УДК 811.161.1’23                                                  

Oksana Lytvyn


This article focuses on the problem of linguistic categorization. In this article the content of the linguistic category of converseness is described, its structure is analyzed, and its central zone is defined on the basis of examples found in linguistic works. The research was conducted using material from monographs, textbooks and linguistic encyclopedias written in English, and illustrative examples were selected from these sources. Quantitative calculations enabled us to identify the total number of converse pairs which were used in the form of examples within these various sources, as well as to indicate their distribution within this category. We identified 118 converse pairs and 31 autoconverses, representing a total of 298 units which occurred in the linguistic sources in the form of illustrative examples. These lexical units were then divided into six groups on the basis of the lexico-grammatical class to which they belong. A quantitative analysis showed that the authors used verbs (36.2%) and nouns (33.6%) most frequently as examples of converses. Conclusions were arrived at regarding the heterogeneity of the structure of the lexical category which was under research, and the most typical converse pairs in the English language were identified (buy – sell, husband – wife, above – below).

Key words and phrases: category, categorization, structure of the category, converseness, converse term.


Statement of the scientific problem and its significance. Cognitive linguists nowadays describe a speaker as a person who is able to use language to receive, store, use and transmit knowledge. Natural language serves as the means for coding and transformation of knowledge. One of the products of an individual’s cognitive activity is categorization, which might be described as the process of identifying the features which are common to a group of separate objects, and making use of cognitive abilities to formulate the general concepts which are the distinguishing features of this community of separate objects [6, p. 127].

The process of categorization enables us to establish a general structural framework for our experience, to classify objects which we are able to recognize, and to orient ourselves in the world. Category is one of the cognitive forms of human thought which makes it possible to summarize a speaker’s experience, as well as to make its classification [3, p. 45]. Mental images of objects in the external world which are similar in certain relevant aspects are combined within a category.

Modern cognitive and psycholinguistic works devote a lot of attention to different aspects of categorization. In particular, the view that different objects are categorized in different ways has become more and more widespread. In the course of the research which was conducted the heterogeneity of natural categories such as birds, furniture, tableware, games, musical instruments, and colour was demonstrated (L. Wittgenstein, J. Austin, F. Lounsbury, G. Lakoff, Е. Rosch, С. Mervis, L. Barsalou, J. Taylor, R. Frumkina, N. Ryabtseva, V. Starko, and О. Khadzhyohlova). However, researchers have not yet given enough attention to the structure of the artificial (linguistic) categories which involve abstract elements that appear in the consciousness of native speakers as the result of their cognitive activity.

The current relevance of our research is linked with the importance of studying the processes by which artificial categories are constructed within the human consciousness, and of describing the structure of these categories.

The purpose of our work is to describe the content, to analyze the structure and to define the central zone of the lexical category of converseness on the basis of the linguistic works which we selected.

Twelve sources serve as the material for the research: ten authentic works written in English (including nine monographs and one encyclopedia) in which theoretical information in lexicology and lexical semantics is presented, and also two monographs written in English, one of which is written by a Belgian, and the other by a German linguist.

Analysis of the research studies devoted to this problem. In our work we consider converseness as a linguistic category in the lexical subsystem of the English language within semantics and syntax.

The terms «converseness» and «converse term» were introduced into linguistics by the British scholar J. Lyons. Converse opposition is one of J. Lyons’ major types of oppositions, and he characterizes it in the following way: «if X is p to Y, then Y is q to X, and if Y is q to X, then X is p to Y» [8, p. 280]. These include examples such as buy – sell, lend – borrow, parent – child, above – below. In other words, by the use of converse terms it is possible to present the same situation in the text from the standpoint of its different members.

For pairs of words which exhibit «the reversal of a relationship between items» F. Palmer, along with J. Lyons’ term, suggested the term «relational opposites» [19, p. 82].

The following two essential semantic properties of converses are distinguished:

1) the lexical or grammatical meaning, which is contrary to the meaning of the corresponding word (such as write – be written);

2) the relative meaning, which expresses the relation between at least two aspects of a situation (subject and object, as well as the circumstances) and is implemented in the position of a syntactic predicate such as: bigger – smaller, before – after, mother – son). Lexical, lexico-syntactic, morphologico-syntactic and syntactic types of converseness are distinguished [7, p. 265].

Many linguists have studied the syntactic and semantic aspects of lexical converseness, including J. Lyons, D. Cruse, F. Palmer, Y. Apresyan, M. Vsevolodova, Y. Stepanov, T. Lomtyev, and L. Novikov). However, there is no consensus among them regarding the interpretation of this phenomenon. Some scholars such as D. Cruse, D. Crystal, and C. Kreidler consider converses as an important class of opposites, whereas others such as J. Lyons and F. Palmer see them as constituting a specific type of semantic relationship.

