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How (dis)similar? Telling the difference between near-synonyms in a foreign language

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Chapter Summary

This study considers four pairs of English near-synonyms Italian learners have difficulties telling apart because their members are translated the same way into Italian (island – isle ‘isola’, feeble – weak ‘debole’, gratefully – thankfully ‘con gratitudine’, and to adore – to worship ‘adorare’). It examines concordances of the near-synonym pairs from the Bank of English to identify the phraseological patterns these terms are associated with. The data collected indicate that each term is characterized by a distinct prototypical usage, but can also occur in the context of use of its near-synonym (although not to the same extent). The findings suggest that foreign language students should be sensitized to the prototypical context specificity of each near synonym, as this may prevent an incorrect use of terms. At the same time, they also reveal that, in the case of near-synonyms, a term and its immediate co-text are not always reliable predictors of each other.



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