Secondary ways of semantic changes


It is a transfer of the meaning when it becomes better in the course of time. Of course, the meaning itself can not become better or worse. The object onto which the meaning is transferred may become better or worse in the mind of the people. For example: the word knight originally meant a boy, then a young servant, then a military servant, then a noble man. Now it is a title of nobility given to outstanding people. The word marshal originally meant a servant looking after horses. Now it is the highest military rank. The word queen originally meant a woman, now it is a royal title.


It is a transfer of the meaning when it becomes worse in the course of time. It is usually connected with nouns denoting common people. For example: the word villain originally meant working on a villa. Now it means a scoundrel.


It is a transfer of the meaning when the speaker uses exaggeration. For example: to hate (doing something), not to see somebody for ages, thousand pardons etc.

Hyperbole is often used to form phraseological units: to make a mountain out of a molehill, to split hairs etc.


It is a transfer of the meaning when the speaker expresses the affirmative with the negative or vice versa. For example: the expression it is not bad is used instead of it is good, or the expression not half as important is used instead of it is unimportant etc.



Lecture # 8



1. Sources of homonyms.

2. Classification of homonyms.


Sources of homonyms.

Homonyms are words of different meaning but identical in sound or spelling, or both in sound and spelling.

Linguists believe that synonyms and antonyms can be regarded as the treasury of the language expressive resources. Homonyms are of no interest in this respect. Synonyms and antonyms are created by the language with a particular purpose, homonyms are mostly accidental, purposeless creations. In the process of communication they often lead to confusion and misunderstanding. Yet this very characteristic makes them one of the most important sources of popular humour: A tailor guarantees to give each of his customers a perfect fit (fit – a perfectly fitting clothes, a nervous spasm).

Homonymy exists in many languages, but in English it is particularly frequent, especially among the monosyllabic words. Homonyms are mostly one-morpheme words.

Traditionally homonyms are subdivided into homonyms proper, homophones, homographs. Homonyms proper are homonyms which are the same in sound and spelling: fit – a perfectly fitting clothes, a nervous spasm. Homophones are homonyms which are the same in sound, but differebt in spelling: sea – see, rite – write. Homographs are homonyms which are the same in spelling but different in sound: tear – слезы и рвать, lead – свинец и вести. Sometimes it is said that homographs should be kept apart from homonymy as the object of linguistics, it should be the subject of graphics.. But it is not correct. An average speaker does not separate the written and the oral forms of the language. On the contrary, he is more likely to analyse the words in terms of letters than in terms of phonemes with which he is less familiar. That is why a linguist must take into consideration both the spelling and the pronunciation of words.

Homonyms can appear in the language due to the following factors:

- split polysemy. It is known that in a polysemantic word interrelations of the primary and secondary meanings may be of three types. The first type is when the primary meaning stands in the centre and the secondary meanings proceed out of it like rays. The second type is when secondary meanings of a word develop like a chain and it is difficult to trace secondary meanings to the primary one. The third type is a combination of the first and of the second types.

The second type of polysemy is called the split of polysemy.  For example: in the word crust the primary meaning is hard outer part of bread.  This meaning developed a secondary meaning hard part of anything.  Then the same meaning developed the meaning harder layer over soft snow.  Later the meaning sullen gloomy person developed. The last developped meaning is impudence. This last meaning has nothing to do with the primary meaning and previous secondary meanings. We may say that homonyms appeared in the language. However, split polysemy as a source of homonyms is not accepted by all linguists. It is really difficult sometimes to decide wheather a certain word has or has not been subjected to the split of the semantic structure and whether we deal with different meanings of the same word or with homonyms. Criteria are subjective and imprecise. This imprecision is recorded in different dictionaries which often contradict each other on this very issue. For example: the word board is represented as two homonyms in Muller’s dictionary, as three homonyms in Arakin’ dictionary and as one and the same word in Hornby’s dictionary.

-    levelling of grammar inflexions. It occurs when different parts of speech become identical in their outer aspect. For example: the word care came from caru and the word care – from carian.

- conversion. For example: to slim from slim, to water from water.

- homonyms can be formed with the help of the same suffix from the same stem. For example: reader means a person who reads and it also means a book for reading.

- result  of shortening of different words. For example: cab from cabriolet, cabbage, cabin.

