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The role of morphological features in distinguishing semantically similar words in Finnish: A study of cognitive verbs

TitleThe role of morphological features in distinguishing semantically similar words in Finnish: A study of cognitive verbs
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2005
AuthorsArppe A
Conference NameCorpus Linguistics Conference
Conference LocationBirmingham, UK

Corpus-based lexicographical work in the 1990s concerning contextual features distinguishing semantically similar words, especially near-synonyms, has discovered differences in their 1) adjacent lexical context (e.g. powerful vs. strong in Church et alii 1991), the 2) syntactic roles which they form part of (e.g. start vs. begin in Biber et alii 1998), or the 3) semantic classifications of some syntactic arguments (e.g. shake-quake verbs in Atkins and Levin 1995). However, these observations have concerned English, with a relatively fixed word order and minimal morphology.

Karlsson has already in the 1980s argued that different noun lexemes in Finnish prefer different inflectional forms on the basis of their basic meanings, and hence also different individual morphological features associated with these forms (Karlsson 1985, 1986). Karlsson also argues that these preferences, designated as focal forms, would not be lexeme-specific, but would rather exhibit grouping according to some, rather general semantic classifications. However, Arppe (2001) has studied two such general semantic groupings of Finnish nouns and observed that these are not fully uniform with respect to the preferred morphological features but instead exhibit several subgroupings, suggesting that Karlsson’s principle could be seen to apply at all levels of semantic classification and grouping. Thus, some inflected forms and the associated morphological features would be common and characteristic for the entire semantic grouping, differentiating the group as a whole from others at the same level of classification, whereas some other inflected forms and morphological features would be differentiating ones, specific to the semantic subgroupings.

In contrast, in the case of Finnish verb lexemes Karlsson has claimed that this word-class would not exhibit similar preferential differentiation based on its semantic groupings. In fact, Karlsson has suggested that verbs would behave as one group in this sense, all sharing the same, single focal inflected form. However, Arppe (2002) has observed differing preferences of inflected forms in the case of a pair of near-synonymous Finnish think verbs, which would be seem to contradict Karlsson’s original stance.

Therefore, the purposes of this paper are two-fold: 1) to demonstrate that the general principle proposed by Karlsson of an association between preferred inflectional forms and meaning also applies for verbs, and 2) to demonstrate that this principle applies in a similar fashion at different levels of granularity of semantic classification and grouping of verbs.