‘high’ and ‘tall’ revisited
John R. Taylor
Linguistics Programme, Department of English, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
Accepted 29 October 2001
One of the least understood semantic relations is synonymy. While perfect synonyms are
rare, ‘‘near synonyms’’ are especially numerous. Near synonyms are words which are similar
in meaning, which tend not to be contrastive, but which are distributed differently. Following
up an earlier study of the adjective tall, this paper examines the near synonyms high and tall,
and argues that the words offer different construals of an entity’s verticality. Drawing on work
by MacLaury in the domain of colour—in particular, MacLaury’s discovery of what he calls
‘‘co-extensive’’ colour categories and his explanation of coextension in terms of a dominant
and a recessive vantage—it is proposed that the distribution of the English adjectives can be
insightfully analyzed in terms of the co-extension relation, with high designating the dominant
vantage, tall the recessive vantage. # 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Semantic relations; Synonymy; MacLaury, Robert; Colour; Co-extensive categories; Vantage
In an ideal semiotic system, we can imagine, a finite number of signifiers will be
paired off, one to one, with an equal number of signifieds. The ideal is captured by
the well-known slogan, ‘‘one form–one meaning’’.1 Natural languages do not conform
to the ideal—witness the widespread occurrence of polysemy and synonymy.
Language Sciences 25 (2002) 263–284
0388-0001/02/$ - see front matter # 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
E-mail address: email@example.com (J. R Taylor).
1 Historical linguists, in particular, have referred to the one form-one meaning relation as an ideal to
which language systems tend. Geeraerts... [continues]
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