Analyzing the category of converseness within the cognitive paradigm, S. Dobrychev points out that in the broad sense of this linguistic phenomenon the essence of converseness «lies in the transposition of at least two elements in the syntactic structure while maintaining the general semantic invariant» [2]. J. Lyons emphasizes that lexical replacement of a word by its converse counterpart is always connected with a particular grammatical transformation, whereby nouns (or noun groups) exchange places; in addition to this, other transformations may occur, such as in the choice of the preposition or the case ending in certain languages [4, p. 129].

In linguistic works two-place and three-place predicates which function as converses are generally singled out. Thus, predicates such as better – worse, kill – be killed, husband – wife are two-place converses, because they attach two actants that can change places. Let us consider a few examples:

(1) Tom is better than Garry. – Garry is worse than Tom. (2) Tom killed Garry. – Garry was killed by Tom. (3) Tom is Kate’s husband. – Kate is Tom’s wife.

Predicates such as buy – sell and give – receive require three actants, but only two of the actants exchange places when the predicate is replaced. Those predicates are three-place converses. Let us consider the following examples:

(4) Tom (x) bought a flat (y) from Garry (z). – Garry (z) sold a flat (y) to Tom (x).

Various parts of speech can function as converses, in particular verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs in the comparative degree, and prepositions.

Converse relations are characteristic primarily of verbal vocabulary. In explaining the phenomenon of converseness, Apresyan introduces the term «reverse role or actant structure». It can be said that the predicates X and Y have a reverse role (or actant) structure if at least two of their semantic valences satisfy the following conditions: 1) the set of roles (or actants) for these valences is the same―that is, the predicates X and Y must have the same roles for subject and object or actants A and B; 2) in the valency tree of X and Y different roles (or actants) correspond to the valencies with the same number [1, p. 260].

Unlike antonyms, converses can be characterized in terms of symmetry. A relation can be called symmetric «if it holds for the arguments (the related items) in both directions». If arguments (lexical units) a and b come into relation R, then a R b entails b R a [19, p. 82]. Examples of symmetric converses (also referred to as autoconverses) in English are cousin, sibling, be married to, resemble. Consider the examples: (5) Tom is Garry’s cousin. – Garry is Tom’s cousin. (6) Tom is married to Kate. – Kate is married to Tom.

A report regarding the principal material for and the results of the research. We identified 118 converse pairs and 31 autoconverses, representing a total of 298 units which occurred in the linguistic sources in the form of illustrative examples. These lexical units were then divided into six groups on the basis of the lexico-grammatical class to which they belong:

1) nouns: doctor  –  patient, husband  –  wife, master  –  servant, parent  –  child, sibling; 2) verbs: buy  –  sell, charge  –  pay, lend  –  borrow, break  –  be broken, resemble; 3) adjectives: better  –  worse, higher  –  lower, larger  –  smaller, more expensive  –  less expensive, as wide as;  4) adverbs: left (of)  –  right (of), north (of)  –  south (of), outside  –  inside; 5) prepositions: above  –  below, before  –  after, in front of  –  behind, over  –  under; 6) conjunctions: before  –  after.

In the group of nouns, including a total of 50 converse pairs, the following thematic subgroups can be distinguished:

  1. family relationships: brother  –  sister, father  –  son;
  2. professional relationships: employer  –  employee, teacher  –  pupil;
  3. social relationships: donor  –  recipient, guest  –  host

A quantitative analysis showed that the authors used verbs (36.2%) and nouns (33.6%) most frequently as examples of converses; less frequently prepositions (12.8%), adjectives (12.1%), and adverbs (4.7%) were used; conjunctions are represented by only one converse pair.

We would like to mention that the largest number of illustrative examples were presented in the monographs by Canadian linguist L. J. Brinton (33 converse pairs  –  22,1% of all the examples which were identified) and by the American linguist C. Kreidler (28 converse pairs –  18.8% of all the examples).

The frequency of usage of certain converse pairs in the form of examples corresponds quantitatively to the lexico-grammatical word classes used for illustration of converseness. It is necessary to point out that when describing the phenomenon of converseness in English, the authors of linguistic works often use non-unique examples, and this is borne out by the significant proportion of coincidences. In illustrating the phenomenon of converseness the linguists used 80 different converse pairs and 23 autoconverses in their works.

