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Questions

  1. What are primary and secondary nominations?

  2. What words are considered to be primary nominations?

  3. What are the main characteristics of the native element of the English language?

  4. What are the reasons for borrowing foreign words into English?

  5. What are the ways of assimilation of the borrowed words?

  6. What is an internal loan?

  7. What is an etymological doublet?

  8. What are the false friends of a translator?

  9. What words are called international?

  10. In what way can borrowings be classified?

1.4 Lexical meaning

The central category that is studied in Lexicology is meaning. Meaning is studied in the framework of Semasiology which is said to be the central part of Lexicology. It is suggested that Semasiology has for its subject matter not only the investigation of the lexicon, but also of morphology, syntax, and text semantics. However, when the study of meaning is thought of without any specification, it is the word-meaning proper which is taken into account first of all. It is the word semantics that provides the basis for all other semantic investigations.

Meaning plays the most important role in the process of communication. It is through the meaning of different linguistic units that information is conveyed. There seem to be no difficulty in identifying meaning in every-day life. But the scientific definition of meaning is far from being so simple. On the one hand, the problem is connected with the difficulty of defining the word itself. Being multi-sided the word suggests the same range of functions for the meaning. That is why many investigations of the meaning, its essence and function in the language are connected with the approach to the phenomenon.

The most known approaches to the definition of meaning are the referential approach and the functional approach. These are the attempts that can be referred to the oldest in Linguistics.

The referential approach seeks to formulate the essence of meaning by establishing the interdependence between words and the things or concepts they denote. Sometimes it is also called analytical approach. The best known model of the referential definition is the so-called basic triangle. The three main categories that are involved into the description of the meaning are the sound form of the linguistic sign, the concept underlying this sound-form and the referent which is a part or an aspect of reality to which the linguistic sign refers.

The strongest point in this approach is an attempt to link the category of meaning with the process of nomination. In fact there is no difficulty in giving a name to an object presented and any speaker of the language can immediately find the corresponding word. At the same time the same object of the reality will evoke a different sound-form in different languages. Thus, the sound-form [boi] corresponds to quite different objects of reality in English and in Russian. So the connection of the sound-form with the concept and the object of reality are arbitrary and conventional. Besides, if meaning were inherently connected with the sound-form of a linguistic unit, it would follow that any change in the outer form would necessarily cause a change in the meaning. The historical development of lexemes has nevertheless proved that even considerable changes in sounding do not affect the meaning. The OE word “lufian, for example, has undergone great changes and is known to contemporary speakers as love, yet the meaning has remained essentially the same.

On the other hand, it is incorrect to think that concepts coincide with words in full range. They are close to each other but not identical. The lexeme “cloudless” consists of two concepts: “cloud + absence”. Additional evidence is given by the comparison of related words in different languages. The basically identical concepts underlie different meanings. The English lexeme “tree” does not include the idea of material while the Russian lexeme “дерево” corresponds both to the plant and the material.

The difference between concepts and meanings is also observed when synonymous words are compared: “big” and “large”, “end” and “finish”.

It should be added that meaning does not coincide with the referent as well. Such lexemes as “angel” and “phoenix” have their own meaning while the objects they denote do not exist.

The functional approach maintains that the meaning of a linguistic unit may be studied only through its relation to other linguistic units and not through its relation to either concept or referent. In a very simplified form the approach can be illustrated as a number of context that allow the user of the language identify the meaning. Thus, the contexts like “The ___ caught the mouse”; “The ___ eats fish”; “The ___ drinks milk”; “The ____ is kept as a pet” and so on display the meaning of the word “cat”. The question arises when to stop collecting such contexts and how many of them are enough to recognize the meaning.

The matter is that even the native speakers of the language cannot enumerate at least the approximate number of possible contexts. On the other hand, people should be linguistically educated in order to be able to analyze all the contexts. Yet in everyday life we do not analyze the contexts and we are not guided by the very possibility of any context to appear. It is rather the meaning of the word that predetermines the possibility of its usage in this or that context.

The functional approach makes use of the distribution of words in a context too. It is said that the words “move” and “movement” possess different meaning because they can be followed or preceded by different linguistic units. The lexeme “move” can be followed by a noun (to move a chair); it can be preceded by a pronoun (they move), etc. The lexeme “movement” can be used with a preposition (movement of the curtains) or be preceded by an adjective (quick movement) and so on. Thus, because of the different distribution the words are different in meaning.

The matter is, that in this way the differences in meaning are established but not the meaning itself. In this respect it is necessary to stress that the meaning of the word can be formulated in its definition before the word is used in actual speech. That is why the learners of English consult the dictionary each time they come across an unknown lexeme. It is one of the ways to learn how it can be used in the language.

With the development of the theory of information a new approach has been worked out. According to the operational approach the meaning is defined as information conveyed from one speaker to another in the process of communication. It deals mainly with the situations of communication which make the meaning clear. The lexeme “mother” gives information that we deal with a human being of female sex who gave birth to a child. But it is rather confusing information when the situation of communication is not connected with close relationships as in the sentence “Agatha Christie is the mother of the English detective”.

Even on the stage of defining the meaning it becomes clear that the phenomenon is complex, comprising many sides or layers. In the general framework of lexical meaning several aspects may be singled out. They are: the denotational aspect (meaning), the connotational aspect (meaning), and the pragmatic aspect (meaning).

The three aspects of the meaning reflect the main categories of the process of communication. The most important aspect of communication refers to the notional basis of information conveyed from the speaker to the listener. This information can be called the subject matter or the substance of communication and is reflected in the denotational meaning.

