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Semantic Changes in English Dr. Muhammad Shahbaz
SEMANTIC CHANGE Semantic change – change in the meaning of words in the course of their development. Every word in its development has undergone many semantic changes. There are distinguished causes of semantic change, nature and results of the process of change of meaning.
CAUSES OF SEMANTIC CHANGE Extra-linguistic causes are various changes in the life of speech community, i. e. changes in economic and social structure or scientific concepts. E. g. changes in the way of life of the British brought about changes in the meaning hlaford meant ‘breadkeeper’ (хранитель хлеба) and later on ‘master, ruler’ (повелитель, лорд).
Linguistic causes are factors acting within the language system. ellipsis – the omission of one word in a phrase, e. g. the verb to starve in OE meant ‘to die’ and was habitually used in collocation with the word hunger. Later this verb itself acquired the meaning ‘to die of hunger’. 1.
discrimination/differentiatio n of synonyms, e. g. in OE the word land meant both ‘solid of earth’s surface’ and ‘the territory of a nation’. In the ME period the word country was borrowed as its synonym. The meaning of the word land was altered and ‘the territory of a nation’ came to be denoted by 2.
One more linguistic cause of semantic change is called fixed context. E. g. the word token brought into competition with the word sign and became restricted in use to a number of set expressions, such as love token, token of respect etc. and also became specialized 3.
CAUSES OF SEMANTIC CHANGE Extra-linguistic Linguistic Ellipsis differentiation of synonyms fixed context
RESULTS OF SEMANTIC CHANGE Changes of the denotational meaning Restriction of meaning can be illustrated by the semantic development of the word hound which used to denote ‘dog of any breed’ but now denotes only ‘a dog used in the chase’. If the word with a new restricted meaning comes to be used in the specialized vocabulary of some limited group
Extension of meaning may be illustrated by the word target which originally meant ‘a small round shield’ but now means ‘anything that is fired at’. If the word with extended meaning passed from the specialized vocabulary into common use, the result of the semantic change is described as generalization of meaning.
Changes of the connotaional meaning Amelioration of meaning implies the improvement of the connotational component of meaning, e. g. the word minister originally denoted ‘a servant’ but now – ‘a civil servant of higher rank, a person administrating a department of state’.
Deterioration of the meaning implies the acquisition by the word of some derogatory emotive charge, e. g. the word boor was originally to denote ‘a peasant’ and then acquired a derogatory connotational meaning and came to denote ‘a clumsy or ill-bred fellow’.
Results of Semantic Change of the denotational component Change of the Connotational component Restriction Extension of Meaning Detrioration Amelioration of Meaning
Words Fond Glad Husband Old English Foolish, Foolishly, Credulous Bright, Shining Modern English Loving, Affectionate, Kind Pleased, Delighted Master of the house Man to whom a woman is Married
Ellipsis to starve OE steorfan – “to die” – sterven of hunger Modern E starve – “to die from hunger” daily – “happening every day” – a daily newspaper daily – “a daily newspaper”
Discrimination of Synonyms tide OE tide – 1)”time” 2)”season” 3)”hour” from French – time, season, hour Modern English tide – “regular rise and fall of the sea caused by the moon” deer OE deor – “any beast” animal – a borrowed word deer – “a certain kind of animal”
Changes in Denotational Meaning n restriction of meanings (narrowing) – restriction of the types or referents denoted by the word e. g. OE “hound” – a dog of any greed Modern English “hound” – a dog used in chase n n extension of meanings (widening) – application of the word to wider variety of referents e. g. OE “trunk” – the main stem of a tree Modern English “trunk” – the body of anything n
Changes in Denotational Meaning n specialization - the word with a new meaning (restricted) comes to be used in the specialized vocabulary e. g. OE glide -“to move gently and smoothly” Modern English “glide” to fly with no engine n n generalization – the word with the extended meaning passes from the specialized vocabulary into common use e. g. OE “salary” – money given to soldiers to buy salt with Modern English “salary” – money paid to clerks n
Changes in Connotational Meaning n pejoration (degradation, degeneration) – a word acquires some negative derogatory emotive charge e. g. OE “boor”- a villager, a peasant Modern English “boor” – a clumsy or ill-bred fellow n n amelioration (elevation) – improvement of the connotational component e. g. OE “minister” – a servant, an attendant Modern English “minister” – a civil servant of higher rank n