Значение слова (Meaning of words)


Авторработы: ИвановаИ.А.


Наименованиеработы: «Значениеслова» (Meaningof words)»





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The meaning

of englishwords






WhatIs "Meaning"?3

Polysemy.Semantic Structure of the Word3

Typesof Semantic Components6

Meaningand Context7

What Is "Meaning"?

Thelinguistic science at present is not able to put for­ward adefinition of meaning which is conclusive. However, there are certainfacts of which we can be reasonably sure, and one of them is that thevery func­tion of the word as a unit of communication is madepossible by its possessing a meaning. Therefore, among the word'svarious characteristics, meaning is certain­ly the mostimportant.

Generallyspeaking, meaning can be more or less de­scribed as a componentof theword through which a concept (mental phenomena) is communicated.Meaning endowsthe word with the ability of denoting real objects, qualities,actions and abstract notions. The relationships between “referent”(ob­ject, etc. denoted by the word), “concept” and“word” are traditionally represented by the followingtriangle:

Thoughtor Reference

(Concept = mentalphenomena)


(word) (object denotedby the word)

Bythe "symbol" here is meant the word; “thought”or “reference” is concept. Thedotted line suggests that there is no immediate relation between“word” and “referent”:it is established only through the concept.

On the other hand, there is a hypothesis that con­ceptscan only find their realization through words. It seems that thoughtis dormant till the word wakens it up. It is only when we hear aspoken word or read a printed word that the corresponding conceptsprings into mind. The mechanism by which concepts (i. e. mentalphe­nomena) are converted into words (i. e. linguisticphe­nomena) and the reverse process by which a heard or a printedword is converted into a kind of mental picture are not yetunderstood or described.

Thebranch of linguistics which specialises in the study of meaning iscalled semantics.As with many terms, the term "semantics" is ambiguous forit can stand, as well, for the expressive aspect of language ingeneral and for the meaning of one particular word in all its variedaspects and nuances (i. e. the semantics of a word=the meaning(s) of a word).

Semantic Structure of theWord

Itis generally known that most words convey several concepts and thuspossess the corre­sponding number of meanings. A word havingseveral meanings is called polysemantic,and the ability of words to have more than one meaning is describedby the term polysemy.

Polysemyis certainly not an anomaly. MostEnglish words are polysemantic.It should be noted that the wealth of expressive resources of alanguage largely depends on the degree to which polysemy hasdeve­loped in the language. Sometimes people who are not verywell informed in linguistic matters claim that a languageis lacking in words if the need arises for the same word to beapplied to several different phenome­na. In actual fact, it isexactly the opposite: if each word is found to be capable ofconveying at least two concepts instead of one, the expressivepoten­tial of the whole vocabulary increases twofold. Hence, awell-developed polysemy is a great advantage in a language.

On the other hand, it should be pointed out that thenumber of sound combinations that human speech or­gans canproduce is limited. Therefore at a certain stage of languagedevelopment the production of new words by morphological means islimited as well, and polysemy becomes increasingly important forenriching the vocabulary. From this, it should be clear that theprocess of enriching the vocabulary does not consist merely in addingnew words to it, but, also, in the constant development of polysemy.

Thesystem of meanings of any polysemantic word develops gradually,mostly over the centuries, as more and more new meanings are added toold ones, or oust some of them.So the complicated pro­cesses of polysemy development involveboth the ap­pearance of new meanings and the loss of old ones.Yet, the general tendency with Englishvocabulary at the modern stage of its history is to increase thetotal number of its meanings and in this way to provide for aquantitative and qualitative growth of the lan­guage's expressiveresources.

Whenanalysingthe semantic structureof a polyse­mantic word, it is necessary to distinguish betweentwolevels of analysis.

Onthe firstlevel,the semantic structure of a word is treated as a system of meanings.For example, the semantic structure of the noun “fire”could be roughly presented by this scheme (only the most frequentmeanings are given):



heabove scheme suggests that meaning (I)holds a kind of dominance over the other meanings conveying theconcept in the most general way whereas meanings (II)—(V)are associated with special circumstances, as­pects and instancesof the same phenomenon.

Meaning(I) (generally referred to as themain mean­ing)presents thecentre of the semantic structure ofthe word holding it together. It is mainly through meaning (I) thatmeanings(II)—(V)(they are called second­arymeanings)can be associatedwith one another,some of them exclusively throughmeaning (I) - themain meaning,as, for instance, meanings(IV)and(V).

Itwould hardly be possible to establish any logical associationsbetween some of the meanings of the noun “bar” exceptthrough the main meaning1:



eaning's(II)and (III) have no logical links with one an­other whereas eachseparately is easily associated with meaning(I):meaning(II)through the traditional barrier dividing a court-room into two parts;meaning (III) through the counter serving as a kind of barrierbe­tween the customers of a pub and the barman.

Yet,it is not in every polysemantic word that such a centre can be found.Some semanticstructuresare ar­rangedon a different principle.In the following list of meanings of the adjective “dull”one can hardly hope to find a generalized meaning covering andholding to­gether the rest of the semantic structure.

Dull, adj.

  1. A dull book, a dull film - uninteresting, monotonous,boring.

  2. A dull stu­dent - slowin understanding, stupid.

  3. Dull weather, a dull day,a dull colour - not clear or bright.

  4. A dull sound - not loudor distinct.

  5. A dull knife - not sharp.

  6. Trade is dull - notactive.

  7. Dull eyes (arch.) - seeingbadly.

  8. Dull ears (arch.) -hearing badly.

Thereis something that all these seemingly miscellaneous meanings have incommon, and that is the implication of deficiency, be it of colour(m. III), wits (m. II),interest (m.I),sharpness (m.V),etc. The implication of insufficient quality, of something lacking,can be clearly distinguished in each separate meaning.