The second part of information conveyed in the process of communication is the attitude of the speaker towards what is said. This can be called modality in the broad sense of the word. For example, the utterance “The speaker alleged that there were no violations of the state border” is different from the utterance “The speaker stated (proved) that there were no violations of the state border”. The difference lies in the attitude towards the subject matter of the situation of communication. The skeptical attitude of the first utterance is due to the meaning of the verb “to allege” which denotes “to affirm, esp. without proof”. The sense of the second utterance is very close to the notional basis of the information which is due to the meaning of the verb “to state” denoting “to express, esp. fully and clearly, in speech or writing”. Different attitudes towards the subject matter of communication are reflected in he connotational meaning of the word.

The third aspect of communication conveys information about the participants and the situation of communication. Thus, the exchange of greeting “Hi” implies an informal situation of communication and friendly relations between the participants. Such a form of greeting will be out of place even between friends under more formal conditions of communication. The correspondence of the chosen words to the situation of communication, the adequate means of the language for the aim and purpose of speaking is understood through the pragmatic meaning of the word.

The denotational aspect is that part of lexical meaning which establishes correlation between the name and the object, phenomenon, process or characteristic feature of concrete reality, which is denoted by the given word. Such a fragment of concrete reality as “a piece of furniture, consisting of flat top of wood, marble, etc and one or more usually vertical supporters, especially one on which meals are laid out, articles of use or ornament kept, work done and games played” is stocked in our memory under the name “table”. This is what we usually call factual or notional information that is the same for all the speakers of the given language.

The denotational meaning has close relations to the underlying concept, the inner form and the referent. The inner form constitutes the core of the denotational meaning. It is the feature that differentiates the objects of concrete reality from one another. The words “flora” and “vegetation” are referred to one and the same object, but “flora” is “all the plants of a particular place, country, or period” while “vegetation” has no reference to time as it is “plants in general, all the plants in a particular place”.

The referent and its name are wider than the denotational meaning. The features originally not fixed in the process of naming may be realized in a certain context with a certain communicative intention. The word “cat” has the meaning “a small four-legged animal with soft fur and sharp claws, often kept as a pet or for catching mice or rats”. Is the feature of “tail” included in the denotational aspect? The answer can hardly be positive as Manx cats have never had tails.

The underlying concept of the English word “atom” is “indivisible” with the obvious implication of the smallest particle of the matter. Nowadays it is known that atom is neither elementary nor further indivisible and thus the features reflected in the meaning in the process of naming contradict the modern concept of the object. Nevertheless the name is quite successfully applied now to discuss the characteristics of the object which could not have been taken into account when the name was given.

The connotational aspect is that part of lexical meaning which reflects the attitude of the language community towards what is spoken about. Connotation does not independently indicate the subject of speech but describes the way the subject-matter is treated by the participants of the course of communication. Connotation includes emotive charge, evaluation, expressiveness and imagery.

Emotive charge is usually combined with evaluation as it is the means to describe either positive or negative attitude towards the subject-matter. Emotive charge is the property of the word itself through which the evaluation of the speaker is revealed. Words like “idol, notorious, to dote on, to gaze” are characterized by negative emotive charge and are used by the speakers to express their unpleasant attitude. Words like “famous, economical, prestige, auntie” are characterized by the positive emotive charge and express the speaker’s positive or satisfactory evaluation of the things going around.

Expressiveness reflects special prominence given to certain features of denotation multiplying the effect produced by the word. Thus, the word “to adore” means “to love greatly”, the word “huge” means “extremely large”.

Imagery is another device of expressiveness which gives special prominence to certain denotational features. The word “to wade” means “to walk with an effort (through mud, water or anything that makes progress difficult), walk across something in this way”. The figurative use of the word gives rise to another meaning based on its image – “to wade through a book”. The underlying image accounts for the expressiveness of such words as “to slave, (in the) limelight, to star (in a film) to baby (a person), soft (job)”.

The components of the connotational meaning in the majority of cases are closely linked together and may be separated only for the sake of study. The word “ass”, for example, has emotive charge, negative evaluation, expressiveness and the obvious underlying image.

The pragmatic aspect is part of lexical meaning which conveys information on the situation of communication and falls into the closely linked constituent sections: information on the “time and space” relations of the participants, information on the given language community, information on the tenor of discourse, information on the register of communication.

Information on the “time and space” relationship is mainly conveyed by tense forms, personal and demonstrative pronouns. However, some information may be conveyed through the meaning of the word. For example, the words “come” and “go” can indicate the location of the speaker who is usually taken as the zero point in the description of the situation of communication. The time element is expressed through the denotational meaning of such words as “tomorrow, now, yesterday, ago, late, early”.

Information on the participants and the given language community is conveyed through the words chosen for the expression of the thought. Thus, the utterance “They chucked the stone at the cops, and then did a bunk with the loot” may belong to a criminal, while the utterance “After casting a stone at the police, they absconded with the money” might be said by the chief inspector in making his official report.

The information on the political system of the society can be understood through the meaning of such words as “the Queen, Parliament, junta, Commonwealth, state”; the words like “Thanksgiving Day, Hallowing” give information on the customs and traditions; information on religion can be obtained through the use of the words “Muslim, the Bible, monk, padre, Orthodox, Reformation”.

The tenors of discourse reflect how the addresser (the speaker or the writer) interacts with the addressee (the listener or the reader) and are based on social or family roles of the participants of communication. Such words as “stuff, nonsense, rubbish, shut up” can hardly be used by two strangers talking, or by a child talking to his parents, or by a person talking to somebody senior in age or social position.

The register defines the general type of the situation of communication as formal, neutral or informal. Practically every word in the language is register-oriented, i.e. contains pragmatic information on the register it can be used in. Thus, words like “cordial, fraternal, anticipate, aid, celestial” belong to formal register while “cut it out, to be kidding, hi, stuff” are the members of the informal register.

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