Speaking about collocation we pointed out that it is a relation between items in a text. But every time we use a vocabulary item, we choose it rather than any other, and so another kind of relationship exists between items: how they are related to one another in terms of their meaning; how similar or how different they are to one another; how they may or may not substitute one another, and so on. The relations which most language teachers encounter with the greatest frequency in day-to-day teaching are relations of semantic similarity or sameness, oppositeness, and inclusion, in other words, synonymy, antonymy, and hyponymy.
Synonymy is understood as semantic equivalence existing between words and word-groups, word-groups and sentences, sentences and sentences (Jill is younger than Jack is semantically equivalent to Jack is older than Jill; to win a victory - to gain a victory). Synonyms may be found in different parts of speech and both among notional and functional words (on-upon; since-as).
The problem of synonymy is mainly the problem of criteria.
Conceptual criterion leads to the understanding of synonyms as words of the same category of parts of speech conveying the same concept but differing either in the shade of meaning or in stylistic characteristics. This definition has been criticized as the use of the term concept makes it an extralinguistic rather than a linguistic one.
Semantic criterion allows to identify synonyms as words with the same denotation or the same denotative component, but differing in connotations, or in connotative components.
Differentiation of synonyms may be observed both in denotational and connotational components of lexical meanings. The difference in denotational meaning is always combined with some common denotational component (to look, seem, appear are viewed as members of one synonymic set as they possess a common denotational semantic component to be in one’s view or judgment but there is a certain difference of meaning of each verb (opinion based on a visual impression; a personal opinion based on evidence; a distorted impression). Difference in the denotational semantic component is found in synonyms possessing different connotational components (see (neutral) - looking at what is seen, and behold (bookish) - have or use power of sight, understand, have knowledge or experience of).
Thus, the interrelation of the denotational and connotational meaning of synonyms is complex therefore we can divide synonyms into stylistic (those that obviously differ in style – child, infant, kid)and ideographic (those that bear on the same idea, but are not fully identical in their referential content – ascend/mount, climb).
According to the criterion of interchangeability, synonyms are defined as words which are interchangeable in some contexts without any considerable alteration in denotational meaning.
According to this definition we can divide the synonyms into total synonyms and contextual or context-dependent synonyms. Total synonymy is synonymy where the members of a synonymic set can replace each other in any given context, without the slightest alteration in denotational or connotational components of meaning (noun - substantive). Contextual synonyms are similar in meaning only under some specific distributional conditions (buy - get are not treated as synonyms but they are synonymous in the following examples: I’ll go and buy some bread - I’ll go and get some bread). But it should be borne in mind that words synonymous in some lexical contexts may display no synonymity in others (The rainfall in April was exceptionalor The rain in April was abnormal. -My son is exceptional; my son is abnormal).
So we may define synonyms as words different in their sound-form, but similar in their denotational meaning or meanings and interchangeable at least in some contexts.
The subjects prominent for a community tend to attract a large number of synonyms (AmE money - beans, bucks, the chips, do-re-me, the needful). This phenomenon is called the law of synonymic attraction. Another phenomenon is known as radiation of synonyms.It means that when a particular word is given a transferred meaning its synonyms tend to develop along parallel lines (overlook as look with a evil eye upon from which developedin 1596 deceive.Half a century later we find oversee in the meaning of deceive).
English is very rich in synonyms having different sources.
A number of words in synonymic sets are usually of Latin and French origin (see, behold (OE), view, observe, notice, remark, note, perceive). There are several patterns of synonymic sets in English. Double-scale patterns - native and Latin (brotherly - fraternal) or native and Greek or French (answer - reply; fiddle - violin). These synonyms differ in their stylistic reference: the native words are usually colloquial whereas the borrowed words are bookish. Triple-scale patterns - native, French and Latin or Greek (begin (start) - commence - initiate; rise - mount - ascend) where the native words are felt as colloquial, the borrowings from Latin or Greek refer to bookish style, the French stand between them.
Synonyms are created not only through borrowing but by means of all word-forming processes:set expressions (to continue - to go on, to abandon - to give up, to enter - to come in, to postpone - to put off, to lift - to pick up; to laugh - to give a laugh, to walk - to take a walk, to smoke - to have a smoke), shortenings(microphone - mike, memorandum - memo, popular - pop), conversion(laughter-laugh, await-wait, amongst-among).
We may regard euphemismsas a source of synonymy too. Euphemisms are words with more pleasant connotational component of meaning substituting the words of the same denotational meaning but having less pleasant or offensive connotation (naked - in one’s birthday suit, sweat-perspiration, to die - to be no more, to lose one’s life, to breathe one’s last-to go the way of all flesh-to pass away; God - for goodness sake! Goodness gracious! Good Lord! By Love!; devil - Old Nick).
There are many cases of similarity of meaning easily confused with synonymy. Paronymsare sometimes taken as words identical in their sound-form and meaning (to affect: to influence - to effect: to result in).
Traditionally antonyms are defined as words that have opposite meanings. This definition is open to criticism. The latest linguistic investigations emphasise that antonyms are similar as words belonging to the same part of speech and to the same semantic field, having the same grammatical meaning and functions, as well as similar collocations. Like synonyms antonyms are interchangeable at least at some contexts [hot in its figurative meaning «angry, excited» is chiefly combined with the names of unpleasant emotions: hot resentment, hot scorn; its antonym cold occurs with the same words]. Unlike synonyms antonyms do not differ in style, or emotional colouring (they express, as a rule, emotional characteristics of the same intensity). So antonyms are two or more words belonging to the same part of speech, contrary or contradictory in meaning, and interchangeable at least at some contests.
Almost every word can have one or more synonyms; comparatively few have antonyms because not all notions can be opposed to one another. Antonyms are primarily found in adjectives, nouns expressing quality and state.
It should be noted, that as words are polysemantic one and the same word may have different antonyms [light bag - heavy bag; light colours - dark colours].
Generally we may divide antonyms into 2 groups: absolute and derivational. Absolute antonyms are subdivided into antonyms properwhere opposition is gradual(cold (cool) - (warm) hot; large - little or small),complementarieshaving a binary opposition(dead-alive, single-married (not is possible),conversivesdenoting one and the same referent from different points of view (to sell - to buy, to give-to receive). Derivational antonymsmay be affixal (happy-unhappy, logical-illogical) or suffixal (hopeful - hopeless).
Hyponymy, the relationship of inclusion, organises words into taxonomies, or hierarchical tree-type diagrams. Consider a common word like car:
The relations between car and vehicle are Type of X relations calledhyponymy, but if we encounter X part of type relations [car – hatchback, saloon, coupe] we regard them as meronymy.
In the hyponymic relation car is said to be a hyponymof vehicle, while vehicle is thesuperordinate term. Car, van, and lorry are called co-hyponyms. The whole list of co-hyponyms (car, van, lorry, bus, motorcycle, etc.) is called lexical set. The larger groupings, such as all the words under the heading modes of transport are usually called lexical fields. These lexical fields are the realisation of the notion ofsemantic fieldsas semantic fields contain only concepts, lexical fields contain real words; semantic fields are divisions within the general «semantic space» that is available to languages to express reality, «to word the world», the related words and multi-word units in any given lexical field in any given language show us how that language has divided the semantic space [in English there are two demonstrative pronouns this (these) - «near and immediate» and that (those) «distant and remote»; in Spanish there are three pronouns denoting things that are near, not so near but not remote, and remote].