In the 1930s, the structuralist notion of paradigmatic sense relations was applied to an approach called lexical field theory. Based on research in historical semantics, Jost Trier (1931) introduced the term lexical field (or semantic field) that he defined as a set of semantically related words whose meanings delimit each other. Thus, the meaning of a word can only be fully determined in terms of contrasts in which it stands with other words in the field. From a diachronic perspective, this means that any change in the meaning of one word affects the meaning of other words to which it is related. According to Trier, the members of a field cover a whole conceptual or objective domain without any gaps or overlaps, i.e. the boundaries of a lexical field can be clearly delimited. Criticism of this conception of lexical fields brought about differentiations and modifications of lexical field theory and led in the development of componential analysis.
Exercises on lexical fields
- The lexicon: a mosaic without gaps and overlaps?
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