  1. Uninteresting- deficientin interest or ex­citement.

  2. ...Stupid-deficient in intellect.

  3. Notbright- deficient in light or colour.

  4. Notloud- deficient in sound.

  5. Notsharp- deficientin sharpness.

  6. Notactive- deficientin activity.

  7. Seeingbadly- deficientin eyesight.

  8. Hearingbadly- deficientin hearing.

Thetransformed scheme of the semantic structure of “dull”clearly shows that the centre holding together the complex semanticstructure of this word is not oneof the meanings buta certain componentthatcan be easily singled out within each separate meaning.

Onthe second level of analysis of the semantic structure of a word:each separatemeaningis a subject to struc­tural analysis in which it may berepresented as sets of semantic components.

The scheme of the semantic structure of “dull”shows that the semantic structure of a word is not a mere sys­temof meanings, for each separate meaning is subject to furthersubdivision and possesses an inner structure of its own.

Therefore,the semanticstructureof a word should be investigated at both these levels:1) of differentmeanings,2) of semanticcomponentswithin each sepa­rate meaning. For a monosemantic word (i. e. aword with one meaning) the first level is naturally excluded.

Types of Semantic Components

Theleading semantic component in the semantic structure of a word isusually termed denotativecompo­nent(also, the term referentialcomponentmay be used). The denotative component expresses the concep­tualcontent of a word.

Thefollowing list presents denotative components of some Englishadjectives and verbs:

Denotative components

lonely,adj. - alone, without company …

notorious, adj. - widely known

celebrated, adj.- widely known

toglare, v. - to look

toglance, v. - to look

toshiver, v.- to tremble

toshudder, v.- to tremble

Itis quite obvious that the definitions given in the right column onlypartially and incompletely describe the meanings of theircorresponding words. They do not give a more or less full picture ofthe meaning of a word. To do it, it is necessary to include in thescheme of analysis addition­al semantic components which aretermed connotationsorconnotativecomponents.




heabove examples show how by singling out denotative and connotativecomponents one can get a suffi­ciently clear picture of what theword really means. The schemes presenting the semantic structures of“glare”, “shiver”, “shudder” alsoshow that a meaning can have two or more connotative components.

Thegiven examples do not exhaust all the types of connotations butpresent only a few:emotive, evaluative connotations, and also connotations of durationand of cause.

Meaning and Context

It’s important that there is sometimes a chance ofmisunderstanding when a polysemantic word is used in a certainmeaning but accepted by a listener or reader in another.

Itis common knowledge that context prevents from any misun­derstandingof meanings. For instance, the adjective “dull”, if usedout of context, would mean different things to different people ornothing at all. It is only in combination with other words that itreveals its actual meaning: “a dull pupil”, “a dullplay”, “dull weather”, etc. Sometimes, however,such a mini­mumcontextfails to reveal the meaning of the word, and it may be correctlyinterpreted only through a second-degree context as in the followingexample: “The man was large, but his wife was even fatter”.The word “fatter” here serves as a kind of indicatorpointing that “large” de­scribes a stout man and nota big one.

Currentresearch in semantics is largely based on the assumption that one ofthe more promising meth­ods of investigating the semanticstructure of a word is by studying the word's linear relationshipswith other words in typical contexts, i. e. its combinabilityorcollocability.

Scholarshave established that the semantics of words whichregularly appear in common con­texts are correlated and,therefore, one of the words within such a pair can be studied throughthe other.

They are so intimately correlated that each of themcasts, as it were, a kind of permanent reflection on the meaning ofits neighbour. If the verb “to compose” is fre­quentlyused with the object “music”, so it is natural to expectthat certain musical associations linger in the meaning of the verb“to composed”.

Note, also, how closely the negative evaluativecon­notation of the adjective “notorious” is linkedwith the negative connotation of the nouns with which it isre­gularly associated: “a notorious criminal”,“thief”, “gang­ster", “gambler”,“gossip”, “liar”, “miser”, etc.

All this leads us to theconclusion that context is a good and reliable key to the meaning ofthe word.

It’sa common error to see a different meaning in every new set ofcombinations. For instance: “an angry man”, “anangry letter”. Is the adjective “angry” used in thesame meaning in both these contexts or in two different meanings?Some people will say "two" and argue that, on the one hand,the combinability is different (“man”--nameof person; “letter”-name of object) and, on the other hand, a letter cannot experienceanger. True, it cannot; but it can very well convey the anger of theperson who wrote it. As to the combinability, the main point is thata word can realizethe same meaningin different sets of combinability. For instance, in the pairs “merrychildren”, “merry laughter”, “merry faces”,“merry songs” the adjective “merry” conveysthe same con­cept of high spirits.

Thetask of distinguishing between the different meanings of a word andthe different variations of combinability is actually aquestion of sin­gling out the different denotationswithin the seman­tic structure of the word.

1)a sad woman,

2)a sad voice,

3)a sad story,

4)a sad scoundrel(=an incorrigible scoundrel)

5)a sad night(=a dark, black night, arch. poet.)

Obviously the first three contexts have the commondenotation of sorrow whereas in the fourth and fifth contexts thedenotations are different. So, in these five coniexts we can identifythree meanings of “sad”.

Г.Б.Антрушина,О.В.Афанасьева.Лексикологияанглийскогоязыка. - М. Изд.Дрофа. 1999

F.R.Palmer. Semantics. A new outline. - M. V.Sh.1982

1Onlya fragment of the semantic structure of “bar” is givento illustrate the point.