Lexical Meaning and Semantic Structure of English Words

The concept of semasiology as a scientific discipline areas "Linguistics", its main objects of study. Identify the relationship sense with the sound forms, a concept referent, lexical meaning and the morphological structure of synonyms in English.

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of name of V. G. Korolenko


on the subject:

Lexical Meaning and Semantic Structure of English Words


Salo Vitaliy

Poltava 2011

Semasiology (from Gr. semasia - "signification") deals not with every kind of linguistic meaning only. This does not mean that we need not pay attention to the grammatical meaning. On the contrary, grammatical meaning must be taken into consideration in so far as it bears a specific influence upon lexical meaning.

The main objects of semasiological study are as follows: semantic development of words,

its causes and classification, relevant distinctive features and types of lexical meaning, polysemy and semantic structure of word, semantic groupings and connections in the vocabulary system, i.e. synonyms, antonyms, etc.

Let us examine the interrelation between:

1-Meaning and sound form

The sound-form of the word is not identical with, its meaning namely [kot] is the sound form, used to denote a bed for a child There are inherent connections between this sound form, used to denote a bed for a child. There are inherent connections between this sound form and the meaning of the word "cot", but they are conventional and arbitrary. We may prove it by comparing the sound-forms of different languages, conveying one and the same meaning, cf. English [kot] and Russian [krovatka]. On the contrary, the sound-cluster [kot] in the English language is almost identical to the sound form in Russian language possessing the meaning "male-cat".

2-Meaning and concept

When we examine a word, we see that its meaning, though connected with the underlying concept is not identical with it. 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 abstracts and reflect the most common andtypical features of the different objects and phenomena of the world. Being the result of abstraction the concepts are thus almost the same for the whole of humanity.

The difference between meaning and concept can also be observed by comparing synonymous words and word-groups expressing the same concepts, but possessing linguistic meaning, which is felt as different in each of the units under considerations:

Big - large;

To die - to pass away - kick the bucket - join the majority;

Child - baby-babe-infant;

Daddy - father - governor - etc.

3-Meaning and referent

To distinguish meaning from the referent, i.e. from the thing denoted by the linguistic sign is of the utmost importance. To begin with, meaning is a linguistic phenomenon 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 example, an apple can be denoted by the words apple, fruit, smth, this, etc. So far as all these words have the same referent.

It follows that in the functional approach meaning may be viewed as the function of distribution: 1) semantic investigation is confined to the analysis of the different or sameness meaning; 2)meaning is understood essentially as the function or the use of linguistic signs.

Relation between the 2 approaches

When comparing the two approaches in terms of methods of linguistic analysis, we may 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 context. 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 is side of the problem and neither is complete without the other.

The meaning of the word, its components

The word is one of the fundamental units of language. It is a dialectal unity of form and content. Its content or meaning is not identical to notion, but it may reflect human notion, but it may reflect human notion and is considered as the form of their existence. So the definition of a word is one of the most difficult in linguistics, because the simplest word has many different aspects: a sound form, its morphological structure, it may occur in different word-forms and have various meanings.

It is universally recognized that word meaning is not homogeneous, but it is made up of various components, which are described as types of meaning. There are 2 types of meaning to be found in words and word forms:

1) the grammatical meaning;

2) the lexical meaning.

Such word forms as "girls", "writers", "tables", etc., though denoting different objects of reality have smth in common, namely the grammatical meaning of plurality, which can be found in all of them. Thus, the grammatical meaning is the component of meaning in the word forms of verbs (asked, thought, walked, etc.) or the case meaning in the word forms of various nouns (girls, boys, nights).

Word forms "speaks", "reads", "writers" have one and the same grammatical meaning as they can all be found in identical distributation, only after pronouns "she", "he", "they" and before such adverbs and adverbal phrases as "yesterday", "last years", "two hours ago", etc.

The grammatical aspect of the part of speech meaning is conveyed as a rule by individual sets of word forms expressing the grammatical meaning of singularity (e.g. table) plurality (tables) and so on.

A verb is understood to possess sets of forms expressing, for instance, tense meaning (works-worked), mood meaning (work - I work).

The part of speech meaning of the words that possess but one form, e.g. prepositions, some adverbs, etc., is observed only in their disrtibutations (c.f. to come in (here, there) and in (on, under) the table).

