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Prepared by Joanna I. Omer Sense Relations II: Syntagmatic-. Pre-requisites for vocabulary building. 4. Lexical relations .

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4. Lexical relations

Assuming with Saussure that the meaning of a word is determined by its structural relations with other words, the best way to approach meaning is through investigation of the structural relations in the vocabulary of a language.

Semantic fields

Paradigmatic: animal – quadruped – horse – roan

Syntagmatic: horse – gallop, horse – ride, horse – whinny


Syntagmatic: relation between elements that form part of the same form, sequence, construction, etc. e.g.

Relation between s, p, and r in a form such as spring. Or between a subject and a verb in constructions such as Bill hunts.



Sense relation: any relation between lexical units within the semantic system of a language. E.g. synonymy, antonym, etc.


Semantic(adj.): connected with the meaning of words and sentences. (Richards; 2002, p. 477)

Semantics(N.): is the study of meaning, including the way words relate to the things that they refer to in the real world. Of relevance to language teaching is the meaning relationships between words- what are called semantic relations (sense relations).

(Thornbury; 2006, p. 203)


Sense relation:any relation between lexical units within the semantic system of a language.

Sense relations are of two main types;

‘Paradigmatic’ and ‘Syntagmatic’.


Paradigmatic relations; hold between items which can occupy the same position in a grammatical structure: e.g.

I saw a bird/sparrow

  • Syntagmatic sense relations; hold between items in the same grammatical structure. (Cruse; 2006. p.163-164)
sense relations
  • Paradigmatic
  • Syntagmatic
  • Paradigmatic sense relations

days of the week

TODAY IS _ _____. [Sunday



Wednesday. etc.]

sense relations1
  • Paradigmatic
  • Syntagmatic
  • Syntagmatic sense relations
  • Oder of following, agreement, etc.

I wrote a letter. vs. *A letter wrote me.

    • collocations is important class of syntagmatically related words.

Syntagmatic relations between individual items are as the following;

  • anomaly (e.g. a light green illness) and,
  • pleonasm (e.g. dental toothache).

(Cruse; 2006. p.164)

anomaly semantic
anomaly (semantic)

The term anomaly usually refers to cases where there is a conflict in domains of applicability.

Interacting meanings in a grammatically well-formed

expression intuitively do not ‘go together’ normally, as

in feeble hypotenuses.

Expressions like these are not necessarily uninterpretable;


anomaly in a literal interpretation of an expression is

often a sign that it is intended to be taken non-literally.

(Cruse; 2006. p.13)

anomaly semantic glossary 14
anomaly (semantic): Glossary 14

For instance,

it is hard to see how the notion of feebleness can be associated in any meaningful way with hypotenuses.

There are three degrees of anomaly that are sometimes called ‘inappropriateness’, paradox’, and ‘incongruity’, respectively.

As some anomalous expressions are more anomalous than others.



The least anomalous are those in which the anomaly

can be cured by replacing one of the elements with a


?My favourite cactus passed away while I was on holiday;

My favourite cactus died while I was on holiday.

(Cruse; 2006. p.14)



Somewhat odder are cases in which the anomaly can only be cured by substituting an element with a Super ordinate or a co-hyponym from the same domain:?I

heard a mouse barking;

I heard a dog/animal barking.


Oddest of all are cases in which none of these strategies effects an improvement: feeble hypotenuses.

There are several ways in which an expression may be

semantically odd (including pleonasm and zeugma),

(Cruse; 2006. p.14)

pleonasm :

This is a type of semantic anomaly where some aspect of meaning is felt to be unnecessarily duplicated.

For instance, in

?I kicked it with my foot. [with my foot ] is felt to be redundant because it contributes no extra meaning: ‘with the foot’ is an essential part of the meaning of kick.

?a female actress. [female]is redundant because ‘female’ is adequately signalled by -ess.

. (Cruse,2004; p.13-14)



I kicked it with my left foot. is not pleonastic, because although [kicked]incorporates the idea of ‘with the foot’, the noun [foot]is necessary to allow [left]to be specified. Such repetition does not necessarily lead to pleonasm.

That was very, very good is not pleonastic because the second very makes a distinctive contribution to the meaning by heightening the degree of goodness expressed.

