Near-Synonymy, Lexical Choice, and the Structure of Lexical Knowledge – Graeme Hirst and Philip Edmonds (University of Toronto)

April 13, 1999 all-day

Plesionyms, or near-synonyms, are words, that, within or across languages, are almost synonyms—but not quite. Some examples: “forest”, “woods”, German “Wald”; “fib”, “lie”, “misrepresentation”. Near-synonyms may differ in one or more of the following: connotation, emphasis on subcomponents, implicature, denotation, speaker’s expressed attitude, register, and structural or selectional requirements. In all but the last two of these, the distinction between two near-synonyms is at least in part conceptual.It is necessary to represent lexical meaning finely enough that distinctions between near-synonyms can adequately be taken into account in such tasks as lexical choice in machine translation and mono- and multilingual text generation. This is the basis for an alternative to conventional models of the relationship between words and concepts: a coarse-grained hierarchy in which clusters of near-synonyms are distinguished by explicit differentiae. This model is implemented in a system for lexical choice that is envisioned as a component of high-quality machine translation.

Center for Language and Speech Processing