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Change of meaning in English

Word-meaning is liable to change in the course of the historical development of language. Causes of Semantic Change

1. extra-linguistic — various changes in the life of the speech community, changes in economic and social structure, way of life and other spheres of human activities as reflected in word meanings

2. linguistic —. factors acting within the language system

· ellipsis In a phrase made up of two words one of these is omitted and its meaning is transferred to its partner.

· differentiation of synonyms The word land, e.g., in Old English (OE. land) meant both ’solid part of earth’s surface’ and ‘the territory of a nation’.

·  linguistic analogy — if one of the members of a synonymic set acquires a new meaning other members of this set change their meanings too.

Nature of semantic change. There are two kinds of association involved as a rule in various semantic changes namely:

Similarity of meanings or metaphor — a semantic process of associating two referents, one of which in some way resembles the other. (He is a fox. She is a Don Juan); Contiguity of meanings or metonymy — the semantic process of associating two referents one of which makes part of the other or is closely connected with it.

Results of semantic change can be generally observed in the changes of the denotational meaning of the word (restriction and extension of meaning) or in the alteration of its connotational component (amelioration and deterioration of meaning).

Changes in the denotational meaning

1. restriction of the types or range of referents denoted by the word

1 specialisation of meaning — if the word with the new meaning comes to be used in the specialised vocabulary of some limited group within the speech community it is usual to speak of

2. extension of meaning—application of the word to a wider variety of referents.

generalisation of meaning — the word with the extended meaning passes from the specialised vocabulary into common use

1. pejorative development — acquisition by the word of some derogatory emotive charge

ameliorative development — improvement of the connotational component of meaning..



Polysemy in English

Polysemantic words - words possessing 2 or more meanings

Factors, determining the frequency of polysemy:

1) extra-linguistic

-the length of the period during which a word exists in the lg, the longer the word exists, the greater number of meanings. So, native words in English are the most polysemantic

-progress of civilizations

2) linguistic

- meaning of a word (generic words: get, take)

- frequency of usage

Sources of polysemy:

1) change in the semantic structure of a word (lexical-semantic meaning)

2) homonymy (ear: -a part of human body-upper part of plant)

Semantic structure of polysemantic words:

1) diachronic approach (its historical development, change of meaning becomes central)

-primary meaning (original) is placed in historical dictionaries first

-secondary meaning (derived) is placed after the primary one, may become major

(For example, the primary meaning of the adj sweet was <pleasant to the taste> and the meaning <one of 4 basic

sensations, like that of sugar> was its derivative, it has become central)

2) synchronic approach aims to register various meanings of Polysemantic words, their value and character of their relations.

It should be noted that whereas the basic meaning occurs in various and widely different contexts, minor meanings are observed only in certain contexts.

Lexical context - In lexical contexts of primary importance are the groups of lexical items combined with the polysemantic word under consideration.

Grammatical contexts it is the grammatical (mainly the syntactic) structure of the context that serves to determine various individual meanings of a polysemantic word.

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Etymological survey of the English lexicon. | Homonymy in English. Polysemy vs homonymy

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