Sense relations

The different types of sense relations can be described with the help of the logical operations of implication and contradiction.

A logical implication is a metalinguistic relation between two propositions p and q: q logically follows from p (i.e. p implies q), if every semantic interpretation that makes p true automatically makes q true. This concept of implication plays a crucial role in describing the semantic relations of synonymy and hyponymy.

Synonymy is the semantic relation between two words that have the same (or nearly the same) meaning. Referring to the definition of logical implication, synonymy corresponds to a bilateral implication or equivalence: Two expressions A and B in the same syntactic position are synonymous if A implies B and B implies A (e.g. movie-film). Thus, synonymy presupposes the substitutability of the given expressions in all contexts. These expressions share the same denotational and connotational meaning and are referred to as complete synonyms. However, most synonyms are partial synonyms and differ with regard to their connotations.

In contrast to synonymy, hyponymy corresponds to a unilateral implication: Two expressions A and B in the same syntactic position are hyponyms if A implies B and the converse does not hold (e.g. tulip-flower). Thus, hyponymy can be viewed as the semantic relation of subordination, i.e. the specification of semantic content: An item A is a hyponym of B, if the meaning of A is included in the meaning of B, but not vice versa. The superordinate term is referred to as hyperonym, while hyponyms that share the same hyperonym are called co-hyponyms. Besides hyponymy, a second important hierarchical sense relation is called meronymy. Meronymy refers to part-whole relationships that hold between words on different hierarchical levels (e.g. hand-arm). Whereas hyponymy involves a relationship of inclusion between different classes, this is not the case with meronymy.

Synonymy and hyponymy contrast with various types of semantic opposites. The most important sense relations that are based on the logical relation of contradiction are antonymy, complementarity, conversion, and incompatibility. The term complementarity (binary antonymy, nongradable antonymy) refers to an either-or relationship between the two terms of a pair of semantic opposites. It is a binary relationship in which the meaning of one lexeme is equivalent to the negation of the other lexeme (e.g. dead-alive). In contrast to this binary relation, gradable antonyms are restricted to gradable expressions that usually correlate with opposite members of a continuum (e.g. good-bad). This type of relationship is strongly connected to the notion of comparison, i.e. some normative relative term is needed (a small elephant is a large animal). The third and fouth type of semantic opposites are characterized by a reciprocal semantic relationship between pairs of words: While converses (relational opposites) describe the same situation from different perspectives (e.g. doctor-patient), reversives (directional opposites) involve a change of direction, especially a motion in different directions (e.g. open-shut). Finally, the notion of incompatibility refers to a non-binary semantic opposition of two expressions that are semantically similar yet differ in a single semantic feature and are thus incompatible (e.g. red-blue). Since in most cases co-hyponyms are semantically incompatible in a given context (e.g. tulip-rose), the relationship between them is also referred to as incompatibility.

Exercises on sense relations

small or large?

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