Semantic Extension in Verbs of Touch in English and Arabic

Academic Paper, 2021

21 Pages, Grade: PhD





تتناول هذه الدرسة التوسع الدلالي لأفعال اللمس باللغتين الإنجليزية والعربية. أفعال اللمس، وهي نوع من أفعال الحواس، تتوسع مجازيا في مجموعة متنوعة من الطرق التي تختلف من لغة إلى أخرى. ومن المفترض ان للثقافة تأثيرا قويا في التوسعات الدلالية لأفعال الإحساس بشكل عام وتلك التي تعمل باللمس على وجه الخصوص. وتخلص هذه الدراسة إلى استنتاج مفاده أن هذا النوع من الأفعال يمتد لغويا لتغطية مجموعة متنوعة من المعاني باللغتين العربية والإنجليزية.


This paper deals with the semantic extensions of verbs of touch in English and Arabic. Verbs of touch, as one type of verbs of sensation, are extended metaphorically in a variety of ways that is different from one language to another. Culture is assumed to strongly influence the semantic extensions of verbs of sensation in general and those of touch in particular. This study comes out with a conclusion that this type of verbs are extended semantically to cover a variety of meanings in both languages, English and Arabic.

1. Semantic Classification

Verbs of touch are one type of verbs of sensation along with verbs of vision, hearing, taste and smell. It is significant to know that these verbs can be categorized into three types depending on the semantic roles played by their subjects.

The first group is termed "the receiving of an expression by the senses independently of the will of the person concerned" (Poutsma, 1926: 341). The following example taken from Viberg (1984: 123) may illustrate this point:

(1) Cathy felt a stone under her feet.

Viberg (Ibid.) indicates that in (1) the stimuli are not consciously controlled by the subject. The verb used in the above example describes a process showing the perception of different phenomena by the relevant sense organ: skin.

The second category is called 'active perception verbs' by Rogers (1972: 304 ; Leech, 2004: 23), 'active verbs' by Viberg (1984: 123). Such verbs refer to an "unbounded process that is consciously controlled by a human agent".

(2) Peter felt the cloth (to see how soft it was). (Viberg, 1984: 125)

Gisborne (1996: 1) distinguishes between these two categories by proposing the so called 'deliberately test' assuming that verbs that co-occur with the adverb are categorized as 'agentive' verbs and those that are not freely used with this adverb are instances of "involuntary perception".

The third group is called 'flip verbs'. The subject of such verbs is the stimulus of perception.

(3) The cloth felt soft. (Viberg, 1984: 125)

Viberg (Ibid.: 124) differentiates between copulative verbs on the one hand and experience and activity verbs on the other depending on what is called 'base selection'. The former group of verbs is a 'source-based' or a 'phenomenon-based'. These verbs take the experienced entity as their subjects. The latter group of verbs is an 'experiencer-based'. These verbs take an animate being as their subjects. The following table shows the basic paradigm of verbs of sensation in English:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Table (1): The Basic Paradigm of Verbs of Sensation in English. [Adopted from Ibarretxe-Antuñano (1999: 45) and Gunnars (2013: 8)]

The first category, Experience, refers to an "uncontrollable state" (Viberg, 2008: 124) where the subject is a passive observer of the perception involved (Ibarretxe-Antuñano, 1999: 45). Viberg (2008: 124) uses "Peter saw the birds" as an example for that. The second category, Activity, pertains to controlled circumstances where the subject is an active agent in the process (Ibarretxe-Antuñano, 1999: 45). An illustration for this, Viberg (2008:124) utilizes "Peter was looking at the birds" as an example. In these two categories, the verbs employ a living being with mental understanding as their subject. Since these groups can be quite similar to each other, Gisborne (1996: 1) proposes the 'deliberately test' to distinguish between them . Gisborne (Ibid.) presumes that the adverb deliberately can co-occur with verbs with an active subject, while those that are unable to do so demonstrate unintentional action. The third and last category, Percept (or Phenomenon-based as Gunnars (2013: 8) called it), takes the stimulant as a subject (Ibarretxe-Antuñano, 1999: 45), because the verbs are based on the source itself. An example of that is the sentence "Peter looked happy" (Viberg, 2008).

