Towards an Understanding of Semantic Prosody. 李鑫 2011.4.8. You shall know a word by the company it keeps. —J. R. Firth.
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E.g. “Your kind help caused my success in the exam.” “I would like to thank my supervisor for his persistent help and advice.”
(Morley & Partington 2009)
A semantic prosody is attitudinal, and on the pragmatic side of the semantics/pragmatics continuum. …It expresses something close to the “function” of the item – it shows how the rest of the item is to be interpreted functionally. Without it, the string of words just “means” – it is not put to use in a viable communication. (Sinclair, 1996: 87-88)Various definitions
A semantic prosody refers to a form of meaning which is established through the proximity of a consistent series of collocates, often characterisable as positive or negative, and whose primary function is the expression of the attitude of its speaker or writer towards some pragmatic situation. (Louw, 2000: 56)
The term “prosody” was borrowed from Firth who used it, as in “prosodic phonology”, to refer to phonological coloring which was capable of transcending segmental boundaries. E.g. Amen: the vowels are imbued with a nasal quality because of their proximity to the nasals m and n. (Louw, 1993)
The concept of SP was developed by post-Firthian corpus linguists -- Sinclair, Louw, Stubbs, Partington and Hunston.Origin
Semantic prosodies are not merely connotational.
Whereas knowledge of connotations is often a form of schematic knowledge of repeatable events, semantic prosodies are more strictly functional or attitudinal. (Louw, 2000)
Connotation is a feature of a single word/item, while SP resides in the collocational patterns of items in a text.
Connotation is more evident and less hidden/sutble than SP. (Morley & Partington, 2009)
E.g. wedding, funeral v.s. happen/build upClarification
Sinclair’s model of ELU (extended lexical units): The units of meaning are somewhere between words and sentences. “So strong are the co-occurrence tendencies of words, word classes, meanings and attitudes that we must widen our horizons and expect the units of meanings to be much more extensive and varied than is seen in a single word.”(Sinclair, 1996)
E.g. “the naked eye”
Collocation: N-1: with, to; N-2: see, visible, invisible; N-3: evident, undetectable
Colligation: preposition+the naked eye
Semantic preference: visibility
Semantic prosody: difficulty (through a larger context)
Compound lexical item/ELU: visibility+preposition+the naked eye
They interact with each other: S preference, contributes powerfully to building S prosody; S prosody dictates the general environment which constrains the preferential choices of the node item. (Partington, 2004)
Semantic preference: medicine (treatment, hysterectomy, brain surgery etc.), tests (examinations, training) and change (dramatic changes, a historic transformation among others); involuntariness (must, forced to and required to)
Semantic prosody: NEG
Stubbs: NEG; POS; neutral/mixed prosody (Stubbs, 1996)
After some initial confusion, corpus linguists have reached a general agreement in appreciating the POS-NEG distinction at the heart of the notion of SP. The POS-NEG distinction is the essential simplicity at the heart of a complex system. (Partington, 2004)
e.g. place—informal invitation (Sinclair, 1996)
Caution: NEG collocates don’t necessarily result in NEG SP.
e.g. alleviate, heal, relieve
Two ways of viewing SP: the lexical priming perspective vs. the discoursal perspective
SP is associated with the lexical item and expresses itself in patterns of co-occurrence. Lexical items carry with them a set of suggestions on how to use them, on how they normally interact with other items—they have “primings” (Hoey). Among these is the SP.
E.g. speaker’s NEG attitude-- wish to say a certain situation is bad because it is dangerous— “fraught with” danger, not “brimming with” danger
c.f. I choose “fraught with” because my communicative competence informs me that its SP primings allow it to be used in this way. (Morley & Partington, 2009)
Stubbs argues that, since prosodies express speaker attitude, we should avoid using the term semantic, which relates to aspects of meaning which are independent of speakers. However, prosodies are independent of individual speakers, otherwise communication would be impossible. Thus the potential of an item for engaging in the expression of favourable or unfavourable evaluation is part of its basic communicative function. (Partington, 2004)
A working definition is needed before we conduct any serious empirical research on SP.
More SP studies about languages other than English are yet to be conducted.
Investigating SP on translated language?Implications
Louw, B. (1993). Irony in the text or insincerity in the writer? The diagnostic potential of semantic prosodies. In M. Baker, G. Francis & E. Tognini-Bonelli (Eds.), Text and Technology (pp. 157-176). Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Louw, B. (2000). Contextual prosodic theory: Bringing semantic prosodies to life, Words in Context: A tribute to John Sinclair on his retirement. (pp. 48-94). Birmingham: University of Birmingham.
Morley, J., & Partington, A. (2009). A few Frequently Asked Questions about semantic or evaluative prosody. International journal of corpus linguistics, 14(2), 139-158.
Partington, A. (1998). Patterns and meanings. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: Benjamins.
Partington, A. (2004). " Utterly content in each others company": Semantic prosody and semantic preference. International journal of corpus linguistics, 9(1), 131-156.
Sinclair, J. (1996). The search for units of meaning. Textus, 9(1), 75-106.
Stubbs, M. (1996). Text and corpus analysis. Oxford: Blackwell.
Xiao, R., & McEnery, T. (2006). Collocation, semantic prosody, and near synonymy: A cross-linguistic perspective. Applied Linguistics, 27(1), 103-129.
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