Componential Analysis

Topics: Semantics, Family, Linguistics Pages: 12 (2761 words) Published: June 19, 2012
Componential Analysis
Classical structuralism

0. Preliminaries

From previous study, it is known that linguistic analysis proceeds level by level, specifying in each case: the primitives of the level, the combinatorial operations and rules, and finally a representation of the utterance on that level. In the particular case of the semantic level, one must specify: a) the sense components , the constructional rules for building complex meaning out of the more elementary meanings and a semantic representation of words and sentences. Lexical semantics precisely contributes an interpretation of phrases like: arrow, student, novel, etc. Structuralist semantics worked under the at the time novel hypothesis that meanings are decomposable, and proposed two complementary methods of semantic analysis: componential analysis (a paradigmatic method) and distributional analysis (a syntagmatic method). In the coming lectures, stress is laid on the development of componential analysis, starting with the classical structuralist period

1. Componential Analysis (CA)
1.1 History. It is probably true to say that, currently, the majority of semanticians implicitly or explicitly adopt a version of CA. The earliest and most influential proponents in the post Saussurean tradition were Hjelmslev and Jakobson. Both believed that the principles that Troubetzkoy (1939) had introduced into phonology could be, and should, be extended into semantics. Foremost among European theorists of CA are linguists like Greimas, Pottier, Coseriu. In the US, CA appears to have developed independently. It was proposed by anthropologists, as a technique for describing the vocabulary of kinship terms in different languages. (See Goodenough (1963), Lounsbury (1964)). Only later was it taken up and generalized by Nida (1964, 1975), Weinreich (1963), Katz and Fodor (1963), Katz (1972), a.o.

1.2. Main assumption:

(1)The sense of every lexeme can be analyzed in terms of more general sense components, some, or all, of which will be common to several lexemes in the vocabulary.

Aims of the method: discover the elementary units of meaning, the invariants of the semantic level, or perhaps the “minimal units”, the primes of the level. show the systematicity of the vocabulary, by revealing the various relations (similarity, incompatibility) holding between the lexical items.

Methodologically, CA exploits the hypothesis of the isomorphism of the linguistic levels, a hypothesis which invites a transfer of methods from one level to another. The methodological transfer, advocated by Hjelmslev, Coseriu, etc. is from phoneme to the word: The analogy between the phoneme and the word is apparent in the following properties they share:

(2)a. The lexeme, just like the phoneme may differ only with respect to some distinctive feature from some other lexeme:

(i)stallion: mare
SEXmale: female

(3)b. The same opposition is found in many pairs of lexical items; these pairs establish a correlation in the lexicon, just as there are correlations in the phonological system:

(i)SEXmale: female
stallion: mare
boy: girl
he: she
he-goat: she-goat
jack-ass: jenny-ass
tom-cat: tabby-cat
actor: actress
usher: usherette

(4)c. Like phonological oppositions, semantic oppositions may be neutralized, with the unmarked, extended term covering the semantic space named by the opposition. Here are a few examples where the opposition is neutralized, respectively functional

MAN (human)OLD (age)

(i)a. All men are born equal.
b. All men dislike women’s tears.
(ii)a. “How old is the baby?” “Two days old.”
b. He didn’t consider himself old, even if he was past his prime.

(5)d. Lexical semantics adopts...
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