Antonyms and near-synonyms in adjective-noun combinations

Henk van Jaarsveld (University of Nijmegen)


In the WordNet model of Miller et al., the structure of adjectival
meanings is based on antonymy and synonymy. Pivotal to the
organisation are pairs of highly frequent central antonyms, like
dry-wet. Clustered around each antonym is a set of near-synonyms like
arid, dehydrated, parched for dry.  In adjective-noun combinations,
central antonyms generally have much larger distributions than their
their corresponding near-synonyms which show more specialized
usages. 

Using (INL) corpus-data, the specialized usages for near-synonyms in adjective-noun combinations were investigated for a set of intensifying and modal adjectives. The results indicate that more restricted usages of near-synonyms are often based on systematic selection-restrictions. It is argued that these results point to an hierarchical component in the semantic structure for adjectives. Differences between (sets of ) near-synonyms provide cues for the relevant dimensions of this hierarchical component.