(Cruse,2004; p.13-14)

ungrammaticality vs semantic abnormality
Ungrammaticality vs. semantic abnormality

We can show u the difference by only one example from a slide from internet.

* Slept children the.? The cat barked.

semantics and pragmatics
Semantics and Pragmatics


The study of the meaning of words, constructions, and utterances.

Divides into two parts:

  • meaning of individual words( lexical semantics )
    • one approach : how word meanings are related to each other.

hypernymy , hyponymy , antonyms , meronymy , synonyms etc.

semantics and pragmatics1
Semantics and Pragmatics
  • meaning of sentences
    • how meanings of individual words are combined.

( predicted from the meaning of the parts. )

    • collocations

sum of the meaning of the part + additional meaning

Ex : white wine, white skin.

    • idioms

the meaning of words and, the meaning of phrase is completely obscure.

Ex : kick the bucket – meaning : a process, dying.

2 definition of semantic abnormality
2. Definition of semantic abnormality

Semantic abnormality: refers to something which does not usually

occur in a particular context. So, it is a measure of unexpectedness.

Abnormality as defined in this way is context dependent.

  • semantic abnormality is;
    • sentence that semantic interpretation is incoherent.
    • Ex : Colorless green ideas sleep furiously. The cat barked.

Informants cannot quantify degrees of abnormality; but they can distinguish a fully normal sentence from one which is to some degree odd.

The following sentences 1. and 2. are arranged in order of normality:


a. It's tea-time for my pet rabbit.

b. It's tea-time for my pet scorpion.

c. It's tea-time for my pet amoeba.


a. The harpsichord needs re-tuning.

b. The jam-jars need re-tuning.

c. The banana needs re-tuning.

It perhaps ought to be pointed out here that an odd sentence is not necessarily meaningless, or incapable of conveying a message; nor is the case that such sentences never occur naturally. On the contrary, oddness of one sort or another is frequently a signal that an expressi0n is being used creatively, in a novel extension of its usual sense.

(Cruse, 1986. pp.11-12 )


principal varieties of semantic anomaly

  • Pleonasm


Kick it with one of your feet.

A female mother.

He was murdered illegally.

B . Dissonance

Refers to a semantic clash, involving two or more lexical items in the same sentence (or discourse).


Arthur is a married bachelor.

Let us drink time.

Pipe . . . ditties of no tone. (Keats: Ode on a Grecian Um)

Kate was very married. (Iris Murdoch: The Nice and the Good)

(Cruse, 1986. pp.12,13)


principal varieties of semantic anomaly

C. Improbability internet

  • The kitten drank a bottle of claret!
  • The throne was occupied by a pipe-smoking alligator!
  • Arthur runs faster than the wind!

principal varieties of semantic anomaly

D. Zeugma 21,

Is a type of semantic anomaly . It occurs when a single occurrence of an

expression has to be interpreted in two distinct ways simultaneously.


  • She was wearing a charming smile and a pair of slippers, He could well expire before his passport does.

The possibility of zeugma is one of a number of criteria for the diagnosis of the distinctness of lexical senses, and hence of ambiguity.

(Cruse, 1986. pp.192-193 )


They took the door off its hinges and went through it

Arthur and his driving licence expired last Thursday.,

He was wearing a scarf, a pair of boots, and a look of considerable embarrassment.“

normal sentences
Normal sentences

One for which it is easy to think of a situation in which it would constitute a normal utterance.

might well constitute an abnormal utterance in some particular context:

For instance;

I was born in Gateshead. {is a normal sentence, but would be odd as an answer to

- What time is it?


The following points are worth noting here as solution for such semantic abnormality:

(i) A pleonastic expression can be normalized by replacing one of its elements with something more specific:

- A female mother (odd), a lesbian mother? (nor-mal)

- Kick it with one of your feet (odd), - Kick it with your left foot. (normal).

(ii)A dissonance, can only be cured, if at all, by replacing one element by something less specific:

The cat balked (odd), The animal barked (normal).

