Buying or selling, all money leads to Trump: frame-based semantics

How can “buy” and “sell” have similar meanings?

Hi Kevin Zipf,

I was going through Elisabetta’s book (the one I was supposed to return you on Friday and I forgot, sorry!), there is a sentence “Typical lexical structures are, for example: morphological word families, such as book, booking, booklet, bookstore, based on presence of the word book; semantic network such as buy, acquire, purchase, sell, negotiate, pay, own, based on meaning associations; and groups of words with similar syntactic behavior, for example nouns, verbs, or adjectives”.   I was wondering how “buy, acquire, purchase, sell, negotiate, pay, own” can be combined together in a single semantic network?  Semantic network consists of words with similar meanings, right? How can “buy” and “sell” have similar meanings?



Hi, P,

I LOVE it when you ask me questions like this!

In addition to their use in describing language, frames are useful in the broader context of cognitive science.  For more on how that works, see this post on the subject of linguist and cognitive scientist George Lakoff’s framing-based explanation for Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party in 2016.

Regarding the specific example: this is what is called a “frame.”  The idea is that there are some things:
– two people
– an object
– a quantity of money
You can talk about the relationships between those from different perspectives:
John sold Mary a car for $5,000.
Mary bought a car from John for $5,000.
Mary paid John $5,000 for the car.
Picture source: Agarwal, Apoorv, Daniel Bauer, and Owen Rambow. “Using Frame Semantics in Natural Language Processing.” Proceedings of Frame Semantics in NLP: A Workshop in Honor of Chuck Fillmore. Vol. 1929. 2014.

If you think about “semantics” as being a mapping between language and a model of the world, then the model of the world is the same in the case of all three sentences, so in some sense, the meaning is the same in all three cases.  What’s different is whether we talk about it from the perspective of John (sell), Mary (buy), or the quantity of money (pay).  You could argue about whose perspectives these are, and perspective isn’t necessarily even the best word for this, but that’s the sense in which those are related.  To get the others in there, consider, for example, that selling is about a change in ownership; selling involves a previous negotiation between the same two people (John and Mary) concerning the price that will be paid for the car; etc.

Have a Happy Friday,
Kevin Zipf

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