Transference Based on Resemblance (Similarity)

This type of transference is also referred to as linguistic metaphor. A new meaning appears as a result of associating two objects (phenomena, qualities, etc.) due to their outward similarity. Box and stall, as should be clear from the explanations above, are examples of this type of transference.

Other examples can be given in which transference is also based on the association of two physical objects. The noun eye, for instance, has for one of its meanings

"hole in the end of a needle" (cf. with the R. ), which also developed through transference based on resemblance. A similar case is represented by the neck of a bottle.

The noun drop (mostly in the plural form) has, in addition to its main meaning "a small particle of water or other liquid", the meanings: "ear-rings shaped as drops of water" (e. g. diamond drops) and "candy of the same shape" (e. g. mint drops). It is quite obvious that both these meanings are also based on resemblance. In the compound word snowdrop the meaning of the second constituent underwent the same shift of meaning (also, in bluebell). In general, metaphorical change of meaning is often observed in idiomatic compounds.

The main meaning of the noun branch is "limb or subdivision of a tree or bush". On the basis of this meaning it developed several more. One of them is "a special field of science or art" (as in a branch of linguistics). This meaning brings us into the sphere of the abstract, and shows that in transference based on resemblance an association may be built not only between two physical objects, but also between a concrete object and an abstract concept.

The noun bar from the original meaning barrier developed a figurative meaning realised in such contexts as social bars, colour bar, racial bar. Here, again, as in the abstract meaning of branch, a concrete object is associated with an abstract concept.

The noun star on the basis of the meaning "heavenly body" developed the meaning "famous actor or actress". Nowadays the meaning has considerably widened its range, and the word is applied not only to screen idols (as it was at first), but, also, to popular sportsmen (e. g. football, stars), pop-singers, etc. Of course, the first use of the word star to denote a popular actor must have been humorous or ironical: the mental picture created by the use of the word in this new meaning was

a kind of semi-god surrounded by the bright rays of his glory. Yet, very soon the ironical colouring was lost, and, furthermore the association with the original meaning considerably weakened and is gradually erased.

The meanings formed through this type of transference are frequently found in the informal strata of the vocabulary, especially in slang (see Ch. 1). A red-headed boy is almost certain to be nicknamed carrot or ginger byhis schoolmates, and the one who is given to spying and sneaking gets the derogatory nickname of rat. Both these' meanings are metaphorical, though, of course, the children using them are quite unconscious of this fact.

The slang meanings of words such as nut, onion (= head), saucers (= eyes), hoofs (== feet) and very many others were all formed by transference based on resemblance.

Transference Based on Contiguity

Another term for this type of transference is linguistic metonymy. The association is based upon subtle psychological links between different objects and phenomena, sometimes traced and identified with much difficulty. The two objects may be associated together because they often appear in common situations, and so the image of one is easily accompanied by the image of the other; or they may be associated on the principle of cause and effect, of common function, of some material and an object which is made of it, etc.

Let us consider some cases of transference based on contiguity. You will notice that they are of different kinds.

The Old English adjective glad meant "bright, shining" (it was applied to the sun, to gold and precious stones, to shining armour, etc.). The later (and more modern) meaning "joyful" developed on the basis of the

usual association (which is reflected in most languages) of light with joy (cf. with the R. ; ).

The meaning of the adjective sad in Old English was "satisfied with food" (cf. with the R. () which is a word of the same Indo-European root). Later this meaning developed a connotation of a greater intensity of quality and came to mean "oversatisfied with food; having eaten too much". Thus, the meaning of the adjective sad developed a negative evaluative connotation and now described not a happy state of satisfaction but, on the contrary, the physical unease and discomfort of a person who has had too much to eat. The next shift of meaning was to transform the description of physical discomfort into one of spiritual discontent because these two states often go together. It was from this prosaic source that the modern meaning of sad "melancholy", "sorrowful" developed, and the adjective describes now a purely emotional state. The two previous meanings ("satisfied with food" and "having eaten too much") were ousted from the semantic structure of the word long ago.

The foot of a bed is the place where the feet rest when one lies in the bed, but the foot of a mountain got its name by another association: the foot of a mountain is its lowest part, so that the association here is founded on common position.

