Linguist Forum

General Linguistics => Linguist's Lounge => Topic started by: Guijarro on August 23, 2014, 08:31:29 AM

Title: absolute synonyms?
Post by: Guijarro on August 23, 2014, 08:31:29 AM
There is a kind of linguistic dogma (maybe as unreasonable as other dogmas) that maintains there are no absolute synonyms in any language. So, when I use two different words for pointing to the same concept, I desperately try to find at least collocation differences that thus show both terms are not completely synonymous. It is easy to do that in my mother language, but a bit more difficult in other languages, even if you speak them with some fluency.

I have two such couplets in English which to me are absolute synonyms, but which I am sure they cannot be for English native linguists.



I wouldn't use TALK in I --- English

but otherwise, I see no difference with them.

With the second couplet, I wouldn't use CLOSE in --- your dirty gob!, but that's where my awareness stops.

If you have time to spare, can you give me a sort of semantic description for each of the four terms, or, if you are not sure, at least your collocation preferences?

It would be fun!
Title: Re: absolute synonyms?
Post by: Daniel on August 23, 2014, 09:26:24 AM
Sofa and couch are the typical example pair for English and they truly are equivalent, at least for some speakers (including myself). However, in fact they end up being slightly different sociolinguistically such as when using one word at one relative's house and the other word and another's. So the words do drift apart.

As for your pairs:
Speak/talk: someone I've been talking to recently has been saying "talk English" etc., and it comes across as very un-English, though there's no semantic reason for it. So I think you answered your own question. Plus "talk" is more casual than "speak"-- you might want to speak with your employees about sexual harassment, but talk with your friend about baseball. Very subtle, but not exactly the same.

Clearly not equivalent when you look beyond the most frequent usage. "Close a deal" vs *Shut a deal, "Close your eyes" vs "Shut your eyes" (the latter is more forceful), etc. Closing involves merely making something not open, while shutting involves forcing it to be that way, at least a lot of the time.

Whether these differences are "important"... I'll let you decide.
Title: Re: absolute synonyms?
Post by: MalFet on August 23, 2014, 10:04:56 AM
Jakobson famously said that he spoke twelve languages, all of them Russian. Less famously, he went on to explain that he couldn't speak English, but he was perfectly happy to talk it all day long.
Title: Re: absolute synonyms?
Post by: freknu on August 24, 2014, 12:17:57 AM
Why "absolute" anything?

I find it quite strange that "absolute" would have any use within linguistics :/
Title: Re: absolute synonyms?
Post by: Guijarro on August 25, 2014, 12:50:13 AM
Maybe more within Philology? Ouch, I dunno, man!!