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Results of Semantic Change


Results of the semantic change may Vie observed in the changes in the denotative meaning of the word (extension and narrowing of meaning) or in the alteration of its connotative meaning (elevation and degradation of meaning).

Extensionof meaning is a semantic process when a word comes to be applied to a greater number of referents.

For example, the word salary comes from Latin solarium, which
meant the money given to Roman soldiers to buy salt with. Now the word
means'fixed payment paid regularly for services'

Other examples of extension:

Camp - originally a military camp; now a place where people (soldiers, scouts, tourists, climbers, geologists etc.) live in tents or huts for some time

Box - originally it was a small container for drags, jewels and money; now any container

Barn - originally a place for storing barley; now a place where grain and hay are kept

Narrowing(or specialization) of meaning is the process contrary to extension. It is a semantic process when a word comes to be applied to a I fewer number of referents. Examples of narrowing:

Meat - (originally) edible flesh

Hound - (originally) dog

Worm - arty reptile or insect

Poison - a drink

The old meaning of some words is preserved in phraseological units, set phrases and proverbs,

e.g. sweetmeat fowls of the air

There is room for improvement.

One man's meat is another man's poison.

Narrowing of meaning is obvious in the use of the material instead of the object that is made of it.

e.g. silver-silver coins, silver goods

iron - a tool for smoothing out the linen irons - chains

glass - a drinking vessel; a mirror

The process of narrowing occurs when a proper noun is used as a common noun.

e.g. cenotaph (an empty tomb) - the Cenotaph (in London)

border (frontier between two countries) - the Border (frontier
between Scotland and England)

city ~~ the City (in London) peninsula - the Peninsula (Iberian Peninsula) The process of narrowing may be also present when an abstract noun becomes a concrete noun.

e.g. beauty - a beauty (a beautiful girl)

In the above examples it is mainly the denotational component of the lexical meaning that undergoes the change while the connotative component remains unchanged. In other cases it is the connotative meaning that is changed. These changes may be divided into two groups: a) elevation of meaning and b) degradation of meaning.

Elevationor ameliorationof meaning is the improvement of the connotative component of meaning.

e.g. minister - (originally) a servant or an attendant

fame - report, common talk, rumour

Such changes are not always easily accounted for, but on the whole social changes are of importance for words that acquire better meanings.

For example, the word 'blight', which originally meant a boy-servant, acquired a better meaning through military and feudal associations; later it came to be also used as a title of rank.

Other examples illustrating this process of elevation of meaning:

Nice - (originally) foolish, ignorant

Nimble — adroit in stealing

Guest - a foreigner, an enemy

Degradation of meaning is the acquisition by the word of some derogatory emotive charge.

For example, 'boor' originally denoted 'a villager, a peasant'; later it acquired a derogatory, contemptuous connotative meaning and came to denote 'a clumsy or ill-bred fellow.'

Other examples of degradation of meaning:

churl -- (originally) a man

knave a boy

gossip - a godparent

silly - happy

idiot — a private person

The degradation of meaning is often affected by social backgrounds. 'A villain', for example, was originally a man who worked on a farm, or villa. Such a peison was believed to have a'low sense of morality because his social status was low, and the word came to mean 'a scoundrel.'

Words which originally were, onomatopoeic acquired a derogatory meaning.

e.g. gabber - talk in a rapid or thoughtless manner

gabble — talk fast and foolishly .

babble - talk nonsensically

jabber — talk rapidly and unintelligibly

giber - speak inarticulately, and often foolishly

twaddle - speak foolishly

wish-wash - talk idly and insipidly


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