- accidentally. For example: two native words can coincide in their outer aspect, as to bear from beran (to carry) and bear from bera (animal). A native word and a borrowing can also coincide in their outer aspect. For example: fair from Latin feria and fair from native fager (blond). Two borrowings can coincide. For example: base from French base and base from Latin bas.

2. Classifications of homonyms. The subdivision of homonyms into homonyms proper, homophones and homographs is not precise and it does not reflect some important features of these words, for example, their grammatical categories, their paradigms and their meanings.

        There are several classifications of homonyms.

Walter Skeat classified homonyms according to their spelling and sound forms. He pointed out three groups: 1) perfect homonyms, that is words identical in sound and spelling: school – косяк рыбы и школа; 2) homographs, that is words with the same spelling but pronounced differently: bow – поклон и лук; 3) homophones, that is words pronounced identically but spelled differently: nightl – ночь, knight –рыцарь.

Александр Иванович Смирницкий classified homonyms into two large classes:

1) full homonyms,

2) partial homonyms.

Full homonyms are words which belong to the same part of speech and have the same paradigm. For example: match – матч и спичка. Partial homonyms are subdivided into three subgroups:

a) simple lexico-grammatical partial homonyms. These are words which belong to the same part of speech, their paradigms have one identical form, but it is never the same form. For example: to found – основывать and found прошедшее время от find;

b) complex lexico-grammatical partial homonyms. These are words of different parts of speech which have one identical form in their paradigms. For example: rose – роза , rose – прошедшее время от to rise;

c) partial lexical homonyms. Partial lexical homonyms are words of the same part of speech which are identical only in their corresponding forms. For example: can (to can, canned, canned) – (I) can (could).

         Ирина Владимировна Арнольд classified only homonyms which Skeat called perfect homonyms. She suggested four criteria of their classification: lexical meaning, grammatical meaning, basic forms and paradigms. According to these criteria I.V. Arnold pointed out the following groups:

a) homonyms identical in their grammatical meanings, basic forms and paradigms and different in their lexical meanings: board in the meanings a council and a piece of wood sawn thin;

b) homonyms identical in their grammatical meanings and basic forms, but different in their lexical meanings and paradigms: to lie – lied – lied and to lie – lay – lain;

c) homonyms different in their lexical meanings, grammatical meanings, paradigms, but coinciding in their basic forms: light (lights) and light (lighter, lightest);

d) homonyms different in their lexical meanings, grammatical meanings, in their basic forms and paradigms, but coinciding in one of the forms of their paradigms: a bit and bit (from to bite).

I.V. Arnold also speaks about patterned homonyms. Patterned homonyms, differing from other homonyms, have a common component in their lexical meanings. These are homonyms formed either by means of conversion, or by levelling of grammar inflexions. These homonyms are different in their grammatical meanings, in their paradigms, but identical in their basic forms: warm – to warm.

Summing up the discussion of the problem of homonymy we should say that this problem is relevant for lexicography but it is not so important for translation. The reason for this is that homonyms may be understood from the context.





Lecture # 9

Synonyms. Antonyms


1. Criteria of synonymy.

2. Sources of synonymy

3. Types of synonyms.

4. Synonymic dominant.

5. Characteristic patterns of synonymy.

6. Antonyms. Classifications.


1.Criteria of synonymy.

Synonymy is one of the most controversial problems in linguistics. The very existence of words called synonyms is disputed by some linguists. The point is we are still not certain which words should be considered as synonyms and we are not agreed as to characteristic features which qualify two or more words as synonyms.

Traditional linguistics solves this problem with the conceptual criterion and

defines synonyms as words of the same part of speech conveying the same concept but differing in shades of meaning or in stylistic characteristics. But this criterion have been criticized. It has been pointed out that linguistic phenomena should be defined in linguistic terms and that the use of the term concept makes this an extralinguistic definition. The term shades of meaning is indefinite.

In contemporary research on synonymy semantic criterion is frequently used. In terms of componential analysis synonyms may be defined as words with the same denotative component, but differeing in connotations. This approach is not beyond criticism, but it has its advantages. A group of synonyms may be studied with the help of their dictionary definitions. In this work the data from various dictionaries are analysed comparatively. That is we make definitional analysis. After that the definitions are subjected to transformational operations. That is we make transformational analysis. In thia way, the semantic components of each analysed word are singled out. Here are the results of the definitional and transformational analysis of some of the numerous synonyms for the verb to look.




