Near-synonyms of Anglo-Saxon and Latinate Origin

The Structure of Semantic Variation and its Representation in Dictionaries


  • Daniele Franceschi



Lexical semantics, lexicography, near-synonyms, Anglo-Saxon vocabulary, Latinate vocabulary


This article examines the semantic relations holding between pairs of Anglo-Saxon and Latinate near-synonyms in present-day English, such as speed/velocity, sweat/perspire, shy/timid and before/prior. Meaning variation between etymologically unrelated lexical items expressing equivalent concepts has primarily been explained in terms of pragmatic principles, although the differences between them also result from constraints imposed by their denotational semantics. The analysis proposed aims to identify the nature of their semantic proximity not so much by observing meaning construal in specific contexts or the degree of collocational variation, but rather through the observation of how similarity of concepts is conventionally encoded and externalized. This approach has made it possible to provide a preliminary mapping of the areas of overlap and contrast between semantically related items. Eight main scenarios emerge from the analysis of the data: the pairs of words examined are linked by a generic-specific (or specific-generic), literal-figurative (or figurative-literal) or cause-effect relation, but also differ in terms of focus, conventional implicatures or level of iconicity. Some possible lexicographic representations of these meaning relations have been proposed for English monolingual and learners’ dictionaries.


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