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Review of Structuring the lexicon

posted February 2nd, 2012

Structuring the lexicon: A clustered model for near-synonymy. By Dagmar Divjak. (Cognitive linguistics research 43.) Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 2010. Pp. xii, 278. ISBN 9783110220582. $150 (Hb).

Reviewed by Natalia Levshina, University of Leuven

Dagmar Divjak’s monograph is a fascinating attempt to disentangle the complexity of verb synonymy in Russian with the help of cutting-edge quantitative methods. It sheds light on fundamental semantic issues, such as external delineation and internal organization of near-synonyms, relationships between lexical and constructional meaning, and cognitive reality of corpus-based models.

The book comprises six chapters and a large appendix with detailed information about the sample of Russian verbs. In the first chapter, D introduces the key concepts of her study and outlines the methodology applied in the book. She shows how the cognitive-linguistic notions of construal, linguistic category, and prototype can be operationalized with the help of the corpus-based behavioral profiles approach, which is based on a large number of contextual features identified in a corpus.

Ch. 2 presents an impressive typology of 289 Russian verbs that require an infinitival complement, which reflects a continuum of event integration. The typology was created on the basis of native speakers’ judgments about a few coarse-grained constructional features of verbs. As Ch. 3 demonstrates, these constructional features can also be useful in the identification of near-synonyms in a group of semantically related verbs.

In Chs. 4 and 5, D zooms in on nine near-synonymous Russian verbs of trying. She finds three main clusters in this group of near-synonyms (Ch. 4) and examines the prototypicality structure of each cluster individually (Ch. 5). Here the behavioral profiles method is thrown into action. D employs hierarchical cluster analysis to visualize and explore the multivariate data.

Ch. 6 is the most heterogeneous in the book, where D aims to validate her results. First, she tests the hypotheses presented in Chs. 4 and 5, with the help of confirmatory techniques. Next, she interprets the role of morphology in the construction-lexeme interaction, with the focus on the verbs of contriving or managing. She also compares the results of her corpus-based analyses (verbs of intending) with existing lexicographic descriptions. Finally, she finds converging experimental evidence of the lexical relationships captured with the help of behavioral profiles. The results show that D’s corpus-driven approach yields trustworthy and theoretically meaningful results at a high level of precision.

To sum up, the book provides a revealing and innovative approach to lexical synonymy. It is abundant in semantic and quantitative details, and the scope of analysis is impressive. It succeeds in bridging the gap between the theory and corpus data, on the one hand, and between lexicographers’ intuitions and objective evidence, on the other hand. All of this should guarantee that the book will be of great interest to anyone in the field of usage-based cognitive semantics.