Universal human concepts as a basis for contrastive linguistic semantics

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This study sets out to demonstrate that the NSM metalanguage of semantic primes provides a stable language-neutral medium for fine-grained contrastive semantic analysis, in both the lexical and grammatical domains. The lexical examples are drawn from “yearning-missing” words in English, Polish, Russian and Spanish, while the grammatical examples contrast the Spanish diminutive with the hypocoristic “diminutive” of Australian English. We show that the technique of explication (reductive paraphrase) into semantic primes makes it possible to pin down subtle meaning differences which cannot be captured using normal translation or grammatical labels. Explications for the Polish, Russian and Spanish examples are presented both in English and in the language concerned, thus establishing that the metalanguage being used is transposable across languages.


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