Polysemy in english language
Different approaches to meaning, functional approach. Types of meaning, grammatical meaning. Semantic structure of polysemantic word. Types of semantic components. Approaches to the study of polysemy. The development of new meanings of polysemantic word.
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- 1. Word Meaning
- 1.1 Different Approaches to Meaning. Functional Approach
- 1.1.1 Referential approach
- 1.2 Types of Meaning. Grammatical Meaning
- 1.2.1 Lexical Meaning
- 1.2.2 Denotational and Connotational Meaning
- 1.3 Semantic Structure of polysemantic words
- 1.4 Types of Semantic Components
- 2. The meaning and Polysemy
- 2.1 Two approaches to the study of polysemy
- 2.1.1 Synchronic and Diachronic
- 2.2 Meaning and Context
- 2.3 The Lexical context
- 2.4 Grammatical Context
- 2.5 The development of new meanings of polysemantic words
- Appendix to the course paper
The theme of the course paper is polysemy. The work consists of introduction where the choice of the theme is substantiated and the aim of the work with its dismemberment for intercommunicated complex of tasks are defined which are subject to decision for opening of the theme. There are two chapters in the main part. It observes the word meaning, the word - the basic unit of language which unites the form and the meaning. Also it contains approaches to meaning: the functional approach supports that a linguistic study of meaning is the investigation of the relation of sign to sign only; the referential approach seeks to formulate the essence of meaning by establishing the interdependence between words and things or concepts they denote. Types of the meaning: grammatical, lexical, connotational and denotational meanings. Grammatical meaning is the element of plurality, tense endings, possessive case and so on. Lexical meaning is the same semantic component which several words have. Connotational and denotational meaning - the lexical meaning is not homogeneous either and may be analysed as including denotational that component of the lexical meaning which makes communication possible and connotational component which consist of emotive charge that is one of the objective semantic features proper to words as linguistic units and forms a part of the connotational component of meaning and stylistic reference.
One part of all words consists of specified words, which are connected with science, technical, medical terms etc. - they have only one meaning. But the rest of the words have two or more meanings. The choice of the necessary word in a sentence depends on the context. Also there are grammatical and lexical contexts which are considered. The object of researching is the word, its meanings, context and developing of polysemantic words' meanings. The aim of the work is to investigate word meanings in speech, the role of context for solution of polysemy in the text and to prove the importance of word meaning and its researching.
polysemy english language polysemantic
Polysemy decorates the speech, literature texts, but complicates a task for foreigners, who study another language, in our case, the English language, a task of translation. A context in this situation gives a lot, it helps to understand what the sentence, the text means in order to make professional translation in a literal way. It is all about the second chapter.
Also the paper contains the conclusion where theoretical and practical conclusions are given in account in logical succession; and appendix.
Do you need a dog?", asked Tom holding a puppy in his hands. “No”, answered John- “I have”, and, not turning around lifted the arm with a dog in it, a tool for getting tacks out of the wood.
There are plenty of languages in the world. There are a lot of words in the language, and almost every (except scientific) word has 2 and more meanings. And at the same time context appeared. Because only with help of the context we know which of the meanings is more suitable in that situation or text where we are or have. That is why it is necessary to study the polysemy and more important to know so many meanings of one word as it is possible.
By definition Lexicology deals with words, word - forming morphemes (derivational affixes) and word-groups or phrases. 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. 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 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. Word Meaning
Word meaning. If is it necessary to discuss the meaning, first of all we must say some words about the word. What is this?
The word may be described as the basic unit of language. Uniting meaning and form, it is composed of one or more morphemes, each consisting of one or more spoken sounds or their written representation. The combinations of morphemes within words are subject to certain linking conditions.
The definition of a word is one of the most difficult in linguistics because the simplest word has many aspects. All attempts to characterize the word are necessarily specific for each domain of science and are therefore considered one-sided by the representatives of all the other domains and criticized for incompleteness. The variants of definitions were so numerous that some authors collecting them produced works of impressive scope and bulk.
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), one of the great English philosophers, revealed a materialistic approach to the problem of nomination when he wrote that words are not mere sounds but names of matter. Three centuries later the great Russian physiologist I. P. Pavlov (1849-1936) examined the word in connection with his studies of the second signal system, and defined it as a universal signal that can be substitute any other signal from the environment in evoking a response in a human organism.
