Semantic molecules and semantic complexity
(with special reference to “environmental” molecules)
In the NSM approach to semantic analysis, semantic molecules are a well-defined set of non-primitive lexical meanings in a given language that function as intermediate-level units in the structure of complex meanings in that language. After reviewing existing work on the molecules concept (including the notion of levels of nesting), the paper advances a provisional list of about 180 productive semantic molecules for English, suggesting that a small minority of these (about 25) may be universal. It then turns close attention to a set of potentially universal level-one molecules from the “environmental” domain (‘sky’, ‘ground’, ‘sun’, ‘day’, ‘night’ ‘water’ and ‘fire’), proposing a set of original semantic explications for them. Finally, the paper considers the theoretical implications of the molecule theory for our understanding of semantic complexity, cross-linguistic variation in the structure of the lexicon, and the translatability of semantic explications.
Keywords: lexical semantics, semantic primes, semantic molecules, NSM, semantic universals
Published online: 02 June 2010
Cited by 4 other publications
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