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Leo remarks:
I had said:
>There is a theory that no two words in any language can ever be fully 
>synonymous.
Alex responded:
>>That's a silly theory, except in the uselessly narrow reading . . . .

Leo replies:
I heard that said, long ago, by some semanticist, I believe.
It was focused not on interlinguistics, but on meaning within 
a single language. Might better have read:
"No two words in a language can ever be fully synonymous."
I don't know where the concept came from, who said it, or if 
I agree at all. Nevertheless it is something to think about.

It's been a long time since I did much reading in the field of 
semantics. Some in the field long ago seemed a little creepy to
me -- Korzybski and the lot. Hayakawa and some others were 
more sensible in my opinion. I note that the Wikipedia article 
on semantics makes no mention of either. 

Things like the prototype theory of Eleanor Rosch may relate 
to this issue. But if we have any semanticists aboard, I'd like 
to hear their thoughts, not just on that sentence above but 
on how current theories in the field of semantics may relate 
to conlanging. 

Some of you may feel that semantics as an academic discipline 
does not supply us much help. 

I'd like to hear what any of you have to say, pro or con.

Regards,                LEO


 Leo Moser 
-----Original Message-----
From: Constructed Languages List [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Alex Fink
Sent: Tuesday, August 19, 2014 4:07 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: "big" versus "large"

On Sun, 17 Aug 2014 00:42:57 +0200, Julanga <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

>I wrote a visual question on ZBB:
>
>http://www.incatena.org/viewtopic.php?p=1080847#p1080847
>
>It's the part about "23" and "17". What do you think about it?

It doesn't work for me, not unambiguously enough that I'd ever lean on "big" versus "large" to make that distinction myself.   I could follow along with someone who was making it, but would regard them as having engaged in a minor form of term-coining, and having done somewhat poorly at transparency in so doing.  If I had to make the distinction myself, 23 is the *greater* number, while 17 is, well, the number in larger type.  

>The question isn't primarily whether "large dog" means the same as "big 
>dog", but whether "large" means the same as "big". Those are distinct 
>issues.

Allow me to ask *why* that is the question, for your conlang's purposes.

English, ending up with two words for "of great size" for historical reasons (one Latinate, one, um, of obscure and perhaps expressive origin) whose semantics were very close, has grown to differentiate them in the way these things often happen.  Their respective sources meant there was already a register difference between them; through fixations of collocations and patterns of collocations, slight differences of frequency between them get magnified into actual differences of semantic loading, such as the ones people have cited here before ("large" is better with collections, etc.).  But, OK, English usage has managed to cook up a distinction there.  Still, myself, I'd be at least as likely to regard that as an accident of English than as something that needs replicating.  Or do you also want to replicate the difference between Hungarian _piros_ and _vörös_, etc.?

On the moderate hand:

On Thu, 14 Aug 2014 17:37:51 -0700, Leo Moser <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

>There is a theory that no two words in any language can ever be fully 
>synonymous.

That's a silly theory, except in the uselessly narrow reading (like "the temperature is always increasing or decreasing, it's never staying exàctly the same").  Beyond examples like Herman's, one can point to the existence of syncretism, which is nothing else than two historically different stems becoming synonymous (perhaps in certain inflectional forms) to such a degree that the language doesn't retain both, but picks some of one and some of the other, bundling them into one lexeme.  The clearest-cut cases of this are the ones motivated by pure form, e.g. vulgar Latin replacing exactly the monosyllabic forms of _eō_ with forms of _vādō_.

A better theory is that when two categories that are nearly identical, people will either collapse them or innovate a differentiation between them.  This holds e.g. both in semantics and phonology: in semantics, given two words of similar meaning, the first outcome usually leads to loss of one but sometimes in messy cases to syncretism etc., and the second to differentiation of sense like the sort we're discussing.  In phonology, the first outcome is merger, and the second is contrast amplification such as is clearestly found e.g. in push chains.  This sort of parallel leads me to suspect that the level at which this process works is a very general one to do with discreteness of categories in human cognition, not anything special to synonymity.

Alex