It runs as follows: a word is a sequence of graphemes which can occur between spaces, or the representation of such a sequence on morphemic level.
The semantic-phonological approach may be illustrated by A. H. Gardiner's definition:
”A word is an articulate sound-symbol in its aspect of denoting something which is spoken about. ”
The eminent French linguist A. Meillet combines the semantic, phonological and grammatical criteria and gives the following definition of the word:
“A word is defined by the association of a particular meaning with a particular group of sounds capable of a particular grammatical employment. ”
Still, the main point can be summarized:
“The word is the fundamental unit of language. It is a dialectal unity of form and content. ”
The linguistic science at present is not able to put forward a definition of meaning which is conclusive. However, there are certain facts of which we can be reasonably sure, and one of them is that the very function of the word as a unit of communication is made possible by its possessing a meaning. Therefore, among the word's various characteristics, meaning is certainly the most important.
Generally speaking, meaning can be more or less described as a component of the word through which a concept (mental phenomena) is communicated. Meaning endows the word with the ability of denoting real objects, qualities, actions and abstract notions. The relationships between “referent" (object, etc. denoted by the word), “concept” and “word" are traditionally represented by the following triangle:
By the "symbol" here is meant the word; “thought” or “reference” is concept. The dotted line suggests that there is no immediate relation between “word" and “referent”: it is established only through the concept. /Antrushina English Lexicology p.130/
On the other hand, there is a hypothesis that concepts can only find their realization through words. It seems that thought is dormant till the word wakens it up. It is only when we hear a spoken word or read a printed word that the corresponding concept springs into mind. The mechanism by which concepts (i. e. mental phenomena) are converted into words (i. e. linguistic phenomena) and the reverse process by which a heard or a printed word is converted into a kind of mental picture are not yet understood or described.
The branch of linguistics which specializes in the study of meaning is called semantics. As with many terms, the term "semantics" is ambiguous for it can stand, as well, for the expressive aspect of language in general and for the meaning of one particular word in all its varied aspects and nuances (i. e. the semantics of a word = the meaning (s) of a word).
A unit which most people would think of as `one word' may carry a number of meanings, by association with certain contexts. Thus pipe can be any tubular object, a musical instrument or a piece of apparatus for smoking; a hand can be on a clock or watch as well as at the end of the arm. Multiple meaning or polysemy is of considerable linguistic importance, and the process of extension is a concern of historical linguistics. Most of the time, we are able to distinguish the intended meaning by the usual process of mental adjustment to context and register: we don't expect to find tobacco pipes in the school recorder band. The literary language, however, again refuses to give us comfortable divisions of meaning beyond which imagination need not stray. It often forces us to accept polysemy not as a feature from which we select but as one in which we meet the writer's intention without restriction.
The writer may indeed call in the aid of context to distinguish the meanings of polysemantic words; but his intention is not necessarily to elucidate a single meaning but rather to emphasize the uncertainties of daily usage and to point from this to an ironical comment on the human predicament.
Polysemy may allow a writer to work on two levels concurrently, apparently relating one set of events while really indicating something different. We move here towards metaphor, which must be a separate concern, but it is interesting to see how a chosen image can be maintained by word-choice appropriate to the register in which we should normally expect to find it, while the metaphorical relation to hidden meaning is deferred. For example, George Herbert sustains the image of God as the landlord in the poem `Redemption' by use of legal terms which are in perfect register-agreement with the opening statement:
Having been tenant long to a rich Lord
Not thriving, I resolved to be bold,
And make a suite into him, to afford
A new small-rented lease, and cancel th'old
In heaven at his manor I him sought:
They told me there that he was lately gone
About some land, which he had dearly bought
Long since on earth, to take possession.
The writer may not confine himself to any normal register but rather create his own by choices that would seem odd or questionable in that context in everyday use. It is useful, though without attempting to draw any impassable line, to distinguish between two ways in which a writer's selection of a single word may seem admirable. We will assume that there is no syntagmatic deviation and that the choice is paradigmatic within a context that is free from apparent ambiguity. Of course, the associations and figurative applications of words may still operate even when there is no obvious polysemy.
