Word meaning is studied by the branch of lexicology called semasiology. Among the word’s various characteristics meaning is the most important. There are different theories of the nature of meaning. Usually meaning is defined as the realization of a notion (or concept, in other terms) by means of a definite language system. It is usually said that a word denotes objects, qualities, actions, phenomena, or expresses the corresponding notions. The complex relationships between referent (object, etc., denoted by the word), notion (concept, thought) and word (symbol, sound-form) are traditionally represented by the following triangle:
The dotted line suggests that there is no immediate relation between word and referent, it is established only through the concept.
Word meaning is made up of various components which are usually described as types of meaning. The two main types of meaning are grammatical and lexical meanings.
Grammatical meaning unites words into parts of speech. Such words as goes, stops, works have different lexical meanings, but are united by a common grammatical meaning: they are characterized by a common system of forms in which their grammatical categories are expressed.
Lexical meaning is individual for every word: grammatically identical words have individual lexical meanings (cf.: went, kissed, looked), which are common for all forms of one and the same word. Go, went, going – all these forms denote the process of movement.
Lexical meaning includes two components: denotational and connotational.
Denotational component is present in every word and makes communication possible. It expresses the notional content of the word, shows what the word refers to.
Connotational component expresses additional meanings of the word which may be of different types: stylistic, evaluative and emotional, etc.
Evaluative connotation expresses positive or negative attitude to the object or phenomenon denoted by the word. It may be rational and emotional. In the latter case we speak of emotive-evaluative connotation. The words brain (“a clever man”), for example, is evaluated as positive, while the word brock (“a scoundrel”), to cheat – have negative connotations. Cf. also: notorious – celebrated.
Emotional, or emotive connotation of the word is its capacity to evoke and express emotion (duckling, darling (diminutive emotive value)).
Stylistic connotation shows the stylistic status of a word: neutral, bookish, colloquial, slang, etc.
It should be noted that connotation is not an obligatory component of word meaning. Many words, for instance, give, take, walk, book, table, etc., used in their direct meaning, denote but not connote anything.
The meaning of a word is studied with the help of Componential Analysis. It consists in decomposition of the word meaning into semes – minimal components of meaning, or elementary units of sense. One and the same seme may be found in the meaning of different related words. Thus, such words as boy and man have the common seme “the male sex”, and the words girl and woman – the seme “the female sex”. Different semes may have different statuses in the system of semes in the word meaning. Lexicologists usually distinguish archisemes wich express the generic meaning and differential semes which modify or qualify the idea expressed by the archiseme. Thus, the word spinster may be split into the following semes: 1) human being (archiseme); 2) female, unmarried; elderly (differential semes). Componential analysis is one of the modern metods of semantic research which provides a deeper insight into semantic aspects of the language.
All words can be classified into motivated and non-motivated. There are cases when there exists a direct connection between the structural pattern of the word and its meaning. This relationship between structure and meaning is termed morphological motivation. All one-morpheme words are non-motivated. Words, containing derivational morphemes, are motivated. Thus, for instance, the word leader is morphologically motivated: its morhological structure suggests the idea of “leading” + “the doer of the action”. The degree of motivation may be different: the word cranberry is partially motivated, because of the absense of the lexical meaning in the morpheme cran-.
There may be a direct connection between the phonetical structure of the word and its meaning. This type of motivation is called phonetical motivation. It is observed in words formed by sound-imitation and occurs even in one-morpheme words: splash, boom, etc. Some linguists think that speech sounds may suggest spatial and visual dimensions, size, shape: for instance, that back open vowels suggest big size, heavy weight, dark colour, etc. Experiments showed that the non-existent word chung was associated by speakers of English with the words heavy and large, while the word ching – with the words light and small. But not all linguists share the view.
A connection between the direct meaning of the word and its figurative meanings is called semantic motivation. It is based on the co-existence of different meanings of the word. Knowing the meaning of the word chain (“a series of usually metal links or rings”), one may guess the meaning of such units as chain store, chain hotel, chain smoker, etc. In such cases we deal with a metaphorical extension of the central meaning of the word.
