When speaking about the development of the word-meaning, we should take into consideration the relationship between the expression and the content. In natural human languages as N.B.Gvishiani puts it, very often we deal with the violation of the law of the sign which prescribes the direct correspondence of expression and content. The examples of such violations are polysemy (singleness of form and multiplicity of content, homonymy(identity of expression and differentiation of content), synonymy (presumed singleness of content and variability of expression).
There are also cases when the law of the sign is not violated entirely, but nevertheless some departures from the presumed agreement of expression and content are seen. The identity-of-unit problem (ïðîáëåìà òîæäåñòâà ñëîâà) touches upon the subject of variants (graphical, phonetic, morphological, lexical, semantic).
Graphical variantscomprise multiple spellings of the same word(whisky-whiskey).
Phonetic variation includes the modification of the outer form of a word depending on its position in the utterance (N.B. Gvishiani gives the examples of the reduction of the conjunction and to a prolonged nasal consonant in the following expressions: normal and natural, now and then). There are several other types of phonetic change: accentualvariation (the co-existence of some stress-patterns of the same word ‘contrary/con’trary, territory/terri’tory), emic variation (multiple pronunciations of the same word (direct [dai’rekt], [di’rekt]; often [ofn], [oftn], etc).
Morphological variation is the alternative use of some derivational morphemes without changing the word’s meaning (academic/academical).
A communicative situation(formal/informal, written/spoken)conditions on the choice of lexical variants(examination – exam, mathematics-math, etc).
Semantic variation constitutes a complex problem and is discussed in terms of lexical-semantic variants which following A.I. Smirnitskey, are various meanings of a given word that is called a polysemantic one.
According to V.V. Vinogradov, one should speak about nominative, nominative-derivative, colligationally and collocationally conditioned and phraseologically bound meanings.
The nominative meaning (in other linguistic sources referential, denotative, factual, objective, essential, central, primary, focal, usual) is a free meaning that refers to objects in extra-linguistic reality in a direct way, it is the semantic centre of a word associated with the given sound-form when the word stands by itself without any contextual support.
The nominative-derivative meaning (secondary, derived, figurative, transferred) appears to name new objects and phenomena on the base of associations of either metaphorical or metonymical nature.
Colligationally and collocationally conditioned meaningsare bound ones determined by morpho-syntactic patterns (colligation) or by the association with other lexical units (collocation).
Colligation is a relationship observable between items when they are arranged in certain morpho-syntactic patterns [the verb to tell in the Passive voice has the meaning to order: He was told to close the door.]
Collocation is a relationship observable between items when they are arranged in texts, spoken or written, in other words it is the ability of a word to enter different combinations and fulfil different stylistic functions.[ we can say she has a beige car but not she has beige hair; one can say she has blond hair but not she has blond car. Blond and beige, although both describing colour, are restricted of what words they may combine with, so they have different collocations.]
The relationship of collocation may be strong [ given blond one can hardly be talking of anything else but hair] or weak [in the pair brown hair, for example, as brown and hair may both combine with a large number of other words]. Collocations may be typical or untypical, which are part of the creativity and the imaginative dimension we find in literature [The puffins sit in a book: the muffins are molten], in advertising language and other sorts of persuasive language [compare typical collocation sky-blue with untypical galaxy-blue, the name of one of the shades of blue currently available for Ford cars].
Phraseologically bound meaningwhich is realised only in some phrases is based on theidiom principlethat implies that certain meanings belong only to a given collocation.
Diachronically the meanings can also be classified intoetymological (the earliest known meanings), archaic(meaning replaced at present day by a newer one but still remaining in some collocations [the quick and the dead, quick - æèâîé â ïðîòèâîâåñ ìåðòâîìó]), obsolete (gone out of use), present-day (the most frequent in the present day usage). Meanings may be opposed as neutral and stylistically colored latter further subdivided into bookishand colloquial. Another opposition is concrete - abstract meanings [the meaning of the word screen is abstract when it denotes something referring to the cinema - screen-actor, screen-star; it is concrete when the speaker means «a sheet on which pictures are shown»].