Constructional profiles as a measure of synonymy antonymy happiness and sadness in russian
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“Constructional Profiles as a Measure of Synonymy/Antonymy: ‘happiness’ and ‘sadness’ in Russian”. Laura A. Janda University of Tromsø Valery Solovyev University of Kazan’. “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”.

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Laura A. Janda University of Tromsø Valery Solovyev University of Kazan’

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“Constructional Profiles as a Measure of Synonymy/Antonymy: ‘happiness’ and ‘sadness’ in Russian”

Laura A. Janda

University of Tromsø

Valery Solovyev

University of Kazan’

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

--opening line from Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina



  • Constructional Profiles

    • What are they

    • Constructions relevant for ‘sadness’ & ‘happiness’

  • Sadness synonyms

    • Dictionaries vs. Hierarchical Cluster Analysis

  • Antonyms: Happiness synonyms

    • Dictionaries vs. Hierarchical Cluster Analysis

  • Combined analysis of synonyms and antonyms

Where the data come from

  • Russian National Corpus ( >120M words

  • Biblioteka Maksima Moškova ( >600M words

  • 500 sentences extracted and coded for use of preposition & case

Constructional Profile

  • A constructional profile is “the distribution of relative frequencies of constructions associated with a given word”

  • There are about 70 constructions of the form “[(preposition) [noun]case]” in Russian

  • The null hypothesis is that all nouns should have equal frequency in all constructions

  • But only about 6 (or fewer) constructions are needed to characterize a given noun

  • Example of constructional profile of vostorg ‘ecstasy’






‘Sadness’ in Russian

  • grust’, melanxolija, pečal’, toska, unynie, xandra

  • The constructions they appear in:

    • v + Acc ‘into’

    • v + Loc ‘in’

    • Inst: Agent

    • s + Inst ‘with’

    • ot + Gen ‘from’

    • (Direct Object)

    • (Other Constructions)

Graphs will show only these five,

as percentages

Hierarchical Cluster Analysis

is computed from all data

v + Acc ‘into’

Nesmotrja na saxarnuju bolezn’, on soxranjal ešče umstvennye sposobnosti, no smert’ blizkix ljudej povergla ego v krajnjuju grust’.

[Not-looking on sugar disease-Acc, he retained still mental faculties-Acc, but death-Nom near people-Gen cast him-Acc in extreme sadness-Acc.]

‘In spite of his diabetes, he continued to retain all his mental faculties, but the death of people near to him cast him into extreme sadness.’

v + Loc ‘in’

Ej na um ne pridet, čto suprug iznyvaet v toske o poterjannyx minutax truda i vdoxnovenija.

[Her-Dat on mind-Acc not comes, that spouse-Nom pines-away in sadness-Loc about lost minutes-Loc labor-Gen and inspiration-Gen.]

‘It doesn’t occur to her that her spouse is suffering in sadness over the minutes of work and inspiration that he has lost.’

Inst: Agent

Kto iz živuščix, tomimyj unyniem, ne predavalsja takomu pereboru ne sostojavšixsja žiznennyx variantov?

[Who-Nom from living-Gen, tormented sadness-Inst, not indulged such inventory-Dat not happened life’s variants-Gen?]

‘Who among mortals tormented by sadness, has not indulged in an inventory of all the things that didn’t happen in their life?’

s + Inst ‘with’

Ox, smertyn’ka moja prixodit, podumal Arefa s unyniem.

[Oh, death mine-Nom approaches, thought Arefa-Nom with sadness-Inst.]

‘Oh, my death is approaching, thought Arefa with sadness.’

ot + Gen ‘from’: Healing from disease

Samoe lučšee lekarstvo ot xandry èto čtenie.

[The best medicine-Nom from sadness-Gen that reading-Nom.]

‘The best cure for sadness is reading.’

ot + Gen ‘from’:Cause

Podumajte, ètot čelovek umer ot melanxolii!

[Think, that person-Nom died from sadness-Gen!]

‘Just imagine, that person died of sadness!’

The ‘sadness’ nouns

  • They can’t all be the same:

    Uxodiš’, i ja gljažu vsled tebe s grust’ju, no bez toski.

    [Depart, and I-Nom look following you-Dat with sadness-Inst, but without sadness-Gen.]

    ‘You leave and I watch you go with sadnessgrust’, but without sadnesstoska.’

  • Dictionaries differ on how synonyms are grouped:

    • Most usual grouping: grust’, pečal’, toska vs. melanxolija, unynie, xandra

    • Disagreements over unynie:

      • Apresjan et al. 1997: unynie goes with pečal’

      • Aleksandrovna 1989: unynie goes with melanxolija and xandra

      • Evgen’evna 2001: unynie goes with grust’ and xandra

      • Švedova 2003: unynie goes with grust’, melanxolija and xandra


Hierarchical Cluster







‘Happiness’ in Russian

  • likovanie, naslaždenie, radost’, udovol’stvie, vostorg

  • Antonyms are words that are virtually identical, but differ in one value

  • ‘Happiness’ nouns focus on the same constructions in their constructional profiles as ‘sadness’ nouns

  • Dictionaries differ widely in grouping of ‘happiness’ synonyms

    • Aleksandrova 1998: naslaždenie & udovol’stvie vs. radost’ & likovanie vs. vostorg

    • Švedova 2003 and Abramov 1994: naslaždenie & udovol’stvie vs. likovanie, radost’ & vostorg


Hierarchical Cluster






‘Sadness’ & ‘Happiness’

Hierarchical Cluster

Group 1


Group 3













  • Constructional profiles give us data on the behavior of synonyms/antonyms

  • Constructional profile data can be used in Hierarchical Cluster Analysis

  • Hierarchical Cluster Analysis shed light on the relations between synonyms and antonyms

Post-conclusion: Was Tolstoy right?

  • We can’t say for sure, but

    • ‘sadness’ and ‘happiness’ nouns have a lot in common

    • there are more “outliers” among ‘sadness’ nouns

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