Componential Analysis Method

Lexical Decomposition of Verbs

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2003

15 Pages, Grade: 3

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1 Introduction

2 The definition and specialities of Componential Analysis

3 Analysis of different schools of Componential Analysis
3.1 Semantic primes and the use property
3.2 Katz’s theory and the criticism it brings

4 Decomposition of verbs

5 Summary

6 Bibliography

1 Introduction

The systematic productivity of linguistic meaning is its most striking feature and it distinguishes human languages from many other semantic systems.

In traditional linguistic analysis, the keen semantic intuitions of the linguist are the only test of whether the significance attached to an abstract element is really constant wherever that element is used, but such judgements are very tricky, especially when each analysis contains more than one abstract element, as the result, it may be difficult to know just what “part” of the meaning of real words is being attributed to each abstract element. Abstract words production is subject to the sentence by what you mean. That is, word meanings must be able to provide an appropriate finite base for an adequate recursive theory of indefinitely many sentential meanings.

No matter whether written or spoken, languages are all used for message-conveyances—transferring the ideas of writers or speakers’. In order to grasp the sense of these ideas much better, Componential Analysis (CA) Method is thus introduced into semantic field of linguistics.

2 The definition and specialities of Componential Analysis

Lexical decomposition is an alternative term for CA, and “analysis into meaning components are called decomposition.” A good CA should pursuit the following specialities: Meaning-providing models for word meanings Basic meaning- reducing the vast variety of lexical meanings to a limited number of basic meanings Precision- providing a means of presentation that allows a precise interpretation of lexical items. Meaning relations-explaining meaning relations within and across lexical fields. Composition-explaining he compositional properties of lexical items Language Comparison- determining the semantic relations between expressions of different languages.

Since a professed goal of modern linguistics is to characterise the class of possible human languages in a possibly narrow way, the core of this goal is to try to characterise the class of possible word meanings of such languages in a same possibly narrow way. Linguistics have traditionally viewed decomposition analyses as a step towards this goal, “as decomposition-analysis is supposed to reveal a universal set of fundamental “units of meaning”, a constructional view of word meanings leading to the viewpoint that a possible word meaning is anything that can be constructed out of these fundamental units by some specified method of putting them together” (Dowty 1979: 33). One of lexical decomposition aims is reduction .

3 Analysis of different schools of Componential Analysis

Let us now see the history background and various schools of linguistic beliefs (e.g. structural or non-structural) of this CA:

Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure tried to find an answer to establish ‘a simplest and most elegant explanation’ of canalisation, and ‘introduced a new method, a structural method, into genetic linguistics.’ Hjelmslev, Louis, a Danish linguist, was a representative of early European Structuralism and the first one who gave definite proposal for a componential semantics (cf. Cruse 2000: 98f). Hjelmslev-like procedures the beginning with complex meaning and reduces them to simpler ones, guided the meanings of other words. Leibiniz followed above process. When the reduction could go no further, Leibniz thought, one would have arrived at the fundamental unites of thought; he was the first to discover an ‘alphabet of thought’ by reducing complex meanings to combinations of simple ones.

Unbelievable is that lexical decomposition was firstly used by anthropologists as a technical method for describing and comparing the vocabulary of kinship in different languages. Until some years later did some scholars (e.g. Lamb, Weinreich or Katz and Fodor) start to take and use it as a general theory semantic structure (cf. Lyons 1977: 318). One of modern linguist representatives is Lyons. He defines CA as: “[o]ne way of formalising, or making absolutely precise, the sense-relations that are hold among lexemes.” There are three kinds of formulations:

a. Sense-component (The sense of word can be represented as the product of 12 factors.)

“MOTHER”= “parents” x “female”

b. Negation-operator ( as it is defined in standard prepositional logic: ’~’.)

“MIDDLE-SIZE”= [~small]˄ [big]

c. Conjunction (& for and)

“CHILD”=HUMAN&~ ADULT (cf. Lyons 1996: 107ff)

To sum up, each lexical item will be entered in the dictionary with a complex of semantic components. A set of redundancy riles apply automatically to reduce the number of components stated for each item. Thus lexical relations can be stated in term of the components (cf. Saeed 1997: 234).

In America, CA develops independently. Sapir-Whorf’s followers (though he himself is an anti-universalism) were responsible for the promotion, so called: a particular kind of structuralize lexical semantics (different with non-lexical semantics), one feature of CA is it operates with a set of atomic components of lexical meaning assumed to be universal.

Pinker is one of these representatives. He considered that ‘the grammatically relevant subset to be the focus of research into language universal and language acquisition’ (cf. Saeel 1997: 240).

3.1 Semantic primes and the use property

Differing from other compontialist, Anna Wierzbicka, another famous contemporary compontialist, takes componential not from the structuralists rather further back from the past; she uses Leibniz source, starts with a small list of what appear to be indispensable notions and tries to express as many meanings as possible with these, only adding items to the list of primitives when forced to do so. Her argument is: like human birth, all with some innate capacities, there exists surely an expressible primitive in all languages. She criticized the analyses of Katz and Fordor variety, as not so much genuine analysis of meaning as translations into an artificial language in which no one has any intuitions. A typical, Wierzbickan analysis gives as following:

X punished Y for Z:

(a) Y did Z.

(b) X thought something like this:

(c) Y did something bad (Z).

(d) I want Y to feel something bad because of this.

(e) It will be good if Y feels something bad because of this.

(f) It will be good if I do something to Y because of his.

(g) X did something to Y because of this.

This analysis is intended to capture in maximally simple term: the fact that punishment is objectively justifiable causation that suffers for an offence. Wierzbicka refers: if the role of these primitives as a foundation on the basement of all complex meaning is recognised, then it can be used as an instrument for improving lexicography (cf. Pulman 83: 25-67). Wierzbicka opposed to use abstract semantic primitives, but the way of showing direct intuition. Her approach focuses on language comparison though it has drawbacks: one is lack of precision and the other is unable to define words connected with antonym and directional opposition (cf. Löbner 2002:148-150).

“NSM (Natural Semantic Meta-language) are RELATIVELY more translatable than the vast majority of other English words. ‘Lexical’ is used in a broad sense to include not only words, but also bound morphemes and fixed phrases. In many languages there are primitives that are expressed by bound morphemes, rather than by separate words.” (Goddard 1998: 59-60)

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Componential Analysis Method
Lexical Decomposition of Verbs
University of Hamburg  (Anglistik, Amerikanistik)
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Kommentar des Dozenten: "Your English is a little bumpy but you manage to give resonably balanced and comprehensive cohesion of CA."
Componential analysis, Lexical of compoential analysis Decomposition of Verbs
Quote paper
Fenglei Zhang (Author), 2003, Componential Analysis Method, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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