Semantics 3 – Relations

On the previous pages, we learnt about features that may help us to distinguish between different words with regard to their meaning. However, as we have seen in our discussion of hyper- vs. hyponyms, we also need ways of expressing any relationships that might exist between them, as well as rankings or groupings/orderings that may be artificially imposed on them for classification purposes. The descriptive symbols used below are again taken from Leech (21981).

(Multiple) Taxonomies & Hyponymy

In multiple taxonomies, there is usually an ‘abstract’ term grouping together similar items. This term is usually a hypernym and its subordinate members are the hyponyms. There is no necessary ordering, as the items each contrast with one another, but there may be culturally ‘imposed’ values or rankings of ‘goodness’ attached to some items. Examples for such multiple taxonomies are:


Hierarchies, on the other hand, exhibit a clear and ordered ranking expressed as a chain of multiple linked elements. Rankings of this type may be based on relatively clear and natural units, as they are often found in measurements, such as in inchfootyardmile, or constitute ‘artificially imposed’ categories/judgements, as in winnerrunner-uplast.


Try to identify further instances of multiple taxonomies and hierarchies and provide some possible reasons for why they may exist.


Relationships always involve a kind of ‘comparison’ between the meanings expressed by two words. They can express natural or artificially created/expert classes and come in two flavours:


List some additional examples for both uni- and bi-directional relationships and try to identify reasons why both types may be necessary/useful in describing different aspects of relationships.

Sources & Further Reading:

Leech, G. 1981. Semantics: the Study of Meaning (2nd ed.). London: Penguin.