View table of contents for this book View table of contents for LinguaLinksLibrary Go to LinguaLinks home page

What is a generic-specific lexical relation?



A generic-specific lexical relation is a hierarchical association between a lexical unit with a broader, more general meaning and other lexical units with a narrower, more precise meaning.


Another name for the generic-specific lexical relation is hyponymy. Hyponymy involves the association between a

  • hyponym—a more semantically complex, specific lexical unit (X), and a
  • superordinate—a less semantically complex, general lexical unit (Y).

X is a hyponym of Y if

  • the sentence "X is necessarily Y" is normal, but
  • the sentence "Y is necessarily X" is not normal.

"Parrot" is a hyponym of "bird" since

  • the sentence "A parrot is necessarily a bird" is normal, but
  • the sentence *"A bird is necessarily a parrot" is not normal.
Adapted from:

Cruse 1986 24, 88, 109

  Here are the two major kinds of a generic-specific lexical relation:


Definition and comment

Natural (taxonomic)

Specifics can be adequately defined for identificational purposes by listing a few distinguishing features.


horse n. 'a large domesticated mammal with a long flowing tail, used for transportation and work'


Specifics can be fully defined with conceptually distinct modifiers.


stallion n. 'an uncastrated male horse'

Examples (English): Generic-specific

Natural (taxonomic)


For animate things:

  • Appaloosa
  • Arabian
  • Tennessee walker
  • gelding
  • mare
  • stallion
  • For artifacts:

  • Baldwin
  • Steinway
  • Yamaha
  • grand
  • upright
  • For actions:

  • crawl
  • run
  • walk
  • dance
  • drive
  • travel
  • For attributes:

  • blue
  • red
  • yellow
  • crimson
  • pink
  • scarlet

    Cruse 1986 140–141

    Neufeldt 1991 152, 324, 328, 349, 416, 1026, 1123, 1174, 1198, 1423, 1501, 1548

    Underlying structure

    The underlying structure of a generic-specific lexical relation set is a tree.


    Here are some frames for testing and eliciting a generic-specific lexical relation:

    • An X is a kind of Y, and Z is also a kind of Y.
    • An X is a type of Y, and a Z is another type of Y.
    • Xs and Zs are different kinds of Y.

    Context for this page:

    Go to SIL home page This page is an extract from the LinguaLinks Library, Version 5.0 published on CD-ROM by SIL International, 2003. [Ordering information.]

    Page content last modified: 5 January 2004

    © 2004 SIL International