Vol 22, No 3 (2018): Studies in semantics: for Anna Wierzbicka’s anniversary

STUDIES IN SEMANTICS: For Anna Wierzbicka’s anniversary

Anna Wierzbicka, Words and the World

Gladkova A.N., Larina T.V.


This introduction to the Special Issue summarises Anna Wierzbicka’s contribution to the linguistic study of meaning. It presents the foundations of the approach known as the Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM) developed by Wierzbicka. The current state of the approach is discussed in the article with the ideas of 65 semantic primitives, universal grammar and the principle of reductive paraphrase in semantic explications. It traces the origin of Wierzbicka’s ideas to Leibniz. The framework has been tested on about thirty languages of diverse origin. The applications of the approach are broad and encompass lexical areas of emotions, social categories, speech act verbs, mental states, artefacts and animals, verbs of motion, kinship terms (among others), as well as grammatical constructions.

Russian Journal of Linguistics. 2018;22(3):499-520
pages 499-520 views

Anna Wierzbicka, Semantic Decomposition, and the Meaning-Text Approach

Mel’čuk I.A.


The paper aims to demonstrate that the main contribution of Anna Wierzbicka to linguistics is the idea of semantic decomposition - that is, representing meaning in terms of structurally organized configurations of simpler meanings - and a huge amount of specific decompositions of lexical meanings from many languages. One of possible developments of this idea of Wierzbicka’s is the Meaning-Text linguistic approach, and in particular - the Meaning-Text model of natural language. To illustrate the importance and fruitfulness of semantic decomposition, two Meaning-Text mini-models are presented for English and Russian. Two semantically equivalent sentences of these languages are considered: (1) a. Eng. A honeymooner was fatally attacked by a shark. ~ b. Rus. Molodožën pogib v rezul´tate napadenija akuly vo vremja medovogo mesjaca lit. ‘Young.husband died as result of.attack of.shark during honey month’ The formal representations of these sentences at four levels-Meaning-Text style-are shown: semantic, deep-syntactic, surface-syntactic, and deep-morphological. Examples of formal rules relating the representations of two adjacent levels are presented.
Russian Journal of Linguistics. 2018;22(3):521-538
pages 521-538 views

A Semantic Menagerie: The Conceptual Semantics of Ethnozoological Categories

Goddard C.


Following the seminal work of Wierzbicka (1985, 2013), this paper proposes and discusses a set of semantic analyses of words from three different levels of the English ethnozoological taxonomic hierarchy (Berlin 1992): creature (unique beginner), bird, fish, snake, and animal (life-form level), dog and kangaroo (generic level). The analytical framework is the Natural Semantic Metalanguage approach (Wierzbicka 1996, 2014, Goddard and Wierzbicka 2014). Though ultimately resting on the foundational elements of the NSM system, i.e. 65 semantic primes and their inherent grammar of combination, the analysis relies on the analytical concepts of semantic molecules and semantic templates (Goddard 2012, 2016). These provide mechanisms for encapsulating semantic complexity and for modelling relations between successive layers of the hierarchy. Other issues considered include the extent to which cultural components feature in the semantics of ethnozoological categories, and the extent to which semantic knowledge may vary across different speech communities.
Russian Journal of Linguistics. 2018;22(3):539-559
pages 539-559 views

A Corpus Investigation of English Cognition Verbs and their Effect on the Incipient Epistemization of Physical Activity Verbs

Rice S., Newman J.


In the spirit of NSM accounts that attempt to build up a language’s full expressivity from a small set of lexical primitives, we have investigated the usage in English of basic verbs of ideation ( think, know ) and physical activity ( strike, hit, go, run ) as they take on new epistemic meanings and functions, all the while calcifying in their inflectional range. It is well known that certain verbs of cognition in English such as remember , forget , and think are grammaticalizing into pragmatic particles of epistemic stance and, consequently, 1st person singular (1sg) forms account for the majority of usages. Likewise, we have carried out systematic queries and hand-tagging of corpus returns and have found that many verbs and phrasal expressions, ideational or not, seem to be associated with rather narrow collocational patterning, argument structure, and inflectional marking in almost idiom-like and constructional fashion. Moreover, we find that expressions associated with 1sg and 2nd person “cognizers” are, to a large extent, in complementary distribution, giving rise to fairly strong semantic differences in how I and you “ideate”. In this study, we demonstrate the extent of inflectional and collocational specificity for verbs of cognition and physical activity and discuss implications this lexico-syntactic idiosyncracy has for cognitive linguistics.
Russian Journal of Linguistics. 2018;22(3):560-580
pages 560-580 views

The Semantics of Logical Connectors: therefore, moreover and in fact

Wong J.O.