There also exists the notion of folk etymology which is referred to the cases when the origin of the word, its motivation is misinterpreted. Thus, the Latin word asparagus (спаржа) was turned into sparrow grass (спаржа); in the Russian language the words поликлиника in the speech of uneducated people was transformed into полуклиника, пиджак – into спинжак, etc.
The majority of English words have more than one meaning, so they are polysemantic.Words that are used most often have the greatest number of meanings: do, go, see, etc. Various meanings of the word represent lexico-semantical variants of the word (LSVs) and constitute its semantic structure. One of the meanings in the semantic structure of the word is primary, the others are secondary. For example, the word table has the primary meaning “a piece of furniture” and a number of secondary meanings: “a supply of food”, “an act of assembling to eat”, “a group of people assembled at a table”, etc. Meanings can also be direct and figurative, concrete and abstract, central and peripheral, general and special.
There are two main types of the organization of the semantic structure of a polysemantic word: the radial and the chain one.
Radial polysemy is observed when all the secondary meanings of the word are connected with the primary meaning and motivated by it, as the meanings of the world field, for example («поле» → «пространство», «участок», «место сражения», месторождение», «сфера деятельности»).
An example of chain polysemy is the word bleak: «незащищенный от ветра» (bleak hillside) →«холодный, суровый» (bleak wind) → «унылый, печальный, мрачный» (bleak prospects).
As a rule both the types of polysemy are combined: glass («стекло»→ «стеклянная посуда» → «стакан» → «стакан как мера емкости»; «стекло» → «парниковая рама» → «парник»; «стекло» → «зеркало»; «стекло» → «линза» → «микроскоп»).
Various meanings of a word are united by the existence of a common semantic component, even though they are different in their denotational and sometimes also connotational meanings.
In the course of historical development word meanings undergo various changes. Lexicology investigates causes of semantic changes, the nature of semantic change and the results of semantic change.
The causes of semantic change are traditionally divided into historical, or extralinguistic, and linguistic.
Extralinguistic causes are connected with changes in the life of the nation, its industry, culture, science which bring about changes in word meaning. The word mill can be taken as an example: when the first factories apeared there was no other word to denote them, so the word mill developed a new meaning – “текстильная фабрика”, “сталелитейный завод”, etc. Other examples are: villain («деревенский житель» → «негодяй», Tory «ирландский разбойник»→ «член партии Тори», lord «хранитель хлеба»→ «господин, владелец, etc.», etc.
Linguistic causes of semantic change are factors acting within the language system. One of these factors is the differentiation of synonyms which is connected with borrowing. For example, the OE word deer meant “any animal”; when beast was borrowed from French, it ousted thw word deer in thus meaning and deer bagan to denote a concrete species (oлень). Then the Latin animal ousted [au] beast in the meaning “any animal” and the word beast now has the meaning “mammal” (млекопитающее животное, зверь). Other linguistic causes are ellipsis [li] (in a phrase made up of two words one of these is omitted and its meaning is transferred to its partner: daily newspaper→daily («ежедневная газета»)) and analogy (when one of the synonyms develops a new meaning, other synonyms acquire a new meaning too: e.g. when catch developed the meaning “understand”, its synonyms grasp, get developed this meaning too).
The nature of semantic change. All cases of change of meaning are based on some association. The process of change of meaning is termed transference. There are two types of transference: 1) transference based on similarity and 2) transference based on contiguity (real connection between the two objects). The first type of transference is called linguistic metaphore: neck (of a human being) → neck (of a bottle). The second type is known as linguistic metonymy: hands (“limbs of a human body”) → hands (“a worker”).
Metaphores may be based on similarity between two physical objects (concrete to concrete metaphores): teeth of a saw, leg of a table, a goose (of a silly woman). The latter example illustrates the phenomenon of zoosemy. Another type of metaphore is presented by concrete to abstract metaphores: a ray of hope, a shade of doubt .
Metaphores are built on different types of similarity: similarity of shape (tongue of a bell), function (leg of a table), position (foot of a page), character of motion (snail (of a sluggish person)), dimensions (dumpling (of a short, chabby creature)), value (dirt cheap).