In the first way, there is no deviation; the achievement is in tackling the problem of synonymous words. It may well be argued that there are no perfect synonyms, since choice must be conditioned by register, dialect and emotive association. However, the problem of word-selection is difficult and is not much aided by the brief definitions of a dictionary or the listings of a thesaurus. One of the most effective ways of finding out what a word means in current usage is by asking people whether they would readily use it in a given sentence.
1.1 Different Approaches to Meaning. Functional Approach
The functional approach supports that a linguistic study of meaning is the investigation of the relation of sign to sign only. In other words, they hold the view that the meaning of a linguistic unit may be studied only through its relation to other linguistic units and not thorough its relation to either concept or referent. The meaning of the 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 hold different positions in relation to other words. (To) move, e. g., can be succeed by a noun (move the chair) preceded by a pronoun (we move). 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 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. /R. S. Ginsburg p.28/
Hence, meaning may be scanned as the function of distribution. 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 or the use of linguistic signs. As a matter of fact, this line of semantic investigation is the primary concern, implied or expressed, of all structural linguists.
1.1.1 Referential approach
The referential approach seeks to formulate the essence of meaning by establishing the interdependence between words and things or concepts they denote.
The essential feature of this approach is that it distinguishes between the three components closely connected with meaning: the 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” (as it was mentioned above) 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 above, second page, the concept is on the top of the triangle, sound-form [d v] is the left corner and referent is the right corner. As can be seen from the diagram the sound-form of the linguistic sign, e. g. [d v], is connected with our concept of the bird which it denotes and through it with the referent, i. e. the actual bird. The common feature of any referential approach is the implication that meaning is in some form or other connected with the referent.
1.2 Types of Meaning. Grammatical Meaning
We notice, e. g., that words-forms, such as girls, winters, joys, tables, etc. though denoting widely different objects of reality have something in common. This common element is the grammatical meaning of plurality which can be found in all of them.
Thus grammatical meaning may be defined as the component of meaning recurrent in identical sets of individual forms of different words, as, e. g., the tense meaning in the word-forms of various nouns (girl's, boy's, night's etc).
In a broad sense it may be argued that linguists who make a distinction between lexical and grammatical meaning are in fact, making a distinction between the functional meaning which operates at various levels as the interrelation of various linguistic units and referential (conceptual) meaning as the interrelation of linguistic units and referents (or concepts).
In modern linguistic science it is commonly held that some elements of grammatical meaning can be identified by the position if the linguistic unit in relation to other linguistic units, i. e. by its distribution. Word-forms `speaks, reads, writes' have one and the same grammatical meaning as they can all be found in identical distribution, e. g. only after the pronouns `he, she, it' and before adverbs like' well, badly, to-day etc. it follows that a certain component of the meaning of the word is described when you identify it as a part of speech, since different parts of speech are distributionally different.
1.2.1 Lexical Meaning
Comparing word-forms of one and the same word we observe that besides grammatical meaning, there is another component of meaning to be found in them. Unlike the grammatical meaning this component is identical in all the forms of the word thus e. g. the word-forms `go, goes, went, going, gone' 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, i. e. recurrent in all the forms of this word. /Ginsburg p.30/
The difference between the lexical and the grammatical components of meaning is not to be sought in the different of the concepts underlying the two types of meaning but rather in the way they are conveyed the concept of plurality, e. g., may be expressed by the lexical meaning of the world plurality, it may also be expressed in the forms of various words irrespective of their lexical meaning, e. g. `boys, girls, balls, joys, etc. The concept of relation may be expressed by the lexical meaning of the word relation and also by any of the prepositions, e. g. `in, on, behind, under, etc.
It follows that by lexical meaning we designate the meaning proper to the given linguistic unit in all its forms and distributions, while by grammatical meaning we designate the meaning proper to sets of word-forms common to all words of a certain class. Both the lexical and the grammatical meaning make up the word-meaning as neither can exist without order.