The common denotation shows that, according to the semantic criterion, the words in the table are synonyms. The connotative components underline their differentiations.

In modern research on synonyms the criterion of interchangeability is sometimes applied. According to this, synonyms are defined as words which are interchangeable at least in some contexts without considerable alteration in denotational meaning.

The criterion of interchangeability is much criticized. Firstly, almost every attempt to apply it to different groups of synonyms seems to lead to the conclusion that either there are very few synonyms or that the synonyms are not interchangeable. Each of the synonyms creates an entirely new situation or demonstrates that the substitution of one word for another is impossible. For example, take the synonyms from the table. He glared at her means that He looked at her angrily. He gazed at her means that He looked at her steadily and attentively, perhaps with admiration. He glanced at her means that He looked at her briefly and turned away. He peered at her means that He tried to see her better but something prevented. Or else, analyze the sentence I like you but I cannot love you.

Secondly, it is difficult to accept interchangeability as a criterion of synonymy because the specific characteristic of synonyms is that they are not, can not and should not be interchangeable. Otherwise they become useless ballast in the vocabulary.

2. Sources of synonyms:

- borrowing. In English there are a lot of synonyms because there are many borrowings. After the word is borrowed it undergoes desynonymization because absolute synonyms are not necessary for the language. In this case one of the absolute synonyms, a native word or a borrowed word specializes in its meaning and we get non-absolute synonyms. For example: city – borrowed – town – native;

- abbreviation. In most cases the abbreviated form belongs to the colloquial style and the full form – to the neutral style. For example: examination – exam.

- formation of phrasal verbs. For example: to give up – to abandon, to cut down – to diminish.

3. Types of synonyms. The only existing classification of synonyms was established by V.V. Vinogradov. In his classification there are three types of synonyms: ideographic, stylistic, absolute. Ideographic synonyms are words conveying the same concept but differing in shades of meaning. Stylistic synonyms are synonyms differing in stylistic characteristics. Absolute synonyms are synonyms coinciding in all their shades of meaning and in all their stylistic characteristics.

Some aspects of this classification are open to question.

Firstly, absolute synonyms are rare in the vocabulary. The phenomenon of absolute synonymy is temporary because the vocabulary tends to abolish it by rejecting one of the absolute synonyms or by developing different characteristics in one or all of them. So, it is not necessary to include absolute synonyms in the classification because they are temporary exceptions.

Secondly, it was already said that the term shades of meaning is indefinite. Even more, there is no demarcation line between synonyms differing in their shades of meaning and in stylistic characteristics. There are a lot of synonyms which are distinguished by both shades of meaning and stylistic colouring. Thus, the subdivision of synonyms into ideographic and stylistic is questionable.

A more effective approach to the classification of synonyms may be based on the definition describing synonyms as words differing in connotations. Speaking about connotations we must remember that among connotations stylistic connotations stand apart. Firstly, some linguists do not regard stylistic characteristics as a connotative component of the semantic structure of the word. Secondly, stylistic connotations are subject to further classification: colloquial, slang, dialect, learned, poetic, terminological, archaic. Here we are dealing with stylistically marked words, but this time we approach stylistic characteristics from a different angle: from the point of view of differential features of synonyms. Some examples of stylistic synonyms: girl – girlie (coll.), lass, lassie (dial.), bird, birdie, jane, fluff, skirt (sl.), maiden (poet.), damsel (arch.).

Among stylistic synonyms it is possible to point out a special group of words which are called euphemisms. Euphemisms are words used to substitute some unpleasant, undelicate, impolite, rude or offensive words. For example: the word lavatory has such euphemisms as powder room, washroom, restroom, retiring room, cpmfort station, ladies’ room, water-closet, public conveniences. The word to die has the following substitutes: to pass away, to be taken, to depart this life, to close one’s eyes, to go the way of all flesh, to go West, to kick off, to check out, to kick the bucket, to take a ride, to hop the twig, to join the majority.

Some linguists speak about phraseological synonyms. These words are identical in their meanings and styles but different in their combinability with other words in the sentence. For example: to be late for a lecture but to miss the train, to visit museums but to attend lectures, teachers question their pupils but judges interrogate witnesses.

