Componential analysis in Semantics

Like other elements of language, the meaning can also be analyzed. The scholars have developed the procedure for the analysis of meaning. This is called the componential analysis.

In componential Analysis, the word meaning is broken into the constituents of meaning. Thus the analysis of word meaning is the process of breaking down the sense of a word into its minimal distinctive features. These features are determined on the basis of contrast with other components. If we take, example, the words “man-woman, boy, and girl”, we find different constituents of meaning in these words:
1. All four words (man, woman, boy and girl) belong to the human race.

2. All these words show gender. On the basis of gender, these four words can be divided into two semantic groups, i.e., male (man and boy) and female (woman and girl).

3. The third semantic constituent or semantic feature, which is found in these words, is age. On this basis, these four words are put into groups, i.e., adult (man and woman) and young (boy and girl)

The constituents of meaning or the dimensions of meaning can be expressed by the following feature symbols, using (-) and (+) with one and the same symbol. For example:
1. +HUMAN (human)

2. -HUMAN (animal)

3. +ADULT (adult)

4. - ADULT (young)

5. +MALE (male)

6. -MALE (female)

The meanings of the individual items can be expressed by the combination of these features symbols:

1. Man : + HUMAN + ADULT + MALE

2. Woman: + HUMAN + ADULT-MALE

3. Boy : + HUMAN - ADULT + MALE

4. Girl : + HUMAN - ADULT - MALE

If we compare the terms “man and woman”, we find contract in +MALE and -MALE (man is + MALE and woman is- MALE ). If we compare the two items like ‘man’ and ‘boy’, we find contrast in +ADULT and- ADULT (man is + ADULT and  boy is -ADULT). This formula is called the componential definitions of the items concerned and the whole procedure is known as componential analysis.
In certain cases the concept of age or sex is not clear. In these cases we use the term ‘0', which signifies that the particular semantic feature is not clearly expressed.

For example, '0 ADULT refers to young and adult both, for example, the word ‘student’, this can be clear when we give the semantic or the componential definitions of child, adult, man and female:

1. Man : + HUMAN (O MALE) (0 ADULT)

2. adult : + HUMAN+ ADULT (O MALE)

3. child : + HUMAN-ADULT (0 MALE)

4. female : (0 HUMAN) (0 ADULT)-MALE

So for as the contrast of meaning in two items is concerned, the following example clearly explains the point:

1. Woman : +HUMAN+ ADULT - MALE

2. Child : + HUMAN - ADULT (0 MALE)

Usually, componential analysis is applied to group of related words that may differ from one another only by one or two components.

The Idea that semantics could be handled in terms of components has been argued with the investigation of kinship terms. For example, it is in Spanish that the sex of the people involved is clearly marked with ending “-0” for male, “-a” for female as in:
1. Tio = Uncle

2. Tia = Aunt

3. Hijo = Son

4. Hija = Daughter

English has no markers of sex , if course, though the ending “-ess” occurs in baroness, lioness, tigress, duchess etc. But if we're concerned with semantics, that is not particularly relevant. There is no reason why we should not attempt to classify the English kinship terms with reference to categories such as sex , even if the language does not mark these terms in the form of the words.

Therefore, sex provides one set of components for kinship terms. Generation differences and degrees of relationship provide two other sets. Thus, for generation differences we need at least five generations which may be labeled grandfather, father/ uncle, brother/ cousin, son/ niece and grandson. Degrees of relationship involve “ lineality” direct for grandfather, father, “ colineal” for brother, uncle, and “ ablineal” for cousin. Given these three sets of components all the English kinship terms can b handled. “ Aunt” is , thus, female and colineal , “cousin” male or female and ablineal:
We can most easily recognize components where words can be set out in a diagrammatic form to represent some kind of “proportional” relationship. In English, there is a three-fold division with many words that refer to living creatures:

1. Man - Woman-Child

2. Ram - Ewe -Lambs

3. Bull - Cow -Calf

4. Boar - Piglet - Sow

Thus, “bull” is to “cow” as “ram” is to “ewe”- or in mathematical terms bull: cow : : ram : ewe.
In the light of relationships such as these, we can abstract the components (male) and (female), (adult) and (non-adult), plus (human), (bovine), (ovine) and (porcine). Strictly, these examples do not in guise (male) and (female) in full conjunction with (adult) and (non-adult), since that would imply four possibilities and we only have three. But, all four are to be found in:

1. Man woman boy girl

However, even with the other examples, it is more plausible to make both distinctions than to say that there are simply three posihilities-(male), (female) and (non-adult).

Componential analysis allows us to provide definitions for all these words in terms of a few components such as “boar” being (porcine), (male), (adult). In many cases, there is an appropriate word in the language to label the component, for example, male and female. But it would be a mistake to suppose that if we use such terms to define a common word that the resultant phrase is semantically identical with it.

Thus, ‘boar’ is not the same as ‘male adult porcine animal'. It is important to note that in the vocabulary of English we have words such as ‘boar’ and bull whereas with “giraffe” we can only use the phrase adult male giraffe. And the difference is relevant to the semantic structure of English. We may, perhaps, assume that all societies distinguish between male and female, and that thus (male) and (female) are universal components of language.

A particular characteristic of componential analysis is that it attempts as far as possible to treat components in terms of “binary” opposites, eg. between (male) and (female), (animal) and (in- animal), (adult) and (non-adult).

In this, it clearly gives emphasis on the relation of complementarity. Additionally, there an advantage in such binary terms in that we can choose one only as the label and distinguish this in terms of pluses and minuses. Thus, (male) and (female) are written as (+male) and (- male), and so-on.
Moreover, we can refer to the lack of a sex distinction as “ plus or minus” with the symbol (+- male).
In practice, componential analysis has not been used simply in order to restate the relations dealt in hyponymy, synonymy, autonomy, polysemy and homonymy. Rather, it has been used bring out the logical relations that are associated with them. Nonetheless, componential analysis does not handle all semantics relations effectively and efficiently.

First, it is difficult to reduce the relational opposites to components. For the relation of ‘parent-child’ cannot simply be handled by assigning components to each, unless those components are in some sense directional.

Secondly, the componential analysis cannot remove the hierarchical characteristic of hyponymy. For the distinction (+-male)/(-male) applies only to living things. Distinction in terms of these components, e.g. between ‘ram’ and ‘ewe’, will hold only for items that also marked as (+ animal). Therefore, componential analysis has to state that, only if something is animate, may it be male or female with a formula such as (+animate +-male).

Again, it will be obvious that such rules are simply a disguised way of stating the hierarchical nature of the semantic distinctions.

Turning to the structure of vocabulary, it is pointed out that a dictionary would distinguish between four meanings of the word “bachelor”--

1. A man who has never married.

2. A young knight serving under the banner of another.

3. Someone with a first degree.

4. A young male unmated fur seal during the mating season.

These four meanings can, moreover, be partly differentiated by what are called ‘markers’ which are shown in round brackets, eg. (human) (animal) and (male), together with some specific characteristics which are called ‘distinguishers’ and placed in square brackets, c.g. [first degree] in the case of the academic. 

Finally, the componential analysis theory has one major drawback, as there is no limit to the number of markers that can be established. In addition, this theory is not always capable of dealing with the phenomena which are dealt with in the relational senses. Notwithstanding, it is a theoretical framework for handling all the relations. Therefore, it is more scientific than the other relational analyses.
Next Post Previous Post
No Comment
Add Comment
comment url