That can be also observed in the semantic analysis of correlated words in different languages. E. g. the Russian word "ñâåäåíèÿ" is not semantically identical with the English equivalent “information” because unlike the Russian "ñâåäåíèÿ" the English word doesn't possess the grammatical meaning f plurality which is part of the semantic structure of the Russian word.
1.2.2 Denotational and Connotational Meaning
Lexical meaning is not homogenous and includes denotational and connotational components. The functions of words are to denote things, concepts and so on. Users of a language cannot have any knowledge or thought of the objects or phenomena of the real world around them unless this knowledge is ultimately embodied in words which have essentially the same meaning for all speakers of that language. This is the denotational meaning, i. e. that component of the lexical meaning which makes communication possible. There is no doubt that a physicist knows more about the atom than a singer does, or that a cooker possesses a much deeper knowledge of how to prepare for example shrimps than a person who cannot cook professionally. Nevertheless they use the words atom, shrimps, etc. and understand each other.
The second component of the lexical meaning is the connotational component, i. e. the emotive charge and the stylistic value of the word.
Emotive charge is one of the objective semantic features proper to words as linguistic units and forms a part of the connotational component of meaning. The emotive charge varies in different word-classes. In some of them, in interjection, e. g., the emotive element prevails, whereas in conjunctions the emotive charge is as a rule practically non-existence.
Words differ not only in their emotive charge but also in their stylistic reference and subdivided into literary, neutral and colloquial layers.
The greater part of the literary layer of Modern English vocabulary are words of general use, possessing no specific stylistic reference and known as neutral words. Against the background of neutral words we can distinguish two major subgroups - standard colloquial words and literary or bookish words. `Parent, father, dad'. In comparison with the word father which is stylistically neutral, dad stands out as colloquial and parent is felt as bookish. Or chum-friend, rot-nonsense, etc.
1.3 Semantic Structure of polysemantic words
It is generally known 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.
Polysemy is certainly not an anomaly. Most English words are polysemantic. It should be noted that the wealth of expressive resources of a language largely depends on the degree to which polysemy has developed in the language. Sometimes people who are not very well informed in linguistic matters claim that a language is lacking in words if the need arises for the same word to be applied to several different phenomena. In actual fact, it is exactly the opposite: if each word is found to be capable of conveying at least two concepts instead of one, the expressive potential of the whole vocabulary increases twofold. Hence, a well-developed polysemy is a great advantage in a language.
On the other hand, it should be pointed out that the number of sound combinations that human speech organs can produce is limited. Therefore at a certain stage of language development the production of new words by morphological means is limited as well, and polysemy becomes increasingly important for enriching the vocabulary. From this, it should be clear that the process of enriching the vocabulary does not consist merely in adding new words to it, but, also, in the constant development of polysemy.
The system of meanings of any polysemantic word develops gradually, mostly over the centuries, as more and more new meanings are added to old ones, or oust some of them. So the complicated processes of polysemy development involve both the appearance of 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 in this way to provide for a quantitative and qualitative growth of the language's expressive resources.
When analysing the semantic structure of a polysemantic word, it is necessary to distinguish between two levels of analysis. On the first level, the semantic structure of a word is treated as a system of meanings. For example, the semantic structure of the noun “fire" could be roughly presented by this scheme (only the most frequent meanings are given):
The above scheme suggests that meaning (I) holds a kind of dominance over the other meanings conveying the concept in the most general way whereas meanings (II) - (V) are associated with special circumstances, aspects and instances of the same phenomenon.
Meaning (I) (generally referred to as the main meaning) presents the centre of the semantic structure of the word holding it together. It is mainly through meaning (I) that meanings (II) - (V) (they are called secondary meanings) can be associated with one another, some of them exclusively through meaning (I) - the main meaning, as, for instance, meanings (IV) and (V).
It would hardly be possible to establish any logical associations between some of the meanings of the noun “bar” except through the main meaning:
Meaning's (II) and (III) have no logical links with one another whereas each separately is easily associated with meaning (I): meaning (II) through the traditional barrier dividing a court-room into two parts; meaning (III) through the counter serving as a kind of barrier between the customers of a pub and the barman.
Yet, it is not in every polysemantic word that such a centre can be found. Some semantic structures are arranged on a different principle. In the following list of meanings of the adjective “dull" one can hardly hope to find a generalized meaning covering and holding together the rest of the semantic structure.
