Word and its Semantic Structure. Connotational Meanings of a Word. The Role of the Context in the Actualization of Meaning
The idea of previous chapters was to illustrate potential possibilities of linguistic units more primitive than the word, found at lower levels of language structure and yet capable of conveying additional information when foregrounded in a specially organized context.
The forthcoming chapter is going to be one of the longest and most important in this book, for it is devoted to a lin-
guistic unit of major significance - the word, which names, qualifies and evaluates the micro- and macrocosm of the sur- rounding world. The most essential feature of a word is that it expresses the concept of a thing, process, phenomenon, na-ming (denoting) them. Concept is a logical category, its linguistic counterpart is meaning. Meaning, as our outstanding scholar L. Vygotsky put it, is the unity of generalization, communication and thinking. An entity of extreme complexity, the meaning of a word is liable to historical changes, of which you know from the course of lexicology and which are responsible for the formation of an expanded semantic structure of a word. This structure is constituted of various types of lexical meanings, the major one being denotational, which informs of the subject of communication; and also including connotational, which informs about the participants and conditions of communication.
The list and specification of connotational meanings varies with different linguistic schools and individual scholars and includes such entries as pragmatic (directed at the perlocutionary effect of utterance), associative (connected, through individual psychological or linguistic associations, with related and non-related notions), ideological, or conceptual (revealing political, social, ideological preferences of the user), evaluative (stating the value of the indicated notion), emotive (revealing the emotional layer of cognition and perception),* expressive (aiming at creating the image of the object in question), stylistic, (indicating "the register", or the situation of the communication).
The above-mentioned meanings are classified as connotational not only because they supply additional (and not the logical / de-notational) information, but also because, for the most part, they are observed not all at once and not in all words either. Some of them are more important for the act of communication than the others. Very often they overlap. So, all words possessing an emotive meaning are also evaluative (e. g. "rascal", "ducky"), though this rule is not reversed, as we can find non-emotive, intellectual evaluation (e. g. "good", "bad"). Also, all emotive words (or practically all, for that matter) are also expressive, while there are hundreds of expressive words which cannot be treated as emotive (take, for example the so-called expressive
* Cf. the famous quotation from V. I. Lenin: «Нельзя «изучать дейст-вительное положение вещей», не квалифицируя, не оценивая его». Ленин В. И. Полн. собр. соч., т. 23, с. 240).
verbs, which not only denote some action or process but also create their image, as in "to gulp" = to swallow in big lumps, in a hurry; or "to sprint" = to run fast).
The number, importance and the overlapping character of connotational meanings incorporated into the semantic structure of a word, are brought forth by the context, i. e. a concrete speech act that identifies and actualizes each one. More than that: each context does not only specify the existing semantic (both denotational and connotational) possibilities of a word, but also is capable of adding new ones, or deviating rather considerably from what is registered in the dictionary. Because of that all contextual meanings of a word can never be exhausted or comprehensively enumerated. Compare the following cases of contextual use of the verb "to pop" in Stan Barstow's novel "Ask Me Tomorrow":
1. His face is red at first and then it goes white and his eyes stare as if they'll pop out of his head.
2. "Just pop into the scullery and get me something to stand this on."
3. 'There is a fish and chip shop up on the main road. I thought you might show your gratitude by popping up for some."
4. "I've no need to change or anything then." "No, just pop your coat on and you're fine."
5. "Actually Mrs. Swallow is out. But she won't be long. She's popped up the road to the shops."
6. "Would you like me to pop downstairs and make you a cup of cocoa?"
In semantic actualization of a word the context plays a dual role: on the one hand, it cuts off all meanings irrelevant for the given communicative situation. On the other, it foregrounds one of the meaningful options of a word, focusing the communicators' attention on one of the denotational or connonational components of its semantic structure.
The significance of the context is comparatively small in the field of stylistic connotations, because the word is labelled stylistically before it enters some context, i.e. in the dictionary: recollect the well-known contractions - vulg., arch., sl., etc., which make an indispensable part of a dictionary entry. So there is sense to start the survey of connotational meanings with the stylistic differentiation of the vocabulary.