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Evaluating semantic similarity and sameness in studies of polysemy and synonymy. Jarno Raukko (U. Helsinki). For a full version of the PPT, see handout distributed Oct 28, 2010. SKY webpage version. Examples. Are thrifty and stingy synonyms? EXPECTED ANSWER: ”Well, not quite.”

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slide1

Evaluating semantic similarity and sameness in studies of polysemy and synonymy

Jarno Raukko (U. Helsinki)

slide3

Examples

Are thrifty and stingy synonyms?

EXPECTED ANSWER:

”Well, not quite.”

2. Are violin and fiddle synonyms?

EXPECTED ANSWER:

”Well, almost.”

(SYNONYMY)

3. Does back have the same meaning in

My back hurts and

I came back?

EXPECTED ANSWER:

”Not at all. Different.”

4. Does back have the same meaning in

I came back and

I got it back?

EXPECTED ANSWER:

”Well, almost.”

(POLYSEMY)

slide4

Relevance of semantic similarity (vs. difference)

  • In synonymy: you expect similarity for a pair/(set) of items to be of interest
  • In polysemy: primarily, you expect difference for a pair/(set) of items to be of interest; secondarily, you group items according to similarity and difference
slide6

synonymy --- polysemy ?

  • Dirk Geeraerts tomorrow in Helsinki:
    • ”The problem of synonymy and the problem of polysemy are essentially the same”
  • Dylan Glynn & Justyna Robinson (eds, in press)
    • Polysemy and Synonymy. Corpus methods and applications in Cognitive Linguistics. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
slide7

synonymy

WORD 1 WORD 2

If their semantic content is similar or the same,

this is a case of synonymy.

If their semantic content is (very) different, a researcher of synonymy ignores this case.

slide8

polysemy

MEANING 1 MEANING 2

OF WORD 1 OF WORD 1

The starting point is that Word 1 has at least 2 (different) meanings.

If meanings 1 and 2 are very similar, this might be a case of vagueness.

If meanings 1 and 2 are totally different (and not related semantically), this might be a case of homonymy.

If meanings 1 and 2 are somewhat different but somehow relatable (or a bit similar), this is probably a case of polysemy.

henceforth W = word M = meaning

slide9

scale of similarity: synonymy

The meaning of W1 and W2 is…

THE SAME --------------------------------- DIFFERENT

perfectnear-weakNOT

synonymysynonymysynonymyWORTH

fullsemi-quasi-DISCUSSION

synonymysynonymysynonymy

slide10

scale of similarity: polysemy

The meaning of M1 and M2 (of W1) is…

THE SAME --------------------------------- very DIFFERENT

twovague-polysemyhomonymy

instancesness(ambiguity)

of the same

meaningtwo instancesinstances

of the same of different (yet related)

meaning type meaning types

main question
Main question
  • Is semantic similarity somehow different when we look at polysemy than we look at synonymy?
differences so far
Differences so far
  • Which is the default, similarity or difference?
  • In synonymy, we idealize on the extreme of the scale, but mainly look at the part of the scale which is (fairly) close to the extreme.
  • In polysemy, we operate pretty much on the whole scale, with focus on the middle.
slide13

synonymy --- polysemy ?

  • when you study synonymy, the polysemy of the items gets in the way
    • can you ever say “W1 and W2 are synonymous”?
    • should you always say “Mx of W1 and My of W2” are synonymous?
  • when you study polysemy, you often use synonyms to talk about meanings
    • “Are get ‘receive’ and get ‘arrive’ meanings of the same verb?”
slide14

synonymy --- polysemy ?

  • Synonymy occurs when meaning is shared (but form differs)
  • Polysemy occurs when form is shared (but meaning differs)
  • Synonymy is a relational lexical-semantic property that unites (parts of the semantic potential of) “accidentally” coinciding words
    • The forms of words involved in the synonymy relationship are arbitrary (although the relationships might be non-arbitrary, cf. Levin this morning)
    • The semantic value (that is shared) is motivating enough that two or more forms coincide on it
    • It is typical that one meaning can be expressed with two different words.
slide15

synonymy --- polysemy ?

