The Process of Development and Change of Meaning


Word meaning is liable to change in the course of the historical development of language. There are distinguished causes of semantic change, nature and results of the process of change of meaning.

Causes of Semantic Change. The factors accounting for semantic changes may be roughly subdivided into two groups: a) extra-linguistic: b) linguistic.

By extra-linguistic causes various changes in the life of the speech community are meant, i.e. changes in economic and social structure, changes in scientific concepts. For example, changes in the way of life of the British brought about changes in the meaning hlaford. Originally the word meant bread-keeper* ( ), and later on master, ruler' (, ).

Some changes of meaning occur due to purely linguistic causes, i.e. factors acting within the language system. The commonest form which this influence takes is the so-called ellipsis. In a phrase made up of two words one of these is omitted and its meaning is transferred to its partner. For example, the verb to stone in Old English (OF.) meant to die' and was habitually used in collocation with the word hunger. In the 16' century the verb to starve itself acquired the meaning 'to die of hunger'.

Another linguistic cause is discrimination/differentiation of synonyms which can be illustrated by the semantic development of a number of words. In OE the word land meant both solid pan of earth's surface' and 'the territory of a nation. In the Middle English period the word country? was borrowed as its synony m. The meaning of the word land was somewhat altered and 'the territory of a nation' came to be denoted by the borrowed word country.

Fixed context may be regarded as another linguistic factor in semantic change. For example, the word token, when brought into competition with the word sign, became restricted in use to a number of set expressions, such as love token, token of respect and also became specialized in meaning.

Nature of Semantic Change. There are two kinds of association involved in various semantic changes:similarity of meanings, contiguity of meanings.

Similarity of meanings or metaphor may be described as the semantic process of associating two referents, one of which in some way resembles the other. The word hand, for instance, acquired in the I6lh century the meaning of a pointer of a clock because of the similarity of one of the functions performed by the hand. See the expression hands of the clock (watch).

Contiguity of meanings or metonymymay be described as the semantic process of associating two referents one of which makes part of the other or is closely connected with it. This can be illustrated by the use of the word tongue 'the organ of speech' in the meaning of 'language' (as in mother tongue).

Results of Semantic Change. Results of semantic change can be generally observed in the changes of the denotational meaning of the word, i.e. in restriction or extension of meaning.

Restriction of meaning can be illustrated by the semantic development of the word hound which used to denote dog of any breed' but now denotes only a dog used in the chase'. If the word with a new restricted meaning comes to be used in the specialized vocabulary of some limited group within the speech community it is usual to speak of the specialization of meaning.

Extension of meaning may be illustrated by the word target which originally meant a small round shield' but now means 'anything that is fired at'. If ihe word with the extended meaning passes from the specialized vocabulary into common use. the result of the semantic change is described as the generalization of meaning.

Amelioration of meaning implies the improvement of the connotational component of meaning. For instance, the word minister originally denoted a servant' but now - a civil servant of higher rank, a person administering a department of state.

Deterioration of meaning implies the acquisition by the word of some derogatory emotive charge. For example, the word boor was originally used to denote a peasant' and then acquired a derogatory connotational meaning and came to denote a clumsy or ill-bred fellow.


Homonyms are words which are identical in sound and spelling, or, at least, in one of these aspects, but different in their meaning.(bank, n. -a shore, an institution for receiving money;ball, n.- a sphere; a large dancing party)In the process of communication they lead sometimes to confusion and misunderstanding. Yet it is this very characteristic which makes them one of the most important sources of popular humour.


Homonyms proper -homonyms which are the same in sound and spelling.(back-back,pit -)

Homophones- the same in sound but different in spelling(night- knight; piece-peace, rite- to write- right, sea- to see-.

Homographs- the same in spelling but different in sound.(lead-lead-, tear )


Smirnitsky classified homonyms into 2 classes: I. full, II. partial

Fulllexical homonyms are words which represent the same category of parts of speech and have the same paradigm. match-a game, match- a short piece of wood.

