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Types Of Semantic Change

Specialization is the reduction of scope of the meaning. A word which formerly represented a notion of a broader scope has come to render a notion of a narrower scope. When the meaning is specialized, the word can name fewer objects, i. e. have fewer referents. At the same time the content of the notion is being enriched, as it includes a greater number of relevant features.

E.g., business started out as a general term meaning literally “busy-ness”, one’s proper concern.” Then it picked up the narrower meaning of “commercial dealings.”

Generalizationor widening of meaning: the scope of the new notion is wider than that of the original one (hence widening), whereas the content of the notion is poorer. In most cases generalization is combined with a higher order of abstraction than in the notion expressed by the earlier meaning.

E.g., a picture was once a painted representation of something seen; now any visual representation – photograph, pen and ink, crayon – is a picture.

Metaphor is a transfer of name based on the association of similarity and thus is actually a hidden comparison. It presents a method of description which likens one thing to another by referring to it as if it were some other one.

E.g., a loud check; That show’s a lemon.

Metonymyis a transfer of name based on the association of contiguity. It is a shift of names between objects that are known to be in some way or other connected in reality. The transfer may be conditioned by spatial, temporal, causal, symbolic, instrumental, functional and other relations.

E.g., The chair may mean ‘the chair-man’, the bar ‘the lawyers’, the pulpit ‘the priests’. The word town may denote the inhabitants of a town.

Ellipsis is the formal metonymy-forming mechanism. Ellipses is defined as the omission of a word or words considered essential for grammatical completeness but not for the conveyance of the intended lexical meaning.

Changes depending on the social attitude to the object named, connected with social evaluation and emotional tone, are called amelioration and pejoration of meaning.

Ameliorationor elevation is a semantic shift undergone by words due to their referents coming up the social scale. E.g., OE cwen (a woman)> ModE queen (a female monarch).

Pejorationor degradation involves a lowering in the social scale.

E.g., A knave < OE cnafa ║ Germ. Knabe meant at first ‘boy’ then ‘servant’, and finally became a term of abuse.

Euphemism (Gk euphemismos from eu ‘well’ and pheme ‘speak’) is the substitution of words of mild or vague connotations for expressions rough, unpleasant or for some other reasons unmentionable.

E.g., senior citizen – an old person who has retired from active work or employment; in the hereafter – dead

POLYSEMY is the possession of multiple meaning; or the representation of two or more meanings by a single form.

Polysemantic word is a word that has more than one meaning.

HOMONYMS are two or more words identical in sound and/or spelling but different in meaning, distribution and (in many cases) origin.

Homonyms Proper are words identical in sound and spelling.

E.g., ring, a round band; ring, an audible signal.

Homophones are words of the same sound but of different spelling and meaning.

E.g., foul – fowl; moose – mousse; lynx – links

Homographs are words different in sound and in meaning but accidentally identical in spelling: bow [bou] – bow [bau].

Patterned homonymy is characteristic of homonyms that have developed from one common source, possess identical lexical meaning and belong to various parts of speech. E.g., stone n. – stone v.; drive v. – drive n.; love n. – love (v.)

Full homonyms are words that are homonymous in all their forms (complete homonymy).

E. g. seal – any of various aquatic mammals with a sleek, torpedo-shaped body and limbs in the form of flippers; seal – a die or signet with a raised or incised emblem used to stamp an impression on a substance such as wax or lead.

Partial homonyms are words that are homonymous in some of their forms (partial homonymy, characterisic of words belonging to different lexico-grammatical classes).

E. g. seal n. – an aquatic mammal (seal, seal’s, seals, seals’)

seal v. to close tightly (seal, seals, sealed, sealing)

PARONYMS are words that are kindred both in sound and meaning and therefore liable to be mixed but in fact are different in meaning and usage and therefore only mistakenly interchanged.

E.g., canal – channel; hanged – hung; assure – ensure

LEXICAL VARIANTS are examples of free variation in language, in so far as they are not conditioned by contextual environment but are optional with the individual speaker.

E.g., northward/norward; whoever/whosoever; betw./btwn/between

SYNONYMS are two or more words of the same language, belonging to the same part of speech and possessing one or more identical or nearly identical denotational meanings, interchangeable, at least in some contexts, without any considerable alteration in denotational meaning, but differing in morphemic composition, phonemic shape, shades of meaning, connotations, affective value, style, valency and idiomatic use.

Synonymic group is a group consisting of two or more synonymous words.

E.g., baby, child, infant; sky, heaven

Synonymic dominant is the most general term of its kind potentially containing the specific features rendered by all the other members of the synonymic group.

E.g., entire – complete, full, intact, total, whole

Ideographic synonyms are words that are similar both in their denotational and in their connotational meaning(s).

E.g., to look – to glance – to gaze; battle – fight

Stylistic synonyms are words that are similar in their denotational meaning(s) but different in their connotational meaning(s).

E.g., motherly – maternal; to put off – to postpone

Ideographic-stylistic synonyms possess similarity and difference both in their denotational and connotational meanings.

E.g., pause, a brief rest or a momentary suspension of action; respite (a much more formal word), an interval of relief, as from some source of strain.

Contextual or context-dependent synonyms are similar in meaning only under some specific distributional conditions. It may happen that the difference between the meanings of two words is contextually neutralized.

E.g., the verbs bear, stand and suffer are interchangeable only when used in the negative form.

Total (absolute) synonyms are words interchangeable in any context without the slightest alteration in denotative or connotative meaning.

E.g., donor – source-language – source (of borrowing); moneme – simplex– root word – simple word

HYPONYMY is the type of paradigmatic relationship when a specific term is included in a generic one.

E.g., pup is the hyponym of dog, and dog is the hyponym of animal.

Hyperonym is the name for the notion of the genus as distinguished from the names of the species.

E.g., animal is a generic term as compared to the specific names wolf, dog, mouse (which are not synonymous). Dog, in its turn, may serve as a generic term (hyperonym) for different breeds such as bull-dog, collie, poodle, etc., which are hyponyms of dog. Bull-dog, collie, poodle are equonyms or co-hyponyms

ANTONYMSare two or rarely more words of the same language belonging to the same part of speech, identical in style and nearly identical in distribution, associated and used together so that their denotative meanings render contrary or contradictory notions.

E.g., light – heavy; light – dark

The semantic polarity in Antonyms Proper is relative, the opposition is gradual, it may embrace several elements characterized by different degrees of the same property. They always imply comparison.

E.g., clever – foolish; beautiful – ugly

Complementarity is a binary opposition; it may have only two members; the denial of one member of the opposition implies the assertion of the other. Complementary is a word that with another word forms a pair of mutually exclusive opposites.

E.g., male – female; life – death; married – single

Conversives denote one and the same referent as viewed from different points of view, that of the subject and that of the object.

E.g., teach – learn; buy – sell

Reversives are verbs or respective deverbals denoting the reverse or the undoing of the action expressed by one of them.

E.g., tie – untie; marry – divorce

Absolute antonyms, root antonyms are words of different roots.

E.g., right – wrong; clear – vague; clean – dirty

Derivational antonyms. The affixes in them serve to deny the quality stated in the stem.

E.g., appear – disappear; happiness –unhappiness


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