Besides the grammatical forms of words, i.e. word-forms, some scholars distinguish lexical varieties which they term variants of words. Distinction is made between two basic groups of variants of words.
In actual speech a word or to be more exact a polysemantic word is used in, one of its meanings. Such a word in one of its meanings is described as lexico-semantic variant. Thus Group One comprises lexico-semantic variants, i.e. polysemantic words in each of their meanings, as exemplified by the meaning of the verb to learn in word-groups like to learn at school, cf. to learn about (of) smth, etc.
Group Two comprises phonetic and morphological variants. As examples of phonetic variants the pronouncing variants of the adverbs often and again can be given, cf. ['o:fn] and ['o:ftэn], [э'gein] and [э'gen]. The two variant forms of the past indefinite tense of verbs like to learn illustrate morphological variants, cf. learned [-d] and learnt [-t]. Parallel formations of the geologic — geological, phonetic — phonetical type also enter the group of morphological variants.2
It may be easily observed that the most essential feature of variants of words of both groups is that a slight change in the morphemic or phonemic composition of a word is not connected with any modification of its meaning and, vice versa, a change in meaning is not followed by any structural changes, either morphemic or phonetic. Like word-forms variants of words are identified in the process of communication as making up one and the same word. Thus, within the language system the word exists as a system and unity of all its forms and variants.
§ 6. Course of Modern English
Its Aims and Significance
Modern English Lexicology aims at giving a systematic description of the word-stock of Modern English. Words, their component parts — morphemes — and various types of word-groups, are subjected to structural and semantic analysis primarily from the synchronic angle. In other words, Modern English Lexicology investigates the problems of word-structure and word-formation in Modern English, the semantic structure of English words, the main principles underlying the classification of vocabulary units into various groupings the laws governing the replenishment of the vocabulary with new vocabulary units.
It also studies the relations existing between various lexical layers of the English vocabulary and the specific laws and regulations that govern its development at the present time. The source and growth of the English vocabulary, the changes it has undergone in its history are also dwelt upon, as the diachronic approach revealing the vocabulary in the making cannot but contribute to the understanding of its workings at the present time.
It has now become a tradition to include in a Course of Lexicology a
1 The symbol ( ) stands for the so-called zero-inflection, i. e. the significant absence of an inflectional affix.
2 Pairs of vocabulary items like economic — economical, historic — historical differing in meaning cannot be regarded as morphological variants.
short section dealing with Lexicography, the science and art of dictionary-compiling, because Lexicography is a practical application of Lexicology so that the dictionary-maker is inevitably guided in his work by the principles laid down by the lexicologist as a result of his investigations. It is common knowledge that in his investigation the lexicologist makes use of various methods. An acquaintance with these methods is an indispensable part of a course of lexicology.
Modern English Lexicology as a subject of study forms part of the Theoretical Course of Modern English and as such is inseparable from its other component parts, i.e. Grammar, Phonetics, Stylistics, on the one hand, and the Course of History of the English Language, on the other.
The language learner will find the Course of Modern English Lexicology of great practical importance. He will obtain much valuable information concerning the English wordstock and the laws and regulations governing the formation and usage of English words and word-groups. Besides, the Course is aimed both at summarising the practical material already familiar to the students from foreign language classes and at helping the students to develop the skills and habits of generalising the linguistic phenomena observed. The knowledge the students gain from the Course of Modern English Lexicology will guide them in all their dealings with the English word-stock and help them apply this information to the solution of practical problems that may face them in class-room teaching. Teachers should always remember that practical command alone does not qualify a person to teach a language. •
This textbook treats the following basic problems:
All sections end with a paragraph entitled “Summary and Conclusions". The aim of these paragraphs is to summarise in brief the contents of the preceding section, thus enabling the student to go over the chief points of the exposition of problem or problems under consideration. Material for Reference at the end of the book and the footnotes, though by no means exhaustive, may be helpful to those who wish to attain a more complete and thorough view of the lexicological problems.
