Date: Sat, 15 Nov 2003 14:27:56 +0100 (CET) From: Diana Lewis Subject: Antonymy: A Corpus-based Perspective
Jones, Steven (2002) Antonymy: A Corpus-based Perspective, Routledge, Routledge Advances in Corpus Linguistics 2.
Diana Lewis, University of Lyon2.
_Antonymy: A Corpus-Based Perspective_ examines the use, in samples taken from a corpus of contemporary English newspaper language, of fifty-six antonymous pairs of lexemes. These include adjectives (e.g. dry/wet), adverbs (e.g. directly/indirectly), verbs (e.g. fail/succeed), and nouns (e.g. peace/war).
The aim of the study is threefold (pp. 25-26): (1) - to investigate and quantify the intra-sentential functions served by antonymy in written text; (2) - to generate co-occurrence statistics and textual profiles for individual antonymous pairs; (3) - to examine variables (word class, gradability, etc.) which might affect the function of antonymy.
The book is likely to be of interest to corpus linguists and lexicologists.
The first chapter, describing the attractions of antonymy - for those acquiring L1 or L2, for writers, for linguists, indeed for everybody - is followed by a chapter providing a brief overview of some previous antonymy studies. Antonymous pairs have previously been described and categorized in terms of gradability, reciprocity, inverseness and so on. The present study proposes a new classification of antonymy.
Chapter 3 describes the data and method of this study. A selection of fifty-six antonymous pairs for analysis was made on the basis of the author's intuition that these "would be intuitively recognised as 'good opposites', to a greater or lesser degree" (p. 35). Further selection criteria were that adjectives, nouns, verbs and adverbs be included, that there be both gradable and non-gradable antonyms, and some 'morphological antonyms' (specifically, some antonyms based on the prefix -un). Sentences containing one or more of these antonymous pairs were extracted from a corpus of around 280 million words of text from The Independent newspaper. 3,000 of these sentences were retained for analysis, their selection determined by various criteria to ensure they included large enough samples of each word class, of non-gradable antonyms and of morphologically-related antonyms. The 3,000 examples of antonym use were then analysed and grouped according to the perceived function of the antonymous pair, eight categories emerging from this analysis. Two of these categories, termed 'Ancillary antonymy' and 'Coordinated antonymy', account for over three-quarters of the occurrences, and are the subjects of chapters 4 and 5 respectively.
The first major category, 'Ancillary antonymy', comprises occurrences where the contrast between the members of the antonymous pair evokes a contrast between the elements the antonyms modify, as in "'Stamps are popular, but collecting is unpopular'" (p. 35). The function of the antonymous pair is "to instruct us to interpret a nearby pair of words or phrases contrastively" (p. 38). There follows a puzzling sub- categorization of the 'nearby' pairs, called 'B-pairs', into some heterogeneous classes. Thus in "'Kennedy dead is more interesting than Clinton alive'" (p. 49), the B-pair Kennedy-Clinton is said to illustrate the category of 'Human B-pairs', while in "'a happy end to a sad chapter'" (p, 52), the B-pair end-chapter illustrates the category of 'Meronymous B-pairs'. These sub-categories are clearly not mutually exclusive and it is hard to see what purpose they serve. Especially interesting in this chapter are the examples of the way antonymy is often used to create syllepsis with humourous effect: two concepts from different domains are incongruously linked by the parallelism inherent in antonymy and by phonological parallelism such as rhyme, alliteration and syllable count. Examples are "regarded male wrestlers as morons and female wrestlers as oxymorons" (p.52) and "it denotes high butter mountains and a low boredom threshold" (p.54).
Chapter 5 explores 'Coordinated antonymy', that is, antonymous pairs that signal "inclusiveness or exhaustiveness" (p. 37). Coordinated antonyms designate a whole scale, as in "'.. we cannot prove or disprove the idea that God is angry'" (p. 62). Instead of sub- categorizing this type of antonymy, as was attempted for Ancillary antonymy in the previous chapter, the author here identifies its typical structural frameworks. These are 'X and Y'; 'X or Y'; 'neither X nor Y'; 'X as well as Y', where X and Y represent the antonymous pair.
Ancillary antonymy and Coordinated antonymy together account for over 77% of the 3,000 tokens of antonymy in the database. The remaining tokens were attributed to six 'minor classes', to which chapter 6 is devoted. Where antonymy occurs in a comparison, such as "'..light crude is more easily broken down than heavy crude'" (p. 76), it is said to be 'Comparative'. Where the focus is on the "inherent semantic dissimilarity" of the antonyms, there is 'Distinguished antonymy'. This typically occurs in frameworks such as '[the difference/gap] between X and Y', as in "'one must distinguish between hard and soft drugs'" (p. 83). 'Transitional antonymy' is the label given to the expression of a change of state, as in "'..from success to failure'" or "'..moves the gas from the hot part of the cylinder to the cold'" (p. 85). Antonymy in an antithetical relation is labelled 'Negated antonymy'. Typical frameworks are 'X not Y', 'X instead of Y', 'X as opposed to Y': An example is "'..government must play an active, not passive, role..'" (p. 88). 'Extreme antonymy' describes antonyms in "a framework that unites the outer-most areas of their given semantic scale" (p. 91), as in "'.. conditions are either too dry or too wet for racing on turf..'" (p. 92). Again, typical frameworks are identified. Finally, a class of 'Idiomatic antonymy' is posited, comprising idioms built on antonymy, such as 'the long and the short of it', 'easy come, easy go', agree to disagree' (pp. 93-4). The chapter ends with a description of some 'residual' occurrences of antonymy that resisted placement in one of these eight categories.
