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Слово как основная единица языка. Отношения между словом и понятием

A word is one of the fundamental units of language. It is a dialectical unity of form and concept. It is related both to extra-linguistic reality and to human notions. Its basic function is to reflect reality in its content. Word is used for the purposes of human communication, materially representing a group of sounds possessing a meaning and characterized by formal and semantic unity.

The branch of linguistics concerned with the meaning of words and word equivalents is called semasiology. If treated diachronically, semasiology studies the change in meaning which words undergo. Descriptive synchronic approach demands a study not of individual words but of semantic structures typical of the language studied, and of its general semantic system.

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 words,

§ semantic grouping and connections in the vocabulary system, i.e. synonyms, antonyms, terminological systems, etc.

The definition of lexical meaning has been attempted more than once in accordance with the main principles of different linguistic schools. The disciples of F. de Saussure consider meaning to be the relation between the object or notion named, and the name itself. Descriptive linguistics of the Bloomfieldian trend defines the meaning as the situation in which the word is uttered. Both ways of approach afford no possibility of a further investigation of semantic problems in strictly linguistic terms, and therefore, if taken as a basis for general linguistic theory, give no insight into the mechanism of meaning.

In our country the definitions of meaning given by various authors, though different in detail, agree in the basic principle: they all point out that lexical meaning is the realisation of concept or emotion by means of a definite language system. The definition stresses that semantics studies only such meanings that can be expressed, that is concepts bound by signs. It has also been repeatedly stated that the plane of content in speech reflects the whole of human consciousness, which comprises not only mental activity but emotions, volition, etc. as well.

The complexity of the word meaning is manifold. The four most important types of semantic complexity may be roughly described as follows:

1. Firstly, every word combines lexical and grammatical meanings. E.g.: Father is a personal noun.

2. Secondly, many words not only refer to some object but have an aura of associations expressing the attitude of the speaker. They have not only denotative but connotative meaning as well. E. g.: Daddy is a colloquial term of endearment.

3. Thirdly, the denotational meaning is segmented into semantic components or semes. E.g.: Father is a male parent.

4. Fourthly, a word may be polysemantic, that is it may have several meanings, all interconnected and forming its semantic structure. E. g.: Father may mean: ‘male parent’, ‘an ancestor’, ‘a founder or leader’, ‘a priest’.

The grammatical meaning is defined as an expression in speech of relationships between words based on contrastive features of arrangements in which they occur. The grammatical meaning is more abstract and more generalised than the lexical meaning, it unites words into big groups such as parts of speech or lexico-grammatical classes. It is recurrent in identical sets of individual forms of different words. E. g. parents, books, intentions, whose common element is the grammatical meaning of plurality.

The lexiсo-grammatical meaning is the common denominator of all the meanings of words belonging to a lexico-grammatical class of words, it is the feature according to which they are grouped together. Words in which abstraction and generalisation are so great that they can be lexical representatives of lexico-grammatical meanings and substitute any word of their class are called generic terms. For example the word matter is a generic term for material nouns, the word group — for collective nouns, the word person — for personal nouns.

Words belonging to one lexico-grammatical class are characterised by a common system of forms in which the grammatical categories inherent in them are expressed. They are also substituted by the same prop-words and possess some characteristic formulas of semantic and morphological structure and a characteristic set of derivational affixes. The degree and character of abstraction and generalisation in lexico-grammatical meanings and the generic terms that represent them are intermediate between those characteristic of grammatical categories and those observed on the lexical level — hence the term lexico-grammatical.

The conceptual content of a word is expressed in its denotative meaning.1 To denote is to serve as a linguistic expression for a concept or as a name for an individual object. The denotative meaning may be signifiсative, if the referent is a concept, or demоfistrative, if it is an individual object. The term referent or denotatum (pl. denotata) is used in both cases.

The information communicated by virtue of what the word refers to is often subject to complex associations originating in habitual contexts, verbal or situational, of which the speaker and the listener are aware, they give the word its connotative meaning. The connotative component is optional, and even when it is present its proportion with respect to the logical counterpart may vary within wide limits. We shall call connotation what the word conveys about the speaker’s attitude to the social circumstances and the appropriate functional style (slay vs kill), about his approval or disapproval of the object spoken of (clique vs group), about the speaker’s emotions (mummy vs mother), or the degree of intensity (adore vs love). The third type of semantic segmentation mentioned on p. 39 was the segmentation of the denotational meaning into semantic components.

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