Measuring semantic distance across time
An analysis of the collocational profiles of a set of near-synonyms in American English
Keywords:near synonymy, collocation, semantic vector spaces, collocational networks, diachrony
Over the last decades, several studies have analyzed the collocational preferences of particular sets of near synonyms from a synchronic viewpoint, while their diachronic development has generally been disregarded. The aim of this paper is to partially fill this gap by examining the collocational behavior of the adjectives fragrant, perfumed, and scented, which denote the concept sweet smelling, over the time span 1810–2009. To this purpose, instances of the three near-synonyms and their L5–R5 collocates were extracted from the Corpus of Historical American English (COHA) and then submitted to statistical modeling. Results indicate that, at the beginning of the time span analyzed, the collocational preferences of scented and perfumed are very similar but, over time, scented becomes semantically closer to fragrant, while at the same time taking over some of its functions.
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