Chapter 7 assesses the prevalence of antonymy in the 280 million-word corpus by comparing the actual co-occurrences of the selected antonymous pairs with the expected co-occurrence rate "if those words occurred at random" (p. 106). It is not clear how these results are to be interpreted, as there seems to be no way of ensuring that the two lexemes concerned are actually in an antonymous relationship each time they occur in the same sentence (or indeed are not in such a relationship when they occur in adjacent sentences). Statistical criteria for gauging what constitutes a pair of 'good opposites' are suggested, but the discussion in this chapter ends rather inconclusively.
Chapter 8 discusses markedness and typical orderings of antonymous pairs: 'good and bad' rather than 'bad and good'; 'success or failure' rather than 'failure or success', and so on. It is observed that positive tends to precede negative, and base forms precede derived forms. Magnitude, chronology, gender, phonology and idiomaticity are also posited to play some role, while some orderings are simply conventional. It would have been useful here to see if there was a correlation between ordering and 'framework'.
Chapter 9 considers the relationships between the functions of antonymy and (a) the word class of the antonyms and (b) the gradability of the antonyms. It concludes that neither word class nor gradability significantly correlate with the textual functions of antonymy.
Chapter 10 takes a closer look at some of the structural frameworks identified in chapters 5 and 6 to see whether, by looking at the framework and seeing what lexemes appear in the slots, it may be possible to identify emergent antonyms. Specifically, emergent antonyms for the target words 'good', 'natural' and 'style' are sought by retrieving from the corpus the frameworks 'both X and Y', 'between X and Y' and 'whether X or Y', where X is the target word. For 'good' and 'natural', opposites predominate in the Y position; e.g. 'flawed', 'nasty', 'wicked' with the former, and 'artificial', 'man-made', 'social' with the latter. The numbers here are too small for generalizations to be made, but it would be fascinating to see this method applied to larger and more diversified corpora. The exploration of all the recurrent frames identified in this study as associated with antonymy would make an excellent starting point for frame-based research into lexical relations.
A final chapter summarizes the findings.
Intuition, or convenience, drives many a research design, and it is always disappointing to encounter hollow post hoc justifications of data choices or methods. No such disappointment here. The design, data and method are clearly presented and for the most part admirably well explained. What is not explained, however, is why the sentence was chosen as the unit of analysis, nor what its relevance to antonymy is. Intuitively, it is a strange choice: at best the sentence is a syntactic unit, while antonymy as defined in this book as a lexical semantic relation which cuts across syntactic categories and units. The author's characterizations of the categories he identifies purport to be semantic, and bear little relation to sentential structure. Yet the conclusions he arrives at often hang on the choice of the sentence as the unit of analysis.
For instance, both the 'Ancillary antonymy' pattern and the 'Negated antonymy' pattern, as described in the text, occur frequently across sentential boundaries, while the 'Coordinated antonymy' pattern does not. The quantitative analyses are therefore likely to be severely distorted. 'Sentence' is not defined in the text, but from the examples cited, it seems to correspond to a sequence between full stops. Examples such as "The bad news is now largely behind; the good news is to come" (p.50) are included, while there are no examples across full stops, such as "The bad news is that he failed to reach the second round of the event. The good news is that he is still alive." (The Independent, 09.08.2002). Inter-sentential antonymy is only mentioned in passing (p. 104). Intuitively, a span (number of words) designed to maximize recall while retaining enough precision to make manual sorting feasible would seem to make more sense. And since antonym use involves a type of reference, it would be of interest anyway to see at what point diminishing returns set in. Another qualm is the absence of significance indicators. It would be nice for readers to be given some indication of the statistical significance of the results obtained, rather than be left to try to work it out for themselves from the figures (tricky, given the sampling method).
Given that, as the author points out, writers often choose an entrenched antonymous pair for argumentational reasons, it is disappointing that there is no attempt to examine the information structure of the sequences containing the antonyms. For instance, the discussion in chapter 4 of the role of conjunctions in 'Ancillary antonymy' (pp.57-8) fails to appreciate that the key difference between the use of 'and' and the use of 'but' to conjoin two contrasted clauses of the type 'a(x) and/but b(y)' is one of scope: 'and' takes scope over the whole propositions, while 'but' takes scope over the predicates only. Other things being equal, 'and' thus produces a symmetrical information structure and 'but' an asymmetrical one. The examples given throughout the text suggest that many uses of antonymous pairs are closely tied to asymmetrical information structure and that information structure may therefore be relevant to the discussion of antonym sequence in chapter 8.
The final chapter on profiling is by far the most interesting and the reader is left wishing this framework retrieval had been extended to include several of the other interesting frameworks identified in chapters 5 and 6 and had used many more target words from among those fifty-six selected as having 'good opposites'. Not only does this procedure test intuitions about 'good antonyms', it can also tell us a lot about polysemy networks. Indeed, it is a pity that issues of polysemy and contextual modulation (Cruse 1986: 52), which are key to understanding the antonymous behaviour of many of the lexeme pairs selected for this study, are not addressed.
Overall, the text with its wealth of examples amply illustrates that antonymy does have a special appeal; that it has indeed, as Jones puts it, "transcended its role as a mere sense relation" (p. 1).
Cruse, D. A. (1986) Lexical semantics. Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Diana Lewis is an associate professor of English linguistics at the University of Lyon2. She has research interests in lexical semantics and pragmatics, language change and variation, corpus linguistics and contrastive linguistics.