Semantic Changes


Chapter I. Semantic changes. Types of Semantic changes... 4
Definition   .4
Other types of Semantic changes.. 10
Chapter II. Causes of semantic change...  12


    The meaning of a word can change in the  course  of  time.  Changes  of
  lexical meanings can be proved by comparing contexts of different  times.
  Transfer of the meaning is called lexico-semantic word-building. In  such
  cases the outer aspect of a word does not change.
    The causes of semantic changes can be extra-linguistic and  linguistic,
  e.g. the change of the lexical meaning of the noun pen was due to extra-
  linguistic causes. Primarily pen comes back to the Latin  word  penna
  (a feather of a bird). As people wrote  with  goose  pens  the  name  was
  transferred to steel pens which were later on  used  for  writing.  Still
  later any instrument for writing was called  a pen.
    On the other hand causes  can  be  linguistic,  e.g.  the  conflict  of
  synonyms  when a perfect synonym of a native word is borrowed  from  some
  other language one of them may specialize in its meaning, e.g.  the  noun
  tide in Old English was  polisemantic  and  denoted  time,  season,
  hour. When the French words time, season, hour were borrowed into
  English they ousted the word tide in these meanings. It was specialized
  and now means regular rise and fall of the sea caused by  attraction  of
  the moon. The meaning of a word can also change due  to  ellipsis,  e.g.
  the word-group a train of carriages  had  the  meaning  of  a  row  of
  carriages, later on of carriages was  dropped  and  the  noun  train
  changed its meaning, it is used now in the function and with the  meaning
  of the whole word-group.
      Semantic changes have been classified  by  different  scientists.  The
  most complete classification was suggested by a German  scientist  Herman
  Paul in his work Prinzipien des Sprachgeschichte. It is  based  on  the
  logical principle. He distiguishes  two  main  ways  where  the  semantic
  change is gradual ( specialization  and  generalization),  two  momentary
  conscious semantic changes (metaphor and  metonymy)  and  also  secondary
  ways: gradual (elevation  and  degradation),   momentary  (hyperbole  and


   1. Definition.

   The development and change of the semantic structure of a word is always
a source of qualitative and quantitative development of the vocabulary.
   All the types discussed depend upon some comparison between the  earlier
(whether extinct or still in use) and the new meaning  of  the  given  word.
This comparison may be based on the difference between notions expressed  or
referents  in  the  real  world  that  are  pointed  out,  on  the  type  of
psychological association at work,  on  evaluation  of  the  latter  by  the
speaker or, possibly, on some other feature.
   The order in which various types are described will follow more or  less
closely the diachronic classifications of M. Breal and H. Paul.  No  attempt
at a new classification is considered necessary. There seems to be no  point
in augmenting the  number  of  unsatisfactory  schemes  already  offered  in
literature. The treatment is therefore traditional.
   M. Breal was probably the first to emphasize the fact  that  in  passing
from general usage into some special sphere of communication  a  word  as  a
rule undergoes some sort of specialisation of its meaning.  The  word  case,
for instance, alongside its general meaning of  'circumstances  in  which  a
person or a thing is' possesses special meanings: in law ('a law suit'),  in
grammar  (e.g.  the  Possessive  case),  in  medicine  ('a   patient',   'an
illness'). Compare the following:
   One of Charles's cases had been a child ill with a form  of  diphtheria.
(C. P. SNOW) (case = a patient).
   The Solicitor whom I met at the Holfords  sent  me  a  case  which  any
young man at my stage would have thought himself lucky to get. (Idem)  (case
= a question decided, in a court of law, a law suit)
   The general, not specialized meaning is also very frequent  in  present-
day English.  For  example:  At  last  we  tiptoed  up  the  broad  slippery
staircase, and went to our rooms. But in my case not to  sleep,  immediately
at least. (Idem) (case = circumstances in which one is)
   This difference is revealed in the difference of contexts in which these
words occur, in their different valency. Words connected with illnesses  and
medicine in the first example,  and  words  connected  with  law  and  court
procedures in the second, form the semantic   paradigm of the word case.
   The word play suggests different notions to a  child,  a  playwright,  a
footballer, a musician or a chess-player and has in their  speech  different
semantic paradigms. The  same  applies  to  the  noun  cell  as  used  by  a
biologist, an electrician, a nun or a representative  of  the  law;  or  the
word gas as understood by a chemist, a housewife, a motorist or a miner.
   In all the examples considered above a word which formerly represented a
notion of a broader scope has come to render a notion of a  narrower  scope.
When the meaning is specialized, the word can name fewer objects, i.e.  have
fewer referents. At the same  time  the  content  of  the  notion  is  being
enriched, as it includes -a greater number of  relevant  features  by  which
the notion is characterized. Or as St. Ullmann puts it:  "The  word  is  now
applicable to more things but tells us less about them."  The  reduction  of
scope accounts for the term "narrowing of the meaning" which  is  even  more
often  used  than  the  term  "specialization".  We  shall  avoid  the  term
"narrowing", since it is somewhat misleading. Actually  it  is  neither  the
meaning nor the notion, but the scope of the notion that .is narrowed.
   There  is  also  a  third  term  for   the   same   phenomenon,   namely
"differentiation", but it is not so widely used as the first two terms.
   H. Paul, as well as many other authors, emphasizes the  fact  that  this
type  of  semantic  change  is  particularly  frequent  in   vocabulary   of
professional and trade groups.
   H. Paul's examples are from the German language but it is very  easy  to
find parallel cases in English. So this type of change is  fairly  universal
and fails to disclose any specifically English properties.
   The best known examples of specialization in the general language are as
follows: OE d?or 'wild beast' > ModE deer 'wild rum,inant  of  a  particular
species' (the original meaning was still alive in Shakespeare's time  as  is
proved by the following quotation: Rats and mice and such  small  deer);  OE
mete 'food' >ModE meat 'edible flesh', i.e. only  a  particular  species  of
food (the earlier meaning is still noticeable in  the  compound  sweetmeat).
This last example deserves special attention because the tendency  of  fixed
context to preserve the original meaning is very  marked  as  is  constantly
proved by various examples. Other well-worn examples are:  OE  fuol  'bird'
(cf. Germ Vogel) > ModE foal 'domestic birds'. The  old,  meaning  is  still
preserved in poetic diction and in set expressions, like fowls of  the  air.
Among its derivatives, fowler means 'a  person  who  shoots  or  traps  wild
birds for sport  or  food';  the  shooting  or  trapping  itself  is  called
fowling; a fowling piece is a gun. OE hund 'dog' (cf. .  Germ  Hund)  >hound
'a species of hunting dog'. Many words connected  with  literacy  also  show
similar changes: thus, teach<.OE tcan 'to  show',  'to  teach';  write