By the arms of an arm-chair we mean the place where the arms lie when one is setting in the chair, so that the type of association here is the same as in the foot of a bed. The leg of a bed (table, chair, etc.), though, is the part which serves as a support, the original meaning being "the leg of a man or animal". The association that lies behind this development of meaning is the common function: a piece of furniture is supported by its legs just as living beings are supported by

The meaning of the noun hand realised in the context hand of a clock (watch) originates from the main meaning of this noun "part of human body". It also developed due to the association of the common function: the hand of a clock points to the figures on the face of the clock, and one of the functions of human hand is also that of pointing to things.

Another meaning of hand realised in such contexts as factory hands, farm hands is based on another kind of association: strong, skilful hands are the most important feature that is required of a person engaged in physical labour (cf. with the R. ).

The adjective dull (see the scheme of its semantic structure in Ch. 7) developed its meaning "not clear or bright" (as in a dull green colour; dull light; dull shapes) on the basis of the former meaning "deficient in eyesight", and its meaning "not loud or distinct" (as in dull sounds) on the basis of the older meaning "deficient in hearing". The association here was obviously that of cause and effect: to a person with weak eyesight all colours appear pale, and all shapes blurred; to a person with deficient hearing all sounds are indistinct.

The main (and oldest registered) meaning of the noun board was "a flat and thin piece of wood; a wooden plank". On the basis of this meaning developed the meaning "table" which is now archaic. The association which underlay this semantic shift was that of the material and the object made from it: a wooden plank (or several planks) is an essential part of any table. This type of association is often found with nouns denoting clothes: e. g. a taffeta ("dress made of taffeta"); a mink ("mink coat"), a jersy ("knitted shirt or sweater").

Meanings produced through transference based on contiguity sometimes originate from geographical or proper names. China in the sense of "dishes made of porcelain" originated from the name of the country which was believed to be the birthplace of porcelain.

Tweed ("a coarse wool cloth") got its name from the river Tweed and cheviot (another kind of wool cloth) from the Cheviot hills in England.

The name of a painter is frequently transferred onto one of his pictures: a Matisse a painting by Matisse.1

Broadening (or Generalisation) of Meaning.

Narrowing (or Specialisation) of Meaning

Sometimes, the process of transference may result in a considerable change in range of meaning. For instance, the verb to arrive (French borrowing) began its life in English in the narrow meaning "to come to shore, to land". In Modern English it has greatly widened its combinability and developed the general meaning "to come" (e. g. to arrive in a village, town, city, country, at a hotel, hostel, college, theatre, place, etc.). The meaning developed through transference based on contiguity (the concept of coming somewhere is the same for both meanings), but the range of the second meaning is much broader.

Another example of the broadening of meaning is pipe. Its earliest recorded meaning was "a musical wind instrument". Nowadays it can denote any hollow oblong cylindrical body (e. g. water pipes). This meaning developed through transference based on the similarity of shape (pipe as a musical instrument is also a hollow oblong cylindrical object) which finally led to a considerable broadening of the range of meaning.

The word bird changed its meaning from "the young of a bird" to its modern meaning through transference based on contiguity (the association is obvious). The second meaning is broader and more general.

It is interesting to trace the history of the word girl as an example of the changes in the range of meaning in the course of the semantic development of a word.

1 Also: see Supplementary Material, p. 279.

In Middle English it had the meaning of "a small child of either sex". Then the word underwent the process of transference based on contiguity and developed the meaning of "a small child of the female sex", so that the range of meaning was somewhat narrowed. In its further semantic development the word gradually broadened its range of meaning. At first it came to denote not only a female child but, also, a young unmarried woman, later, any young woman, and in modern colloquial English it is practically synonymous to the noun woman (e. g. The old girl must be at least seventy), so that its range of meaning is quite broad.

