Guide to Literary Terms

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What is the difference between sematic and lexical field, if any?

The difference between a semantic and a lexical field is that the former deals with meaning, whereas the latter is concerned with topic. Both fields are similar in that they are used to organize and classify vocabulary.

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Within the study of linguistics, semantics examines the meaning of words and sentences. A semantic field is thus the range of words that is employed to discuss some common topic. For example, the semantic field for hiking might include words like backpack, incline, terrain, wildlife, navigate, GPS, and boots. These words are not synonymous, but instead refer to the range of concepts that could be employed in a discussion of hiking.

A semantic field is also culturally specific. For example, hikers traversing the icy terrain of Kandersteg, Switzerland might include words like ice axes and locking carabiners in their semantic field for hiking, while those hiking in Death Valley, California might instead include sodium replacements in their own semantic field for this concept. The culture and the context shapes the semantic field of any topic.

A lexeme is often thought of as a word in its most basic form. A lexical field is then the range of words which could apply in a given position of a sentence, each with a slightly different connotation. Consider the following sentence:

On the trail, I met a hiker.

Let's assume the range of possibilities for the word hiker: its lexical field. In this same sentence, we might choose to use the words backpacker, explorer, climber, alpinist, or adventurer. Each of these words conveys a similar meaning to the word hiker; this is a lexical field for that idea.

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On a very basic level, a lexical field is an organization of words on the basis of topic. So, for example, words like blue, red, orange, and yellow could be organized under the lexical field "color." The words in this particular lexical field are related by topic in that they are all colors.

Semantic fields, on the other hand, are not concerned with grouping words according to topic but meaning. That is to say, the words that have been organized into a semantic field have a relationship to one another characterized by what they mean. In technical terms, the words organized into a semantic field share a common semantic property.

As pointed out by a previous educator, the two often overlap, and to some extent, they are used interchangeably. However, it is important to recognize that there is nonetheless a distinction to be made between them. In his 1992 book Color and Language: Color Terms in Language, Siegfried Wyler spells out the difference. A lexical field is "a structure formed by lexemes," whereas a semantic field is "the underlying meaning which finds expression in lexemes."

Lexemes are the basic units of a stock of words in any given language. In determining the difference between lexical and semantic fields, we are concerned with how lexemes are organized.

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In short, anything to do with semantics deals with meaning. So, if we ask what is the semantic range of a word, we are asking how that word can be used. In other words, we are talking about the boundaries of that word from a meaning perspective. Also semantics studies...

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synonyms to see what other words have a similar or overlapping meanings.

Lexical fields differs in some way, even if there is overlap. Lexical fields study how words affect other words in a sentence. For example the presence of a certain word can change the whole meaning of another word in a radical sense. The best example that I have come across is the word, "roller coaster." It might seem that the word "roller coaster" has a very limited semantic range, namely what you see in an amusement park. However within the context of a sentence, that word can have a different meaning altogether, because the lexical range changes it.

Here is an example: "My week has been crazy and my emotions are going nuts; my life is a roller coaster."

In short, the lexical field has changed that word. By this example, we can see that the semantic range is limited to the word itself, the lexical range also includes other words in the context.

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In really simple words, the semantic field is the study of the meanings of words. When we put words in a web by semantic value, what we are doing is relating the words by what they mean. This is a method often used in concept webs to convey a clearer meaning of something. This is why it is a "semantic" field. The word "semantics" and its Greek sēmantiká has, as a root word, the lexeme "seme" which means "sign".

The lexical field studies the morphology of words, or their shape, form, and construction. When we put together a lexical web, we are relating words that are similar in formation probably because they are also similar in linguistic origins. Hence, when these kinds of lexemes are put together they should have the same structure, and form. The lexical field theory (1931) argued that words are grouped in similar manner by construction do to their cultural and geographical origins. Therefore, the lexical field is not only a study but also a theory in itself.

Hence, they are not the same. Semantics is the study of the meaning of words whereas morphology is the study of the construction of words. One is meaning, and the other one is form.

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