Lexical meaning

Besides the grammatical meaning, there is another component of meaning. Unlike the grammatical meaning this component is identical in all the forms of the word. Thus the word-forms "go", "goes", "went", "going" possess different grammatical meanings of tense, person and so on, but in each of these forms we find one and the same semantic component denoting the process of movement. This is the lexical meaning of the word, which may be described as the component of meaning proper to the word as a linguistic unit.

Thus, by lexical meaning we designate[1] the meaning proper to the given linguistic unit in all its forms and disrtibutations, while by grammatical meaning we designate the meaning proper to sets of word forms common to all words of a certain class.

Both lexical and the grammatical meanings make up the word meaning as neither can exist without the other.

The interrelation of the lexical and the grammatical meaning and the role, played by each varies in different word classes and evening different groups of words within one and the same class. In some parts of speech the prevailing component is the grammatical type of meaning. The lexical meaning of prepositions is, as a rule, relatively vague[2] (cf. to think/speak of smb., independent of smb., one of the friends, the room of the house). The lexical meaning of some preposition, however, may be comparatively distinct (cf. in/on/under the table). In verbs the lexical meaning usually comes to the fore[3], although in some of them, the verb "to be", e.g. the grammatical meaning of a linking element prevails (cf. "he works as a teacher").

The modern approach to semasiology is based on the assumption that the inner form (or facet) of the word (i.e. its meaning) presents a structure, which is called the semantic structure of the word.

We know that most words convey several concepts and thus possess the corresponding number of meanings. A word having several meanings is called polysemantic, and the ability of words to have more than one meaning is described by the term polysemy

The word "polysemy" (from Greece "polus"-many and "sema"-meaning) means a plurality of meanings.

The system of meanings of any polysemantic word develops gradually, mostly over the, centuries. These complicated processes of polysemy development involve both the appearance of the new meanings and the loss of old ones. Yet, the general tendency with English vocabulary at the modern stage of its history is to increase the total number of its meanings and to provide for a quantitieve and qualitative growth of the expressive resources of the language.

Thus, word counts show that the total number of meanings separately registered in the New English Dictionary (NED) for the 1st thousand of the most frequent English words is almost 25 000,i.e. the average number of meanings for each of these words is 25.

For example: the word "power" has 15 meanings:

1) Capacity of producing some effect (the power of heart burn)

2) Control over some people (the power of Government)

3) Delegated authority (the president exuded his power)

4) Physical Strength (all the power of his muscles)

5) Moral or intellectual force, energy

8) A person of influence (he is a power in the town)

11) An effective quality of style in writing (a writer of great power)

12) Personal influence (a man's power means the readiness of other; men to obey him)

The elements of the semantic structure.

There are no universally acsepfed criteria for differentiating these variants within one polysemantic word. The following terms may be found with different authors:

the meaning is direct or nominative when it nominates the object without the help of context,in insolation, i.e., in one,word sentences for example the "Rain" etc.

The meaning is figurative when the object is named and at the same time characterized. through its similarity, with - another object, while naming the object the word simultaneously describes it.

Other oppositions are:

Main or primary - secondary

Central - periphery

Narrow - extended

General - particular

Concrete - Abstract, etc.

Take, for example, the noun "screen". We find it in its direct meaning when it names a movable piece of furniture" used to hide smth. or protect smb, as in case of "fire screen" placed in front of a fireplace. The meaning is figurative when the word is applied to anything which protects by hiding, I as in "smoke screen". We define this meaning as figurative comparing it to the first that we called direct. Again,- when by a "screen" a speaker means "a silver-coloured sheet on which pictures are shown, this meaning in comparison with the first will be secondary. When the same word is used attributitively in such combinations as "screen actor", "screen star", "screen version", etc., it comes to mean "pertaining to the cinema" and is abstract to comparison with the first meaning which is called concrete. The main meaning is that which possesses the highest frequency, at the present stage of development all these terms reflect, relationship existing between different meanings of aword at the same period, so the classification may be called synchronic and. paradigmatic, although the terms are borrowed from historical lexicology and stylistics.

Morphological structure of the word

Leaning objectives: After you've studied the material you should be able to:

I. 1) define the terms "morpheme", its free and bound forms; 2) define roots and affixes, give their classification;

II. 3) speak on the ways of enriching, the vocabulary

a) Semantic extension

b) Word-formation (productive types and minor ways): Affixation, Compounding, Conversion, Shortening.

Morphological structure of the word

Morphemes, free and bound forms. We describe a word As an autonomous unit of language in which a particular meaning is associated with a particular sound complex and which is capable of a particular grammatical employment and able to form a sentence by itself, we have the possibility to distinguish it from the other fundamental unit, namely the morpheme.