The history of the noun lady somewhat resembles that of girl. In Old English the word ( hlæfdiZe) denoted the mistress of the house, i. e. any married woman. Later, a new meaning developed which was much narrower in range: "the wife or daughter of a baronet" (aristocratic title). In Modern English the word lady can be applied to any woman, so that its range of meaning is even broader than that of the OE hlæfdiZe. In Modern English the difference between girl and lady in the meaning of woman is that the first is used in colloquial style and sounds familiar whereas the second is more formal and polite. Here are some more examples of narrowing of meaning:

Deer: \ any beast] > [ a certain kind of beast ]

Meat: [ any food] > | a certain food product [

Boy: | any young person of the male sex [ > [ servant of the male sex ]

It should be pointed out once more that in all these words the second meaning developed through transference based on contiguity, and that when we speak of them as examples of narrowing of meaning we simply imply that the range of the second meaning is more narrow than that of the original meaning.


Homonyms: Words of the Same Form

Homonyms are words which are identical in sound and spelling, or, at least, in one of these aspects, but different in their meaning.

E. g. J bank, n. a shore

bank, n. an institution for receiving, lending, exchanging, and safeguarding money

ball, n. a sphere; any spherical body ball, n. a large dancing party


English vocabulary is rich in such pairs and even groups of words. Their identical forms are mostly accidental: the majority of homonyms coincided due to phonetic changes which they suffered during their development.

If synonyms and antonyms can be regarded as the treasury of the language's expressive resources, homonyms are of no interest in this respect, and one cannot expect them to be of particular value for communication. Metaphorically speaking, groups of synonyms and pairs of antonyms are created by the vocabulary system with a particular purpose whereas homonyms are accidental creations, and therefore purposeless.

In the process of communication they are more of an encumbrance, leading sometimes to confusion and

misunderstanding. Yet it is this very characteristic which makes them one of the most important sources of popular humour.

The pun is a joke based upon the play upon words of similar form but different meaning (i. e. on homonyms) as in the following:

"A tailor guarantees to give each of his customers a perfect fit."

(The joke is based on the homonyms: I. fit, n. perfectly fitting clothes; II. fit, n. a nervous spasm.)

Homonyms which are the same in sound and spelling (as the examples given in the beginning of this chapter) are traditionally termed homonyms proper.

The following joke is based on a pun which makes use of another type of homonyms:

"Waiter!" "Yes, sir." "What's this?" "It's bean soup, sir."

"Never mind what it has been. I want to know what it is now."

Bean, n. and been, Past Part, of to be are phones. As the example shows they are the same in sound but different in spelling. Here are some more examples of homophones:

night, n. knight, n.; piece, n. peace, n.; scent, n. cent, n. sent, v. (Past Indef., Past Part, of to send); rite, n. to write, v. right, adj.; sea, n. to see, v. [si:] (the name of a letter).

The third type of homonyms is called homographs. These are words which are the same in spelling but different in sound.


to bow [bau], v. bow [bqu], .

to incline the head or body in salutation a flexible strip of wood for propelling arrows


to lead [li:d],v. to conduct on the way, go before to show the way - a heavy, rather soft metal

lead [led], n. to tear [teq], v.

tear [tie], n.

to pull apart or in pieces by force

a drop of the fluid secreted by the lacrinial glands of the eye

Sources of Homonyms

One source of homonyms has already been mentioned: phonetic changes which words undergo in the course of their historical development. As a result of such changes, two or more words which were formerly pronounced differently may develop identical sound forms and thus become homonyms.

Night and knight, for instance, were not homonyms in Old English as the initial k in the second word was pronounced, and not dropped as it is in its modern sound form: .. kniht (cf. .. niht). A more complicated change of form brought together another pair of homonyms: to knead (.. cnēdan) and to need (.. nēodian).

In Old English the verb to write had the form writan, and the adjective right had the forms reht, riht. The noun sea descends from the Old English form sæ, and the verb to see from . . sēon. The noun work and the verb to work also had different forms in Old English: wyrkean and weork respectively.

Borrowing is another source of homonyms. A borrowed word may, in the final stage of its phonetic

adaptation, duplicate in form either a native word or another borrowing. So, in the group of homonyms rite, n. to write, v. right, adj. the second and third words are of native origin whereas rite is a Latin borrowing (<Lat. ritus). In the pair piece, n. peace, ., the first originates from O.F. pais, and the second from O.F. (< Gaulish) pettia. Bank, n. ("shore") is a native word, and bank, n. ("a financial institution") is an Italian borrowing. Fair, adj. (as in a fair deal, it's not fair) is native, and fair, n. ("a gathering of buyers and sellers") is a French borrowing. Match, n. ("a game; a contest of skill, strength") is native, and match, n. ("a slender short piece of wood used for producing fire") is a French borrowing.