The verb pair buy – sell was found to have occurred the most frequently, being presented in eleven sources as an example. The noun pair  husband  –  wife was used in ten linguistic works. On this basis we can affirm that the converse pairs buy  –  sell and husband  –  wife form the nucleus of the lexical category of converseness. In eight sources the prepositional pair above  –  below can be seen, and in six linguistic works the two converse pairs give  –  receive and in front of  –  behind were used. Thus the pairs  above  –  below, give  –  receive, and in front of  –  behind might be described as forming a zone near to the nucleus of this category. In five of the sources, the two pairs lend  –  borrow and teacher  –  pupil were used as examples. The pair of lexemes parent  –  child was mentioned in four linguistic works. In three sources the autoconverse term sibling and six converse pairs ― before  –  after, donor  –  patient, employer  –  employee, north (of)  –  south (of), outside  –  inside, and own  –  belong to, reappear. In two of the linguistic works, seven pairs of lexemes and four autoconverses were used. The remainder of the illustrative examples (82.5%) were mentioned only in one linguistic source, among them bequeath  –  inherit, predator  –  prey, resemble, and longer  –  shorter).

Conclusions and perspectives for future research. After the content of the lexical category of converseness is analysed on the basis of examples found in English linguistic works, certain conclusions can be drawn concerning the structure of this category. It must definitely be borne in mind that when any lexical item is used as an illustrative example of converseness, it suggests that linguists consider it to be a sufficiently suitable representative of this category. It is also the case that linguists often present the same lexical units to illustrate a particular phenomenon, which enables us to refer to them as being more characteristic or less charasteristic members of the category.

We can see within our material that almost all the authors (eleven out of twelve) used the converse pair buy  –  sell (representing 7.4% of the total number of converse pairs) as an illustrative example; hence, this pair receives a status of a prototype of the category. A similar conclusion can be drawn concerning the pair husband  –  wife, which was given as an example in ten out of the twelve sources (6.7%). Converse pairs of verbs, nouns and prepositions were the pairs which recurred the most frequently. In total only 17.5% of the whole number of examples occurred in more than one source. This enables us to conclude that the majority of the converses used as illustrative material are found in what could be referred to as the peripheral zone of that category.

It is evident that prospects for future research exist in the analysis of the content and structure of other linguistic categories such as antonymy and synonymy on the basis of examples found in linguistic works.

Sources and literature

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Литвин Оксана. Конверсивні пари в англомовних лінгвістичних працях як ілюстративний засіб. Статтю присвячено проблемі лінгвістичної категоризації. У статті описано наповнення, проаналізовано структуру та виявлено центральну зону лексичної категорії конверсії за даними лінгвістичних праць. Дослідження проведено на матеріалі англомовних монографій, підручників та лінгвістичних енциклопедій, з яких вибрано ілюстративний матеріал. Кількісні підрахунки дозволили виявити як загальну кількість вжитих пар конверсивів, так і їхній розподіл у структурі відповідної категорії. В опрацьованих джерелах виявлено 118 пар конверсивів та 31 автоконверсив, загалом 298 одиниць, ужи­тих як ілюстративний матеріал. Вибрані лексичні одиниці поділено за прина­лежністю до певного лексико-граматичного класу на 6 груп. Кількісний аналіз показав, що найчастіше в ролі прикладів автори використовують дієслова (36.2%) та іменники (33.6%). Зроблено висновок про неоднорідність структури розглянутої лексичної категорії, а також виявлено найбільш типові пари в англійській мові (buy – sell, husband – wife, above – below).

Ключові слова: категорія, категоризація, структура категорії, конверсія, конверсив.

Литвин Оксана. Конверсные пары в англоязычных лингвистических трудах как иллюстративное средство. Статья посвящена проблеме лингвис­тической категоризации. В статье описано наполнение, проанализирована структура и выявлена центральная зона лексической категории конверсии по данным лингвистических трудов. Исследование проведено на материале англо­язычных монографий, учебников и лингвистических энциклопедий, из которых выбрано иллюстративный материал. Количественные подсчеты позволили выявить как общее количество употребленных пар конверсивов, так и их распре­деление в структуре соответствующей категории. В обработанных источниках обна­ружено 118 пар конверсивов и 31 аутоконверсив, в общем 298 единиц, употреб­ленных как иллюстративный материал. Выбранные лексические единицы разделены по принадлежности к определенному лексико-грамматическому классу на 6 групп. Количественный анализ показал, что чаще всего в качестве примеров авторами использовались глаголы (36.2%) и существительные (33.6%). Сделан вывод о неоднородности структуры рассматриваемой лексической категории, а также выявлены наиболее типичные пары в английском языке (buy – sell, husband – wife, above – below).

Ключевые слова: категория, категоризация, структура категории, конверсия, конверсив.


© Lytvyn O., 2014