Synonym Groups

The vocabulary of classical Chinese is subsumed under 2609 semantic fields called Synonym Group Labels, and these Synonym Group Labels are identified by English, modern Chinese and classical Chinese labels. The English Synonym Group Labels are always written in capital letters to remind us that they are conventional ways of referring to abstract concepts as identified in the definitions. One could just as well use Chinese labels or Latin labels, or indeed Swahili labels: this should make strictly no difference.

The Synonym Group Labels are an open set, and the Synonym Group Labels established for classical Chinese are always defined in such a way that they allow and encourage global conmparison with other languages.

Every time we identify a new semantic field that needs elaborated study, or which we intend to study in detail, we will establish and define a new Synonym Group and fit this Synonym Group into the overall conceptual system.

For example, one could hugely expand the number of Synonym Group Labels in TLS if one elaborated the vocabulary of botany, zoology, architecture, ship-building, salt production and so on. Moreover, in the context of conceptual modernisation, if we wish to elaborate the historical analysis of such concepts as that individualism or of insurance, we will first define these concepts using existing concepts within the system. The definitions of Synonym Group Labels must be in terms of other Synonym Group Labels. They must always be non-circular in the sense that no Synonym Group X can be defined in terms that themselves are defined in terms of X, directly or indirectly.

Each Synonym Group is defined in relation to other Synonym Group labels. For example, the abstract concept puppy is defined as a kind of dog, and the dog as a kind of domestic animal, the domestic animal as a kind of animal.

Synonym Group Labels are thus organized and non-circularly defined in a hierarchical taxonomic tree. You can browse from puppy to dog to domestic animal to animal and so forth, in order to study the system of conceptual schemes of the Chinese language.

Wherever convenient, Synonym Group Labels are organized in mereonomic (part-whole) hierarchies. For example, tooth is defined as part of mouth, mouth as part of face, face as part of head and so on.

Synonym Group Labels are defined to potentially apply to any language, thus making languages comparable. In particular, constant cross-reference is made to Carl D. Buck's Dictionary of Synonyms in the Main Indo-European Languages Chicago 1949 which allows systematic comparison of the facts of Chinese with those of Indo-European languages.

A given Synonym Group in the TLS system may have multiple taxonomic hypernyms, and occasionally it may also have multiple mereonomic hypernyms.

Synonyms are distinguished from each other by recurrent distinctive semantic features wherever possible.

Nota bene:
The taxonomic and mereonomic organization of the Synonym Group Labels, as well as their formal definitions involve unsolved philosophical problems at many points. My present attempt at a system of definitions is inspired by the celebrated logical project by Leibniz on the one hand, and also very much by the instructive pragmatic system of definitions elaborated by the great educationalist Jan Amos Comenius in the 17th century.

Christoph Harbsmeier

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