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The results of semantic changes of the meaning of the word

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The process of development and change of meaning is based on the inner (внутренний) mechanism. It is important to note that any case of semantic change it is not the meaning but the word being transferred from one referent onto another. The result of such transference is an appearance of a new meaning. There are 2 types of transference: 1. based on resemblance (similarity). This type is referred to a linguistic metaphor: a new meaning appears as a result or associating two objects, phenomena, qualities due to the out word similarity (an eye of needle, a neck of bottle, a star- a famous person). In this way slang words are formed. 2. based on contiguity (близость, смежность). The second mechanism may be referred as a linguistic metonymy. this association is based upon subtle psychological lines between different objects may be associated together because they often appear in common situations and so the image of one is easily accompanied by the image of the other. f.e if we say crown (we mean a king or a queen).

There are two process influencing the change of meaning. They are linguistic (changes in language itself) and extra linguistic (changes in cultures, traditions, ways of life, political and historical situations).

Semantic changes have been classified by different scientists. The most complete classification was suggested by a German scientist Herman Paul in his work ‘Prinzipien des Sprachgeschichte’. It is based on the logical principle. He distinguishes two main ways where the semantic change is gradual (specialization and generalization), two momentary conscious semantic changes (metaphor and metonymy) and also secondary ways: gradual (elevation and degradation), momentary (hyperbole and litote).

Specialization is a gradual process when a word passes from a general sphere to some special sphere of communication, e.g. ‘case’ has general meaning ‘circumstances in which a person or a thing is’. It is specialized in its meaning when it is used in law (a law suit), in grammar (a form in the paradigm of a noun), in medicine (a patient, an illness). The difference between these meanings is revealed in the context.

Generalization is a process contrary to specialization, in such cases the meaning of a word becomes more general in the course of time.



Metaphor is a transfer of meaning on the basis of comparison. Many metaphors are based on parts of human body, e.g. an eye of a needle, arms and mouth of a river, head of an army.

Metonymy is a transfer of the meaning on the basis of contiguity.

Elevation is a transfer of the meaning when it becomes better in the course of time, e.g. “knight” originally meant “a boy”, then “a young servant”, then “a military servant”, then “a noble man”.

Degradation is a transfer of the meaning when it becomes worse in the course of time. It is usually connected with nouns denoting common people, e.g. “villain” originally meant “working on villa” now it means “a scoundrel”.

Hyperbole is a transfer of the meaning when the speaker uses exaggeration, e.g. “to hate” (doing something), (not to see somebody) “for ages”.

Litote is a transfer of the meaning when the speaker expresses affirmative with the negative or vica versa, e.g. not bad, no coward etc.


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