but now — ‘a civil servant of higher rank, a person administering a department of state or accredited by one state to another’.
It is of interest to note that in derivational clusters a change in the connotational meaning of one member doe’s not necessarily affect a the others. This peculiarity can be observed in the words accident аn accidental. The lexical meaning of the noun accident has undergone pejorative development and denotes not only ’something that happens by chance’, but usually’something unfortunate’. The derived adjective accidental does not possess in its semantic structure this negative connotational meaning (cf. also fortune: bad fortune, good fortune and fortunate).
§ 24. Interrelation of
Causes, Nature and Results
of Semantic Change
As can be inferred from the analysis of various changes of word-meanings they can be classified according to the social causes that bring about change of meaning (socio-linguistic classification), the nature of these changes (psychological classification) and the results of semantic changes (logical classification). Here it is suggested that causes, nature and results of semantic changes should be viewed as three essentially different but inseparable aspects of one and the same linguistic phenomenon as a change of meaning may be investigated from the point of view of its cause, nature and its consequences.
Essentially the same causes may bring about different results, e.g the semantic development in the word knight (OE. cniht) from ‘a boy servant’ to ‘a young warrior’ and eventually to the meaning it possesses in Modern English is due to extra-linguistic causes just as the semantic change in the word boor, but the results are different. In the case of book we observe pejorative development whereas in the case of knight we observe amelioration of the connotational component. And conversely, different causes may lead to the same result. Restriction of meaning, for example, may be the result of the influence of extra-linguistic factors as in the case of glide (progress of science and technique) and also of purely linguistic causes (discrimination of synonyms) as is the case with the word fowl. Changes of essentially identical nature, e. g. similarity of referent as the basis of association, may bring about different results, e.g. extension of meaning as in target and also restriction of meaning as in the word fowl.
To avoid terminological confusion it is suggested that the terms restriction and extension or amelioration and deterioration of meaning should be used to describe only the results of semantic change irrespective of its nature or causes. When we discuss metaphoric or metonymic transfer of meaning we imply the nature of the semantic change whatever its results may be. It also follows that a change of meaning should be described so as to satisfy all the three criteria.
In the discussion of semantic changes we confined ourselves only to the type of change which results in the disappearance of the old meaning which is replaced by the new one. The term change of meaning however is also used to describe a change in the number (as a rule
an increase) and arrangement of word-meanings without a single meaning disappearing from its semantic structure.1
§ 25. Summary and Conclusions
1. Not only the sound-form but also the meaning of the word is changed in the course of the historical development of language. The factors causing semantic changes may be roughly subdivided into extra-linguistic and linguistic causes.
MEANING AND POLYSEMY
So far we have been discussing the concept of meaning, different types of word-meanings and the changes they undergo in the course of the historical development of the English language. When analysing the word-meaning we observe, however, that words as a rule are not units of a single meaning. Monosemantic words, i.e. words having only one meaning are comparatively few in number, these are mainly scientific terms, such -as hydrogen, molecule and the like. The bulk of English words are polysemantic, that is to say possess more than one meaning. The actual number of meanings of the commonly used words ranges from five to about a hundred. In fact, the commoner the word the more meanings it has.
§ 26. Semantic Structure of Polysemantic Words
The word table, e.g., has at least nine meanings in Modern English: 1. a piece of furniture; 2. the persons seated at a table; 3. sing. the food put on a table, meals; 4. a thin flat piece of stone, metal, wood, etc.; 5. pl. slabs of stone; 6. words cut into them or written on them (the ten tables); 2 7. an orderly arrangement of facts, figures, etc.; 8. part of a machine-tool on which the work is put to be operated on; 9. a level area, a plateau. Each of the individual meanings can be described in terms of the types of meanings discussed above. We may, e.g., analyse the eighth meaning of the word table into the part-of-speech meaning — that of the noun (which presupposes the grammatical meanings of number and case) combined with the lexical meaning made up of two components The denotational semantic component which can be interpreted
1 For details see ‘Semasiology’, §29, p. 36.
2 десять заповедей (библ.)
as the dictionary definition (part of a machine-tool on which the work is put) and the connotational component which can be identified as a specific stylistic reference of this particular meaning of the word table (technical terminology). Cf. the Russian планшайба, стол станка.
In polysemantic words, however, we are faced not with the problem of analysis of individual meanings, but primarily with the problem of the interrelation and interdependence of the various meanings in the semantic structure of one and the same word.
§ 27. Diachronic Approach
If polysemy is viewed diachronically, it is understood as the growth and development of or, in general, as a change in the semantic structure of the word.