  • Polysemy is a semantic property of one word at a time that unites meanings. The relationship between them is motivated, but it is only sometimes predictable.
    • It is not accidental or arbitrary that words acquire polysemy. It is in their nature. :-)
    • It is typical for semantic value to be flexible, extended, and “multiplied”.
    • Polysemy is about categorization, both between words (W1 covers a semantic territory) and within a word (M1 and M2 are categories too).
  • One form : One meaning
    • a principle that cognition may strive for / take as a default
    • synonymy breaks it
    • polysemy breaks it
slide16

synonymy --- polysemy ?

  • The role of co(n)text
    • You can evaluate synonymy in identical co(n)texts:
      • I like to play the fiddle in bars. I like to play the violin in bars.
    • Usually you evaluate polysemy in non-identical co(n)texts
      • I got to Zabriskie Point. I got to a point in my life where…
    • But you can use identical co(n)texts as well.
    • I got to be the last one. I got to be the last one.
slide17

evaluating

  • To study shades of semantic similarity, we need to evaluate it.
  • A corpus cannot tell us if two instances are semantically similar
    • It requires human judgement
  • The main use of evaluating in this paper:
    • How informants / test subjects / speakers
      • evaluate the semantic similarity (or difference)
      • of linguistic items in a more or less experimental setting (e.g., similarity rating test)
    • ≈ Data elicitation ≈ Population test
evaluating
evaluating
  • quantitative:
    • Estimate the degree of synonymy

(or semantic distance between two meanings in polysemy)

  • qualitative:
    • Justify / explain / explicate

the nature of / the reason for

semantic similarity

evaluating takes place in real life as well
evaluating takes place in real life as well
  • synonymy (examples)
    • in linguistic production, you e.g. estimate which of the near-synonyms might suit your needs best
    • in comprehension, you e.g. estimate whether near-synonyms that you have encountered refer to the same semantic value
    • in communication, when you negotiate meaning, you e.g. operate with synonymous alternatives
  • polysemy (examples)
    • in production, you e.g. apply words to new contexts
    • in comprehension, you e.g. approximate meanings according to related meanings of the same word
    • jokes often exploit polysemy
    • polysemy may cause misunderstandings
    • in communication, when you negotiate meaning, you e.g. cross-check with polysemy of other words
slide20

(Back to experiments/elicitation.) Expected difference between synonymy and polysemy, 1

  • If an informant is asked to rate the semantic similarity/difference of two words,
    • the very fact that they are different words might cause her/him to presuppose that there is at least some semantic difference.
    • Therefore, rating two words ”semantically identical” requires a marked choice.
    • However, if the informant realizes that the researcher is after synonymy, then evaluating W1 and W2 as semantically similar is more likely.
slide21

Expected difference between synonymy and polysemy, 2

  • If an informant is asked to rate the semantic similarity/difference of two meanings of one word,
    • the very fact that they are uses/instances of the same word might cause her/him to presuppose that there is at least some semantic similarity.
    • Therefore, rating two words ”semantically totally/very different” requires a marked choice.
    • However, if the informant realizes that the researcher is after polysemy, then evaluating M1 and M2 as semantically different is more likely.
slide22

Factors that influence

  • In both cases (synonymy and polysemy)
    • it matters a great deal
      • Which test (type) we use
      • What the instructions (exact phrasings) are
      • Whether there is an example rating given by the researcher
      • What the selection of stimuli is
      • What the linguistic context of each stimulus is
      • Which types of cases have been placed in the beginning of the test (or, the order in general)
slide23