Word-building also contributes significantly to the growth of homonymy, and the most important type in this respect is undoubtedly conversion. Such pairs of words as comb, n. to comb, v., pale, adj. to pale, v., to make, v. make, n. are numerous in the vocabulary. Homonyms of this type, which are the same in sound and spelling but refer to different categories of parts of speech, are called lexico-grammatical homonyms. [12]

Shortening is a further type of word-building which increases the number of homonyms. E.g. fan, n. in the sense of "an enthusiastic admirer of some kind of sport or of an actor, singer, etc." is a shortening produced from fanatic. Its homonym is a Latin borrowing fan, n. which denotes an implement for waving lightly to produce a cool current of air. The noun rep, n. denoting a kind of fabric (cf. with the R. ) has three homonyms made by shortening: rep, n. (< repertory), rep, n. (< representative), rep, n. (< reputation)', all the three are informal words.

During World War II girls serving in the Women's Royal Naval Service (an auxiliary of the British Royal Navy) were jokingly nicknamed Wrens (informal). This

neologistic formation made by shortening has the homonym wren, n. "a small bird with dark brown plumage barred with black" (R. ).

Words made by sound-imitation can also form pairs of homonyms with other words: e. g. bang, n. ("a loud, sudden, explosive noise") bang, n. ("a fringe of hair combed over the forehead"). Also: mew, n. ("the sound a cat makes") mew, n. ("a sea gull") mew, n. ("a pen in which poultry is fattened") mews ("small terraced houses in Central London").

The above-described sources of homonyms have one important feature in common. In all the mentioned cases the homonyms developed from two or more different words, and their similarity is purely accidental. (In this respect, conversion certainly presents an exception for in pairs of homonyms formed by conversion one word of the pair is produced from the other: a find < to find.)

Now we come to a further source of homonyms which differs essentially from all the above cases. Two or more homonyms can originate from different meanings of the same word when, for some reason, the semantic structure of the word breaks into several parts. This type of formation of homonyms is called split polysemy.

From what has been said in the previous chapters about polysemantic words, it should have become clear that the semantic structure of a polysemantic word presents a system within which all its constituent meanings are held together by logical associations. In most cases, the function of the arrangement and the unity is determined by one of the meanings (e. g. the meaning "flame" in the noun fire see Ch. 7, p. 133). If this meaning happens to disappear from the word's semantic structure, associations between the rest of the meanings may be severed, the semantic structure loses its unity and falls into two or more parts which then become accepted as independent lexical units.

Let us consider the history of three homonyms:

board, n. a long and thin piece of timber

board, n. daily meals, esp. as provided for pay,

e. g. room and board board, n. an official group of persons who direct

or supervise some activity, e. g. a board

of directors

It is clear that the meanings of these three words are in no way associated with one another. Yet, most larger dictionaries still enter a meaning of board that once held together all these other meanings "table". It developed from the meaning "a piece of timber" by transference based on contiguity (association of an object and the material from which it is made). The meanings "meals" and "an official group of persons" developed from the meaning "table", also by transference based on contiguity: meals are easily associated with a table on which they are served; an official group of people in authority are also likely to discuss their business round a table.

Nowadays, however, the item of furniture, on which meals are served and round which boards of directors meet, is no longer denoted by the word board but by the French Norman borrowing table, and board in this meaning, though still registered by some dictionaries, can very well be marked as archaic as it is no longer used in common speech. That is why, with the intrusion of the borrowed table, the word board actually lost its corresponding meaning. But it was just that meaning which served as a link to hold together the rest of the constituent parts of the word's semantic structure. With its diminished role as an element of communication, its role in the semantic structure was also weakened. The speakers almost forgot that board had ever been associated with any item of furniture, nor could they associate the concepts of meals or of a responsible

committee with a long thin piece of timber (which is the oldest meaning of board). Consequently, the semantic structure of board was split into three units. The following scheme illustrates the process:

Board, n.(development of meanings)







A long, thin piece of timber > A piece of furniture > Meals provided for pay  
An official group of persons  
Board I, II, III, n. (split    
I. A long, thin piece of timber A piece of furniture II. Meals provided for pay  
Seldom used; ousted III. by the French borrowing table. An official group of persons  

A somewhat different case of split polysemy may be illustrated by the three following homonyms:

spring, n. the act of springing, a leap spring, n. a place where a stream of water comes up out of the earth (R. , ) spring, n. a season of the year.

