Opposition (linguistics)

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In general linguistics , opposition is a relationship between linguistic units that can be exchanged for one another without making the context ungrammatic. By exchanging the elements, you get different words or sentences. In structural linguistics, opposition and contrast are terms for two fundamentally different types of relationships between linguistic elements, which are referred to as paradigmatic (opposition) and syntagmatic (contrast) relationships.

An example of an opposition

Looking at a pair of words like "bed" and "fat" (= minimal pair ), so you can see that by replacing the speech sound [⁠ b ⁠] by the sound [⁠ f ⁠] (or vice versa) is another word arises. In this case the two sounds are in opposition and thus in a paradigmatic relationship to one another; this means that they are realizations of different phonemes . Such sound oppositions are important for differentiating or identifying words. Sounds belong to different phonemes if they can form opposites, as in the case of “bed” and “fat”.

Importance of the opposition

Units can be very different linguistic structures. The only important thing is that they differ. For example, / ⁠ d ⁠ / and / ⁠ t ⁠ / different phonemes in the English language. In some dialects the distinction can disappear; so / d / and / t / coincide in many words in the Saxon pronunciation. In such a case, words like “trade” and “dumbbell” or “thanks” and “tank” can no longer be distinguished aloud and are therefore only dependent on the context.

Very often there is opposition between just two entities. An opposition can, however, also exist with more than one other unit; For example, the word “woman” is in opposition to “man”, but also to “girl”, “child”, “baby”, and less directly to “cat”, “table”, “chair” etc. A whole A chain of sound oppositions between the vowels of the word stems form words like “baten” - “baten” - “betten” - “pray” - “offer” - “boten” - “boo”.

The opposition plays a special role when considering binary relations and within phonology . Complex continuous relationships are simplified to differentiate between opposing values.

Origin of the term

The term opposition was first introduced by Nikolai Trubetzkoy (1939) when he outlined the principles of phonology . Together with the opposite term contrast , it has since played an important role in structural linguistics.


  • Helmut Glück (Ed.), With the collaboration of Friederike Schmöe : Metzler Lexikon Sprache. 3rd, revised edition. Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2005, ISBN 3-476-02056-8 .
  • Nikolai S. Trubetzkoy: Principles of Phonology . 4th edition. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1967 (first published posthumously in Prague 1939).

Web links

Wiktionary: Opposition  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations