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Results of Semantic Change.

Restriction of meaningcan be illustrated by the semantic development of the word hound which used to denote dog of any breed but now denotes only a dog used in the chase. If the word with a new restricted meaning comes to be used in the specialized vocabulary of some limited group within the speech community it is usual to speak of the specialization of meaning.

Extension of meaning may be illustrated by the word target which originally meant a small round shield but now means anything that is fired at.

If the word with the extended meaning passes from the specialized vocabulary into common use, the result of the semantic change is described as the generalization of meaning.

Amelioration of meaning implies the improvement of the connotational component of meaning. For instance, the word minister originally denoted a servant but now a civil servant of higher rank, a person administering a department of state.

Deterioration of meaning implies the acquisition by the word of some derogatory emotive charge. For example, the word boor was originally used to denote a peasant and then acquired a derogatory connotational meaning and came to denote a clumsy or ill-bred fellow.





Polysemy is a phenomenon which has an exceptional importance for the description of a language system and for the solution of practical tasks connected with an adequate understanding of the meaning of a word and its use.

A word may have several meanings. Then it is called polysemantic word. Words having only one meaning are called monosemantic.Monosemantic words are few in number. These are mainly scientific terms. The bulk of English words are polysemantic.

A great contribution to the development of the problem of polysemy was made by the Russian linguist V.V.Vinogradov. The scientist admitted the importance of differentiating the meaning from the usage (a contextual variant). Meanings are fixed and common to all people, who know the language system. The usage is only a possible application of one of the meanings of a polysemantic word, sometimes very individual, sometimes more or less familiar. Meaning is not identical with usage.

Of special importance is the fact that polysemy exists only in language, not in speech. The meaning of a word in speech is contextual.

A further development of V.V.Vinogradovs theory was A.I.Smirnitskys work in the linguistic field under consideration. According to this scholar all the meanings of the word form identity () supported by the form of the word. A.I.Smirnitsky introduced the term a lexico-semantic variant (LSV). A lexico-semantic variant is a two-facet unit ( ), the formal facet of which is the sound-form of a word, while the content facet is one of the meanings of the given word, i.e. the designation () of a certain class of objects. Words with one meaning are represented in the language system by one LSV, polysemantic words by a number of LSVs.

All lexico-semantic variants of a word form a homogenous semantic structure ensuring the semantic unity of the given word. All LSVs are united together by a certain meaning the semantic pivot of the word called the semantic center of the word. Thus, the semantic center of the word is the part of meaning which remains constant in all the lexico-semantic variants of the word.


Polysemy and Context. Types of Context

The term context denotes the minimal stretch of speech determining each individual meaning of the word. Contexts may be of two types: linguistic (verbal) and extra-linguistic (non-verbal).

Linguistic contexts may be subdivided into lexical and grammatical.

In lexical contexts of primary importance are the groups of lexical items combined with the polysemantic word under consideration. This can be illustrated by the results of the analysis of different lexical contexts in which a polyemantic word is used. For example, the adjective heavy used with the words load, table means of great weight. When combined with the words denoting natural phenomena such as rain, storm, snow, wind the adjective heavy is understood as denoting abundant, striking, falling with force. If used with the words industry, artillery, arms and the like, heavy has the meaning the larger kind of smth.

It can be easily observed that the main factor in bringing out the individual meanings of the adjective heavy is the lexical meaning of the words with which this adjective is combined. Thus, the meanings of heavy may be analyzed through its collocability with the words weight, safe, table; snow, wind; industry, artillery, etc. The meaning at the level of lexical contexts is sometimes described as meaning by collocation.

In grammatical contexts it is the grammatical (syntactic) structure of the context that serves to determine various individual meanings of a polysemantic word. The meaning of the verb to make to force, to induce is found only in the grammatical context possessing the syntactic structure to make +prn.+verb (to make smb. laugh, to make smb. work). Another meaning of this verb to become is observed in the context of a different syntactic structure to make+adj.+noun (to make a good life, to make a good teacher). Such meanings are sometimes described as grammatically bound meanings.

There are cases when the meaning of a word is ultimately determined by the actual speech situation in which the word is used, i.e. by the extra-linguistic context (or context of situation). In the sentence The bill is large, the meaning of the word bill is clearly ambiguous as it has two readings resulting from the two meanings of the word bill. The sentence can, however, be disambiguated, i.e. one or the other of its two readings can be established if it is extended with but need not be paid. This extension is, of course, possible only with one of the meanings of the word bill.



Two or more words identical in sound form, spelling but different in meaning, distribution and in many cases in origin are called homonyms. The term is derived from Greek homos similar and onoma name, and thus expresses the sameness of name combined with the difference in meaning. Modern English is rich in homonymous words and word-forms. It is sometimes suggested that the abundance of homonyms in Modern English is to be accounted for by the monosyllabic structure of the commonly used English words.

The most widely accepted classification of homonyms is that recognizing homonyms proper, homophones and homographs.

1. Homonyms proper are words identical in their sound-form and spelling but different in meaning. Compare the words

ball (n1) a round objectused in games,

ball(n2) a gathering of people for dancing;


back(n) part of the body,

back (adv) away from the front.


2. Homophones are words of the same sound-form but of different speling and meaning. Compare the words:

piece (n) part separated from smth.,

peace (n) a situation in which there is no war between countries or groups.


knight (n) in the past, a European soldier from a high social class who wore a suit of armour and rode a horse,

night(n) the part of each 24-hour period when it is dark.


3. Homographs are words different in sound-form and in meaning but identical in spelling. Compare the words:

bow (1) a weapon made from a long curved piece of wood, used for shooting arrows,

bow (2) a forward movement of the top part of the body, especially to show respect.


lead (1) the first position at a particular time during a race or competition,

lead (2) a soft heavy grey metal.


  1. Polysemy (continued).


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