Table (1) demonstrates that, in cases such as hearing, a different verb is used to stand for this sense perception for each group. However, there are no distinct lexical items for each group. Nonetheless, the difference between experience, activity, and percept is not less important (Miller and Johnson-Laird, 1976: 618) in that, as Lehrer (1990: 223) singles out, "one polysemous verb corresponds to the three of them".

The above three groups are the possible prototypical meanings that can be conveyed by verbs of sensation. 'Prototype' is defined by Viberg (1984: 124) as the typical adherent of a "category to which other members are related in a motivated way".

Semantic extensions refer to all those extended meanings, whether they are physical or metaphorical. These verbs can convey some extended or metaphorical meanings apart from their central, prototypical meanings.

Being different from vision and hearing, the sense of touch has always been closely tied to emotional 'feeling', i.e., related to the field of emotions as it were (Sweetser, 1990: 37).

Johansen (1997: 211) illuminates that Touch is the essential sense of perception. He argues that some animals do not need sight or smell to survive, but they must all have touch. That is why animals face death if they lose the touch sense.

Expressions such as "I'm deeply touched" or "touching words" are widely used in English. Kurath (1921: 39) classifies sense perception in terms of emotions saying that "the kinesthetic, the visceral (=intuitive or emotional), and the factual perceptions have a relatively stronger tone than those of hearing and especially of sight, the taste-smell perceptions taking a middle ground". Kurath (Ibid.) explains such transfer of meaning from "sense perception to emotion" on the grounds of the similarity of feeling shared by both domains.

Jackendoff (1990: 109-10) categorizes verbs of touch into three kinds: a-Pure contact b. Impact c. Moving contact.

Johansen (1997: 178), also, indicates that there are two ways to use the verb touch. The following sentence:

(4) A bottle touches the table.

entails that the bottle and the table are in direct contact. However, the following sentence:

(5) I touch the hardness of the table.

means that I perceive or feel the hardness of the table. Johansen argues that English has a verb ' to touch ' which can be taken to mean ' be in contact with ' whereas ' to feel ' may be used where perception is particularly referred to.

2 In English

2.1 Touch

The first verb in this case is touch which has the following literary uses:

1- The first literary use is 'to partake of food or drink':

(6) John hardly touched the food. ((Ibarretxe-Antuñano, 2002: 69)

This sense, 'to partake of food or drink', may extend to have a further extended meaning, i.e., 'to partake of something'. And this gives rise to another literary use:

(7) I didn't touch a penny from your money. (Ibid.)

This sentence is interpreted as ' I did not take any money from yours '.

2- Another literary use is 'to be adjacent to ':

(8) The two houses touch.

3- 'To affect' is another use:

(9) Just don't touch anything in my room (AHM).
(10) Who touched me, who touched my dresses?

These examples suggest that there has been a change of state besides the physical contact. In (10), the person is asking about the person who did change the position of the dresses from the place they were before. This meaning, i.e., 'to affect', has also a literary use or a metaphorical extension in (Ibarretxe-Antuñano, 2002: 71) words, as in (11), (12) and (13):

(11) I was touched by your letter of sympathy.
(12) An appeal that touches us deeply.(AHM)
(13) I was so touched by your letter of sympathy.

In these examples, it is the emotional side of the person(s) that is affected. It is an emotive appeal to the person(s) in question; therefore, their ideas and feelings were altered after hearing it.

4- Another literary use for touch is 'to reach ':

(14) He touched the high point in his career. (COL)

This example entails that there is an aim or a point to arrive at, i.e., there is an end-point to be reached. Nonetheless, this end-point could be spatial:

(15) The ship touches at Tenerife. (COL)

Example (15) denotes that the ship has reached at the dock which is her destination. This could mean:

(15a) The ship arrived yesterday.

In English, the fact that the ship is going to stay in the dock for a brief period of time is also implied.


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Semantic Extension in Verbs of Touch in English and Arabic
University of Baghdad
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semantic, extension, verbs, touch, english, arabic
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Hussain Hameed Mayuuf (Author)Riyadh Tariq Al-Ameedi (Author), 2021, Semantic Extension in Verbs of Touch in English and Arabic, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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