A dull book, a dull film - uninteresting, monotonous, boring.
A dull student - slow in understanding, stupid.
Dull weather, a dull day, a dull colour - not clear or bright.
A dull sound - not loud or distinct.
A dull knife - not sharp.
Trade is dull - not active.
Dull eyes (arch.) - seeing badly.
Dull ears (arch.) - hearing badly.
There is something that all these seemingly miscellaneous meanings have in common, and that is the implication of deficiency, be it of colour (m. III), wits (m. II), interest (m. I), sharpness (m. V), etc. The implication of insufficient quality, of something lacking, can be clearly distinguished in each separate meaning.
Uninteresting - deficient in interest or excitement.
. Stupid - deficient in intellect.
Not bright - deficient in light or colour.
Not loud - deficient in sound.
Not sharp - deficient in sharpness.
Not active - deficient in activity.
Seeing badly - deficient in eyesight.
Hearing badly - deficient in hearing.
The transformed scheme of the semantic structure of “dull" clearly shows that the centre holding together the complex semantic structure of this word is not one of the meanings but a certain component that can be easily singled out within each separate meaning.
On the second level of analysis of the semantic structure of a word: each separate meaning is a subject to structural analysis in which it may be represented as sets of semantic components.
The scheme of the semantic structure of “dull" shows that the semantic structure of a word is not a mere system of meanings, for each separate meaning is subject to further subdivision and possesses an inner structure of its own.
Therefore, the semantic structure of a word should be investigated at both these levels:
1) of different meanings,
2) of semantic components within each separate meaning. For a monosemantic word (i. e. a word with one meaning) the first level is naturally excluded.
1.4 Types of Semantic Components
The leading semantic component in the semantic structure of a word is usually termed denotative component (also, the term referential component may be used). The denotative component expresses the conceptual content of a word.
The following list presents denotative components of some English adjectives and verbs:
lonely, adj. - alone, without company …
notorious, adj. - widely known
celebrated, adj. - widely known
to glare, v. - to look
to glance, v. - to look
to shiver, v. - to tremble
to shudder, v. - to tremble
It is quite obvious that the definitions given in the right column only partially and incompletely describe the meanings of their corresponding words. They do not give a more or less full picture of the meaning of a word. To do it, it is necessary to include in the scheme of analysis additional semantic components which are termed connotations or connotative components.
The above examples show how by singling out denotative and connotative components one can get a sufficiently clear picture of what the word really means. The schemes presenting the semantic structures of “glare”, “shiver”, “shudder” also show that a meaning can have two or more connotative components.
The given examples do not exhaust all the types of connotations but present only a few: emotive, evaluative connotations, and also connotations of duration and of cause.
2. The meaning and Polysemy
We became more profound in studying of meaning. We discussed the concept of meaning, different types of word-meanings and the changes they undergo in the course of the historic development of the English language. Analysing the semantic structure of the word we can see that words as the rule don't have only single meaning. They are called monosemantic words, i. e. words have only one meaning are few in their amount, they are from science, scientific terms. But all the rest of English words are polysemantic, it means they don't have only one single meaning, they possess more than one meaning. The real 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.
The word “polysemy" means “plurality of meanings” it exists only in the language, not in speech.
Different meanings of a polysemantic word may come together due to the proximity of notions which they express. E. g. the word “blanket” has the following meanings: a woolen covering used on beds, a covering for keeping a horse warm, a covering of any kind /a blanket of snow/, covering all or most cases /used attributively/, e. g. we can say “a blanket insurance policy”.
There are some words in the language which are monosemantic, such as most terms, /synonym, molecule, bronchitis/, some pronouns /this, my, both/, numerals.
There are two processes of the semantic development of a word: radiation and concatenation. In cases of radiation the primary meaning stands in the centre and the secondary meanings proceed out of it like rays. Each secondary meaning can be traced to the primary meaning. E. g. in the word “face" the primary meaning denotes “the front part of the human head” Connected with the front position the meanings: the front part of a watch, the front part of a building, the front part of a playing card were formed. Connected with the word “face" itself the meanings: expression of the face, outward appearance are formed.