By definition Lexicology deals with words, word-forming morphemes (derivational affixes) and word-groups or phrases.1 All these linguistic units may be said to have meaning of some kind: they are all significant and therefore must be investigated both as to form and meaning. The branch of lexicology that is devoted to the study of meaning is known as Semasiology.2
It should be pointed out that just as lexicology is beginning to absorb a major part of the efforts of linguistic scientists 3 semasiology is coming to the fore as the central problem of linguistic investigation of all levels of language structure. It is suggested that semasiology has for its subject - matter not only the study of lexicon, but also of morphology, syntax and sentential semantics. Words, however, play such a crucial part in the structure of language that when we speak of semasiology without any qualification, we usually refer to the study of word-meaning proper, although it is in fact very common to explore the semantics of other elements, such as suffixes, prefixes, etc.
Meaning is one of the most controversial terms in the theory of language. At first sight the understanding of this term seems to present no difficulty at all — it is freely used in teaching, interpreting and translation. The scientific definition of meaning however just as the definition of some other basic linguistic terms, such as word. sentence, etc., has been the issue of interminable discussions. Since there is no universally accepted definition of meaning 4 we shall confine ourselves to a brief survey of the problem as it is viewed in modern linguistics both in our country and elsewhere.
§ 1. Referential Approach There are broadly speaking two schools to Meaning of thought in present-day linguistics representing the main lines of contemporary thinking on the problem: the referential approach, which seeks to formulate the essence of meaning by establishing the interdependence between words and the things or concepts they denote, and the functional approach, which studies the functions of a word in speech and is less concerned with what meaning is than with how it works.
1 See ‘Introduction’, § 1.
2 Sometimes the term semantics is used too, but in Soviet linguistics preference is given to semasiоlоgу as the word semantics is often used to designate one of the schools of modern idealistic philosophy and is also found as a synonym of meaning.
3 D. Bolinger. Getting the Words In. Lexicography in English, N. Y., 1973.
4 See, e. g., the discussion of various concepts of meaning in modern linguistics in: Л. С. Бархударов. Язык и перевод. М., 1975, с, 50 — 70.
All major works on semantic theory have so far been based on referential concepts of meaning. The essential feature of this approach is that it distinguishes between the three components closely connected with meaning: the sound-form of the linguistic sign, the concept underlying this sound-form, and the actual referent, i.e. that part or that aspect of reality to which the linguistic sign refers. The best known referential model of meaning is the so-called “basic triangle” which, with some variations, underlies the semantic systems of all the adherents of this school of thought. In a simplified form the triangle may be represented as shown below:
As can be seen from the diagram the sound-form of the linguistic sign, e.g. [dAv], is connected with our concept of the bird which it denotes and through it with the referent, i.e. the actual bird.1 The common feature of any referential approach is the implication that meaning is in some form or other connected with the referent.
Let us now examine the place of meaning in this model. It is easily observed that the sound-form of the word is not identical with its meaning, e.g. [dAv] is the sound-form used to denote a peal-grey bird. There is no inherent connection, however, between this particular sound-cluster and the meaning of the word dove. The connection is conventional and arbitrary. This can be easily proved by comparing the sound-forms of different languages conveying one and the same meaning, e.g. English [dAv], Russian [golub'], German [taube] and so on. It can also be proved by comparing almost identical sound-forms that possess different meaning in different languages. The sound-cluster [kot], e.g. in the English language means ‘a small, usually swinging bed for a child’, but in the Russian language essentially the same sound-cluster possesses the meaning ‘male cat’. -
1 As terminological confusion has caused much misunderstanding and often makes it difficult to grasp the semantic concept of different linguists we find it necessary to mention the most widespread terms used in modern linguistics to denote the three components described above:
sound-form — concept — referent
symbol — thought or reference — referent
sign — meaning — thing meant
sign — designatum — denotatum
For more convincing evidence of the conventional and arbitrary nature of the connection between sound-form and meaning all we have to do is to point to the homonyms. The word seal [si:l], e.g., means ‘a piece of wax, lead’, etc. stamped with a design; its homonym seal [si:l] possessing the same sound-form denotes ‘a sea animal’.