(Cruse, 1986. pp. 21)


(iii) A zeugma can often be normalized by 'unyoking' the items that have

been inappropriately linked:


Arthur and his driving licence expired last Thursday,

Arthur and his driving licence should not be hitched simultaneously to a single occurrence of expire, as they involve different senses Separating them out cures the oddness:

Arthur expired last Thursday, his driving Iicence expired that day, too

  • Broad definition:

Words strongly associated with each other

    • Example: hospital, insurance
  • Narrow definition:

Two or more (consecutive) words functioning as a (syntactic or semantic) unit

    • Example: In broad daylight.
  • Collocation: a relation within a syntactic unit between individual lexical elements; e.g. computer collocates with hate in My computer hates me. Used especially where words specifically or habitually go together: e.g. blond collocates with hair in blond hair or their hair is blond; drunk with lord in as drunk as a lord; run with riot in run riot. Hence of idioms: e.g. blow and top are part of a ‘special collocation’ in She blew her top.
  • Collocation:(Choueka, 1988)

a sequence of two or more consecutive words, that has characteristics of a syntactic and semantic unit, and whose exact and unambiguous meaning or connotation cannot be derived directly from the meaning or connotation of its components.

  • A collocational restriction is any restriction on the collocability of one individual word with another.
types of collocations
Types of Collocations
  • Grammatical collocations
  • Semantical & lexical collocations
  • Grammatical collocations: refers to occurring combination of a dominant word (noun, adjective or verb) and a function word (often a preposition).

Typical verb collocations:abstain from, approve of (phrasal verbs)

Noun collocations: admiration for, amazement at

Adjective collocations: absent from, afraid of, angry with

Semantical & lexical collocations:

consists of a group of words (which have equal status set of collocates for a given word ) with certain meaning that occur together.


Run with object: a business, a company, a pizza parlour, etc.

why is collocation important
Why is collocation important?
  • Essential to meaning: you really do ‘know a word by the company it keeps’.
  • The link between typicality (correlates with frequency in a corpus) and naturalness fluency.
  • non-compositionality
  • non-substitutability
  • non-modifiability
  • non-translatable word for word

The meaning of the collocation cannot easily be predicted or derived from the meanings of its individual words or parts.

Example: in broad daylight

    • Literal meaning: during the day
    • Subtle meaning: with no attempt to hide one’s actions.


Near-synonyms cannot be substituted for the components of a collocation.


    • Strong is a near-synonym of powerful

strong tea ?powerful tea

  • in broad daylight
    • Can never be ?wide daylight

Many collocations cannot be freely modified with additional lexical material.

    • weapons of mass destruction --> ?weapons of massive destruction.

Non-translatable (word for word)

  • English:
    • make a decision ? take a decision
    • Kurdish?

(؟ برِيار بكة. - برِيار بدة.)

example classes
Example Classes
  • Names

Example: City University of New York

    • Different from: [a] university in the city of New York
  • Technical Terms

Example: head gasket

    • Part of a car’s engine
  • Verb Constructions

Example: to take a walk

example classes1
Example Classes
  • Phrasal verbs

Example: we make up new stories

    • Make: verb
    • Make up: invent
  • Noun Phrases

Example: weapons of mass destruction

  • Idioms

Example: kick the bucket


The term ‘idiom’ is usually applied to multi-word phrases that can only be understood in context.

E.g/In the mouth of the horse.


An idea suggested by a word in addition to its main meaning.

E.g/The word ‘professional’ has connotations of skill and excellence.

(Cruse, 1986)



Is an expression in which something is described by stating another thing with which it can be compared, without using function words.


Her words stabbed at his heart. = [the words did not actually stab, but their effect is compared to the stabbing of a knife.]


The act of naming something with a word; the actual object or idea to which the word refers.

  • Seretan: Induction of Syntactic Collocation Patterns from Generic Syntactic Relations (2005)
  • Richards, Jack C., Platt,J. and Platt, H.: Dictionary of Language Teaching & Applied Linguistics. (1992)
  • Matthews, P.H.: Concise Dictionary of Linguistics (2007)
  • Cruse, A.: A Glossary of Semantics and Pragmatics (2006)
  • Trask, R.L.: Language and Linguistics (2007)
  • Thornbury, S.: An A – Z of ELT; A Dictionary of Terms and Concepts (2006)
  • Cruse, D. A.: Lexical Semantics (1986).
  • Richards, J. C. and Schmidt, R.: Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics (2002)
  • Alexander, L.G. 1992. Longman English Grammar.