In cases of concatenation secondary meanings of a word develop like a chain. In such cases it is difficult to trace some meanings to the primary one. E. g. in the word “crust” the primary meaning “hard outer part of bread" developed a secondary meaning “hard part of anything /a pie, a cake/”, then the meaning ”harder layer over soft snow” was developed, then “a sullen gloomy person”, then “impudence” were developed. Here the last meanings have nothing to do with the primary ones. In such cases homonyms appear in the language. It is called the split of polysemy.
In most cases in the semantic development of a word both ways of semantic development are combined.
2.1 Two approaches to the study of polysemy
2.1.1 Synchronic and Diachronic
There are two principle approaches in linguistic science to the study of language material: synchronic & diachronic. With regard to Special lexicology the synchronic approach is concerned with the vocabulary of a language as it exists at a given time. It's Special Descriptive lexicology that deals with the vocabulary & vocabulary units of a particular language at a certain time.
The diachronic approach in terms of Special lexicology deals with the changes in the development of vocabulary in the coarse of time. It is Special Historical lexicology that deals with the evaluation of the vocabulary units of a language as the time goes by.
The two approaches shouldn't be set one against the other. In fact, they are interconnected & interrelated because every linguistic structure & system exists in a state of constant development so that the synchronic state of a language system is a result of a long process of linguistic evaluation, of its historical development. Closely connected with the Historical lexicology is Contrastive & Comparative lexicology whose aims are to study the correlation between the vocabularies of two or more languages & find out the correspondences between the vocabulary units of the languages under comparison. Lexicology studies various lexical units. They are: morphemes, words, variable word-groups & phraseological units. We proceed from the assumption that the word is the basic unit of the language system, the largest on morphological & the smallest on syntactic plane of linguistic analyses. The word is a structural & semantic entity within the language system. The word as well as any linguistic sign is a two-faced unit possessing both form & content or, to be more exact, sound-form & meaning.
e. g. boy - áîé
When used in actual speech the word undergoes certain modification & functions in one of its forms. The system showing a word in all its word-forms is called a paradigm. The lexical meaning of a word is the same throughout the paradigm. The grammatical meaning varies from one form to another. Therefore when we speak on any word as used in actual speech we use the term “word" conventionally because what is manifested in the utterances is not a word as a whole but one of its forms which is identified as belonging to the definite paradigm. Words as a whole are to be found in the dictionary (showing the paradigm n - noun, v - verb, etc). There are two approaches to the paradigm: as a system of forms of one word revealing the differences & the relationships between them.
e. g. to see - saw - seen - seeing
( different forms have different relations )
In abstraction from concrete words the paradigm is treated as a pattern on which every word of one part of speech models its forms, thus serving to distinguish one part of speech from another.
-s -`s -s' -ed -ing
nouns, of-phrases verbs
Besides the grammatical forms of words there are lexical varieties which are called “variants" of words. Words seldom possess only one meaning, but used in speech each word reveals only that meaning which is required.
e. g. to learn at school to make a dress
to learn about smth. ?smbd. to make smbd. do smth.
These are lexico-semantic variants.
There are also phonetic & morphological variants.
e. g. “often” can be pronounced in two ways, though the sound-form is slightly changed, the meaning remains unchangeable. We can build the forms of the word “to dream" in different ways:
to dream - dreamt - dreamt
These are morphological variants. The meaning is the same but the model is different.
Like words-forms variants of words are identified in the process of communication as making up one & the same word. Thus, within the language system the word exists as a system & unity of all its forms & variants.
2.2 Meaning and Context
It's important that there is sometimes a chance of misunderstanding when a polysemantic word is used in a certain meaning but accepted by a listener or reader in another.
It is common knowledge that context prevents from any misunderstanding of meanings. For instance, the adjective “dull”, if used out of context, would mean different things to different people or nothing at all. It is only in combination with other words that it reveals its actual meaning: “a dull pupil”, “a dull play”, “dull weather”, etc. Sometimes, however, such a minimum context fails to reveal the meaning of the word, and it may be correctly interpreted only through a second-degree context as in the following example: “The man was large, but his wife was even fatter”. The word “fatter" here serves as a kind of indicator pointing that “large” describes a stout man and not a big one.
