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ON DEFINING ADJECTIVES - PART HI Raoul N. Smith In a two-part article published in 1968, Philip Gove, the editor-in-chief of Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language (NID3), presented a style sheet which the lexicographers at Merriam-Webster Company use as a basis for defining adjectives.1 The focus of Gove's article was on the ways in which NID2 and NID3 differ in their use of defining formulae for adjectives—the standard phrases used in defining adjectives.2 The purpose of this paper is to examine some of the methods used in defining adjectives and to suggest changes in this practice. I will first describe the form of adjective definitions in Webster's Seventh Collegiate Dictionary (W7), a subset of NID3, which I have in computer processable form. This will help to capture the differences among sample adjective defining formulae, both syntactically and semantically. I will then examine proposals on the nature of adjectives and current definition practice. Finally, I will define an adjective by incorporating the proposals I have put forth. Adjective Definitions Gove (1968a:5) argues that adjectives are more difficult to define than other major parts of speech for the following three reasons: 1.The analytic style commonly used to define nouns (genus and differentiae) is difficult to apply to adjectives, since adjectives normally do not have a hierarchic sense-structure of most specific to most general.3 2.Objects do not correspond to linguistic adjectives. Rather the states or qualities of objects correspond to a structure of modifying adjective + noun. 3.A large number adjectives have many meanings but low frequencies. Such adjectives are likely to be represented by relatively few citation slips; thus, efforts to differentiate their senses often lead to vague or inexact definitions . In the discussion that follows, I will focus on the first two points: the current method of defining adjectives, and the way in which the function of adjectives determine the form of their definitions. I discuss point 3 elsewhere (Smith ms). The data base for my study consisted of 3,909 adjective definitions extracted from the Systems Development Corporation computer tape version of W7.* The tapes that I used consisted of a contiguous section of the dictionary —from the word deflexed to the word gratify—149 pages of the published text of 1041 pages, or approximately 15% of the total text. For each word, I considered every sense as distinct and treated the whole definition as a single unit. These senses were sorted so that defining formulae could be grouped together. Conjoined formulae were treated as different.5 The most frequent defining formulae (those occurring with frequency of ten or more) appear in Table 1. These few definition types account for more than half of those in the corpus. 28 Raoul N. Smith 29 Table 1. The most frequent defining formulae for adjectives in a portion of Webster's Seventh Collegiate Dictionary Defining Formula having + NP of or relating to + NP of, relating to, or + pr marked by + NP gerund/pr. p, not + adj. - P- Pcapable of + j ??? ^ relating to + NP G NP1 being + adj.[ L prep. phr. J characterized by + NP NP I (NP 1 1 in NP J lacking . { jn Np resembling + NP tending + Inf. causing + NP full of + NP f as + NP serving ( Inf containing + NP r of up of made situated +·} NP . with f Prep. P 1 adv. consisting of + NP covered with + NP producing + NP i for + NP suitable G for + NP \ I InfJ Inf free from + NP showing + NP occurring + Prep. P. expressing + NP given to + NP constituting + NP involving + NP belonging to + NP Frequency 282 266 246 116 102 93 70 65 59 53 45 35 31 24 24 22 21 18 17 17 15 15 14 14 13 12 12 11 11 10 30On Defining Adjectives r (for) NP t designed S|y, seai, s0us> and 'ive> Sant· It is obvious that the majority, if not all, of the derivational processes captured by these relations are productive. More importantly, they tell the reader more than what is conveyed by the nearly empty phrase relating to. A study of these relations may help the practicing lexicographer...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 28-38
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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