Partial homonyms:

A. Simple lexico-grammatical partial homonyms are words which belong to the same category of parts of speech.(to) found-found ( find)

B.Complex lexico-grammatical partial homonyms are words of different categories of parts of speech.rose-rose, maid-made, left-left, bean-been, one-won

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


1)phonetic changes-historical development of words(knight-night),

2) borrowing-a borrowed word may dublicate in form(rite-to write-right. rite here is a Latin borrowing)

3)conversion (comb-to comb)

4)shortening(fan-from fanatic, fan-an implement to make a current of air)

5)sound imitation (bang )




Synonyms are usually defined as words belonging to one part of speech, close in meaning and interchangeable at least in some contexts. Synonyms are characterized by either the semantic relations of equivalence or by the semantic relations of proximity. As the degree of semantic proximity may be different, different types of synonyms can be singled out. Full (total) synonyms, i.e. words characterized by semantic equivalence, are extremely rare.
The degree of semantic proximity is best of all estimated in terms of the aspects of meaning, i.e. the denotational, the connotational, and the pragmatic aspect.
The highest degree of proximity is observed in synonyms which have similar denotational aspects but differ either in the connotational (1) or the pragmatic (2) aspect of meaning.
The difference in connotation may be illustrated by the words famous meaning known widely, having fame and the word notorious which is defined as widely known because of smth. bad. for example for being criminal, violent, immoral*. Thus, the word famous implies a positive emotive evaluation, and the word notorious negative.
The difference in the pragmatic value of words is found in a far greater number of words than the difference in the connotational aspect. It can be observed in synonymic pairs consisting of a native and a borrowed word. In most cases the native word is more informal, whereas the foreign word has a learned or abstract air, cf: brotherly fraternal.
bodily corporal. In a few eases these synonymic values are reversed, e.g. deed action, foe enemy.
Taking into account the difference of synonyms by the three aspects of their meaning they may be classified into stylistic(different in connotational aspect, children-infants,dad-father), ideographic(diff in denotational aspect,apartment-flat,forest-wood) and ideographic-stylistic synonyms(hardly interchangeable in the context, expect-anticipate).



Antonyms a class of words grouped together on the basis of the semantic relations of opposition. Antonyms are words belonging to one part of speech sharing certain common semantic characteristics and in this respect they are similar to such semantic classes as synonyms, lexical sets, lexico-semantic groups. There exist different classifications of antonyms.
Structurally, antonyms can be divided into antonyms of the same root, e.g. to do to undo, cheerful cheerless: and antonyms of different roots. e.g. day night, rich poor.
Semantically, antonyms may be classified into:
1. Contradictories represent the type of semantic relations that exist between pairs like, for example, dead alive, single married. Contradictory antonyms are mutually opposed, they deny one another. Contradictories form a privative binary' opposition, they are members of two-term sets.
2. Contraries are antonyms that can be arranged into a series according to the increasing difference in one of their qualities. The most distant elements of this series will be classified as contrary notions. This may be observed in cold hot and cool warm which are intermediate members. Thus, we may regard as antonyms not only cold and hot but also cold and warm. Contrary antonyms may also be considered in terms of degrees of the quality involved. Thus, water may be cold or very cold.
3. Incompatibles are antonyms which are characterized by the relations of exclusion. Semantic relations of incompatibility exist among antonyms with a common component of meaning and may be described as the reverse of hyponymy. For example, to say morning is to say not afternoon, not evening, and not night. The use of one member of this set implies the exclusion of the other members of the set.


There are words in every language which people instinctively avoid because they are considered indecent, indelicate, rude, too direct or impolite. The word lavatory has, naturally, produced many euphemisms. Here are some of them: powder room, washroom, restroom, retiring room, (public) comfort station, ladies' (room), gentlemen's (room), water-closet, w.c. ([d0blju:'si:]), public conveniences and even Windsor castle (which is a comical phrase for "deciphering" w.c.).

Pregnancy is another topic for "delicate" references. Here are some of the euphemisms used as substitutes for the adjective pregnant: in an interesting condition, in a delicate condition, in the family way, with a baby coming, (big) with child, expecting.

The adjective drunk, for instance, has a great number of such substitutes, some of them "delicate", but most comical. E. g. intoxicated (form.), under the influence (form.), tipsy, mellow, fresh, high, merry, flustered, overcome, full (coll.), drunk as a lord (coll.), drunk as an owl (coll.), boiled (sl.), fried (sl.), tanked (sl.), tight (sl.), stiff (sl.), pickled (sl.), soaked (sl.), three sheets to the wind (sl.), high as a kite (sl.), half-seas-over (sl.), etc. All the euphemisms that have been described so far are used to avoid the so-called social taboos. Their use, as has already been said, is inspired by social convention.

Superstitious taboos gave rise to the use of other type of euphemisms. The reluctance to call things by their proper names is also typical of this type of euphemisms, but this time it is based on a deeply-rooted subconscious fear.

Superstitious taboos have their roots in the distant past of mankind when people believed that there was a supernatural link between a name and the object or creature it represented. Therefore, all the words denoting evil spirits, dangerous animals, or the powers of nature were taboo.


© 2013 wikipage.com.ua - wikipage.com.ua |