By means of metaphoric transference proper names may become common names: Appolo, Don Juan, Othello.
Metaphores of the type time is money, argument is war, etc. are called structural metaphores: one concept is structured in terms of the other.
Metonymy. There are various types of metonymy based on the following relations of two objects:
1) instrument → agent: pen (“writer”);
2) consequence → cause: grey hair (“old age”);
3) symbol →the thing symbolized (crown “monarchy”)
4) material → the thing made from it (silver “money”); rubber (NB condom)
5) container → the thing contained (to drink a cup);
6) name of a place → institution (Whitehall);
7) action → the object of action (my love);
8) quality →the person possessing the quality (He is a talent).
Synechdoche is a variety of metonymy which consists in using the name of a part to denote the whole or vice versa: Hands are wanted; OE mete “food” →MnE meat “kind of food”. Many types of metonymy refer to synechdochy: material – the thing made from it, instrument – agent; symbol – the thing symbolized, and others.
The use of proper names for common names is also a type of metonymy: names of inventors or geographical names are often used to denote the objects. Volt (the unit of electromotive force) received its name from Alessandro Volta who made the discovery; sandwich goes back to earl of Sandwich, who ordered the butler to serve his guest card-players with sliced veal in between two slices of bread so that they could eat them during the game without soiling the cards. Other examles are: a Ford, a Picasso, Wedgewood, marocco, china, champaigne, etc.
Semantic change may result in the change of the range of meaning. In the process of vocabulary development some words develop narrower or broader meanings than those they used to have. The first process is called narrowing (specialization) of meaning. Thus, OE fugol (“any bird”) came to denote a domestic bird (fowl [au]), the word girl meant “a child of either sex”, but gradually developed the meaning “a female child”. The second process is termed widening (generalization) of meaning. The word ready (OE ræde) originally meant “prepared for a ride”, picture meant “something painted”, the word uncle meant “mother’s brother”, etc.
Semantic change also results in the change of the connotational structure of the word. The thing denoted by a word may acquire certain positive or negative characteristics, which are reflected first in the denotational, then in the connotational component of word meaning.
The process when the object to which the word refers acquires negative characteristics, and the meaning develops a negative evaluative connotation, is termed degradation (pejoration) of meaning. The OE word cnafa (MnE knave) meant “a boy”, then a “boy servant” and finally– “a swindler, a scoundrel”. The MnE word boor (“хам, грубиян, невежа”) originally meant “peasant”. So, the words acquired a negative connotation.
The development of a positive evaluative connotation is called elevation (amelioration) of meaning. Thus, in OE cwen (MnE queen) meant “woman”, cniht (MnE knight) – “a young servant”, so the meanings of the words have been “elevated”.
Semantically words may be grouped into homonyms, synonyms, antonyms.
Words identical in sound form and spelling but different in meaning are traditionally called homonyms. MnE is rich in homonyms because of the great number of monosyllabic words, which are frequently used.
Homonyms are classified in accordance with several criteria.
1. According to the degree of identity (по степени идентичности) three types of homonyms are distinguished: homonyms proper, homophones, homographs and homoforms.
Homonyms proper are identical in pronunciation and spelling, but different in meaning: match (спичка) – match (матч).
Homophones are words of the same sound form but of different spelling and meaning: sale – sail.
Homographs are words which are the same in spelling but different in sound and meaning: lead – lead (свинец).
To homoforms belong wirds different in meaning but identical in some of their forms: found (the Past Indefinite of find) – to found.
Homonyms that have developed from one common sourse, are identical in sound, possess a common semantic component and belong to defferent parts of speech represent the so-called patterned homonymy: e.g. silence – to silence.
2. According to the type of distinguishing meaning (по типу различающего значения) homonyms are classified into:
a) lexical, belonging to the same part of speech but differing in lexical meaning: seal (тюлень) – seal (печать);
b) lexico-grammatical, which are different in their lexical and grammatical meaning: rose (поднялся) – rose (роза);
c) grammatical, which are forms of one word different in their grammatical meaning: boys – boy’s – boys’.