Factors that influence

  • Should we expect (total) consensus?
  • No. There will be subjective differences.
  • Why?
      • The nature of semantics:
        • Based on intersubjective convention
        • Based on negotiation and flexibility
        • Must allow for variability and variation
whitten al 1979 synonymy
Whitten & al. 1979 (synonymy)
  • “Indicate the degree to which two words have the same meaning by writing a digit from 1 to 7.”
      • 7 =excellent synonymy
      • 1 = poor synonymy
  • All 464 stimulus noun pairs were listed as synonyms in standard references.
  • The rated degree of synonymy ranged from 6.79 to 2.24. The median was 5.08.
  • If placed within context of nonsynonym pairs, the ratings for the low end might have been higher.
whitten al 1979 synonymy cont d
Whitten & al. 1979 (synonymy) cont’d
  • Stimulus pairs at the high end:
      • purchase – buy 6.79
      • lawyer – attorney 6.78
      • autumn – fall 6.72
      • penny – cent 6.71
      • taxi – cab 6.71
  • Stimulus pairs close to the median
      • college – university 5.12
      • output – yield 5.10
      • expert – authority 5.09
      • effort – attempt 5.08
      • servant – maid 5.08
      • soldier – warrior 5.07
whitten al 1979 synonymy cont d1
Whitten & al. 1979 (synonymy) cont’d
  • Stimulus pairs at the low end:
      • thunder – clap 2.72
      • patient – invalid 2.55
      • visit – chat 2.52
      • suburb – neighborhood 2.34
      • needle – spike 2.24
  • Although instructions said that all stimuli are nouns, some of these are more common as verbs: buy, purchase, visit, chat
  • The polysemy is obvious in many cases: fall, authority, clap, patient, invalid
whitten al 1979 synonymy cont d2
Whitten & al. 1979 (synonymy) cont’d
  • The main variable that they paid attention to was the order of the two stimuli: ½ of the informants got “forward order”, ½ got “back order”.
    • In 1979 one of their main aims was to study the structurings of the mental lexicon and lexical access.
    • Example: purchase => buy 6.72

buy => purchase 6.86

    • On average, perceived synonymy was affected by word order.
    • For 21 word pairs, the effect of the order was significant.
whitten al 1979 synonymy cont d3
Whitten & al. 1979 (synonymy) cont’d
  • Some of the 21 word pairs where the order played a significant role in the rating of the degree of synonymy:

motive => reason 6.28 reason => motive 5.56

quarter => fourth 6.24 fourth => quarter 5.00

mission => task 5.66 task => mission 4.84

era => age 5.80 age => era 4.60

appetite => hunger 5.18 hunger => appetite 4.24

nectar => honey 4.94 honey => nectar 3.68

aborigine => native 4.52 native => aborigine 3.22

  • Generalization: a more specific, more academic, and less polysemous word prompts a positive synonymy judgement more readily than vice versa.
whitten al 1979 synonymy cont d4
Whitten & al. 1979 (synonymy) cont’d
  • Variance (between informants)
    • Mostly .50–1.20 at the end of 50 most synonymous
      • Exceptionally high variance at the high synonymy end:
        • murder => homicide 2.75 (cf. homicide => murder 1.03)
    • Mostly 2.00–3.00 at the median of the scale
      • Exceptionally low variance: province => territory 1.55
      • Exceptionally high variance: congress => legislature 3.79
    • Mostly 2.50–4.00 at the end of 50 least synonymous
      • That is, there was little consensus at the lower end of the scale.
raukko 1994 polysemy
Raukko 1994 (polysemy)
  • “Decide whether the word get carries the same meaning or two different meanings in the sentences.”
    • 0 = the same meaning
    • 2 = somewhat different meaning
    • 4 = very different meaning