A morphemes also an association of a given meaning with a given sound pattern. But unlike a word it is not autonomous. Morphemes occur in speech only as constituent parts of words, not independently, although a word may consist of a single morpheme. Morphemes are not divisible into smaller meaningful units. That is why morphemes: may be defined as the smallest meaningful units of form.

The term morpheme is derived from Gr. Morphe - "form" + erne. The Greek suffix - eme has been adopted by linguists to denote the smallest unit or the minimum distinctive feature (phoneme, sememe). The morpheme is the smallest meaningful unit of form, (a form in these cases is recurring discrete unit of speech) (повторяющаяся отдельная самостоятельная единица речи).

A form is said to be free if it may stand alone without changing its meaning; if not, it is a bound form, because it always bound to something else: for example, if we compare the words sportive and elegant and their parts, we see that sport, sportive, elegant may occur alone as utterances, whereas eleg- -ive, -ant are bound forms because they never occur alone. A word is, by Bloomfield's definition, a minimum free form a morpheme is said to be either bound or free. This statement should be taken with caution. It means that some morphemes are capable of forming words without adding other morphemes: that is, thy are homonymous to free forms.

According tothe role they play in constructing words morphemes are subdivided into: ROOTS and AFFIXES. The latter are further subdivided, according to their position, into prefixes, suffixes and infixes, according to their function and meaning, into derivational and functional affixes, the latter are also called ending or outer formatives (словообразующий).

When a derivational or functional affix is stripped from the word, what remains is a stem base. The stem expresses the lexical and the part-of-speech meaning. For the word hearty and for the paradigm heart-hearts (pl.) the stem may be represented heart. This stem is a single morpheme, it contains nothing but the root, so it a simple stem. It is also a free stem because it is homonymous to the word heart.

A stem may also be defined as the part of the word that remains unchanged throughout its paradigm. The stem of the paradigm hearty - heartier - (the) heartiest is hearty. It is a free stem, but as it consists of a root morpheme and an affix, it is not simple but derived. Thus, a stem containing one or more affixes is a derived stem. If after deriving the affix the remaining stem is not homonymous to a separate word of the same root, we call it a bound stem. Thus, in the word cordial (proceeding as if from the heart); the adjective-forming suffix can be separated on the analogy with such words as bronchial [bronkial] radial, social. The remaining stem, however cannot form a separate word by itself: it is bound. In cordial-ly and cordial-ity, on the one hand, the stems are free.

Bound stems are especially characteristic of loan words. The point may be illustrated by the following French borrowings: arrogance, charity, courage , coward, distort, involve; notion; legible and tolerable, to give but a few. After the suffixes of these words are taken away the remaining elements are: arrog-; char-; cour-, cow-, tort-, volve-, nat-, leg-, toler-, which don't ??????? with any semantically related independent words (p. 31 Arnold).

Roots are main morphemic vehicles of a given idea in a given language at a given stage of its development. A root may be also regarded as the ultimate constituent element which remains after removal of all functional and derivational affixes and don't admit any further analysis. It i the common element of words within a word - family. Thus heart- is the common root of the following series of words; heart, hearten, dishearten, heartily, heartless, hearty, heartiness, sweetheart, heart-broken, kind-hearted, wholeheartedly, etc. In some of this, as, for example, in hearten, there is only one root; in others the word the root -heart- is combined with some other root, thus forming a compound like sweetheart.

The root in English is very often homonymous with the word, which is one of the most specific features of the English language arising from its general grammatical system on the one hand, and from its phonetic system on the other. The influence of the analytical structure of the language is obvious. The second point, however, calls for some explanation. Actually the usual phonetic shape is one single stressed syllable: bear, find, jump, land, man, sing, etc. This doesn't give much space for a second morpheme to add classifying lexico-grammatical meaning to the lexical meaning already present in root stem, so the lexico-grammatical meaning must be signalled bуdistribution.

In the phrases a morning 's drive, a morning 's ride, a morning 's walk the words drive, ride, walk receive the lexico-grammatical meaning of a noun not due to the structure of their stem, but because they are preceded by a noun in the Possessive case.

An English word does not necessarily contain formulates indicating to what part of speech it belongs. This holds true even with respect to inflectable parts of speech, i.e. nouns, verbs, adjective.

Not all roots are free forms, but productive roots (roots capable of the producing new words) usually are.

