Semantic Field is a term used to describe a group of words, all of which share a similar concept, theme or subject.

Terminology associated with Semantic Fields

Semantics

This is the study of meaning in language, both in a philosophical and linguistic sense. It considers the association and relationship between words and phrases, and what they combine to mean.

Connotation

The various feelings, emotions, thoughts or ideas which a specific word invokes.

Hypernym and Hyponym

Hypernym is a term which describes a ‘category’ to which words belong, and as such, normally has a broad meaning. For example, ‘clothing’ ‘colour’ or ‘weather’. A hyponym is the term for a word that is part of a hypernym category. For example, ‘hat’ ‘blue’ or ‘thunder’.

Why use a Semantic Field?

  • Explore a theme or atmosphere: A semantic field is a great way to help create an effective theme or atmosphere in literature. Words need to have consistent connotations in order to build realistic scenarios, whether that be an author describing settings and environments, or emotions and thoughts. Words distinctly outside of the semantic field would stick out (although this could be a deliberate choice in some scenarios) and could be less effective.
  • Build an emotion: Semantic fields also help to create undertones to pieces of literature. This effectively builds emotion, and provides subtle indications to a reader as to what may be about to happen.
  • Shock or surprise: The actual semantic field is unlikely to shock or surprise readers because it has to be built up through the use of multiple words, however a contrast to the chosen field could be effective at helping impart a message or make the piece of work more memorable.

Examples of Semantic Fields

Patience Agbabi creates a semantic field of water and oceans in her poem ‘Eat Me‘ (Poems of the Decade) in order to emphasise ideas.

The poem explores the idea of a ‘feeder’ relationship in which the narrator is constantly overfed and puts on a considerable amount of weight. This semantic field of water and oceans helps to emphasise the idea of expanse and depth,  showing how overweight the woman has become, and also exploring the water-like cellulite of her body.

shipwreck // beached whale // tidal wave of flesh

You, Shiva and My Mum‘ (Poems of the Decade) by Ruth Padel uses a semantic field to explore a theme of Hinduism and create a realistic depiction of events.

Without the semantic field related to Hinduism, the poem would be far less effective because it would not have an authentic appreciation or link to the culture that the narrator and their mother have been experiencing. There are many examples to ensure that this remains a key part of the poem, with references to various shrines, key locations, and traditional practices.

India // monsoon // Shiva // Cobra River

Some further examples of semantic fields are shown below:

Death: grave // bone // decay

The Seaside: waves // beach // ice-cream

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