Sense relation is “a semantic relation between units of meaning” (Cruse, 2011). In other words, it enables us to know the relationship between words and expressions of a language. Sense relation also reveals the “regularizing and structuring tendencies” (Cruse, 2011) in the creation of vocabulary items of a language as they are not formed arbitrarily. Such patterns in the formation of words give rise to sense relations.
The easiest way to examine sense relation is to form a lexical pair and see whether a significant relationship between the two words arises. Three significant or major types of sense relation have been found out and they are paradigmatic, syntagmatic and derivational sense relations. In this essay the distinction between the former two would be discussed.
Paradigmatic sense relation
Paradigmatic sense relation allows a content word at a particular point within a sentence to be substituted by or contrasted with content words which belong to the same semantic category. Content words are the opposite of function words and they are responsible for carrying the content or meaning of a sentence, while function words are used to develop grammatical relationships with other words in a sentence.
A semantic category can be considered as a field in which a number of semantic options (words here) are available for occupying a particular position in a sentence. Consider the example below:
I bought a/an ________ (hamster, parrot, kitten, lizard…) for my sister.
The blank represents the head in the noun phrase and a noun is required. The options “hamster, parrot, kitten, lizard” in the example all share the same semantic category: pet. The main area of study in paradigmatic sense relations thus “involves words belonging to the same syntactic category” (Cruse, 2011) as each content word in a sentence can be filled with a number of words that are from the same semantic field in theory, as illustrated in the pet example above. Paradigmatic sense relations can further be broken into three types: hyponymy, meronymy and synonymy.
Hyponymy establishes a “kind of” relation. Hyponyms are the specific realization of a more general term or semantic category, the superordinate. The pet example illustrates this “kind of” relation as each four of the creatures is considered a pet.
Hamster Parrot Kitten Lizard (4 hyponyms here)
There are two ways which reveal that a word is hyponymous to a superordinate:
Transitivity: Hyponymy is a transitive relation. If a kitten (A) is a kind of cat (B), and if a cat is a pet (C), then a kitten is necessarily a pet. (A) can be said as a hyponym of the superordinate (C), provided that “consistency of construals” is available and a “prototypical hyponym should fall within the category boundaries of the superordinate” (Cruse, 2011). (A) cannot be accepted as hyponymous to (C) if it is not a typical (B) in the first place, as in the case of a tiger: although a tiger is a cat, it is not a typical one so it cannot be distinguished as a pet through the connection with cat.
Entailment: Hyponymy also involves a relationship of entailment between sentences. A hyponymy entails its superordinate term, as in the case “I bought a kitten” entails “I bought a pet”.
Meronymy established a “part-whole” relation. Meronyms are the direct, immediate attachments to a holonym. Words are said to be meronyms of a holonym if they are responsible for the correct functioning of the holonyn. In a classroom (the holonym), chairs, desks, chalk, duster, blackboard, florescent lamps and shelves are meronyms as they are necessary for teaching and learning activities to be carried out but not a rubbish bin.