3. Professor Smirnitsky divides homonyms into two classes: full and partial homonyms.
Full homonyms are words that are identical in all their forms: this is complete homonymy: bank (банк) – bank (берег (реки, озера)).
Partial homonyms are words that are identical in some of their forms (this type of homonymy is characteristic of words belonging to different lexico-grammatical classes): a seal (an animal) – to seal (to close tightly).
As for the sourses of homonymy, it should be said that homonymy may arise from through convergent sound development (звуковая конвергенция) – when in the course of phonetic development two words accidentally coincide in sound: sound (OE gesund) – sound (sonus). Homonymy may also develop from polysemy through divergent sense development (split of polysemy – распад полисемии). E.g.: board (доска) – board (питание, стол) – board (комиссия) which are homonyms in MnE, were different meanings of one plysemantic word, having the primary meaning “table”. Homonymy may also be caused by borrowing words: rite (ритуал) (Lat) – write, right (Native). Conversion and shortening are also sources of homonymy: to drive – a drive; rep (repertory) – rep (representative).
One of the most debatable problems in semasiology is discrimination of homonymy and polysemy, especially in cases of semantic divergence. In distinguishing between polysemy and homonymy three major factors are taken into account: the semantic proximity of the LSVs (cf. spring (season; a twisted piece of metal, a place where water comes up from the ground), their derivation capacity (cf. deep-voiced, voicing against the candidate, the Active voice of the verb) and the range of collocability.
Synonyms are traditionally defined as words of the same part of speech with identical or partially identical denotational meanings: to kill-slay-waste. The word which has a wide meaning, is stylistically neutral and simple semantically is the dominant synonym of the set. A polysemantic word may enter several synonymic sets.
Synonyms are classified on various grounds.
According to the degree of equivalence synonyms are classified into full (absolute) and partial (relative). Absolute synonyms are rare and are represented by terms mainly: semasiology – semantics, scarlet fever – scarlatina.
The majority of synonyms are semantic, or ideographic ones: there is a certain difference in their meaning which lies in the notion or emotion expressed. Ideographic synonyms may be very close in meaning (but not totally interchangeable) (to sparkle (with joy) сверкать, искриться – to glitter (with anger) сверкать, блестеть), or different in meaning considerably (journey – voyage – trip). They often differ in the degree of the quality expressed (want, desire, long for) or their evaluative connotations (loving, devoted – doting (безумно любящий; слепо обожающий)).
Words with identical or partially identical denotational meaning may differ in their stylistic colouring. Such words are called stylistic synonyms: maid – girl, talkative – loquacious. The difference in stylistic colouring is often accompanied by a difference in emotional colouring and evaluation: visage – face – phiz – snout (морда, рыло животного) – mug.
Words which coincide in meaning only in a certain context are called contextual synonyms: buy – get (I’ll go to a shop and get some bread).
According to their origin synonyms are divided into those belonging to the native element (fast-swift) and those arising through the adoption of words from dialects, variants of the language or foreign languages (girl – lass (Scottish), radio (AmE) – wireless, begin – commence (Fr.)). Synonyms also appear due to the figurative usage of words (moon-gazer – dreamer), use of vulgarisms, slang or euphemisms (bottom, rear, buttocks – arse; girl – broad (Am. slang: Beautiful broads run after me and I can't resist them); sweat – perspiration, drunk – intoxicated).
Euphemisms go back to ancient taboos: the word God, for instance is substituted by phonetically similar goodness and gosh in interjections. Ideas or phenomena unmentionable in civilized society are usually expressed by euphemistic substitutes, but as soon as the substitute becomes generally known, its euphemistic force disappears and a new synonym is created: mad, graveyard, water-closet → insane, cemetery, lavatory → God's Acre, lady’s/men’s room/restroom, etc.
Synonyms should not be confused with paronyms, i.e. words that sound alike but are different in meaning and usage. Such words are often mistakenly interchanged: affect – effect, cause – course, context – contents, ingenious [i] (находчивый, изобретательный, умелый) – ingenuous [e] (бесхитростный).