When teaching English words, teachers and textbooks may place more emphasis on 'content' words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs) than on words that contribute to the 'textual' aspect of English, such as logical connectors. A consequence is that even if a student has some mastery of grammar and the use of 'content' words, they may not be able to produce cohesive texts or construct logical relations. Teaching the meanings of logical connectors is not easy, and the traditional use of synonyms and examples of use are not always helpful. Using synonyms in English or supposedly equivalents in the student's first language is not ideal because the student may end up understanding the word from the perspective of another word or, worse, another language. Using examples of use may be helpful to a certain extent but this method does not spell out the invariant meaning of the logical connector in question and the student is expected to draw their own conclusions on the basis of a few examples. To overcome such pedagogic obstacles, some scholars advocate the use of a maximally clear and minimally ethnocentric metalanguage, the natural semantic metalanguage (NSM), to capture word meaning. In this paper, the NSM methodology, founded by Anna Wierzbicka, is used to capture the meaning of three logical connectors, therefore , moreover and in fact for English language teaching purposes.
Russian Journal of Linguistics. 2018;22(3):581-604
pages 581-604 views

Notes on Russian Number

Rakhilina E.V., Kazkenova A.K.


The paper deals with a well known problem of the distribution of grammatical markers within a certain category and whether this distribution is motivated semantically or not. It discusses the choice of singular and plural forms of nouns in Russian texts. Anna Wierzbicka was one of the first to recognize that the rules which regulate the usage of number markers in Russian are language-specific. She compared the Russian system with the systems of other languages, mainly, English and Polish (cf. Wierzbicka 1988). According to her theoretical assumptions, the difference of the linguistic behaviour of singular and plural forms is always semantically motivated, even if the corresponding nouns represent the same taxonomic class and occur in the same context (like different pieces of furniture, or kinds of vegetables, or types of dishes, etc.). The difference is always determined by the semantics of nouns and the typical functions of the extralinguistic objects they encode. This approach has been pursued by a number of scholars (see: Polivanova 1997; Lyashevskaya 2004а and others). Our paper develops this approach further on the basis of very different data. We take our data from texts written by nonstandard speakers of Russian (as defined by Mustajoki, Protassova & Vakhtin 2010) who are bilinguals. In our case these are students of the major universities in Almaty, who speak Russian fluently and acquired it long before entering university, having Kazakh as their native language. We have gathered and tagged a corpus of bilingual texts of this kind containing 60 000 tokens. This is a part of the Russian Learner Corpus (RLC) which facilitates identification of deviations from standard Russian. The analysis of these deviations is of particular interest for linguistic theory, since they provide cases of interference and interaction for languages of very different structure, such as Russian and Kazakh. The main goal of our paper is to show that the deviations in nominal number marking we come across in the texts of bilinguals are not arbitrary but motivated. They follow semantic strategies which are characteristic for speakers appealing to both systems at once. The paper argues that the violation of standard usage observed in the learner corpus can specify the rules governing Russian number usage which have been violated, even though the domain of number has been well described already.
Russian Journal of Linguistics. 2018;22(3):605-627
pages 605-627 views

Towards a Semantic Analysis of Russian Discourse Markers: pozhaluj, nikak, vsjo-taki

Zalizniak A.A., Paducheva E.V.


Investigation of discourse markers has been an actively developing trend of linguistic research in the recent decades. The paper presents an analysis of three Russian discourse markers ( pozhaluj , nikak and vsjo-taki , all untranslatable into English). It applies an approach which integrates the experience of explicating meaning of a lexical unit of different frameworks of semantic analysis. The research is based on the National Corpus of Russian (http://ruscorpora.ru/). It demonstrates that the discourse marker pozhaluj introduces the opinion formed by the speaker as the result of a personal choice between two or several alternatives: the opinion is accompanied by doubts that do not lose relevance even after the decision is made. In the speech register the speaker is the subject of evaluation; in the narrative pozhaluj , as well as vsjo-taki , may undergo hypotactic or narrative projection. The discourse marker nikak expresses an assumption made on the basis of a directly perceivable situation accompanied by astonishment; it is used mainly in interrogative sentences, in particular in those that do not necessarily require an answer; it can also be used in affirmative sentences. Nikak is primarily egocentrical: it can only have the speaker as its assumed subject and it allows neither hypotactic nor narrative projection. The semantics of vsjo-taki includes five components: opinion W; opinion not-W; an argument in favor of the opinion W; an argument in favor of the opinion not-W; the fact confirming opinion W. In an affirmative sentence three classes of uses are distinguished depending on which of the components is prominent: opinion W, the fact substantiating opinion W or the argument in favor of W. In interrogative and imperative sentences vsjo-taki acts upon the illocutionary constituent of the utterance. Such discourse markers as skoree vsego , navernoe , neuzheli , nebos’ , chto , chto li , taki are taken into consideration because under certain conditions they are quasi-synonymous to pozhaluj , nikak and vsjo-taki . Our study offers the prospect of an integral research of discourse words that allows the researcher to combine methods of classical semantic analysis, contextual-semantic method, conceptual analysis and narratology. The obtained results contribute to further development of the semantic theory; they can be used in lexicography and in practice of teaching the Russian language.
Russian Journal of Linguistics. 2018;22(3):628-652
pages 628-652 views

Russian Constructions with Syntactic Reduplication of Colour Terms: A Corpus Study

Apresjan V.Y.


