Synonymy in theory and in practice: Bolinger’s principle of non-synonymy and corpus linguistics
Priscilla Corrêa Cesar
(Université Catholique de Louvain)
Saturday (April 22nd), 13:15-13:40
Lipsius 147

According to Bolinger’s principle of non-synonymy, different forms will never have the exact same semantic value and, even when it may seem possible to substitute words without affecting the expressed meaning, the speaker’s preference for one construction over the other ought to be a reflection of such differences. In this perspective, corpus linguistics studies have shown that, in genuine communication, words present remarkable differences in their use patterns – meaning that even when two forms are apparently identical in their expression and grammatical force, in practice, speakers still choose to employ words in different ways. Considering Bolinger’s analyzes were mainly theoretical and based on his intuitions, this paper investigates how corpus linguistics studies corroborate his thesis by testing the apparent sameness of the near synonymous words and offering the analyzes of the phenomenon of synonymy a more objective and empirical approach. To do so, we present Bolinger’s arguments on the inexistence of absolute synonymy and give a critical review on the corpus-based analyzes conducted by Biber, Conrad and Reppen (2006) – on the lexical pairs little and small; begin and start – and also on the research conducted by Partington (1998) – on the lexical items complete, pure and absolute, typically considered synonyms of sheer.