Besides, if meaning were inherently connected with the sound-form of a linguistic unit, it would follow that a change in sound-form would necessitate a change of meaning. We know, however, that even considerable changes in the sound-form of a word in the course of its historical development do not necessarily affect its meaning. The sound-form of the OE. word lufian [luvian] has undergone great changes, and has been transformed into love [lАv], yet the meaning ‘hold dear, bear love’, etc. has remained essentially unchanged.
When we examine a word we see that its meaning though closely connected with the underlying concept or concepts is not identical with them. To begin with, concept is a category of human cognition. Concept is the thought of the object that singles out its essential features. Our concepts abstract and reflect the most common and typical features of the different objects and phenomena of the world. Being the result of abstraction and generalisation all “concepts are thus intrinsically almost the same for the whole of humanity in one and the same period of its historical development. The meanings of words however are different in different languages. That is to say, words expressing identical concepts may have different meanings and different semantic structures in different languages. The concept of ‘a building for human habitation’ is expressed in English by the word house, in Russian by the word дом, but the meaning of the English word is not identical with that of the Russian as house does not possess the meaning of ‘fixed residence of family or household’ which is one of the meanings of the Russian word дом; it is expressed by another English polysemantic word, namely home which possesses a number of other meanings not to be found in the Russian word дом.
The difference between meaning and concept can also be observed by comparing synonymous words and word-groups expressing essentially the same concepts but possessing linguistic meaning which is felt as different in each of the units under consideration, e.g. big, large; to, die, to pass away, to kick the bucket, to join the majority; child, baby, babe, infant.
The precise definition of the content of a concept comes within the sphere of logic but it can be easily observed that the word-meaning is not identical with it. For instance, the content of the concept six can be expressed by ‘three plus three’, ‘five plus one’, or ‘ten minus four’, etc. Obviously, the meaning of the word six cannot be identified with the meaning of these word-groups.
To distinguish meaning from the referent, i.e. from the thing denoted by the linguistic sign is of the utmost importance, and at first sight does not seem to present difficulties. To begin with, meaning is linguistic whereas the denoted object or the referent is beyond the scope of language. We can denote one and the same object by more than one word of a different meaning. For instance, in a speech situation an apple can be denoted
by the words apple, fruit, something, this, etc. as all of these words may have the same referent. Meaning cannot be equated with the actual properties of the referent, e.g. the meaning of the word water cannot be regarded as identical with its chemical formula H2O as water means essentially the same to all English speakers including those who have no idea of its chemical composition. Last but not least there are words that have distinct meaning but do not refer to any existing thing, e.g. angel or phoenix. Such words have meaning which is understood by the speaker-hearer, but the objects they denote do not exist.
Thus, meaning is not to be identified with any of the three points of the triangle.
§ 2. Meaning in the Referential Approach
It should be pointed out that among the adherents of the referential approach there are some who hold that the meaning of a linguistic sign is the concept underlying it, and consequently they substitute meaning for concept in the basic triangle. Others identify meaning with the referent. They argue that unless we have a scientifically accurate knowledge of the referent we cannot give a scientifically accurate definition of the meaning of a word. According to them the English word salt, e.g., means ’sodium chloride (NaCl)’. But how are we to define precisely the meanings of such words as love or hate, etc.? We must admit that the actual extent of human knowledge makes it impossible to define word-meanings accurately.1 It logically follows that any study of meanings in linguistics along these lines must be given up as impossible.
Here we have sought to show that meaning is closely connected but not identical with sound-form, concept or referent. Yet even those who accept this view disagree as to the nature of meaning. Some linguists regard meaning as the interrelation of the three points of the triangle within the framework of the given language, i.e. as the interrelation of the sound-form, concept and referent, but not as an objectively existing part of the linguistic sign. Others and among them some outstanding Soviet linguists, proceed from the basic assumption of the objectivity of language and meaning and understand the linguistic sign as a two-facet unit. They view meaning as “a certain reflection in our mind of objects, phenomena or relations that makes part of the linguistic sign — its so-called inner facet, whereas the sound-form functions as its outer facet.” 2 The outer facet of the linguistic sign is indispensable to meaning and intercommunication. Meaning is to be found in all linguistic units and together with their sound-form constitutes the linguistic signs studied by linguistic science.
