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A diachronic perspective on near-synonymy: The concept of sweet-smelling in American English

Daniela Pettersson-Traba ORCID logo

Abstract

This paper presents a diachronic analysis of the attributive uses of four synonymous adjectives which designate the concept of sweet-smelling (fragrant, perfumed, scented, and sweet-smelling) in the latter part of Late Modern and Present-day American English. By drawing on data from the Corpus of Historical American English (COHA) and applying a Hierarchical Configural Frequency Analysis (HCFA), it delineates the internal semantic structure of this set of synonyms, paying special attention to their noun collocates. The results show that the concept of sweet-smelling experiences major changes over the time span examined (1850–2009), from being used mostly to qualify entities which can exhibit a natural pleasant smell (e.g. flowers and trees) to modifying objects which are artificially sweet-smelling (e.g. oils and shampoos). Moreover, fragrant and perfumed, which initially were the most frequent adjectives, are gradually replaced by scented, thus reflecting a change in the relation between the synonyms over time. The study constitutes the first diachronic approximation to synonymy from the perspective of cognitive semantics and provides equally effective results as previous synchronic research in the field.

Acknowledgements

This research was conducted with the financial support of the European Regional Development Fund and the following institutions: Regional Government of Galicia (grants ED481A-2016/168, ED431D 2017/09, and ED431B 2017/12) and the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (grant FFI2017-86884-P). I am indebted to María José López-Couso, Dirk Speelman, and Dirk Geeraerts for insightful discussions of the results. I am also grateful to Iván Tamaredo and Mario Serrano-Losada for their most helpful suggestions on earlier versions of this paper. Finally, thanks are also due to two anonymous reviewers and the editor of Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory, Stephanie Wulff, for their time and consideration, as well as for their fruitful comments.

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Published Online: 2018-10-09
Published in Print: 2021-10-26

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