4.5 Interclass oppositions

It may be helpful to summarize the relationships among the various classes that have been alluded to in this paper. The following diagram does this schematically:


     KIND      SHAPE           SIZE            AFFECT

1/2  human       -              -                -

3/4  plants,   long, rigid     (large)           -

5    fruits,   round,           large           impressive;
               solid or                         ungainly
     leaves    curved           -                -
               & broad

6  aggregates     -             -                -

7/8  artifacts    -             small            cute;

11/14   sap     spreading 
                flat;           -                -
        fiber   long flexible

9/10 misc. (incl. 
          animal)  -            -                -

5. Conclusion

In conclusion, I would like to make two main points about the analysis and methodology described above.

First, the principles of cognitive grammar are a useful tool for investigating the semantic structure of noun classes. This approach explicitly recognizes the fact that human beings use linguistic categories to make sense out of the world, and it provides a cognitively motivated framework for describing associative relations among the members of a category. The principles by which different nouns are grouped together into a class are similar to those that govern the connections among the various `senses' of an individual lexical item. These same principles, including metaphor and metonymy, also play an important role in lexical and grammatical change (see also Heine and Claudi 1986).

At the same time, analyses along these lines do not attempt to predict the content of a given category or the direction of meaning change. Thus for example one can explain the inclusion of terms for small animals in Class 7, but this does not entail that all terms for small animals must be in this class. Entities in the world may be classified in myriad ways; small size is just one among many possible criteria for classification, and there is no a priori basis for predicting which characteristics speakers will regard as most salient in a given case. What this type of analysis does show is that the groupings that are found are semantically motivated rather than arbitrary. In this respect it is an advance over the point of view that linguistic categories must either be definable in terms of Aristotle's necessary and sufficient conditions for membership, or dismissed as incoherent.

The second conclusion to be drawn from this study concerns the use of the database. It must be emphasized that a database is not a discovery procedure for semantic structure. In fact, comparison of the categories in the diagrams in Section 4 with the tags used in the database shows that the tags are only indirectly reflected in the diagrams. Some tags, such as `body part', `animal', turn out to require greater differentiation, in ways not originally anticipated when the database structure was conceived. Others, such as `human collectivities' or `part of substance', were discovered as a result of inspecting larger groups of nouns, the semantic network as a whole, or the intersections between the noun classes and wider semantic domains. The database is an extremely useful tool but like other tools, its limits are the limits of its users.



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