Lexical Semantics: Hyponyny Networks

Topics: Cell, Perception, Sense Pages: 6 (2011 words) Published: November 27, 2011
Question 2
Not all dictionary definitions contain classifiers, but many do, and in some cases when you look up the classifier itself, you find another even more general classifier within its definition. For example, you might like to think about the following definitions from the Collins English Dictionary.

Colostrum is the thin milky secretion from the nipples that precedes and follows true lactation. It consists largely of serum and white blood cells. A secretion is a substance that is released from a cell, especially a glandular cell, and is synthesized in the cell from simple substances extracted from the blood or similar fluid. Substance is (1) the tangible basic matter of which a thing consists; or (2) a specific type of matter, especially a homogeneous material with definite or fairly definite chemical composition. Matter is (1) that which makes up something, especially a physical object; material. What are the classifiers in these definitions? (Why is this question hard to answer? Can you change the definition to make it easier?) Draw a diagram to show the hyponymy chain you found in (a), with hyponyms shown below their classifiers. Can you think of any additional levels that you can put in the hyponymy chain above secretion? Add them. Sebum and saliva are co-hyponyms of colostrum. Add them to the diagram, along with two co-hyponyms for each level of the chain. Add distinguishers to your diagram, to differentiate each of the co-hyponyms you have added.

On an intuitive level it would seem a simple task to select the different classifiers within each of the above definitions however, several problems arise which belie this.
Colostrum is the easiest to deal with as it is the most specific of the four terms, although there is still potential for an error to be made. The only classifier in this description is 'secretion' as, according to Hudson (1995: 26) “the classifier … is the first common noun that follows is”[1]. Although this syntactic relationship is useful as a method of identification, it is not the reason 'secretion' is a classifier of 'colostrum'. Syntactic relationships exist between lexemes, not senses, and are governed by the relationships between senses, thus it is the latter that hyponymic networks represent. The classifier (C) is the concept that is superordinate to the sense in question (S1) in that S1 must possess enough characteristics of the classifier to make it a type of that concept, even if not a typical one, as well as distinguishers that serve to differentiate it from the classifier and any other co-hyponyms. More simply, S1 is a hyponym of C iff all S1 are a type of C, but not all C are S1 (op cit. 16).

Furthermore, classifiers for common nouns will always capture what S1 is, not how or why it is. In the case of 'colostrum' only 'secretion' performs this function: we can say that colostrum is a type of secretion. It is important, however, to refine the concept of 'what it is': if this is taken to include a material concept as well as a typical one, i.e., what it is made up of or consists of, there is more scope for what can be considered a classifier. Under this description both 'serum' and white blood cell' can be considered as classifiers of 'colostrum'. This does not seem to be correct though, as 'colostrum' is not a type of serum or white blood cell, nor does it possess enough of the characteristics of either to qualify as a hyponym. Therefore, in such cases we can eliminate concepts about the material of which a referent of the given sense consists as candidates for classifiers.

Having established the criteria for identifying classifiers it should now be easier to identify those for the remaining senses however, there are further difficulties. It is safe to say that 'substance' is the classifier of 'secretion' according to the above rule but the use of 'substance' twice in the definition provides potential for confusion: according to the definition for 'secretion' above we...
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