‘Degrad verbs’ in Spanish and English
Collocations, lexical functions and contrastive NSM semantic analysis
The Lexical Function Degrad is a device used in Meaning-Text Theory (MTT) to select the appropriate verb for expressing ‘to become permanently worse or bad’ in combination with different nouns. For example, in English one says that fruit rots, milk goes off, shoes wear out, flowers wilt, and iron rusts; thus, the verbs rot, go off, wear out, etc. can all be considered “values” of Degrad. Comparing these verbs with their translation equivalents in Spanish shows that verbs in the two languages have somewhat different collocational possibilities. Are such collocational differences arbitrary or do they result from subtle meaning differences between the translation equivalents? In this study we undertake a contrastive semantic analysis of a selection of words in the Degrad domain, using the Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM) method of semantic explication. We conclude that collocational preferences are indeed semantically motivated, but at the same time we recognize that Degrad is a valuable lexicological tool for verb classification, as well as for coordinating translation equivalents across languages at an approximate level. The paper aims to encourage productive engagement between two well developed approaches to lexical semantics, while at the same time demonstrating the explanatory power of the detailed “micro semantic” analysis enabled by the NSM methodology.
Published online: 06 September 2013
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