Some scientists point out to context-dependent synonyms. They are similar in meaning only under specific circumstances. For example: buy and get are not synonyms out of the context, but they are synonyms in the following example: I’ll go to the shop and buy some bread and I’ll go to the shop and get some bread.

4. Synonymic dominant.

In each group of synonyms there is a word with the most general meaning which can substitute any word in the group. Such words are called synonymic dominants. For example: the word red is the synonymic dominant in the group purple, scarlet, crimson.

5. Synonymy has its characteristic patterns in each language. The specific feature of English is the contrast between simple native words which are stylistically neutral, on the one hand, and literary words borrowed from French and learned words of Greko-Latin origin, on the other hand. For example^

Ask – question – interrogate

Gather – assemble – collect

End – finish – complete

Teaching – guidance – instruction.

Thus, synonymy in English is closely connected with borrowing words from other languages.

6. Antonyms. We use the term antonyms to indicate words of the same part of speech, identical in style which express contrary or contradictory notions. For example: hot – cold, up – down, happiness – sorrow.

Not so many years ago antonymy was not universally accepted as a linguistic problem. The opposition within antonymic pairs was regarded as purely logical and finding no reflection in the semantic structures of these words. Nowadays most linguists agree that in the semantic structures of all words which regularly occur in antonymic pairs, a special antonymic connotation can be singled out.

Antonymy is not evenly distributed among the words of different parts of speech. Most antonyms are adjectives because qualitative characteristics are easily compared and contrasted. For example: strong – weak, old – young. Verbs take the second place. For example: to open – to close, to live – to die. Nouns are not rich in antonyms. For example: friend – enemy, love – hatred. There are also antonimic adverbs. For example: here – there, loudly – softly.

From the semantic point of view antonyms may be met in qualitative adjectives and their derivatives: beautiful – ugly, to beautify – to uglify, beauty – ugliness. They can also be met in words denoting feelings and states: respect – scorn, alive – dead, life – death. Antonyms can be met among words denoting direction in space and time: now – never, day – night. If a word is polysemantic, it can have several antonyms. For example: the word bright has the antonyms dim, dull, sad.

Together with synonyms, antonyms represent important expressive means of the language. Authors use antonyms as a stylistic device of contrast.

V.N. Comissarov in his dictionary of antonyms classified them into two groups: 1) absolute or root antonyms. For example: late or early; 2) derivational antonyms. For example: to please – to displease, professional – non-professional.

Absolute antonyms have different roots, derivational antonyms have the same roots but different affixes.

In most cases derivational antonyms are formed with the help of negative prefixes un-, dis-, non-. Sometimes they are formed by means of antonymous suffixes –ful and –less: painful, painless.

The difference between derivational and root antonyms is not only in their morphemic structure but in their semantics as well. Derivational antonyms express contradictory notions, one of them excludes the other. For example: active – inactive. Absolute antonyms express contrary notions. If some notions can be arranged in a group of more than two members, the most distant members of the group will be absolute antonyms. For example: in the chain ugly – plain – good-looking – pretty – beautiful, the absolute antonyms are ugly and beautiful.

Leonard Lipka in the book Outline of English Lexicology described different types of oppositeness, and subdivided them into three types: a) complementarity, b) antonyms, c) conversness.

He understands complementarity in the following way: the denial of the one implies the assertion of the other, and vice versa. For example: John is not married implies that John is single. Complementarity is based on yes / no decision. Complementarity concerns pairs of words.

Antonymy is distinguished from complementarity by being based on different logical relationship. The negation of one does not implies the assertion of the other. For example: John is good implies that John is not bad. But John is not good does not imply that John is bad. Antonyms are not pairs of words. They are fully gradable. For example: hot – warm – tepid – cold.

Conversness is mirror-image relations of words. For example: husband / wife, before / after, pupil / teacher.

Besides, L. Lipka speaks about some types of oppositions. He gives directional opposions (up / down), consequence opposition (learn / know), antipodal opposition (North / South).

L. Lipka also points out many-member lexical sets such as temperature scales (hot, warm, cool, cold), colour words (black, grey, white), military ranks (marshal, general, colonel, major, captain). In these sets of words we can have outer and inner pairs of antonyms.

The problem of antonymy is not solved yet.

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