Semantic Change


Presentation (Elaboration), 2003

24 Pages, Grade: 1


Excerpt

Semantic Change

1. What is semantic change?

“Semantic change deals with change in meaning, understood to be a change in the concepts associated with a word […]” (Campbell 1998: 255).

Semantic change: a new meaning is added to the already existing meaning(s) of a word and then this new meaning is lexicalised (innovative semantic change), or one of the already lexicalised meanings is no longer used and becomes extinct (reductive semantic change) (cf Blank 2001: 70 f.).

2. What is changing and how?

2.1 The notion of ‘meaning’

- Denotation: what a word refers to

(1) gay ‘merry, lighthearted’ > ‘homosexual’

- Connotation: what a word evokes

(2) OE ceorl ‘man’ > MnE churl ‘boor, villain, oaf’

- Register: the set of contexts in which it is appropriate to use a word

(3) thou, thee, thy, thine > you, you, your, yours

2.2 The process of semantic innovation and lexicalisation (Blank 2001: 71-74)

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

What is semantic change?

“Semantic change deals with change in meaning, understood to be a change in the concepts associated with a word […]” (Campbell 1998: 255).

To some of you, Campbell’s definition may seem a bit simplistic. Some scholars, too (for example Blank whom we’ll be hearing of later on), argue that it’s not one meaning of word that changes, but

with semantic change a new meaning is added to the already existing meaning or meanings of a word and then this new meaning is lexicalised,

or one of the already lexicalised meanings is no longer used and becomes extinct.

I think Campbell’s definition can suffice as a basis for our little “immersion” into semantic change. And what is more important than a theoretically watertight definition is a “practical insight” into semantic change. So let’s have quick look on what exactly changes when words change their meanings.

2. What’s changing and how?

2.1 The notion of ‘meaning’

When we talk about changes in meaning, it’s useful to keep in mind that the notion of ‘meaning’ en’compasses a range of concepts:

(denotation is free of individual associations)

- The denotation of a word is its ‘meaning’ in the narrowest logical and semantic sense: what a word denotes is what it refers to.

For example, the average straight guy won’t too happy to be confronted with something like “You’re so gay”.

Cf gay ‘merry, lighthearted’ > ‘homosexual’

(We won’t classify this kind of semantic change yet.)

- A word’s connotation, on the other hand, is not what it refers to, but what it evokes. A word with a positive connotation indicates that the speaker approves of the thing being referred to; a word with a negative connotation indicates the opposite.

Cf OE ceorl ?/tSOrl/ ‘man’, sometimes even ‘nobleman, hero’ > MnE churl ‘boor’, villain, oaf’ [German equivalents would be Rüpel, Tölpel, Dummkopf ].

- The register to which a word belongs is not really part of its meaning at all, but rather the set of contexts in which it is appropriate to use it. A word belonging to higher register is used only in formal situations; a word belonging to a lower register is used in informal ones.

Cf thou, thee, thy, thine > you, you, your, yours

thou /ðaU/ as it is pronounced today, or ME // or OE // , thee, thy, thine were originally the ordinary second-person singular pronouns used in addressing someone familiarly. In PDE, however, they have been replaced in this function by you, you, your, yours – which were originally for the plural and to mark respect in the singular. To the extent that thou, thee, thy, thine are used at all in PDE, they are now poetical, archaic or liturgical, because they are associated with texts (e.g., the plays of Shakespeare) that are to contemporary speakers inherently formal.

Another preparatory /prI’pÃrEtrI/ remark before we unravel the different kinds of semantic change:

2.2 The process of semantic innovation and lexicalisation (Blank 2001: 71-74)

Blank, who was a renowned scholar of romance languages, explains that,

ideally, innovation and lexicalisation comprise three stages:

Association (similarity) → Innovation → Lexicalisation

Blank uses the English lexeme mouse to illustrate this process:

The original meaning of mouse could possibly be pinned down by ‘small rodent’. Back in 1969, a witty technician invented a little grey box that had a cable which connected it to a computer. Blank expresses the denotation as ‘ graphisches Zeigegerät ’, we could also call it an ‘ input device ’ perhaps.

They say that the inventor thought of a little mouse tale when he looked at the cable that connected the little box to the computer. There was a certain similarity that lead to an ASSOCIATION. And that’s also why the inventor called the little gadget a mouse (INNOVATION). So a new meaning was added to the lexeme mouse.

But it was only in 1983 that Apple commercially distributed this box under the name of mouse. And today we can read entries like this under mouse (taken from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company):

A hand-held, button-activated input device that when rolled along a flat surface directs an indicator to move correspondingly about a computer screen, allowing the operator to move the indicator freely, as to select operations or manipulate text or graphics.

So the final step has been reached: LEXICALISATION.

Generally speaking, semantic change starts out as a semantic innovation in the discourse of a single speaker or a small language community. When the innovation is adopted by other speakers – because they like it or think it is more economical, the innovation may be lexicalised as an additional meaning of the respective word. The innovation may be restricted to a special situation or speakers’ community or it may reach the ‘unmarked’ level and be standardised.

Well, enough of that theory, let’s get practical now.

FGroup work

FCorrection

3. Kinds of semantic change (Campbell 1998: 256-267; Schendl 2001: 30 f.)

3.1 Widening (generalisation, broadening, extension)
3.2 Narrowing (specialisation, restriction)
3.3 Metaphor
3.4 Metonomy
3.5 Synecdoche
3.6 Degeneration (pejoration)

A semantic change towards the opposite direction is amelioration or elevation (which is less common than degeneration/pejoration).

F GROUP 3 - Solution (as transparency)

My computer, by the way, underwent a change of its own, he went from printing badly to not printing at all. So this was his last sign of life … hope you can read it somehow. But you’ll get that on your handouts as well.

47. __ Amelioration _or Elevation _ (cf 3.7)

English knight ‘mounted warrior serving a king’, ‘lesser nobility (below baronet)’ comes form Old English cniht ‘boy, servant’, which shifted to ‘servant’, then ‘military servant’, and finally to the modern senses of ‘warrior in service of the king’ and ‘lesser nobility’ (cf Campbell 1998: 263).

In Old English pretty (or prættig, as it was then) meant ‘clever’ in a bad sense – ‘crafty, cunning’. Not until the 15th century had it passed via ‘clever’, ‘skilfully made’ and ‘fine’ to ‘beautiful’ (cf Ayto 2001: 411).

Improvement of meaning: “[It] involves shifts in the sense of a word in the direction towards a more positive value in the minds of the users in the language” (Campbell 1998: 263).

(16) OE cniht (knight) ‘boy, servant’ > ‘servant’ > ‘military servant’ > ‘mounted warrior in service of the king, lesser nobility (below baronet)’

(17) OE prættig (pretty) ‘crafty, cunning’ > ‘clever’ > ‘skilfully made’ > ‘fine’ > ‘beautiful’

(18) pest ‘plague’ > ‘destructive animal’ > ‘annoying person’

[...]

Excerpt out of 24 pages

Details

Title
Semantic Change
College
LMU Munich  (Institut für Englische Philologie)
Course
Hauptseminar
Grade
1
Author
Year
2003
Pages
24
Catalog Number
V48794
ISBN (eBook)
9783638453899
File size
551 KB
Language
English
Notes
Ausgearbeites Referat mit Handout, Quiz (+ Lösung)
Tags
Semantic, Change, Hauptseminar
Quote paper
Thomas Heim (Author), 2003, Semantic Change, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/48794

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