(heuristic post hoc: 4 might mean homonymy; 0 would refer to two instances of the same meaning type; typical polysemy would be 1...3)

raukko 1994 polysemy cont d
Raukko 1994 (polysemy)(cont’d)
  • Data from my 1994 test, see handout.
comparisons so far
Comparisons so far
  • Whitten & al. / synonymy
    • scale 1...7 (1 = very different meaning, 7 = same meaning)
    • synonymy ratings ranged 2.24...6.79
    • median 5.08 (most pairs were viewed at least somewhat synonymous)
  • Raukko / polysemy
    • scale 0...4 (0 = same meaning, 4 = very different meaning)
    • polysemy ratings ranged 0.45...3.13
    • average rating 1.55, median 1.34 (most pairs were viewed as having fairly similar but not identical meaning)
comparisons so far1
Comparisons so far
  • Whitten & al. / synonymy
    • informants saw synonymy where they were supposed to
  • Raukko / polysemy
    • informants did not see large meaning difference for the most part => get is polysemous, not homonymous
    • they saw some similarities, some differences, as predicted => they saw polysemy
  • both
    • differing degrees of similarity were apparent
    • many ratings make sense, some don’t
    • method is useful but there are skewing effects and irreliability in several details of the setting
conclusions so far
Conclusions so far
  • In both synonymy and polysemy studies, semantic intuitions vary.
  • In both synonymy and polysemy studies, finding a scale of semantic similarity is useful.
    • Cf. Sandra & Rice 1995: 125
      • “[researchers of prepositional polysemy] cannot propose extremely fine-grained distinctions without bothering about empirical data”
      • “language users’ mental representation [...] is [in fact] characterized by a high degree of granularity”
quantitative qualitative
quantitative => qualitative
  • Whitten & al’s and Raukko’s similarity rating tests did not include informants justifying and explaining their ratings.
  • E.g., Liu (this symposium) reports tests with informants explaining their choices.
  • In Raukko’s study, qualitative results come from other types of tests
    • sorting test: (1) combine stimuli into categories, (2) give names to categories, etc.
    • production test: (1) produce examples of the use of polysemy, (2) explain links you find between them, etc.
  • Vanhatalo 2005
vanhatalo 2005 synonymy
Vanhatalo 2005 (synonymy)
  • her PhD, The use of questionnaires in exploring synonymy
  • several types of tests
    • choose most likely components
    • rate components
    • choose better alternative (cf. Liu)
    • complete as sentences (only the word given)
    • define typical frames
    • spell out semantic differences
vanhatalo 2005 cont d
Vanhatalo 2005 (cont’d)
  • several factors investigated
    • 18 Finnish verbs of “nagging”, 17 Estonian verbs of nagging
      • the gender and age of the portrayed speaker (the subject of “nag”)
      • the degree of irritation of the portrayed speaker and hearer
      • the volume of the vocal act
    • 2-4 Finnish adjectives ‘important, central, crucial, significant’: open questions mainly
vanhatalo 2005 cont d1
Vanhatalo 2005 (cont’d)
  • main results (Vanhatalo 2005: 40-45): the questionnaire method
    • helped to trace differences in the meaning and use of synonyms
      • many differences not documented before in dictionaries
      • sometimes consensus, sometimes deviation
      • useful especially for large groups of semantically similar words
      • (Vanhatalo did not use the method for placing synonyms on a scale of similarity)
      • both open questions and ratings should be used
vanhatalo 2005 cont d2
Vanhatalo 2005 (cont’d)
  • main results (Vanhatalo) (cont’d)
    • helped to find differences between related words in Estonian and Finnish
    • sociodemographic variables caused fairly little variation
      • age and education affected a bit more than gender
      • answers critique
vanhatalo 2005 cont d3
Vanhatalo 2005 (cont’d)
  • main results (Vanhatalo) (cont’d)
    • when both corpus method and questionnaire method were applicable, they yielded similar results
      • however, justification of results was different
      • questionnaire method dug up semantic properties that corpus method could not
      • in addition, can tackle low-frequency words
    • results of questionnaire method can be utilized in the production of electronic dictionaries
other studies of synonymy that employ experimental techniques
Other studies of synonymy that employ experimental techniques
  • Arppe & Järvikivi 2002, 2007
  • Divjak & Gries 2008
  • Liu, in this symposium
  • Oversteegen, in this symposium
  • etc.
polysemy qualitative
polysemy / qualitative
  • In experimental settings (e.g., the sorting test):
    • An informant gives a name to a meaning type, a category within polysemy
    • An informant spells out the semantic link between two meanings
    • An informant draws a hierarchy between macrotypes and microtypes (more general and more specific meaning types)
    • An informant pinpoints at cases difficult to evaluate
slide44
And…
  • to conclude…
evaluating semantic similarity
Evaluating semantic similarity
  • Both synonymy and polysemy operate on the scale of semantic similarity vs. difference.
  • Knowing about the degree of similarity is one useful property of both.
  • The way to find out about it is to use elicitation/experiments.
  • There is deviation in informants’ ratings.
  • A simple explanation: informants use different criteria for evaluation.
  • Solutions: let them explicate the criteria.

