1. ‘collocation’. This term denotes the idea that important

 

1.     
Introduction

In the last decades, corpora have proven to be a
useful tool for the exploration of features of language and have been essential
for the development of new theories. Linguist Sinclair (1933-2007) has made
major contributions to the field of corpus linguistics and linguistics in
general, as he developed the notion of ‘extended units of meaning’ (1996),
namely linguistic units that convey the lexical meaning in a given context.

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            The aim
of this paper is to explore the contribution of corpora in raising awareness of
the existence of units of meaning and of their transferability between
languages. For this purpose, I carried out an investigation in which I analysed
the collocational behaviour and semantic prosody of the Italian translational
equivalents of four near synonyms in Italian belonging to the ‘consequence
group’, namely risultato, esito, conseguenza and effetto,
following Xiao and McEnery’s study (2010).

2.      Theoretical
background

In this section, I will briefly explore the notion of
extended units of meaning and provide a list of some of the studies that have
been carried out until now in which corpora have been used to investigate the
validity of this notion.

            Starting
from the 1950s, many linguists started to analyse collections of text in order
to investigate frequent recurring patterns in language. Up until that moment,
it was believed that the word itself was the carrier of the meaning. Linguist
J.R. Firth (1957) was one of the first linguists to disprove this theory. As a
matter of fact, he was the first to introduce the notion of ‘collocation’. This
term

denotes the idea that important aspects of the meaning
of a word (or another linguistic unit) are not contained within the word
itself, considered in isolation, but rather subsist in the characteristic
associations that the word participates in, alongside other words or structures
with which it frequently co-occurs. (McEnery and Hardie 2012:122-123)

He also argues that “the collocation of a word is not
just a ‘juxtaposition’ but it is an order of mutually expectancy” (Manca 2012:40). In this sense, he refers to
‘meaning by collocation’, which is “an abstraction at the syntagmatic level and
is not directly concerned with the conceptual or idea approach to the meaning
of words” (Firth 1957:195-196). Firth carried out his research with the help of
his co-workers who provided him with texts and dictionaries, as corpora did not
exist yet.

Years later, the development
of corpora and the field of corpus linguistics has made possible a series of
discoveries which have revolutionised the field of semantics and linguistics in
general. As pointed out by Daniellson, “with new methodologies and data,
corpus linguistics has made us aware of language patterns that were previously
hidden in obscurity” (Daniellson 2003). The Firthian notion of ‘collocation’
was taken on by one of his students, John Sinclair, who re-elaborated it on the
basis of corpus evidence and defines it as follows:

Collocation is the occurrence of two or more words
within a short space of each other in a text. The usual measure of proximity is
a maximum of four words intervening. Collocations can be dramatic and
interesting because unexpected, or they can be important in the lexical
structure of the language because of being frequently repeated. (…)
Collocation, in its purest sense, … recognizes only the lexical co-occurrence
of words. (Sinclair 1991:170)

In relation to collocation, Sinclair proposes the term
‘co-selection’ to indicate “cases where a relatively infrequent word has a
strong tendency to co-occur with a restricted set of collocates” (Stubbs
2009:119). He then takes these ideas as a starting point in order to identify
new types of semantic units and to develop a model of extended units of meaning,
which consists of “four types of co-occurrence relations in extended
lexico-semantic units” (Stubbs 2001a: 449), namely collocation, colligation,
semantic prosody and semantic preference, which go from concrete to abstract.
In his memorial article “The Search for Units of Meaning: Sinclair on Empirical
Semantics”, Stubbs (2009:124) briefly illustrates Sinclair’s model:

COLLOCATION is the relation of co-occurrence between
an obligatory core word or phrase (the node) and individual COLLOCATES:
word-tokens which are directly observable and countable in texts.

COLLIGATION is the relation of co-occurrence between
the node and abstract grammatical categories (e.g. past participles or
quantifiers). A traditional category such as ”negative” may be realized
grammatically … or semantically. …

SEMANTIC PREFERENCE is the relation of co-occurrence between
the phrasal unit and words from characteristic lexical fields. Recurrent
collocates provide observable evidence of the characteristic topic of the
surrounding text (e.g. typical subjects or objects of a verb).

SEMANTIC PROSODY is the function of the whole extended
unit. It is a generalization about the communicative purpose of the unit: the
reason for choosing it. …

Units, Stubbs (2009) argues, can also be defined on
the basis of two further criteria, namely the strength of attraction between
node and collocates and their distribution in text types. Moreover, Sinclair’s
model includes concepts which are strictly interrelated, namely that “meaning
is typically dispersed over several word-forms which habitually co-occur in
text” and that these word-forms “‘share’ semantic features” (Stubbs 2001b: 63).
As pointed out by Ebeling (2013), this model assumes that “meaning cannot be
said to belong to a single word, but to the phraseology as a whole” (Hunston
2002: 141 in Ebeling 2013:2).

Besides collocation, the
phenomenon of semantic prosody is perhaps the one that has been explored the
most by many researchers. The concept of ‘semantic prosody’ was introduced by
Louw (1993) and indicates “a form of meaning which is established through the
proximity of a consistent series of collocates” (Louw 2000:57). Semantic
prosody may characterise both the single word and the phrase, as pointed out by
Schmitt and Carter (2004), and “express speaker/writer attitude or evaluation”
(Louw 2000:58). Generally, semantic prosody tends to be negative, but Louw
(1993) maintains that it can be “violated” to achieve particular effects such
as irony, humour or insincerity. The phenomenon of semantic preference, on the
other hand, behaves differently, although it is strictly related to semantic
prosody. As a matter of fact, they have often been confused. McEnery and Hardie
make a distinction, namely that “semantic preference links the node to some
word in its context drawn from a particular semantic field, whereas semantic
prosody links the node to some expression of attitude or evaluation which may
not be a single word, but may be given in a wider context” (McEnery and Hardie
2012:138).

As pointed out by Xiao and
McEnery, “there has been little work done on collocation and semantic prosody
on languages other than English”, and “still less work has been undertaken
contrasting the collocational behaviour and semantic prosody of near synonyms
in different languages” (Xiao and McEnery 2010:103). Only Sardinha (2000),
Tognini-Bonelli (2001) and Oksefjell-Ebeling (2013) have carried out studies in
which they analyse the semantic prosodies of near synonyms in a
cross-linguistic perspective, the first comparing English and Portuguese, the
second English and Italian and the third English and Norwegian.