Different types of semantic change.

Semantic change is the process old semantic extension resulting in complete replacement of the old meaning by a new one or when the initial meaning is completely lost and replaced by a new one. Causes: linguistic; extralinguistic. By extralinguistic causes we mean various changes in the life of speech community. E common linguistic factors: 1) ellipsis – in a phrase made up of 2 words, one of the words is omitted and its meaning is transferred to the remaining word. e.g.: a tobacco-pipe (originally) – a pipe (then). 2) discrimination of synonyms. E.g.: land – OE ‘both solid part of the earth + the territory of a nation’; ME ‘the word ‘country’ was borrowed from Fr.’ they became synonymous. But then ‘land’ lost one of its meanings and now ‘country’ prevails. 3) linguistic analogy. If one of the members of the synonymic set acquires a new meaning the other members of this set change their meanings too. e.g.: catch – grasp – get. A necessary condition of any semantic change is some association between the old meaning and a new one. 2 types of associations: similarity of meanings (metaphor); contiguity of meanings (metonymy). Metaphor – is the semantic process of associating 2 referents; one of which in some way resembles the other. e.g.: ‘hand’ – 16th c. ‘pointer of the clock’. Sometimes it maybe the similarity of forms (the tongues of fire). Some linguists state that a metaphor is similarity of form and not function. Metonymy – is the semantic process of associating 2 referents; one of which makes part of the other or is closely connected with it. e.g.: bench – acquired the meaning of judges (because they sat at the benches). All the types of semantic change depend on some comparison of the earlier and a new meaning of a word.

"Narrowing" redirects here. For E-unification in convergent term rewriting systems.

A number of classification schemes have been suggested for semantic change. The most widely accepted scheme in the English-speaking academic world is from Bloomfield (1933):

Narrowing: Change from superordinate level to subordinate level. For example, skyline formerly referred to any horizon, but now in the USA it has narrowed to a horizon decorated by skyscrapers.

Widening: There are many examples of specific brand names being used for the general product, such as with Kleenex.

Metaphor: Change based on similarity of thing. For example, broadcast originally meant "to cast seeds out"; with the advent of radio and television, the word was extended to indicate the transmission of audio and video signals. Outside of agricultural circles, very few use broadcast in the earlier sense.

Metonymy: Change based on nearness in space or time, e.g., jaw "cheek" → "mandible".

Synecdoche: Change based on whole-part relation. The convention of using capital cities to represent countries or their governments is an example of this.

Hyperbole: Change from weaker to stronger meaning, e.g., kill "torment" → "slaughter"

Meiosis: . Change from stronger to weaker meaning, e.g., astound "strike with thunder" → "surprise strongly".

Degeneration: e.g., knave "boy" → "servant" → "deceitful or despicable man".

Elevation: e.g., knight "boy" → "nobleman".

Polysemy and context.

The word polysemy means plurality of meanings. It exists only in the language, not in speech. A word which has more than one meaning is called polysemantic. There are two processes of the semantic development of a word: radiation and concatenation. In cases of radiation the primary meaning stands in the centre and the secondary meanings proceed out of it like rays. Each secondary meaning can be traced to the primary meaning, e.g. face (the front part of the human head - the primary meaning; the front part of a building, the front part of a watch, the front part of a playing card; expression of the face, outward appearance - secondary meanings). In cases of concatenation secondary meanings of a word develop like a chain, e.g. crust – 1. hard outer part of bread, 2. hard part of anything (a pie, a cake), 3. harder layer over soft snow, 4. sullen gloomy person, 5. impudence. Here the last meanings have nothing to do with primary ones. In such cases homonyms appeare in the language. This phenomenon is called the split of polysemy.

II. Semantic Structure of Polysemantic Words. Synchronically, the problem of polysemy ie the problem of interrelation and interdependence of different meanings of the same word. The semantic structure of a polysemantic word is the sum total of relations between its lexico-semantic variants. The analysis of the semantic structure of a polysemantic word is based on the following set of oppositions:

1. Direct-derived meaning: rat – animal like, but larger than a mouse; rat – cowardly person; strike-breaker.

2. Extended-restricted meaning: to knock – strike, hit; to knock – of a petrol engine – make a tapping or thumping noise.

3. Free-bound meaning: hat – cover for the head; hat – nonsense (to speak through one’s hat).

4. General-specialized meaning: case – instance or example of the occurence of smth; case – (med.) person suffering from a disease.

5. Neutral-emotional meaning: nut – fruit consisting of a hard shell enclosing a kernel that can be eaten; nut – (slang) head of a human being.

Synonyms. Sources of synonymy.

Synonyms are words different in their outer aspects, but identical or similar in their inner aspects.

The sources of synonymy:

1. Synonyms which originated from the native language (e.g.fast-speedy-swift; handsome-pretty-lovely; bold-manful-steadfast).

2. Synonyms created through the adoption of words from dialects (e.g. mother – minny (Scot.); dark-murk (O.N.);charm – glamour (Scot.); long distance call (AE) - trunk call(BE); radio (AE) - wireless (BE)).

3. Synonyms that owe their origin to foreign borrowings (e.g.help-aid (Fr); heaven – sky (Sc.); freedom – liberty (L.)).The peculiar feature of synonymy in English is the contrast between simple native words stylistically neutral,literarywords borrowed from French and learned words of Gгесо-Latin origin.

