Do we Find Absolute Synonymy in the English Language? - An Analysis of Internet-Texts Dealing with the 11th September 2001

Seminar Paper, 2002

12 Pages, Grade: 2+ (B)


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Synonymy
2.1. How to Define Synonymy?
2.2. Working Method

3. Analysis of Text Material – Absolute Synonymy?

4. Conclusion

5. References

1. Introduction

This term paper on synonymy has the aim to answer one certain question: Do we find absolute or strict synonymy in the English language? Unfortunately, there is not enough working time to have a look at the whole language or at least a large part of it. Therefore, I decided to choose several texts dealing with the same topic, which precisely is the 11th September 2001 (the terror attacks against the United States of America). This seems to be a good basis for finding a lot of synonyms or synonymous expressions.

The working process is structured as follows: First, it is necessary to define the term “synonymy” because there are two different opinions about it. On the one hand, some linguists are convinced that there is no total synonymy at all and on the other hand, another group of linguists states that such a kind of synonymy exists but it occurs only rarely. A further look on those definitions will provide a clearer distinction.

Then the main work has to be done. There are many texts available, which will serve to find a satisfying answer to the stated question. These texts, which I found in the Internet, are from daily American and British newspapers, speeches of politicians, eyewitness reports, TV reports, political magazines and private Internet discussions. Certainly, these texts and articles contain a lot of material to work with.

Finally, the last part of the termpaper will represent the results of this process – the justification of total synonymy or its rejection.

2. Synonymy

2.1 How to Define Synonymy?

Generally, it is not easy to find a definition of synonymy on which all linguists would agree. Therefore, it is necessary to have a look at the two main streams literature provides us with:

One group of linguists (Lyons, Cruse, Saeed, Hurford, for example) differentiate the degree of synonymous expressions. They think of synonymy as sameness of meaning (Lyons, 1995:60) and similarity of meaning (Saeed, 1997:65). That means that we have to decide, in general, between “absolute” and “near synonymy” (Lyons, 1995:60). The criterion for sameness of meaning is after Lyons “identity” (Lyons, 1995:60). That means that certain conditions have to be fulfilled if we want to characterize expressions as absolute synonymous:

1. all their meanings have to be identical
2. they have to be synonymous in all contexts
3. they have to be semantically equivalent in all dimensions of meaning (descriptive or non-descriptive) (Lyons, 1995:61).

All the linguists who work with this definition state that this kind of synonymy can only be found rarely in the English language (Cruse, 2000:157/Hurford, 1983:102/Lyons, 1995:61/Saeed, 1997:65). For Cruse, two examples of total or absolute synonymy are

(1) sofa : settee

(2) pullover : sweater (2000:157).

In cases of near synonymy those representatives mainly agree with the other group of linguists who deny the existence of total sameness of meaning of expressions in the English language.

For example Palmer, Hansen, Lipka, Welte and Kreidler are the theorists who are aware of the definition given above but they are all very critical against it. They agree that there is “neither ´total synonymy´ nor ´complete synonymy´” (Lipka, 1990:142); there are “no real synonyms” (Palmer, 1981:89).

Why do they think that the conditions for total synonymy stated by Lyons are impossible to be fulfilled in different expressions? Kreidler answers this question: “It would be wasteful for a language to have two terms that occur in exactly the same contexts and with exactly the same sense.” (1998:97). Hansen calls this phenomenon economical principle of language (1982:213).

This “looser” definition of synonymy leads to the assumption that the English language must have many synonyms. The reason is that this language has a rich vocabulary because of its historical development. Today, we speak of two different kinds of English words: native and borrowed ones. So, there were two main sources for the present English vocabulary: Anglo-Saxon words (considered to be native) and words from French, Latin or Greek (borrowed or foreign words) (Palmer, 1981:88). Therefore, many expressions with “similar” meanings should and must exist.


Excerpt out of 12 pages


Do we Find Absolute Synonymy in the English Language? - An Analysis of Internet-Texts Dealing with the 11th September 2001
Martin Luther University  (Institute for Anglistics/American Studies)
2+ (B)
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ISBN (Book)
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408 KB
Find, Absolute, Synonymy, English, Language, Analysis, Internet-Texts, Dealing, September, Proseminar
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Julia Schubert (Author), 2002, Do we Find Absolute Synonymy in the English Language? - An Analysis of Internet-Texts Dealing with the 11th September 2001, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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