Historically all three nouns originate from the same verb with the meaning of "to jump, to leap" (. . sprin-gan), so that the meaning of the first homonym is the oldest. The meanings of the second and third homonyms were originally based on metaphor. At the head of a stream the water sometimes leaps up out of the earth, so that metaphorically such a place could well be described as a leap. On the other hand, the season of the year following winter could be poetically defined as a

leap from the darkness and cold into sunlight and life. Such metaphors are typical enough of Old English and Middle English semantic transferences but not so characteristic of modern mental and linguistic processes. The poetic associations that lay in the basis of the semantic shifts described above have long since been forgotten, and an attempt to re-establish the lost links may well seem far-fetched. It is just the near-impossibility of establishing such links that seems to support the claim for homonymy and not for polysemy with these three words.

It should be stressed, however, that split polysemy as a source of homonyms is not accepted by some scholars. It is really difficult sometimes to decide whether a certain word has or has not been subjected to the split of the semantic structure and whether we are dealing with different meanings of the same word or with homonyms, for the criteria are subjective and imprecise. The imprecision is recorded in the data of different dictionaries which often contradict each other on this very issue, so that board is represented as two homonyms in Professor V. K. Muller's dictionary [41], as three homonyms in Professor V. D. Arakin's [36] and as one and the same word in Hornby's dictionary [45].

Spring also receives different treatment. V. K. Muller's and Hornby's dictionaries acknowledge but two homonyms: I. a season of the year, . a) the act of springing, a leap, b) a place where a stream of water comes up out of the earth; and some other meanings, whereas V. D. Arakin's dictionary presents the three homonyms as given above.

Classification of Homonyms

The subdivision of homonyms into homonyms proper, homophones and homographs is certainly not precise enough and does not reflect certain important features of these words, and, most important of all, their status

as parts of speech. The examples given in the beginning of this chapter show that homonyms may belong both to the same and to different categories of parts of speech. Obviously, a classification of homonyms should reflect this distinctive feature. Also, the paradigm of each word should be considered, because it has been observed that the paradigms of some homonyms coincide completely, and of others only partially.

Accordingly, Professor A. I. Smirnitsky classified homonyms into two large classes: I. full homonyms, II. partial homonyms [15].

Full lexical homonyms are words which represent the same category of parts of speech and have the same paradigm.

E. g. / match, n. a game, a contest

I match, n. a short piece of wood used for
I producing fire

wren, n. a member of the Women's Royal Naval Service wren, n. a bird

Partial homonyms are subdivided into three subgroups:

A. Simple lexico-grammatical partial homonyms are words which belong to the same category of parts of speech. Their paradigms have one identical form, but it is never the same form, as will be seen from the examples.

E. g. / (to) found, v.

\ found, v. (Past Indef., Past Part. of to ( find)

/ to lay, v.

I lay, v. (Past Indef. of to lie)

[ to bound, v.

I bound, v. (Past Indef., Past Part, of to

( bind)

B. Complex lexico-grammatical partial homonyms
are words of different categories of parts of speech
which have one identical form in their paradigms.

E. g. f rose, n.

rose, v. (Past Indef. of to rise)

maid, n.

made, v. (Past Indef., Past Part, of to make)

left, adj.

left, v. (Past Indef., Past Part, of to leave)

bean, n.

been, v. (Past Part, of to be)

one, num.

won, v. (Past Indef., Past Part, of to win)

C. Partial lexical homonyms are words of the same
category of parts of speech which are identical only in
their corresponding forms.

E. g. \ to lie (lay, lain), v. to lie (lied, lied), v.

to hang (hung, hung), v.

to hang (hanged, hanged), v.

to can (canned, canned) (I) can (could)


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