Native English French Borrowing Latin borrowings
to ask to question to interrogate
to end to finish to complete
to rise to mount to ascend
teaching guidance instruction
belly stomach abdomen

4. Synonyms created by means of all word-forming processes productive in the language. It must be noted that synonyms may influence each other semantically in two opposite ways: one of them is dissimilationor differentiation,the other – the reverse process, i.e. assimilation.

Classification of synonymy.

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 meanings, interchangeable, at least in some contexts without any considerable alteration in sense, but differing in morphemic composition, phonemic shape, shades of meaning, connotations, style, valency and idiomatic use. Example: strange – queer – odd – quaint.

Synonymic, adj [sInenImik].

Synonymous, adj [sinOnimes].

Synonymic dominant is the central term of a synonymic set possessing the following characteristic features:

1. high frequency of usage

2. broad combinability, ability to be used in combinations with various classes of words

3. broad general meaning

4. lack of connotations (this goes for stylistic connotations as well, so that stylistic neutrality is also a typical feature of the dominant synonym)

5. it may substitute for other synonyms at least in some contexts

6. it is often used to define other synonyms in dictionary definitions.

In the synonymic set strange – queer – odd – quaint, the synonymic dominant is strange.

Ideographic synonyms are words conveying the same concept, but differing in shades of meaning. For instance, the verbs cry – weep – sob – wail – whimper are ideographic synonyms. These verbs mean “to make inarticulate sounds of grief, unhappiness, or pain”. Cry has the widest use and may be a result of unhappiness, joy or, especially with babies, of physical discomfort. Cry and weep both imply the shedding of tears, but cry more strongly implies accompanying sound. In comparison with cry, weep can suggest stronger emotions. Sob describes crying or a mixture of broken speech and crying marked by irregular and noisy breathing. Wail indicates long noisy crying in grief or complaint. Whimper refers to low, broken or repressed cries; children whimper with fear or in complaint.

Stylistic synonyms are words differing in their stylistic characteristics, sky (neutral) – welkin (bookish), head (neutral) – attic (slang).

Absolute synonyms are words coinciding in all their shades of meaning and in all their stylistic characteristics, word-building – word-formation.

Contextual synonyms are words which are similar in meaning only under some specific contextual conditions. The verbs to buy and to get are not synonymous, but they are synonyms in the examples offered by J. Lyons: I’ll go to the shop and buy some bread and I’ll go to the shop and get some bread.

Double scale of synonyms reflects one of the two basic principles according to which synonyms are organized in English (the 2nd deals with a triple scale). It is a pair of synonyms where a native term is opposed to one borrowed from French, Latin or Greek. In most cases the native word is more informal, whereas the foreign one often has a learned, abstract or even abstruse character. There may also be an emotive difference: the native word is apt to be “warmer and homelier”. Phonetically, the borrowed word is usually longer. Examples: bodily - corporeal; to buy – to purchase; fiddle – violin.

Triple scale of synonyms is a set of synonyms in which one word is native, the second word is French and the third synonym is Latin or Greek. In most of such sets, the native synonym is the simplest and most common of the three terms, the Latin or Greek one is learned, abstract, whereas the French one stands between the two extremes. Examples: to begin – to commence – to initiate; to end – to finish – to conclude.


Antonyms are words belonging to the same part of speech, identical in style, expressing contrary or contradictory notions. V.N. Comissarov classified antonyms into two groups: absolute (root) antonyms (late - early) and derivational antonyms (to please – to displease, honest - dishonest). Absolute antonyms have different roots and derivational antonyms have the same roots but different affixes. In most cases negative prefixes form antonyms (un-, dis- non-). Sometimes they are formed by means of antonymous suffixes: -ful and –less (painful - painless). The difference between derivational and root antonyms is also in their semantics. Derivational antonyms express contradictory notions, one of them excludes the other: active-inactive. Absolute antonyms express contrary notions. If some notions can be arranged in a group of more than two members, the most distant members of the group will be absolute antonyms: ugly, plain, good-looking, pretty, beautiful, the antonyms are ugly and beautiful. Leonard Lipka in the book Outline of English Lexicology describes three types of oppositeness:

a) complementarity: male – female. The denial of the one implies the assertion of the other, and vice versa;

b) antonyms: good – bad. It is based on different logical relationships;

c) converseness: to buy – to sell. It is mirror-image relations or functions: husband-wife, above-below, pupil-teacher.

L. Lipka also gives the type which he calls directional oppositions: up-down, consequence opposition: learn-know, antipodal opposition: North-South, East- West. L. Lipka also points out non-binary contrast or many-member lexical sets. In such sets of words we can have outer and inner pairs of antonyms: excellent, good, average, fair, poor. Not every word in a language can have antonyms. This type of opposition can be met in qualitative adjectives and their derivatives: beautiful-ugly, to beautify-to uglify. It can be also met in words denoting feelings and states: to respect-to scorn, respectful-scornful and in words denoting direction in space and time: here-there, up-down, before-after. If a word is polysemantic, it can have several antonyms, e.g. the word bright has the antonyms dim, dull, sad.

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