Topics: Semantics, Linguistics, Etymology Pages: 6 (2425 words) Published: April 11, 2014
Word-meaning is liable to change in the course of the historical development of language. Changes of lexical meaning may be illustrated by a diachronic semantic analysis of many commonly used English words. The word fond (OE. fond) used to mean ‘foolish’, ‘foolishly credulous’; glad (OE, glaed) had the meaning of ‘bright’, ’shining’ and so on. Change of meaning has been thoroughly studied and as a matter of fact monopolised the attention of all semanticists whose work up to the early 1930’s was centered almost exclusively on the description and classification of various changes of meaning. Abundant language data can be found in almost all the books dealing with semantics. Here we shall confine the discussion to a brief outline of the problem as it is viewed in modern linguistic science. To avoid the ensuing confusion of terms and concepts it is necessary to discriminate between the causes of semantic change, the results and the nature of the process of change of meaning.1 These are three closely bound up, but essentially different aspects of one and the same problem. Discussing the causes of semantic change we concentrate on the factors bringing about -this change and attempt to find out why the word changed its meaning. Analysing the nature of semantic change we seek i See St. Ullmann. The Principles of Semantics. Chapter 8, Oxford, 1963. 28 to clarify the process of this change and describe how various changes of meaning were brought about. Our aim in investigating the results of semantic change is to find out what was changed, i.e. we compare the resultant and the original meanings and describe the difference between them mainly in terms of the changes of the denotational components. The factors accounting for semantic changes may be roughly subdivided into two groups: a) extra-linguistic and b) linguistic causes. By extra-linguistic causes we mean various changes in the life of the speech community, changes in economic and social structure, changes in ideas, scientific concepts, way of life and other spheres of human activities as reflected in word meanings. Although objects, institutions, concepts, etc. change in the course of time in many cases the soundform of the words which denote them is retained but the meaning of the words is changed. The word car, e.g., ultimately goes back to Latin carrus which meant ‘a four-wheeled wagon’ (ME. carre) but now that other means of transport are used it denotes ‘a motor-car’, ‘a railway carriage’ (in the USA), ‘that portion of an airship, or balloon which is intended to carry personnel, cargo or equipment’. Some changes of meaning are due to what may be described as 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. The verb to starve, e.g., in Old English (OE. steorfan) had the meaning ‘to die’ and was habitually used in collocation with the word hunger (ME. sterven of hunger). Already in the 16th century the verb itself acquired the meaning ‘to die of hunger’. Similar semantic changes may be observed in Modern English when the meaning of one word is transferred to another because they habitually occur together in speech. Another linguistic cause is discrimination of synonyms which can be illustrated by the semantic development of a number of words. The word land, e.g., in Old English (OE. land) meant both ’solid part of earth’s surface’ and ‘the territory of a nation’. When in the Middle English period the word country (OFr. contree) was borrowed as its synonym, the meaning of the word land was somewhat altered and ‘the territory of a nation’ came to be denoted mainly by the borrowed word country. Some semantic changes may be accounted for by the influence of a peculiar factor usually referred to as linguistic analogy. It was found out, e.g., that if one of the...
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