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Nature of Semantic Change




A necessary condition of any semantic change is some connection, some association between the old meaning and the new one. There are two I kinds of association involved in various semantic changes: a) similarity of. meaning, and h) contiguity of meaning.

Similarity of meaning, or metaphor (Or 'meta' - over; 'pherein' -to carry), may be described as a semantic process of associating two referents, one of which in some way resembles the other.

The word hand' acquired in the 16* century the meaning of a pointer J of a clock or watch' because of the similarity of one of the functions J performed by the hand to point at something and the function of the clock i pointer.

We observe the wide currency of metaphoric meaning of words denoting parts of human body.

e.g. the leg of the table, the foot of the mountain, the neck of the bottle, the eye of the needle, the ear of wheat, the teeth of the saw, the tongue of the bell, the back of the book, the nose of the boat Metaphors are often classified proceeding from the physical properties of the similarities on which they are based.

a) Metaphor may be based on similarity of form. For example, a
'lamp-post' or a 'maypole' is a very tall and lean person, a 'poker* is a
person with stiff rigid manner, a 'bridge of the nose' is the upper bony part
of the nose and an 'egg' is an airplane bomb.

Plants and flowers are often called on the basis of some observed resemblance.

e.g. crane's bill, crowfoot,

b) Metaphor may be based on similarity; of function:
e.g. head of the school

key to the mystery hand of the clock wing of the plane

c) similarity of position:
e.g. the fool of the, page

the top of the class

d) similarity of temperature:
e.g. hot scent

cold reason

in cold blood

warm heart

give somebody a cold shoulder

e) Metaphor may be based on similarity of movement,
e.g. caterpillar - tractor

saw the air - gesticulate

f) It may be based on similarity of colour.

e.g. claret - a red table-wine; blood-orange - a cultivated orange

with red pulp

The names of some flowers and shrubs are commonly used to denote their colours, e.g. lilac, rose, violet and orange are often applied to other referents of the same colour.

g) hardness

e.g. adamantine - like a diamond, hence, very hard

h) transparency

e.g. crystal - clear, .lucid

A special group of metaphors comprises transition of proper names into common ones. This process is called antonomasia.e.g. an Adonis - a very handsome young man a Cicero - a gifted orator an Einstein - a man of genius

a Vandal — a person who intentionally destroys or damages public property

a Don Quixote - an idealist ready to fight for his ideas The above mentioned example are not typical of the English language only. Most of them have acquired international currency.

Zoosemyis a special type of metaphor when names of animals are applied to people to denote human qualities.

For example, a cruel person may be called 'a tiger \ a crafty person ~
la fox'.,
a stupid person - 'a goose' or 'an ass', a clumsy person may be
called 'a bear', a person exclusively devoted to books may be called 'a
bookworm.'

There arc many idiomatic phrases and proverbial sayings containing names of animals, birds, reptiles and insects used metaphorically.

e.g. a dog in the manger

a snake in the grass

to cherish a viper it: one's bosom

Verbs converted from nouns denoting animals also have metaphorical meaning,

e.g. worm into somebody's confidence

fish in troubled waters

monkey with something

Closely related to, metaphor is simile.Metaphoris an implied comparison made by directly calling one thing another. Simile is a direct comparison, linking, words (like and as) are used to compare two objects,

e.g. She is a rose, (metaphor)

She is like a rose, (simile)

Traditional similes are ready-made units used in speech.

e.g. as obstinate as a mule, hungry as a wolf, bold as a lion drink like a fish, chatter like a magpie

Contiguity of meaning, or metonymy (Gr. 'meta' - change, 'onoma' - name), may be described as a semantic process of associating two referents which are somehow connected. The difference between metaphor and metonymy lies in the fact that in metaphor the sense-shift is based on real or fancied similarity between things of different classes, while in the case of metonymy the sense-shift is between things of different classes associated by actual contiguity, whether they are in physical contact or not.

This can be perhaps best illustrated by the use of the word 'tongue' in 'mother tongue,' The primary meaning of die word 'tongue' - the organ of speech, in 'mother tongue' it means 'language*

Examples of metonymy include 'the crown' to refer to a queen, 'the bench' for a judge, or 'the balcony' for the people in the balcony of a theatre.

The metonymic transfer may be conditioned by different types of associations.

a) The simplest case of metonymy is called synecdoche (Gr. syn -together, ekde chomai - I join in receiving) when the name of the part is applied to the whole or the whole to the part. Thus, in synecdoche, 'ten sails' may be used to refer to ten ships describing a sailboat race {'Ten sails can be seen rounding the buoy'), or 'grey beards' may be used to refer to old men {'We need some grey beards,to help us out'). We also find cases of synecdoche in the sentences ' We need some new blood in the organisation', 'Mrs Grundy frowns on blue jeans' and 'We need some new faces around here.' In all these examples a part stands for the whole.

The whole may stand for a part; thus the names of various animals are commonly used to mean an article of clothing made of this furs, e.g. fox, otter, stoat

b)The sign stands for the thing signified e.g. from the cradle to the grave -from childhood to death the crown - monarchy grey hair — old age

c) The instrument stands for the agent,
e.g. the best pens of the day - writers

The pen is stronger than sword.

d) The name of container is used instead of the thing contained,
e.g. The kettle was boiling.

The dish was delicious.

Sometimes the name of a place is used instead of what is going in this place or instead of a person/persons who is/are in this place.

Street may be used for people in the street, chair for the members of the chair, bench may be used for judges and pulpit for clergy,
e.g. Downing Street disapproves of the move.
The whole chair was present.

f) The names of various organs are used for the function. Thus, ear stands for hearing, eye for sight, breast for emotions, head for brains, nose for sense of srneil (used figuratively).

e.g. play by far

have ah ear for music

have a ready tongue

have an eye for beauty

g)Common nouns may be metonyraically derived from proper names. This process is called antonomasia.

Many international physical and technical units are named after great scientists.

e.g. ampere.- a unit of electric current (after the French physicist Andre Marie Ampere)

volt -> a unit of electrical potential difference (after the Italian
physicist Alessandro Volta)

watt - a unit of power (after the. Scottish inventor James Watt)

Closely akin to the above-mentioned type of metonymy is the use of people's names to denote things associated with them.

e.g. raglan - after Field-Marsha! Lord Raglan

nicotine - after Jean Nicot, who introduced tobacco in France

mauser - after Paul Mauser

Geographical names turned into common nouns to name the goods exported from or originated there. Here we find, the names of countries, cities and towns, islands, mountains, etc..

e.g. bordeaux-- wine from the Bordeaux region, France

malaga - wine made, in Malaga, a city end province in Spain

Tokay -sweet wine from Tokay, Hungary

Besides metaphor and metonymy other types of semantic change are hyperbole and litotes.

Hyperbole (Greek hyper - beyond, ballein - to throw) is an exaggeration statement which is not. meant to be' understood literally, it expresses an emotional attitude of the speaker to what he is speaking about. It is often used in colloquial speech, fiction and poetry, but not in scientific texts where precision of expression is necessary.

Colloquial speech is rich in hyperbolic expressions.

e.g. You'll be the death of me.

A thousand thanks.

I hate to trouble you.

I have heaps of time.

Hyperbole often loses its force and its hyperbolic character. We observe it in such words as to amaze, to astonish, to surprise. Astonish, for instance, originally meant to thunderstrike (Latin ex - from, out of, tonare - to thunder). Then the word lost its force and in Modern English it is just an emphatic synonym for the word to surprise.

Amaze has almost the same history, originally it meant utter physical stupefaction.

The reverse figure is called litotes,or understatement. It may be defined as expressing the affirmative by the negative of its contrary, e.g. not bad-good no coward — brave no chicken — old Some understatements do not contain negative,

e.g. rather decent

1 could do with a cup of tea.

Strictly speaking, the litotes concerns mostly usage and contextual meaning of words.

Understatement is considered to be a typically British way of putting things and is more characteristic of male colloquial speech.

Understatement is rich in connotation: it may convey irony,

e.g. father unwise-- about somebody very silly

rather pushing - about somebody quite unscrupulous







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