Russian reduplicated constructions with colour terms have never previously been an object of a comprehensive corpus study. Nevertheless, they present considerable interest for a researcher because comparative ability of colour terms to be reduplicated reflects their semantic and pragmatic differences, whereas semantics and pragmatics of reduplication construction are revealed in the properties of colour terms that can fill its slots. Thus, the goal of the paper is to study semantic and pragmatic properties of Russian colour terms and Russian syntactic reduplication construction by analyzing their co-occurrence. We apply corpus methods to the data from the Russian National Corpus, RuTenTen Corpus on Sketch Engine and RuSkell corpus. We analyze absolute corpus frequencies and collocation patterns of Russian non-reduplicated colour terms, as well as their relative frequencies and collocation patterns in the construction of syntactic reduplication with a hyphen ( belyj-belyj ‘white-white, very white, spotlessly white’). Drawing on this data, we establish that absolute frequencies of non-reduplicated colour terms in Russian reflect both Anna Wierzbicka’s “universals of visual semantics”, as well as certain language and culture-specific tendencies, as evidenced by the prominence of goluboj ‘light blue’ and ryzhij ‘carroty-red’ in Russian. We also argue that the Russian reduplication construction with a hyphen ( belyj-belyj ‘white-white) is semantically and prosodically different from the construction of repetition with a comma ( belyj , belyj ‘white, white’). The former has the meaning of high degree, and thus attracts only gradable colour terms, such as belyj ‘white’, chernyj ‘black’, sinij ‘medium to dark blue’, and other basic colour terms. There are additional factors that influence colour term reduplication. Collocation patterns suggest that colour terms that co-occur with the names of culturally and cognitively salient objects, such as denotations of human appearance (face, hands, skin, eyes, hair) or landscape features (sea, sky, fire, grass) are more likely to be reduplicated. Moreover, aesthetic or emotional evaluation of such objects (‘blue-blue eyes’, ‘green-green grass’) is also a factor that is conducive to their occurrence in the construction of reduplication. Our findings establish the importance of corpus methods in the study of colour terms and reduplication, demonstrate that the use and interpretation of lexical and syntactic items hinges both on semantic and pragmatic factors, and add to the understanding of semantics and pragmatics of Russian colour terms and reduplication construction.
Russian Journal of Linguistics. 2018;22(3):653-674
pages 653-674 views

Russian Words for ‘freedom’ Revisited

Shmelev A.D.


The paper deals with the Russian words referring to ‘freedom’ ( svoboda , volia , and their derivatives svobodnyj , vol’nyi , vol’nost’ , etc.) in both synchronic and diachronic aspects. I seek to elaborate and to refine the analysis given in some earlier publications (by Anna Wierzbicka and by myself). The paper analyzes the spatial dimension of the semantics of the words under consideration, the contrast between svoboda and volia before the Revolution, their semantic development during Soviet times and their current semantic status. It also considers metalinguistic comments on their semantics by Russian speakers. I make special reference to the role of these words in The First Circle by Alexander Solzhenitsyn and the problem of their translation into other languages. In addition, I briefly consider the use of the words in question in the translations of various texts into Russian (with reference to the parallel corpora of the Russian National Corpus). The starting point for such an analysis is the assumption that one may regard translation equivalents and paraphrases of a linguistic unit extracted from real translated texts as a source of information about its semantics. This approach is particularly efficient in case of language-specific words that defy translation. Translations into Russian may be even more revealing in this respect: when Russian is the source language, the choice of a paraphrase depends on the translator’s meta-linguistic reflection while an occurrence of a Russian language-specific expression in the target text, more often than not reflects a “naïve” choice of words as a part of “natural” linguistic activity.
Russian Journal of Linguistics. 2018;22(3):675-700
pages 675-700 views


Analysis of Kinship Terms Using Natural Semantic Metalanguage: Anna Wierzbicka’s Approach

Kotorova E.G.


This paper provides a brief overview of some of the works by Anna Wierzbicka devoted to the study of kinship terms in different languages and cultures (Wierzbicka 2016a, 2016b, 2017). The paper considers the approach of the Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM), proposed by Wierzbicka for describing the semantics of kinship terms based on the use of lexical universals and shows the advantages of this approach in comparison with other methods of analysis. It demonstrates advantages of this method over other methods of semantic analysis, including overcoming eurocentrism tendencies in the analysis of kinship terms.
Russian Journal of Linguistics. 2018;22(3):701-710
pages 701-710 views

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