use multiple methods.

synonymy vs polysemy
Synonymy vs. polysemy
  • Evaluating semantic similarity between the meanings of two separate words (synonymy) is a matter of evaluating the match between two separate ”semantic events”
    • There should be mismatch, but there isn’t.
  • Evaluating semantic similarity/relatedness/ difference between the meanings of one word (polysemy) is a matter of comparing the applications of one single category.
    • There should be match between the semantic events.
synonymy vs polysemy1
Synonymy vs. polysemy
  • When you evaluate near-synonyms, you balance between (i) the ideal of what would constitute a perfect match and (ii) the nuances of the near-synonyms
  • When you evaluate meanings of a polysemous word, you balance between (i) the assumption that some meaning should be shared and (ii) the actual semantic profile of the uses
synonymy vs polysemy2
Synonymy vs. polysemy
  • In evaluating synonymy, the idealized equivalence can be taken from the semantic description of either of the two words.
  • In evaluating polysemy, the common factor (”core meaning”, ”shared meaning”) may be hard to find, or become too abstract.

Maybe the first task is easier?

slide49

General relevance

  • ”Insights in the equality or similarity of meaning may shed light on meaning itself” (Oversteegen / SKY 2010, Helsinki)
  • The question of “identical meaning” is a crucial basis for e.g. typology and language comparisons: the problem of tertium comparationis
    • Cf. Haspelmath’s plenary on Saturday
slide50

References

Arppe, Antti & Juhani Järvikivi 2007. Every method counts – Combining corpus-based and experimental evidence in the study of synonymy. Corpus Lingustics and Linguistic Theory 3: 2: 131-159.

Colombo, Lucia & Giovanni B. Flores d’Arcais 1984. The meaning of Dutch prepositions: a psycholinguistic study of polysemy. Linguistics 22: 51-98.

Divjak, Dagmar & Stefan Gries 2008: Clusters in the mind? Converging evidence from near-synonymy in Russian. The Mental Lexicon 3: 2: 188-213.

Geeraerts, Dirk – in this symposium

Liu, Dilin – in this symposium

Oversteegen, Eleonore – in this symposium

Raukko, Jarno 2003. Polysemy as flexible meaning: experiments with English get and Finnish pitää. In Brigitte Nerlich & al (eds) Polysemy. Flexible patterns of meaning in mind and language. 161-193.

CONTINUED...

references author s cont d contact information
References Author’scont’d contact information

Sandra, Dominiek & Sally Rice 1995. Network analyses of prepositional meaning: mirroring whose mind – the linguist’s or the language user’s? Cognitive Linguistics 6: 89-130.

Vanhatalo, Ulla 2005. Kyselytestit synonymian selvittämisessä (etc.) [The use of questionnaires in exploring synonymy, etc.] PhD thesis, U-Helsinki. http:/ethesis.helsinki.fi/julkaisut/hum/suoma/vk/vanhatalo/kyselyte.pdf

Whitten, William B. II, W: Newton Suter, and Michael L. Frank 1979. Bidirectional Synonym Ratings of 464 Noun Pairs. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 18: 109-127.

  • e-mail:

See handout and list of participants.

  • home postal address

See handout.

  • affiliation

Department of Modern Languages

Metsätalo (Unioninkatu 40 B)

FIN-00014 University of Helsinki

Finland

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