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Процессы улучшения и ухудшения значения. Другие типы семантических изменений

Generally speaking, a necessary condition of any semantic change, no matter what its cause, is some connection, some association between the old meaning and the new. There are two kinds of association involved as a rule in various semantic changes namely: a) similarity of meanings, and b) contiguity of meanings.

Similarity of meanings or metaphor may be described as a semantic process of associating two referents, one of which in some way resembles the other. The word hand, e.g., acquired in the 16th century the meaning of ‘a pointer of a clock of a watch’ because of the similarity of one of the functions performed by the hand (to point at something) and the function of the clockpointer. Since metaphor is based on the perception of similarities it is only natural that when an analogy is obvious, it should give rise to a metaphoric meaning. This can be observed in the wide currency of metaphoric meanings of words denoting parts of the human body in various languages (cf. ‘the leg of the table’, ‘the foot of the hill’, etc.).

Contiguity of meanings or metonymy may be described as the semantic process of associating two referents one of which makes part of the other or is closely connected with it. This can be perhaps best illustrated by the use of the word tongue — ‘the organ of speech’ in the meaning of ‘language’ (as in mother tongue; cf. also L. lingua, Russ. язык). The word bench acquired the meaning ‘judges, magistrates’ because it was on the bench that the judges used to sit in law courts, similarly the House acquired the meaning of ‘members of the House’ (Parliament). It is generally held that metaphor plays a more important role in the change of meaning than metonymy.

Results of semantic change can be generally observed in the changes of the denotational meaning of the word (restriction and extension of meaning) or in the alteration of its connotational component (amelioration and deterioration of meaning).

Changes in the denotational meaning may result in the restriction of the types or range of referents denoted by the word. This may be illustrated by the semantic development of the word hound (OE. hund) which used to denote ‘a dog of any breed’ but now denotes only ‘a dog used in the chase’. This is also the case with the word fowl (OE. fuzol, fuzel) which in old English denoted ‘any bird’, but in Modern English denotes ‘a domestic hen or cock’. This is generally described as “restriction of meaning” and if the word with the new meaning comes to be used in the specialised vocabulary of some limited group within the speech community it is usual to speak of specialisation of meaning.

Changes in the denotational meaning may also result in the application of the word to a wider variety of referents. This is commonly described as extension of meaning and may be illustrated by the word target which originally meant ‘a small round shield’ (a diminutive of targe, сf. ON. targa) but now means ‘anything that is fired at’ and also figuratively ‘any result aimed at’.

If the word with the extended meaning passes from the specialised vocabulary into common use, we describe the result of the semantic change as thegeneralisation of meaning. The word camp, e.g., which originally was used only as a military term and meant ‘the place where troops are lodged in tents’ (cf. L.campus‘exercising ground for the army) extended and generalised its meaning and now denotes ‘temporary quarters’ (of travellers, nomads, etc.).

As can be seen from the examples discussed above it is mainly the denotational component of the lexical meaning that is affected while the connotational component remains unaltered. There are other cases, however, when the changes in the connotational meaning come to the fore. These changes, may be subdivided into two main groups:

1. pejorative development or the acquisition by the word of some derogatory emotive charge,

2. ameliorative development or the improvement of the connotational component of meaning.

The semantic change in the word boor may serve to illustrate the first group. This word was originally used to denote ‘a villager, a peasant’ (cf. OE. zebur‘dweller’) and then acquired a derogatory, contemptuous connotational meaning and came to denote ‘a clumsy or ill-bred fellow’. The ameliorative development of the connotational meaning may be observed in the change of the semantic structure of the word minister which in one of its meanings originally denoted ‘a servant, an attendant’, but now — ‘a civil servant of higher rank, a person administering a department of state or accredited by one state to another’.


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