CONTEXT. TYPES OF CONTEXT
There is always a chance for misunderstanding if a poly-semantic word is used irrespectively to the context. Context is a powerful preventative against any misunderstanding of meanings. As in the mentioned above adjective dull one can observe such actual meanings: a dull pupil, a dull lesson, a dull razor-blade, dull weather etc. Sometimes, however, such a minimum context fails to reveal the meaning if the word, as in he following example: The man was large, but his wife was even fatter. It may be correctly interpreted only through a second-degree context:the word fatter here servesas a kind of indicator pointing out that large describes a stout man and not a big one.
By the term “context” we understand the minimal stretch of speech determining each individual meaning of the word. The context individualizes the meanings, brings them out. The two main types of linguistic contexts which serve to determine individual meanings of words are the lexical context and the grammatical context. These types are differentiated depending on whether the lexical or grammatical aspect is predominant in determining the meaning.
In lexical contexts, of primary importance are lexical groups combined with the poly-semantic words under consideration. E.g.: the adjective heavy in isolation means “of heavy weight, weighty”. When combined with the lexical group of words denoting natural phenomena as wind, storm etc. means “following with force, abundant, striking”, a heavy storm, a heavy rain. In combination with the words industry, arms, artillery the adjective heavy means “the larger part of something” as in heavy industry.
In grammatical context it is the grammatical (mainly the syntactic) structure of the context that serves to determine various individual meanings of a poly-semantic word, e. g.: I made Peter study. He made a good teacher.
In the pattern to make + N (Pr.)+V inf. The word “to make” has the meaning “to force”. In the pattern to make + A + N the word “to make” means “to turn out to be”. So linguistic (verbal) context comprise lexical and grammatical contexts. They are opposed to extra linguistic (non-verbal) contexts. In extra-linguistic contexts the meaning of the word is determined not only by linguistic factors but the actual situation in which the word is used.
Different kinds of changes in a nation’s social life, in its culture, knowledge, technology, arts etc. lead to gaps appearing in the vocabulary which beg to be filled. Newly created objects, new concepts, phenomena must be named. Languages are powerfully affected by social, political, economic, cultural, technical changes. Social factors can influence even structural features of linguistic units: terms of science, for instance, have a number of features as compared to words used in other spheres of human activity.
We already know of two ways for providing new names for newly created concepts: making new words (word-building) and borrowing foreign ones. One more way of filling such vocabulary gaps is by applying some old word to a new object or notion.
The word being a linguistic realization of notion, it changes with the progress of human consciousness. This process is reflected in the development of lexical meaning. As the human mind achieves an ever more exact understanding of the world of reality and objective relationships that characterize it, the notions become more and more exact reflections of real things. The extra-linguistic motivation is sometimes obvious, but in some cases are as straightforward as they may look. For example, the swimming suit bikini was named after the Bikini atoll in the Western Pacific where atomic bomb testing was held. The impression of this suit worn for the first time was “atomic”, i.e. shocking.
The tendency to use technical imagery is increasing in every language, thus the expression to spark off in chain reaction is almost international. The expression live wire, though, used figuratively about a person of intense energy seems purely English. Other international expressions are feed-back and black box. When first textile factories appeared in England, the old word mill was applied to them. So the word mill (an old English borrowing from Latin) added a new meaning to its former meaning of “a building in which corn is ground into flour”. The new meaning was “textile factory”. Why was that the word mill – not any other word was selected to denote the first textile factory? There must gave been some connection between the former sense of mill and the new phenomenon to which it was applied. Mills that produced flour were mainly driven by water, and the textile factories also first used water. So, in general terms, the meaning of mill, both the old and the new one, could be defined as “an establishment using water power to produce certain goods”.
In actual fact, the all cases of development or change of meaning are based on some association.
New meanings can also be developed due to linguistic factors (the second group of causes).The development of new meanings, and also a complete change of meaning, may be caused through the influence of other words, mostly of synonyms.
E.g.: steorfan Old Eng. – to perish – to die Scandinavian borrowing
To starve – to die (or suffer from hunger).
DeorOld Eng. – any beast – animal (borrowed word)
Deer –a certain kind of beast (олень).
The noun knave (O.E. knafa) suffered an even more striking change of meaning as a result of collision with its synonym boy. Now it has a pronounced negative evaluative connotation and means “scoundrel, swindler”.
The process of development of a new meaning is termed transference.It is important to note thatin any case of semantic change it is not the meaning but the word that is being transferred from one referent onto another. The result of such a transference is the appearance of a new meaning.