Googling for opposites: a web-based study of antonym canonicity

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This paper seeks to explain why some semantically-opposed word pairs are more likely to be seen as canonical antonyms (for example, cold/hot) than others (icy/scorching, cold/fiery, freezing/hot, etc.). Specifically, it builds on research which has demonstrated that, in discourse, antonyms are inclined to favour certain frames, such as ‘X and Y alike’, ‘from X to Y’ and ‘either X or Y’ (Justeson and Katz, 1991; etc.), and to serve a limited range of discourse functions (Jones, 2002). Our premise is that the more canonical an antonym pair is, the greater the fidelity with which it will occupy such frames. Since an extremely large corpus is needed to identify meaningful patterns of co-occurrence, we turn to Internet data for this research. As well as enabling the notion of antonym canonicity to be revisited from a more empirical perspective, this approach also allows us to evaluate the appropriateness (and assess the risks) of using the World Wide Web as a corpus for studies into certain types of low-frequency textual phenomena.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Languages and Literature
  • General Language Studies and Linguistics


  • antonymy, corpus linguistics, antonym canonicity, semantics
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-154
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Publication categoryResearch

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