The semantic realization of an English, word is therefore very specific. Its dependence on distribution is further enhanced by the widespread occurrence of homonymy both among root morphemes ad affixes. Note how many words in this sentence might be ambiguous if taken in isolation: "A change of work is as good as a rest".

Unlike roots, affixes are always bound forms. The difference between affixes and prefixes is not confined to their respective position, suffixes being "fixed after" and

prefixes "fixed before" the stem. It also concerns their function and meaning. A suffix is a derivational morpheme following the stem and forming a new derivative.

A prefix is a derivational morpheme standing before the root and modifying meaning: if to hearten - to dishearten. It is only the verbs and statives that a prefix may serve to distinguish one part of speech from another, like in earth n - unearth v, sleep n -asleep (Stative). Preceding a verb stem, some prefixes express the difference between a transitive and an intransitive verbs: stay v. and outstay (smb.) v. with a few exceptions prefixes modify the stem for time (pre-, post-) for example, pre-war, post-war, or express negation (un-, dis-) i.e. undress, disarm, etc. and remain rather independent of the stem.

An infix is an affix placed within the world, like -n- stand. The type isn't productive. An affix should not be confused with a combining form which can be distinguish from the affix historically; it is always borrowed from Latin or Greek in which it existed as a free form i.e. a separate word, or also as a combining form. Thus, cyclo- or its variant cyd- are derived from Greek word kuklos "circle" giving the English word cyclic.

Synonymy in English

This definition describes the notion "synonymy", gives some criteria of synonymy (identity of meaning, interchangeability), shows some difference in connotation, emotive coloring, style, etc. But this descriptive definition as well as many others has the main drawbacks - there are no objective criteria of "identity" or "similarity" or sameness of meaning. They all are based on the linguistic intuitions of the scholars.

From the definition follows, that the members of the synonymic group in a dictionary should have their common denotational meaning and consequently[17] it should be explained in the same words; they may have some differences in implication connotation, shades of meaning, idiomatic usage, etc.

Criteria of Synonymy

Not a single definition of the term synonym provides for any objective criterion of similarity or sameness of meaning as far as it is based on the linguistic intuition of the scholars.

Many scholars defined synonyms as words conveying the same notion but differing either in shades of meaning or in stylistic characteristics. In "Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms" its authors used the semantic criterion along with the criterion of interchangeability[18], which we may see from the definition.

A synonym is one of two or more words which have the same or nearly the same essential[19] (denotational) meaning. It is not a matter of mere likeness in meaning, but a likeness in denotation which may be expressed in its definition. The definition must indicate[20] the part of speech and the relations of the ideas involved in a term's meaning.

Synonyms, therefore, are only such words as may be defined wholly[21] or almost wholly in the same terms. Usually, they are distinguished from one another by an added implication or connotation, or may differ in their idiomatic use or in their implication[22].

They usually are interchangeable within limits, but interchangeability is not the final test, since idiomatic usage is often a preventive of that. The only satisfactory test of synonyms is their agreement in connotation.

Classification of Synonyms

The outstanding Russian philologist A.I. Smirnitsky suggested the classification of synonyms

into 3 types:

1. Ideographic synonyms - words conveying the same notion but differing in shades of

meaning: to understand - to realize

to expect - to anticipate

to look - glance - stare - peep - gaze healthy - wholesome - sound - sane

2. Stylistic - words differing only in stylistic characteristics:

to begin - to commence - to high

to think - to deem

enemy - opponent - foe - adversary

to help - to aid - to assist

courage - valour - dauntlessness - grit - guts

3. Absolute (perfect, complete) - words coinciding in all their shades of meaning and in

all their stylistic characteristics. Absolute synonyms are rare in a language. InRussian, f.e.: лётчик - пилот - авиатор; языкознание - языковедение; стерня - пожня.

In English: pilot - airman -- flyer - flyingman; screenwriter - scriptwriter - scripter - сценарист semasiology - semantics.

Synonymic Patterns

The English word-stock is extremely rich in synonyms, which can be largely accounted[23] for by abundant borrowing. The synonymic resources of a language tend to form certain characteristic and fairly consistent patterns. Synonyms in English are organized according to 2 basic principles. One of them involves double, the other a triple scale. In English there are countless pairs of synonyms where a native term is opposed to one borrowed from French, Latin, and Greek. In most cases the native word is more spontaneous, more informal and unpretentious whereas the foreign one often has a learned, abstract air. They may also have emotive differences: the Saxon word is apt to be wanner and homelier than its foreign counterpart. The native words are usually colloquial. We quote a few examples of synonymic patterns double scale.