Polysemy in diachronic terms implies that a word may retain its previous meaning or meanings and at the same time acquire one or several new ones. Then the problem of the interrelation and interdependence of individual meanings of a polysemantic word may be roughly formulated as follows: did the word always possess all its meanings or did some of them appear earlier than the others? are the new meanings dependent on the meanings already existing? and if so what is the nature of this dependence? can we observe any changes in the arrangement of the meanings? and so on.
In the course of a diachronic semantic analysis of the polysemantic word table we find that of all the meanings it has in Modern English, the primary meaning is ‘a flat slab of stone or wood’, which is proper to the word in the Old English period (OE. tabule from L. tabula); all other meanings are secondary as they are derived from the primary meaning of the word and appeared later than the primary meaning,
The terms secondary and derived meaning are to a certain extent synonymous. When we describe the meaning of the word as “secondary” we imply that it could not have appeared before the primary meaning was in existence. When we refer to the meaning as “derived” we imply not only that, but also that it is dependent on the primary meaning and somehow subordinate to it. In the case of the word table, e.g., we may say that the meaning ‘the food put on the table’ is a secondary meaning as it is derived from the meaning ‘a piece of furniture (on which meals are laid out)’.
It follows that the main source of polysemy is a change in the semantic structure of the word.
Polysemy may also arise from homonymy. When two words become identical in sound-form, the meanings of the two words are felt as making up one semantic structure. Thus, the human ear and the ear of corn are from the diachronic point of view two homonyms. One is etymologically related to L. auris, the other to L. acus, aceris. Synchronically, however, they are perceived as two meanings of one and the same word. The ear of corn is felt to be a metaphor of the usual type (cf. the eye of the needle, the foot of the mountain) and consequently as one of the derived or, synchronically, minor meanings of the polysemantic word ear.1 Cases
1 In dictionaries ear (L. auris) and ear (L. acus, aceris) are usually treated as two homonymous words as dictionary compilers as a rule go by etymological criterion.
of this type are comparatively rare and, as a rule, illustrative of the vagueness of the border-line between polysemy and homonymy.
Semantic changes result as a rule in new meanings being added to the ones already existing in the semantic structure of the word. Some of the old meanings may become obsolete or even disappear, but the bulk of English words tend to an increase in number of meanings.
§ 28. Synchronic. Approach
Synchronically we understand polysemy as the coexistence of various meanings
of the same word at a certain historical period of the development of the English language. In this case the problem of the interrelation and interdependence of individual meanings making up the semantic structure of the word must be investigated along different lines.
In connection with the polysemantic word table discussed above we are mainly concerned with the following problems: are all the nine meanings equally representative of the semantic structure of this word? Is the order in which the meanings are enumerated (or recorded) in dictionaries purely arbitrary or does it reflect the comparative value of individual meanings, the place they occupy in the semantic structure of the word table? Intuitively we feel that the meaning that first occurs to us whenever we hear or see the word table, is ‘an article of furniture’. This emerges as the basic or the central meaning of the word and all other meanings are minor in comparison.1
It should be noted that whereas the basic meaning occurs in various and widely different contexts, minor meanings are observed only in certain contexts, e.g. ‘to keep- the table amused’, ‘table of contents’ and so on. Thus we can assume that the meaning ‘a piece of furniture’ occupies the central place in the semantic structure of the word table. As to other meanings of this word we find it hard to grade them in order of their comparative value. Some may, for example, consider the second and the third meanings (‘the persons seated at the table’ and ‘the food put on the table’) as equally “important”, some may argue that the meaning ‘food put on the table’ should be given priority. As synchronically there is no objective criterion to go by, we may find it difficult in some cases to single out even the basic meanings since two or more meanings of the word may be felt as equally “central” in its semantic structure. If we analyse the verb to get, e.g., which of the two meanings ‘to obtain’ (get a letter, knowledge, some sleep) or ‘to arrive’ (get to London, to get into bed) shall we regard as the basic meaning of this word?
A more objective criterion of the comparative value of individual meanings seems to be the frequency of their occurrence in speech. There is a tendency in modern linguistics to interpret the concept of the central meaning in terms of the frequency of occurrence of this meaning. In a study of five million words made by a group of linguistic scientists it was found that the frequency value of individual meanings is different. As far as the word table is concerned the meaning ‘a piece of furniture’ possesses
1 There are several terms used to denote approximately the same concepts: basic (majоr) meaning as opposed to minor meanings or central as opposed to marginal meanings. Here the terms are used interchangeably.
the highest frequency value and makes up 52% of all the uses of this word, the meaning ‘an orderly arrangement of facts’ (table of contents) accounts for 35%, all other meanings between them make up just 13% of the uses of this word.1
Of great importance is the stylistic stratification of meanings of a polysemantic word as individual meanings may differ in their stylistic reference. Stylistic (or regional) status of monosemantic words is easily perceived. For instance the word daddy can be referred to the colloquial stylistic layer, the word parent to the bookish. The word movie is recognisably American and barnie is Scottish. Polysemantic words as a rule cannot be given any such restrictive labels. To do it we must state the meaning in which they are used. There is nothing colloquial or slangy or American about the words yellow denoting colour, jerk in the meaning ‘a sudden movement or stopping of movement’ as far as these particular meanings are concerned. But when yellow is used in the meaning of ’sensational’ or when jerk is used in the meaning of ‘an odd person’ it is both slang and American.