Antonyms are lexical units of opposite meaning. Antonyms form pairs; polysemantic words form several pairs of antonyms: dull – interesting; dull (of a blade) – sharp, dull (of a pain) – acute, etc. Words with concrete meaning don’t have antonyms.
Structurally antonyms are divided into root and affixational ones: good – bad, happy – unhappy. There also exist phraseological antonyms: big fish – small fry.
Semantically antonyms may be classified into 1) contrary (контрарные), 2) contradictory (контрадикторные) 3) conversive (конверсивные) 4) antonyms of opposite direction (векторно-разнонаправленные).
Contrary antonyms admit some intermediary member between them; thus between cold and hot there are cool and warm.
Contradictory antonyms have no intermediary member betwwen them and are mutually exclusuve: to use “not” before one of them is to make it semantically equivalent to the other: not alive – dead.
Conversive antonyms are words denoting the same situation viewed from different angles, from the point of view of different participants: buy – sell, give – receive.
Antonyms of opposite direction may be illustrated by such examples as: East-West, know-forget, left-right, etc.
The vocabulary does not remain the same, but changes constantly. New notions appear and require new words to name them. On the other hand, some notions and things become outdated and the words denoting them drop out of the language, but the increase, as a rule, more than makes up for the leak-out.
New words and expressions that are created for new things are called neologisms. the majority of them appear due to the rapid development of science, industry and other spheres of human activity. When the word comes into common use, it stops being a neologism.
Among neologisms the following groups are distinguished:
1) neologisms proper, whose form and the content are both new: cyberpunk (a genre of science fiction that features rebellious computer hackers and is set in a dystopian society integrated by computer networks).
2) transnominations (the form is new but the content is familiar): edutainment (education+entertainment) – интеллектуальная передача.
3) semantic innovations (переосмысление) – the new meaning is rendered by a familiar form: switched-on (well-informed, efficient).
According to the way the word appears in the language the following major types of neologisms are distinguished: phonological, morphological, semantic and borrowed neologisms.
Phonological neologisms represent combinations of sounds, often onomatopoeical ones: dude (городской пижон, также член шайки), nylon, zap (застрелить, ударить в зубы, также переключать телевизионные каналы (пока идёт реклама); быстро перематывать видеоплёнку (чтобы не смотреть рекламу)).
Morphological neologisms are formed according to the existing word-building patterns, such as affixation (racketeer, neatnik (чистюля), foodie (любитель поесть)), composition (in-crowd (элита), trouble-shooter (специалист по улаживанию конфликтов, неполадок), job-hopper), shortening urb (← urban (большой современный город), B-girl, TOEFL), conversion (to garage a car) and blending (vegelate (vegetable+chocolate), vegeburger).
In case of semantic neologisms old words develop new meanings, usually through metaphoric or metonymic transfer (metaphore: spam – originated from the repeated use of the word Spam – an American brand of canned meat – in a popular sketch from the British television show Monty Python's Flying Circus, first broadcast in 1969; Doc Martens (DMs) – trademark, a brand of lace-up boots with thick lightweight resistant soles; the designer’s name was Doctor Martens).
Borrowed neologisms come from different languages. Words from Eastern languages are beginning to prevail: otaku (Jap.) – человек, неспособный общаться с людьми, «погруженный в компьютер»; karoshi – (in Japan) death caused by overwork Etymology: from Japanese ka “excess” + ro “labour” + shi “death”; gado-gado [a:] – an Indonesian dish of cooked mixed vegetables and hard-boiled eggs served with a peanut sauce.
New wordscan be created individually. Such words are termedoccasionalisms,orauthor’s neologisms. They are words, used once in some text or act of speech and not registered in dictionaries. Occasionalisms are closely connected with the context, they are fresh, unique and unusual and are not reproduced, like other lexical units, but are always newly-formed. They may be formed according to any word-building pattern. Among occasionalisms there may be words of simple structure and multiple attributive structures (поликомпонентные атрибутивные цепочки): breakfast-in-the-bedder, with an I’m-standing-no-nonsense-from-you expression.