Current research in semantics is largely based on the assumption that one of the more promising methods of investigating the semantic structure of a word is by studying the word's linear relationships with other words in typical contexts, i. e. its combinability or collocability.
Scholars have established that the semantics of words which regularly appear in common contexts are correlated and, therefore, one of the words within such a pair can be studied through the other.
They are so intimately correlated that each of them casts, as it were, a kind of permanent reflection on the meaning of its neighbor. If the verb “to compose" is frequently used with the object “music”, so it is natural to expect that certain musical associations linger in the meaning of the verb “to composed”.
Note, also, how closely the negative evaluative connotation of the adjective “notorious” is linked with the negative connotation of the nouns with which it is regularly associated: “a notorious criminal”, “thief”, “gangster", “gambler”, “gossip”, “liar”, “miser”, etc.
All this leads us to the conclusion that context is a good and reliable key to the meaning of the word.
It's a common error to see a different meaning in every new set of combinations. For instance: “an angry man”, “an angry letter”. Is the adjective “angry” used in the same meaning in both these contexts or in two different meanings? Some people will say "two" and argue that, on the one hand, the combinability is different (“man" - -name of person; “letter" - name of object) and, on the other hand, a letter cannot experience anger. True, it cannot; but it can very well convey the anger of the person who wrote it. As to the combinability, the main point is that a word can realize the same meaning in different sets of combinability. For instance, in the pairs “merry children”, “merry laughter”, “merry faces”, “merry songs" the adjective “merry” conveys the same concept of high spirits.
The task of distinguishing between the different meanings of a word and the different variations of combinability is actually a question of singling out the different denotations within the semantic structure of the word.
1) a sad woman,
2) a sad voice,
3) a sad story,
4) a sad scoundrel (= an incorrigible scoundrel)
5) a sad night (= a dark, black night, arch. poet.)
Obviously the first three contexts have the common denotation of sorrow whereas in the fourth and fifth contexts the denotations are different. So, in these five contexts we can identify three meanings of “sad”.
2.3 The Lexical context
In lexical contexts of primary importance are the lexical groups combined with the polysemantic word under consideration. This can be shown by analysing different lexical contexts in which polysemantic words, e. g. heavy or come, are used. The adjective heavy in isolation is understood as meaning ` of great weight, weighty' (heavy cargo, heavy book, etc.). When combined with the lexical group of words denoting natural phenomena such as wind, storm, snow, etc., it means `striking, falling with force, abundant' as can be seen from the contexts, e. g. heavy rain, wind, snow etc. In combination with the words industry, arms, artillery and the like, heavy has the meaning ` the larger kind of something' as in heavy artillery, etc.
The word come in isolation has primarily the meaning `to arrive, move toward, etc. When we join it the lexical group of prepositions we have more meanings we can imagine, even one preposition, for example `in', and we have nine meanings; come in: a) to enter, b) sport to get finish, c) to become fashionable, d) to be found as useful, etc. it acquires the meaning synonymous with the meaning of the verb to be found (to be found somewhere, at finish, in fashion, as useful etc.).
It can be easily observed that the main factor in bringing out this or that individual meaning of the words heavy and to come is the lexical group with which the word in question is combined.
The meanings determined by lexical contexts are sometimes referred to as lexically bound meanings which implies that such meanings are to be found only in certain lexical contexts. / Ginsburg p.56/
2.4 Grammatical Context
In grammatical contexts it is the grammatical structure of the context that serves to determine various individual meanings of a polysemantic word. One of the meanings of the verb make, e. g. `to force,' is found only in the grammatical context possessing the structure to make smb to do smth or in simpler terms this particular meaning occurs only if the verb make is followed by a noun and the infinitive of some other verb (to make smb laugh, go, write, etc.). Another meaning of this verb ` to become', to turn out to be' is observed in the contexts of a different structure, e. g. make followed by an adjective and a noun (to make a good wife, a good teacher, etc.).
