary senses and the scope of constructions which they can belong to. The nuclear verbs contain not only the core component of the field but also some more detailed components which represent verbs being the most typical in their fields instead of being the direct exponents of the general meaning which is shared by all the field’s elements. Whenever such exponents exist, they usually take place only in formal registers. The example of this is the nuclear perception verb see and a technical term is more or less the verb perceive. [10] 

In order to organize the English verb lexicon as a relational network, it was divided up into semantic fields, which provided an initial, semantically based organization of polysemous verbs in the English lexicon. It was also stated that words between which there are connections of semantic and lexical relations in most cases belong to the same semantic domain. Semantic domains such as vegetables and colour terms have been organized by relations as hyponymy. For example, verbs sprint and run belong to the semantic domain of motion verbs, because to sprint means to run in some way.

Verbs are divided into those which indicate actions and events as well as those which indicate states. Most verbs belong to the first group and they are subdivided into thirteen more detailed semantic domains which are: verbs of motion, perception, contact, communication, competition, change, cognition, consumption, creation, emotion, possession and bodily care and functions, and verbs which refer to social behaviour and interactions. The verbs which are painstakingly discussed as the concept “be”, including resemble, belong and suffice are not contained in any of above semantic domains. These stative verbs form a separate classification and they constitute the only group which does not form a semantic domain. Auxiliaries and control verbs such as want, fail, prevent and succeed as well as aspectual verbs like begin, also belong to this group. A lot of verbs cannot be explicitly placed as either cognition or communication verbs such as wonder, speculate, confirm, judge etc. Similarly, a verb thistle can be placed in the group of verbs of sound emission as well as verbs of motion. Such verbs would be connected with verbs from more than one semantic field if they were proposed as monosemous.

The classification of the verb lexicon into semantic fields could head the entire verb lexicon required by the absence of a single root verb or “unique beginner”. Lyons suggests a set of roots which includes: act, move, get, become, be, make, and Pulman suggests just be and do. There are cases that within a single semantic field, not all verbs can be classified as single unique beginner. Some of semantic fields can be indicated only by couple of unrelated trees. For instance, motion verbs have two homophonous top nodes which express two different concepts: move 1 and move 2. They express translational movement as well as movement without displacement. Verbs of possession belong to three concepts which are expressed by synsets give and transfer, take and receive, as well as have and hold. At the top of communication verbs there is the verb communicate but grouped into two independent trees which express verbal and nonverbal communication. The subdomain of verbal communication divides into verbs which denote the communication of spoken and written language. Other semantic fields, the example of which are the verbs of bodily care and functions, are consisted of unrelated hierarchies which make a coherent semantic field because of the fact that most of the verbs like wash, comb, shampoo, make up, ache, atrophy opt for the same sorts of noun arguments. Verbs of social interaction, which constitutes a coherent semantic field, include a number of various semantic subdomains like politics (elect, depose), work (hire, subcontract, strike) and interpersonal relations (court, marry). [11] 

A large set of indications are made by the subject field codes and those indications show the semantic fields to which a word refers starting from basketball and entertainment to dentistry, music etc. Some fields are wide as for example economics, others are narrow like cricket. Many fields are divided into subfields, for instance accounting, banking, taxation are subfields of economics. Divisions in the subject field differ widely in their degree of specificity and organization. Therefore, there is a field which is defined as sp for sports which concerns subfields, such as archery, mountaineering, etc. However, the majority of what people recognize as sports have separate field-labels. It is similar situation with other areas such as games, arts, sports, nature, transport, information, etc. Some fields or subfields are cross-classified in connection with these broader areas. Therefore, it is obvious that the hunting and fishing field with subfields as fisheries, falconry, etc. are not only placed in the sports area but also in the nature area. [12] 

3. Verbs of perception and bodily sensation

Perception is formed by five elements which are: vision, hearing, touch, smell as well as taste. To verbs of perception belong for example: see, look, hear, listen, sound, smell, touch, fell, taste and they can be divided into three groups. This classification is based on semantic role which a subject plays. One of these groups constitute those verbs which influence on peoples’ senses without their will, for instance, Peter saw the birds; Peter heard the birds; Peter felt a stone under his foot. In these examples, a subject cannot control what he see, hear or feel. Different things are here experienced by organs which are: eyes, ears, skin, nose and taste buds. These verbs which belong to this group, namely see, hear, smell, feel and taste are called differently, for instance: ‘passive perception’, ‘cognition’ or ‘inner perception’. Another group of verbs of perception are called ‘active perception verbs’ and a subject is able to control what he experiences with senses, for example: Peter looked at the birds; Peter listened to the birds; Peter felt the cloth. Those verbs which can be joined with an adverb are active verbs, while those verbs to which an adverb cannot be added are defined as passive. Example of this are following sentences: Jane was deliberately listened to music and Jane deliberately heard the music which cannot take place. One more group of verbs are those in which a subject is the stimuli of the perception, for example: Peter looked happy; Peter sounded happy; The cloth felt soft. Verbs from this group can be called ‘flip verbs’ or ‘stimulus subject’.

The term ‘inert’ in group of ‘verbs of inert perception’, feel, hear, see, smell and taste, can be used so as to distinguish perception of the sort which is determined by see, where the perceiver takes part in this activity passively from the sort of look at when the object draws attention of the perceiver actively. Verbs feel, taste and smell can be used also to indicate ‘active perception’.

To ‘verbs of bodily sensation’ belong verbs: ache, feel, hurt, itch, tingle, etc. Any perceptible change of meaning takes place between sentences: I feel great and I am feeling great or between sentences: My knee hurts and My knee is hurting.

Another group of perception verbs includes those for which object of perception constitutes the grammatical subject. For instance, That sounds like Martha’s voice or You look tired. See and hear are joined by separate verbs which are look and sound, and the three verbs smell, taste and feel are used for the additional meaning.

See verbs which include: detect, discern, feel, hear, notice, see, sense, smell and taste indicate the actual perception of some unit. The perceiver is a subject and that what is perceived is a direct object. Another group of verbs constitute sight verbs such as: decry, discover, espy, examine, eye, glimpse, inspect, investigate, note, observe, overhear, perceive, recognize, regard, savor, scan, scent, scrutinize, sight, spot, spy, study, survey, view, watch and witness. In this group of verbs of perception the perceiver is a subject and that what is perceived is a direct object, similarly like in see verbs. Peer verbs constitute another group which includes verbs like check (on), gape, gawk, gaze, glance, glare, goggle, leer, listen (to), look, ogle, peek, peep, peer, sniff, snoop (on), squint and stare. These verbs do not concern the apprehension of something through a sense because it is possible for someone to look at something and not seeing it. All verbs in this group include sight except for sniff and listen. Stimulus Subject Perception Verbs include: feel, look, smell, sound and taste. In these verbs the perceiver is not a subject which takes place in the other verbs of perception. [13] Verbs of perception have two functions. Firstly, there is a Perceiver (a human), who, discovers something about the Impression. People’s eyes are those organs of sense which allow to collect more information than other senses and those verbs which refer to vision are: see, watch, look (at), stare (at), peep (at), inspect. Verbs hear and listen (to) are the only verbs which refer to audition, while feel, smell and taste are those verbs which indicate other human senses. There is also a group of verbs which not only refer to something that is seen, but also to other senses. Verbs which belong to this group are for example: notice, recognize and study, in sentences: I noticed, on tasting it, that he’d put in too much curry powder; She recognized John’s voice; He is studying the various smells produced in Thai kitchen.

There are some subtypes of verbs of perception. The first one is see subtype which concerns direct description of an act of perception and verbs which belong to this group are: see, hear, smell, taste, feel. Other verbs which can be also assigned here, are observe which indicates something happening, notice which indicates seeing or hearing something from the background, as well as perceive, which refers to the specific thing, state or event from the background. Another group is show subtype and it describes in what way one person helps someone else to an act of perception. Show is the main verb in this subtype and it is lexical causative of verbs see, notice and observe. In this relation there is a Causer and a Perceiver or Impression, for instance: John picked up the book and showed it to Mary; John brought Mary over and showed her the book. Whenever a verb show has NPs which realize all roles it indicates visual perception, for example, a sentence John showed the parrot to Mary means that she not heard it but saw it. However, when the Impression is a complement clause a verb show means that eyes or ears were used, for instance, John showed Mary how to mend a fuse which indicates that Mary observed John while he did it, or John showed Mary how to make a uvular trill which indicates that Mary heard the sound made by John. A verb demonstrate is in these cases a synonym of a verb show. Next group is recognize subtype which indicates some perception and knowing what kind of perception it is. Verbs in this subtype are recognize and spot. One more subtype is discover subtype which concerns something which was not apparent at the beginning but later, for example, a verb discover which indicates perceiving something for the first time, or a verb find which means perceiving something that was looked at or something familiar. The witness subtype is another group and indicates some observations of definite unit of activity in which witness occurs as the only member. Another subtype is look and it refers to the Perceiver who aims his attention so as to join with some Impression. In this group are following verbs: look (at), listen (to) and also stare (at), glare (at), peep (at), peer (at), squint (at), eavesdrop (on), search (for), look (for), hunt (for), inspect, study, investigate, scan, scrutinise, examine, check, view, explore, survey, visit. Next group is watch subtype which is similar to the previous one but indicating deliberate perception over a period of time. A verb watch is the only one which belongs to this subtype. This can be showed by following examples: I watched John eat his dinner instead of I looked at John eat his dinner. A verb listen (to) has two meaning, one of them can be compared with look (at), for instance, Look at this picture!; Listen to this noise behind the skirting!, and another which can be compared with watch, for example, I listened to John say his prayers. Other verbs which belong to those concerning attention are ignore, disregard, overlook, pass over which indicate the Perceiver who is not in contact with an impression. These verbs are transi


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