In , a semantic field is a lexical set of words grouped (by ) that refers to a specific subject.Howard Jackson, Etienne Zé Amvela, ''Words, Meaning, and Vocabulary'', Continuum, 2000, p14. The term is also used in ,Ingold, Tim (1996). ''Key debates in anthropology''. Routledge. , . Source

(accessed: Sunday May 2, 2010), p.127
, and technical .

Definition and usage

Brinton (2000: p. 112) defines "semantic field" or "semantic domain" and relates the linguistic concept to :
Related to the concept of hyponymy, but more loosely defined, is the notion of a semantic field or domain. A semantic field denotes a segment of reality symbolized by a set of related words. The words in a semantic field share a common .
A general and intuitive description is that words in a semantic field are not necessarily ous, but are all used to talk about the same general phenomenon.Adrian Akmajian, Richard A. Demers, Ann K. Farmer, Robert M. Harnish, ''Linguistics'', MIT Press, 2001, p239. Synonymy requires the sharing of a or , but the semantic field is a larger area surrounding those. A meaning of a word is dependent partly on its relation to other words in the same conceptual area. The kinds of semantic fields vary from culture to culture and anthropologists use them to study belief systems and reasoning across cultural groups. Andersen (1990: p.327) identifies the traditional usage of "semantic field" theory as:
Traditionally, semantic fields have been used for comparing the lexical structure of different languages and different states of the same language.


The origin of the field theory of semantics is the introduced by in the 1930s,David Corson, ''Using English Words'', Springer, 1995. although according to it has historical roots in the ideas of and . In the 1960s saw semantic fields as crystallising and perpetuating the values of society. For John Lyons in the 1970s words related in any sense belonged to the same semantic field, and the semantic field was simply a , which he described as a lexical field. Lyons emphasised the distinction between semantic fields and . In the 1980s developed a semantic field theory of . This approach is based on the idea that the items in a semantic field have specific relations to other items in the same field, and that a metaphor works by re-ordering the relations of a field by mapping them on to the existing relations of another field. and in the 1990s proposed as an alternative to semantic field theory.Pamela B. Faber, Ricardo Mairal Usón, ''Constructing a Lexicon of English Verbs'', Walter de Gruyter, 1999, p73.

Semantic shifts

The semantic field of a given word shifts over time. The word "man" used to mean "human being" exclusively, while today it predominantly means "adult male," but its semantic field still extends in some uses to the generic "" (see ). Overlapping semantic fields are problematic, especially in . Words that have multiple meanings (called words) are often untranslatable, especially with all their connotations. Such words are frequently instead of translated. Examples include "" (literally "horsemanship", related to "cavalry"), "" (literally, "support"), and "".

Anthropological discourse

Semantic field theory has informed the discourse of Anthropology as Ingold (1996: p. 127) relates:
Semiology is not, of course, the same as semantics. Semiology is based on the idea that signs have meaning in relation to each other, such that a whole society is made up of relationally held meanings. But semantic fields do not stand in relations of opposition to each other, nor do they derive their distinctiveness in this way, nor indeed are they securely bounded at all. Rather, semantic fields are constantly flowing into each other. I may define a field of religion, but it soon becomes that of ethnic identity and then of politics and selfhood, and so on. In the very act of specifying semantic fields, people engage in an act of closure whereby they become conscious of what they have excluded and what they must therefore include.

See also

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{{Reflist Semantic relations