Adjectives: bodily - corporal, brotherly - fraternal, heavenly - celestial, inner - internal, learned - erudite, sharp - acute.

Nouns: fiddle - violin, friendship - amity, help - aid, wire - telegram, world - universe.

Verbs: answer - reply, read - peruse, buy - purchase.

Side-by-side with this main pattern there exists in English a pattern based on a triple scale of synonyms:


to ask[24] to question[25] to interrogate[26]

belly stomach abdomen

to end finish complete

to gather to assemble collect

to rise to mount to ascent

teaching guidance instruction

The infiltration of British English by Americanisms also results in the formation of synonyms pairs, one being a traditional Briticism and the other - a new American loan: Leader - editorial; autumn - fall; government - administration; luggage - baggage; wireless -radio; lorry - truck; tin - can; long distance (telephone) call - trunk call; stone - rock; team -squad.

As a rule the Americanisms have a lower frequency index than the British counterparts. Thus, tin is more common than can, team - than squad. But luggage - baggage, lorry - truck, leader -editorial are used sometimes interchangeably.

In a few cases the American synonym has a higher frequency than its British counterpart as in the pair: commuter - a season ticket holder (Br.). Very often 2 synonyms differ stylistically. Br. Synonym is stylistically neutral while the Americanism is stylistically marked (usually as colloquial or slang): intellectual - egghead excuse - alibi angry - mad averse - allergic.

English also used many pairs of synonymous derivatives, the one Hellenic and the other Romance: hypotheses - supposition periphery - circumference sympathy - compassion synthesis - composition.

Another source of synonymy is the so-called euphemism, when a harsh word indelicate or unpleasant or least inoffensive connotation. Thus the denotational meaning of drunk and merry may be the same. The euphemistic expression merry coincides in denotation with the word it substituted but the connotation of the latter faded out and so the utterance on the whole is milder and less offensive.

Very often a learned word which sounds less familiar and less offensive or derogative: for example "drunkenness" - "intoxication", "sweat" - "perspiration" (cf. Russian terms "экспроприация", "раскулачивание"). The effect is achieved because the periphrastic expression is not so harsh, sometimes jocular: poor - underprivileged; pregnant - in the family way; lodger - paying guest.

Set expressions consisting of a verb with a postpositive are widely used in present day English: to choose - pick out, abandon - give up, postpone - put off, return - come back, quarrel - fall out.

Even more frequent are, for instance, such set expressions which differ from simple verbs in aspect or emphasis: to laugh - to give a laugh, to sign - to give a sign, to smoke - to have a smoke, to love - to fall in love.

Smell, scent, odor, aroma all denote a property of a thing that makes it perceptible to the olfactory sense. Smell not only is the most general of these terms but tends to be the most colorless. It is the appropriate word when merely a sensation is indicated and no hint or its source, quality or character is necessary.

Scent tends to call attention to the physical basis of the sense of smell and is particularly appropriate when the emphasis is on emanations or explanations from an external object which reach the olfactory receptors rather than impression produced in the olfactory center of the brain. Odor is oftentimes indistinguishable from scent for it too can be thought of as smth. diffused and as smth. by means of which external objects are identified by the sense of smell. But the words are not always interchangeable, for odor usually implies abundance of effluvia and therefore does not suggest, as scent often does, the need of a delicate or highly sensitive sense of smell.

Aroma usually adds to odor the implication of a penetrating, pervasive or sometimes a pungent quality; it need not imply delicacy or fragrance, but it seldom connotes unpleasantness, and it often suggests smth. to be savored.

Differences Between Synonyms

Very often words are completely synonyms in the sense of being interchangeable in any content without the slightest alteration in objective meaning, feeling-tone or evocative meaning. But majority of them may have some distinctive features, which are listed below. These differences are the following:

1. Between general and specific;

2. Between shades of meaning.


[1] обозначать

[2] неясный, смутный

[3] выходить, выдвигаться вперед

[4] Сопутствующее значение, то, что подразумевается

[5] Лачуга, хибара

[6] Подразумевать

[7] Образ(ы), образность

[8] лавр

[9] обряд

[10] претерпевают

[11] веер

[12] расщепление

[13] прыгать

[14] формальное значение

[15] форма

[16] сочетаемость

[17] следовательно

[18] взаимозаменяемость

[19] существенный

[20] указывает

[21] полностью

[22] подтекст

[23] объясняется

[24] задавать вопросы

[25] расспрашивать

[26] допрашивать

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