THE CAUSES, NATURE AND RESULTS OF SEMANTIC CHANGES.
To understand the development of word meaning it is necessary to investigate the causes of semantic change, to find out the nature of various changes of meaning and to describe the results.
The Causes of Semantic Change.
Word-meaning is liable to change in the course of historical development. The word fond diachronically meant foolish, glad had the meaning of bright, shining. There are two main causes accounting for the change of meaning. They are extra-linguisticand linguistic. The extra-linguistic causes are mainly determined by the social nature of the language, by the appearance of new notions and things. The influence of various life changes is illustrated as follows: the word car goes back to Latin carrus which meant a four-wheeled wagon but now that other means of transport are used it denotes a motor-car, a railway carriage (USA), antenna meant tendrils of insects.
Some changes of meaning are due to purely linguistic causes - factors acting within the language system. The commonest linguistic causes are differentiation (discrimination) of synonyms; ellipsis; linguistic analysis.
Semantic change due to the discrimination of synonyms is a process which is often observed when English and French or Latin synonyms come into coalition. The word land in OE meant both solid part of earth’s surface and the territory of a nation. Then the word country was borrowed from Old French and the meaning of the word land was altered and the territory of a nation came to be denoted by the borrowed word country.
A vivid example of ellipsis is the verb to starve. In Old English steorfan had the meaning to die and was used in collocation with the word hunger. But in the 16th century the word itself acquired the meaning to die of hunger. Similar changes may be seen in Modern English when the meaning of one word is transferred to another because they habitually occur together in speech.
Linguistic analysis shows that if one of the members of a synonymic set acquires a new meaning, other members of the synonymic set change their meanings too, e.g., after the verb to catch had acquired the meaning of «to understand», its synonyms to grasp, to get came into usage with the same meaning.
The Nature of Semantic Change.
The process of development of a new meaning or a change of meaning is traditionally termed transference as in any case of semantic change the word is transferred from one referent onto another. In any language there are some associations involved in semantic changes between the old meaning and the new known as either metaphor (transference based on resembles or similarity) or metonymy(transference based on contiguity).
Metaphor can be described as a semanticprocess of associating two referents one of which in some way resembles the other. Metaphor is based on the perception of similarities, so when an analogy is obvious, it should give rise to a metaphorical meaning (the hand of the clock, the foot of the hill, the leg of the table; warm (cold) voice). There are two kinds of metaphor. The first is poetic metaphor ormetaphor as a literary device that doesn’t impart the word with a new meaning outside the given context (an army of shoes). Linguistic metaphor imparts the word with the new meaning registered by dictionaries (the white of the eye).
Metaphors may be based on different types of similarity:
* similarity of shape (a head of cabbage, a tongue of a bell, an eye of a needle);
* similarity of function (the head of the army, the head of the school);
* similarity of position (the foot of a page, arms and the mouth of a river);
* similarity of out-word appearance (to saw the air (æåñòèêóëèðîâàòü), egg (áîìáà), claret).
There are other types of similarity, too.
As we can see from the examples mentioned words most liable to adopt metaphoric meaning are words denoting parts of a human body. Such metaphors are called anthropometaphic metaphors. Another group of words liable to adopt metaphoric meaning is presented by words denoting animals or fruits. Such metaphors are often used to describe people (a fox [a cunning person], a goose [a silly person], a cow [if a person is awkward or boring], [an older woman can be called] a hen; a peach [a beautiful woman], a lemon [an ugly girl]). One more group of words comprises transitions of proper names into common ones (an Apollo, a Cicero, a Don Juan, a Venus).
A contemporary English linguist M. McCarthy offers his division of metaphors into conventional and creative. Metaphor, as a device for creating and extending meaning, is very important in the study of vocabulary. Two writers on the subject, G. Lakoff and M. Johnson argue that metaphor is all-pervasive in language, and that whole cognitive domains can be the subject of metaphor. E.g., if we take the metaphor argument is war, English offers a range of conventional metaphors to verbalize features of argument [He made a vicious attack on my position. She won’t retreat from her position. They bombarded me with objections. I came under fire from all directions]. We can equally use metaphors of animal behavior and animal noises to describe people’s postures, human speech, attitudes in argument [He snapped at her. «I won’t have it», he barked. I fell prey to his persuasiveness.] Temperature is used as metaphors for degrees of friendliness, a person may be cold or cool towards another, or may be considered to have a warm personality. McCarthy insists on treating conventional metaphors as other multi-word (phraseological) units. Creative metaphors are those constructed by speakers themselves, their tolerance limits are crucial, and shift from context to context [The government has microwaved, rather than cooked up, its new economic policy. He simply toothached all our proposals.]
Metonymy may be described as the semantic process of associating two referents one of which makes part of the other. The transfer may be conditioned by spatial (the House - dwelling and members of the House of Parliament; bench - a place to sit and judges; the chair - a piece of furniture and a teaching staff), symbolic (the crown - monarchy, from the cradle to the grave - from birth till death),and other connections.Speaking about metonymy we can see that common names may be derived from proper [people’s names, geographical ones] (diesel, vat, ohm, ampere; twig; china; raglan, mackintosh)
The Results of Semantic Change.
The results of semantic change can be observed in the changes in the denotational meaning of the word or in the changes of its connotational component.
Semantic changes in the denotational component may bring about the extension (application of the word to a wider range of referents -camp was used to denote only the place where troops are lodged in tents, now temporary quarters)or the restriction (restriction of the type or range of referents denoted by the word - hound denoted a dog of any breed now only a dog used in the chase) of meaning. The change in connotational component may result in the pejorative (acquisition by the word of some derogatory emotive charge) or ameliorative (the improvement of the connotational component of meaning - minister denoted a servant and now a civil servant of higher rank) development of meaning.
Questions and Tasks:
Translate the sentences paying attention to the metaphorical extension of the word back:
She sat at the back of the class. My back aches from all work. The index is in the back of the book. I’m tired, I want to go back. The back of the chair is broken. The back of your jacket is stained. Open the back of the camera to put the film in.
What word/phrases do you associate with these metaphors in English: Love is madness. She is in her second childhood. Emotion is a physical experience. It's a dear old town, but it's a rough diamond?
Suggest some possible interpretations for these metaphors: The new proposal is a hot coal on the carpet of our educational system. I was standing on the lampshade of a new relationship with her.
(a) Which words were taken from each of the following person’s names [Odysseus, Alessandro Volta, James Watt, Captain Charles C. Boycott, Luigi Galvani, Ferdinand von Zepplelin, Louis Pasteur, John L. McAdam, Samuel Maverick, The god Pan, the philosopher Plato, Mrs. Malaprop, W.A. Spooner]? (b) Write a word for each definition [to kill bacteria by heating; confusion of words; person characterised by a spirit of independence; long, wandering journey; cigar-shaped lighter-than-air craft; transposing the first sounds of words]
In this news report of the beginning of a legal inquest into the deaths of three terrorists, metaphors are used. Identify them and consider an interpretation for them. Note any that may cause particular problems in terms of cultural knowledge.
Now we are gathered here, hundreds of us, to report on the deliberations into the deaths of Farrell, Savage and McCann.
After only four days and eleven witnesses, it is to early to say if the circumstances of their killing will eventually join a Polish general and a Victorian sailing ship high in the league table of the unknowable. But at least the
outline of a new spectral barque is
showing up through the legal mists. This is the government’s case.
At present only the sails and rigging are visible, in the shape of court-room curtains and radio aerials. The hull may yet prove remarkably sound and smooth. There are already signs, however, of incipient unseaworthness.
(Observer, 11 September 1988)