Synonymy and Lexical Priming -- A Cross-Linguistic Investigation of Synonymy from Corpus and Psycholinguistic Perspectives

Shao, Juan
(2018) Synonymy and Lexical Priming -- A Cross-Linguistic Investigation of Synonymy from Corpus and Psycholinguistic Perspectives. PhD thesis, University of Liverpool.

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With the development of computer technology and the availability of large corpora, recent linguistic studies have provided us with instances where looking at authentic language data has produced modifications of the way we think about language. A reconsideration of linguistic categories starts to emerge, with traditional terms being rejected or redefined. This research addresses the topic of synonymy from corpus and psycholinguistic perspectives both in English and Chinese to see whether we need to make modifications to the notion of synonymy. The research starts with a psycholinguistic experiment to explore the psychological reality of synonymy. A word association test is carried out and the results show that people often do not have a shared sense of synonymy. On the one hand, people may offer various words as candidate synonyms for different types of prompt words. The words provided by the participants may be considered on occasion to be co-hyponymous, metonymous, or meronymous and or to be in a metaphorical relationship with the prompt words. On the other hand, there was found to be a relationship between candidate synonyms provided and the personal profile of the participants, including age, gender and subject field. The result of the psycholinguistic experiment seems to suggest that in people’s minds the notion of synonymy exists but its boundaries with other semantic relations are sometimes unclear and synonymy is not a concept of clear-cut category. To test whether a corpus approach can elicit similar findings to those of the psycholinguistic experiment, a corpus-driven analysis of eleven English candidate synonyms is carried out to test the validity of the notion of synonymy. It finds that the concept of synonymy is still usable but needs modification. Using a scale of similarity, we can only say that words are highly synonymous or synonymous to a certain degree. It is therefore concluded that well-established semantic relations such as synonymy, antonymy, hyponymy, metonymy and meronymy are helpful in talking about how words may be related to each other, but that it is not always possible, when looking at corpus data, to allocate a pair of words to one of these relations rather than another. To test whether these findings for English are also true for Chinese, a case study comparing a pair of potential English synonyms with a pair of potential Chinese synonyms of equivalent meaning is first conducted to explore whether Chinese near-synonyms are primed differently in terms of their collocations, colligations, semantic associations and pragmatic associations. Then ten potentially synonymous words in Chinese are analysed. The results show that, as was found for English, the notion of synonymy is valid in discussions of Chinese lexis, but the boundary between synonymy and cohyponymy is sometimes blurred. The similarities and differences between candidate synonyms both in English and Chinese could be identified with the categories utilised in lexical priming and the strength of synonymy among candidate synonyms could be measured by these categories. Combining the findings of both the corpus analysis and the psycholinguistic experiment, the research shows that the notion of synonymy is more complex than we may think and that the ways people are primed may suggest possible explanations for the complexity of this linguistic phenomenon.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Divisions: Fac of Humanities & Social Sci > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 20 Aug 2018 09:59
Last Modified: 03 Mar 2021 17:08
DOI: 10.17638/03021737
  • Hoey, Michael