In a number of contexts, however, we find that both the lexical and grammatical aspects should be taken into consideration. The grammatical structure of the context although indicative of the difference between the meaning of the word in this structure and the meaning of the same word in a different grammatical structure may be insufficient to indicate in which of its individual meaning of the word in question is used. If we compare the contexts of different grammatical structures, e. g. to take+noun and to take to+noun, we can safely assume that they represent different meanings of the verb to take, but it is only when we specify the lexical context, i. e. the lexical group with which the verb is combined in the structure to take+noun (to take tea; books; the bus) that we can say that the context determines the meaning. /Ginsburg p.57/
2.5 The development of new meanings of polysemantic words
The systems of meanings of polysemantic words evolve gradually. The older a word is, the better developed is its semantic structure. The normal pattern of a word's semantic development is from monosemy to a simple semantic structure encompassing only two or three meanings, with a further movement to an increasingly more complex semantic structure.
There are two causes of development of new meanings. First is the historical one: different kinds of changes in a nation's social life, in its culture, knowledge, technology, arts lead to gaps appearing in the vocabulary which beg to be filled. Newly created objects, new concepts and phenomena must be named: word-building and borrowing foreign ones. New meanings can also be developed due to linguistic factors - the second cause. Linguistically speaking, the development of new meanings, and also a complete change of meaning, may be caused through the influence of other words, mostly of synonyms.
The process of development of a new meaning (or a change of meaning) is traditionally termed transference. Some scholars mistakenly use the term “ transference of meaning" which is a serious mistake. It is very important to note that in any case of semantic change it is not the meaning but the word that is being transferred from one referent into another (from a horse-drawn vehicle into a railway car). The result of such a transference is the appearance of new meaning.
There are two types of transference based on resemblance and contiguity.
First type of transference is also referred to as linguistic metaphor. A new meaning appears as a result of associating two objects (phenomena, qualities, etc) due to their outward similarity. The noun eye, for instance, has for one of its meanings `hole in the end of a needle' which also developed through transference based on resemblance.
The meanings formed through this type of transference are frequently found in the informal strata of the vocabulary, especially in slang. A red-headed boy is almost certain to be nicknamed carrot or ginner by his schoolmates, and the one who is given to spying and sneaking gets the derogatory nickname of rat. Both these meanings are metaphorical, though, of course, the children using them are quite unconscious of this fact.
Second type is linguistic metonymy. The association is based upon subtle psychological links between different objects and phenomena, sometimes traced and identified with much difficulty. The two objects may be associated together because they often appear in common situations, and so the image of one is easily accompanied by the image of the other; or they may be associated on the principle of cause and effect, of common function, of some material and an object which is made of it, etc. The Old English adjective glad meant “bright, shining" (it was applied to the sun, to gold and precious stones, to shining armour, etc.). the later (and more modern) meaning “joyful" developed on the basis of the usual association (which is reflected in most languages) of light with joy.
The phenomenon of polysemy exists not in the speech but in the language.
The problem of polysemy is mainly the problem of interrelation and interdependence of the various meanings of the same word. Polysemy viewed diachronically is a historical change in the semantic structure of the word resulting in new meanings being added to the ones already existing and in the rearrangement of these meanings on its semantic structure.
Polysemy viewed synchronically is understood as coexistence of the various meanings of the same word at a certain historical period and the arrangement of these meanings in the semantic structure of the word.
In the present work there was viewed polysemy, meaning of the word, some “words” about the notion “word”, because it is really very important to know what the word is. It is impossible to speak about the role of the meaning without understanding the “word”, the basic unit of language that unites meaning and form. The context was observed. Attention should be paid to it.
There is a sentence, it must be translated, for example from English to Russian, theoretically if that who translates is not a professional translator it is not necessary to know the types of context, and in general and to professional translator too. During the whole studying a student is taught by teachers to understand the sentence and then to translate it with the context's help. He chooses the necessary meaning intuitively. But the observing context types explains a lot, for example the choice of the necessary meaning. Sometimes you don't know all the meanings of translated word, and…you guess by context. Context is the minimal stretch of speech necessary to find out individual meanings. Linguistic contexts comprise lexical and grammatical contexts and are contrasted to extra-linguistic contexts. In extra-linguistic contexts the meaning of the experiment is determined not only by linguistic factor but also by the actual situation in which the word is used.
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