The criticism of the referential theories of meaning may be briefly summarised as follows:
1. Meaning, as understood in the referential approach, comprises the interrelation of linguistic signs with categories and phenomena outside the scope of language. As neither referents (i.e. actual things, phenomena,
1 See, e. g., L. Bloomfield. Language. N. Y., 1933, p. 139.
2 А. И. Смирницкий. Значение слова. — Вопр. языкознания, 1955, № 2. See also С. И. Ожегов. Лексикология, лексикография, культура речи. М., 1974, с. 197.
etc.) nor concepts belong to language, the analysis of meaning is confined either to the study of the interrelation of the linguistic sign and referent or that of the linguistic sign and concept, all of which, properly speaking, is not the object of linguistic study.
2. The great stumbling block in referential theories of meaning has always been that they operate with subjective and intangible mental processes. The results of semantic investigation therefore depend to a certain extent on “the feel of the language” and cannot be verified by another investigator analysing the same linguistic data. It follows that semasiology has to rely too much on linguistic intuition and unlike other fields of linguistic inquiry (e.g. phonetics, history of language) does not possess objective methods of investigation. Consequently it is argued, linguists should either give up the study of meaning and the attempts to define meaning altogether, or confine their efforts to the investigation of the function of linguistic signs in speech.
§ 3. Functional Approach to Meaning
In recent years a new and entirely different approach to meaning known as the functional approach has begun to take shape in linguistics and especially in structural linguistics. The functional approach maintains that the meaning of a linguistic unit may be studied only through its relation to other linguistic-units and not through its relation to either concept or referent. In a very simplified form this view may be illustrated by the following: we know, for instance, that the meaning of the two words move and movement is different because they function in speech differently. Comparing the contexts in which we find these words we cannot fail to observe that they occupy different positions in relation to other words. (To) move, e.g., can be followed by a noun (move the chair), preceded by a pronoun (we move), etc. The position occupied by the word movement is different: it may be followed by a preposition (movement of smth), preceded by an adjective (slow movement), and so on. As the distribution l of the two words is different, we are entitled to the conclusion that not only do they belong to different classes of words, but that their meanings are different too.
The same is true of the different meanings of one and the same word. Analysing the function of a word in linguistic contexts and comparing these contexts, we conclude that; meanings are different (or the same) and this fact can be proved by an objective investigation of linguistic data. For example we can observe the difference of the meanings of the word take if we examine its functions in different linguistic contexts, take the tram (the taxi, the cab,, etc.) as opposed to to take to somebody.
It follows that in the functional approach (1) semantic investigation is confined to the analysis of the difference or sameness of meaning; (2) meaning is understood essentially as the function of the use of linguistic units. As a matter of fact, this line of semantic investigation is the primary concern, implied or expressed, of all structural linguists.
1 By the term distribution we understand the position of a linguistic unit in relation to other linguistic units.
§ 4. Relation between the Two Approaches
When comparing the two approaches described above in terms of methods of linguistic analysis we see that the functional approach should not be considered an alternative, but rather a valuable complement to the referential theory. It is only natural that linguistic investigation must start by collecting an adequate number of samples of contexts.1 On examination the meaning or meanings of linguistic units will emerge from the contexts themselves. Once this phase had been completed it seems but logical to pass on to the referential phase and try to formulate the meaning thus identified. There is absolutely no need to set the two approaches against each other; each handles its own side of the problem and neither is complete without the other.
TYPES OF MEANING
It is more or less universally recognised that word-meaning is not homogeneous but is made up of various components the combination and the interrelation of which determine to a great extent the inner facet of the word. These components are usually described as types of meaning. The two main types of meaning that are readily observed are the grammatical and the lexical meanings to be found in words and word-forms.
§ 5. Grammatical Meaning
We notice, e.g., that word-forms, such as
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