Stylistically neutral meanings are naturally more frequent. The polysemantic words worker and hand, e.g., may both denote ‘a man who does manual work’, but whereas this is the most frequent and stylistically neutral meaning of the word worker, it is observed only in 2.8% of all occurrences of the word hand, in the semantic structure of which the meaning ‘a man who does manual work’ (to hire factory hands) is one of its marginal meanings characterised by colloquial stylistic reference.
It should also be noted that the meaning which has the highest frequency is the one representative of the whole semantic structure of the word. This can be illustrated by analysing the words under discussion. For example the meaning representative of the word hand which first occurs to us is ‘the end of the arm beyond the wrist’. This meaning accounts for at least 77% of all occurrences of this word. This can also be observed by comparing the word hand with its Russian equivalents. We take it for granted that the English word hand is correlated with the Russian рука, but not with the Russian рабочий though this particular equivalent may also be found, e.g. in the case of to hire factory hands.
§ 29. Historical
From the discussion of the diachronic and synchronic approach to polysemy it follows that the interrelation and the interdependence of individual meanings of the word may be described from two different angles. These two approaches are not mutually exclusive but are viewed here as supplementing each other in the linguistic analysis of a polysemantic word.
It should be noted, however, that as the semantic structure is never static, the relationship between the diachronic and synchronic evaluation of individual meanings may be different in different periods of the historical development of language. This is perhaps best illustrated by
1 All data concerning semantic frequencies are reproduced from M. A. West. General Service List of English Words. London, 1959.
the semantic analysis of the word revolution. Originally, when this word first appeared in ME. 1350 — 1450 it denoted ‘the revolving motion of celestial bodies’ and also ‘the return or recurrence of a point or a period of time’. Later on the word acquired other meanings and among them that of ‘a complete overthrow of the established government or regime’ and also ‘a complete change, a great reversal of conditions. The meaning ‘revolving motion’ in ME. was both primary (diachronically) and central’ (synchronically). In Modern English, however, while we can still diachronically describe this meaning as primary it is no longer synchronically central as the arrangement of meanings in the semantic structure of the word revolution has considerably changed and its central and the most frequent meaning is ‘a complete overthrow of the established government or the regime’. It follows that the primary meaning of the word may become synchronically one of its minor meanings and diachronically a secondary meaning may become the central meaning of the word. The actual arrangement of meanings in the semantic structure of any word in any historical period is the result of the semantic development of this word within the system of the given language.
§ 30. Polysemy
of Semantic Structure
The words of different languages which are similar or identical in lexical meaning, especially in the denotational meaning are termed correlated words. The wording of the habitual question of English learners, e.g. “What is the English for стол?”, and the answer “The English for стол is ‘table'” also shows that we take the words table стол to be correlated. Semantic correlation, however, is not to be interpreted as semantic identity. From what was said about the arbitrariness of the sound-form of words and complexity of their semantic structure, it can be inferred that one-to-one correspondence between the semantic structure of correlated polysemantic words in different languages is scarcely possible.1
Arbitrariness of linguistic signs implies that one cannot deduce from the sound-form of a word the meaning or meanings it possesses. Languages differ not only in the sound-form of words; their systems of meanings are also different. It follows that the semantic structures of correlated words of two different languages cannot be coextensive, i.e. can never “cover each other". A careful analysis invariably shows that semantic relationship between correlated words, especially polysemantic words is very complex.
The actual meanings of polysemantic words and their arrangement in the semantic structure of correlated words in different languages may be altogether different. This may be seen by comparing the semantic structure of correlated polysemantic words in English and in Russian. As a rule it is only the central meaning that is to a great extent identical, all other meanings or the majority of meanings usually differ. If we compare, e.g., the nine meanings of the English word table and the meanings of the Russian word стол, we shall easily observe not only the difference in the arrangement and the number of meanings making up their
1 See ‘Semasiology’, § 1, p. 13,
respective semantic structures, but also the difference in the individual meanings that may, at first sight, appear similar.
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