Componential Analysis

Words can be analyzed and described in terms of their semantic components, which usually come in pairs called semantic oppositions: "Up" and "Down," for example, are related in that they both describe vertical directions, one in one direction (call it "plus") and the other in the other (call it "minus").  There are several variations on these pairs, depending on how they related to each other and how they can be used with other words.  There are also sets of words that are variations on a single semantic theme, such as penny, nickel, dime, quarter, etc.  Linguists have devised a number of ways to represent these components.  Here is a version of the one designed by the linguist Geoffrey Leech:

Binary taxonomy +LIVE = alive
-LIVE = dead
Multiple taxonomy *METAL = gold
#METAL = silver
@METAL = copper
Polarity ^SIZE = large
vSIZE = small
Relation >PARENT = is the parent of
<PARENT = is the child of
(also bidirectional, such as sibling)
Hierarchy 1LENGTH = inch
2LENGTH = foot
3LENGTH = yard
Inverse opposition {POSSIBLE = possible
}POSSIBLE = necessary
(also all/some, allow/compel, etc.)


father = +MALE >PARENT

daughter = -MALE <PARENT

brother = +MALE <>SIBLING

grandfather = +MALE >PARENT >PARENT

    or     +MALE >LINEAL

cousin = <PARENT...<>SIBLING...>PARENT


Xth cousin Y-removed =     <LINEAL              <>SIBLING      >LINEAL
                                        iGENERATIONS                           jGENERATIONS
    or     <>COUSIN
                          where x is the lesser of i and j and
                          y is the difference between i and j

Examples are from Geoffrey Leech's Semantics (Penguin, 1974)