The interplay of synonymy and polysemy : the case of arrojar, echar, lanzar and tirar
The knowledge associated with lexical items can be seen as including relations of meaning across words and relations of meaning within a single word. Words that share a similarity of meaning are said to be synonyms. A word that has multiple meanings is termed polysemous. This study focuses on a set of Spanish verbs that exhibit both these features: arrojar, echar, lanzar and tirar (all can be glossed as ‘to throw’). The words are considered synonyms (in thesauri and by speakers), yet the verbs are also capable of expressing many different meanings; they are polysemous. I investigated the charactersitics of the four verbs in use by exploring data from corpora (in two studies) and from an experimental test. The data were annotated for semantic traits and subjected to various statitstical tests to determine whether there was any significantly distinct behavior between the verbs. The focus of the tests was on the characteristics of the most important participant roles or arguments of the verb. The central concept shared by all four verbs is the notion of ‘throwing’, which involves three participants (a thrower, an object thrown and a trajectory of motion). Taking this meaning (‘throwing’) as central or prototypical, the tests explored variations in the expression and characteristics of these core participant roles. The tests are followed by a semantic analysis. The results show that each meaning that a verb can express tends to be associated with specific types of participant roles. Yet all the meaning extensions are shown to be semantically connected to the central throwing schema; in the overall semantics of the phrase and at the level of the participant roles. Therefore, even though the verbs are polysemous their meaning extensions are motivated, despite not being predictable. The results from the study also show that the verbs can in fact be seen as synonymous. Though the meanings of the verbs may not be identical (especially concerning pragmatics) they do have the ability to express similar meanings. This synonymy includes the central ‘throwing’ sense and a few other meaning extensions. Synonymy is only partial, though, since there are many meanings which the verbs do not share. Overall, the behavior of each verb can be characterized by noting its high occurrence in a handful of schemas and its infrequent occurrence in other constructions. A speaker’s knowledge of these four verbs includes the many meanings each verb can express (including common collocates), the participant roles associated with each and the semantic links that connect the uses to the central ‘throwing’ meaning. Speakers also have knowledge of overlap between the verbs: uses where verbs are used interchangeably and cases where one verb is the (only) preferred choice.
ForlagUniversitetet i Tromsø
University of Tromsø
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