Antonymy has always been regarded as a key lexical relation (see Leech 1974; Lyons 1977; or Cruse 1986). Recently, corpus data have allowed for the co-occurrence frequency of antonym pairs to be quantified and the various discourse functions of antonymy to be identified (e.g., Justeson and Katz 1991; Mettinger 1994; Fellbaum 1995; Jones 2002). The corpora upon which these studies were based all consisted exclusively of written language, so this paper addresses a question that has previously been overlooked: how are antonyms used in spoken language? Answers are provided using a corpus containing nearly ten million words of data, taken from the spoken component of the British National Corpus. A search for 56 antonym pairs is conducted, allowing a total of 955 contexts to be classified and analyzed. The distribution of discourse functions among these pairs is assessed, comparisons are made with the corresponding distribution in written language, and differences between antonym use across the two modes are identified and discussed. Evidence from the BNC indicates that antonym co-occurrence is 1.36 times more common in written language than spoken, but that the discourse functions of antonymy (and the frequency with which they are served) are relatively similar.
© Walter de Gruyter