Cross-linguistic semantic prosody: The case of ‘commit’, ‘signs of’ and ‘utterly’ and their Norwegian correspondences


  • Signe Oksefjell Ebeling



This paper reports on a contrastive study of semantic prosody in English and Norwegian. Semantic prosody refers to the communicative function of extended units of meaning (Sinclair 1996, Stubbs 2013), i.e. «the semantic prosody of an item is the reason why it is chosen, over and above the semantic preferences that also characterise it» (Sinclair 1998: 20), where an item is equated with the sequence of words constituting an extended unit of meaning. The paper presents three case studies of English units with an established negative prosody containing the core items ‘commit’, ‘signs of’ and ‘utterly’. The Norwegian correspondences of these items are identified on the basis of a bidirectional corpus, viz. the English-Norwegian Parallel Corpus. These correspondences serve as the starting point for an investigation of cross-linguistic prosodies. It is shown that while units with ‘commit’ and ‘signs of’ have good Norwegian matches in terms of semantic prosody, units with ‘utterly’ are less stable across the two languages, underlining the importance of carrying out studies of this kind in order to improve the cross-linguistic understanding of extended units of meaning. This in turn has implications for how teachers, translators and lexicographers choose to present words in isolation or as part of larger, extended units.