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Lecture No 4. Lexical Stylistics

1. Word and its meaning from stylistic point of view

Word can be defined as a unit of language which functions within the sentence and which by its sound and graphical form expresses a concrete, abstract or grammatical notion through one of its meanings and which is capable of enriching its semantic structure by acquiring new meanings and losing old ones.

Any information embodied in a word is subdivided into the main or denotative and additional or connotative. In other words within the semantic structure of word two aspects of meaning can be distinguished: denotative (objective) and connotative that expresses subjective attitudes, emotions, evaluations. Most words of any language have only denotative meaning and are stylistically neutral: men, women, house, dog, wooden, heavy, red, вітер, стеля, ходити, робити, сьогодні, далеко, etc. But there are a lot of words which are able to render additional information alongside their direct denotative meaning or to acquire additional connotations within certain contexts. Most of these words are synonyms to the existing in the language neutral ones:

girlmaiden, less, chick, baby, young lady, розуміти – усвідомлювати, кумекати; піти – вирушити, ушитися

lion, dog, pig, dove; свиня, ведмідь, лисиця, голубка

And I heard Edward call me a poor little rat to the American lady. He always called me a little rat in private and I did not mind. But if he called me to her, I think he doesn’t love me any more (F. Ford).

There are four types of connotative meaning:

    1. Evaluative that embodies positive or negative attitude of the speaker towards the phenomenon named. In most cases the evaluative connotative meaning is the matter of tradition: out-of-date method – time-tested method, firm – obstinate – pig-headed, розвідник – шпигун, повстання – заколот, збори – збіговисько.

    2. Emotive that, besides speaker’s evaluative attitude, embodies his emotions towards the phenomenon named: puppet, chit, villain, scoundrel, негідник, жерти, воркотати.

    3. Figurative (image bearing) which belongs to the sphere of sense perception and which reflects the traditional imaginary connection between the word and the object it names through other objects and qualities: log, стіна.

    4. Functional which refers the word to a certain sphere of its usage, e.g. the language of science, every-day speech, language of official documents, etc. For example the words: foe, realm, уста, дитя are poetic; hypothesis, aesthetic, perforation, автохтонний, адепт, адекватний etc are bookish or scientific; disco, doc, crammer, лимонка, точка, вимарити are colloquial.

Words that possess one, several or all of the above mentioned connotative components in their semantic structure are stylistically marked. There is no clearly cut boundary between different types of connotation. A lot of words with functional stylistic component have evaluative and emotive connotations. Let us consider the following English words as an example:

Cad, coward, sneak, snob, prig, tale-bearer, boor, lout, stooge, busy-body, svip, double-crosser, whipper-snapper, trash, tripe, свиня, гадюка, собака, ганчірка, бруд, худоба etc.

Having different denotative meanings and belonging to the colloquial sphere of communication they all possess the same emotional connotative component and express negative evaluation. The expressiveness inherent in them makes it possible to use these lexical units figuratively.

The variability of word meanings caused by the multifarious practical application of its basic meaning in speech has engendered the phenomenon of polysemy. Different concepts may be expressed by one and the same word. The ability of a word to comprise different lexical meanings has become a crucial issue for stylistic study. The stylistic approach to the phenomenon in question takes into consideration the fact that every word however rich its semantic structure may be leaves the door open for the new semantic shades and nuances and even for the birth of independent meanings.

The greatest potential of polysemy is revealed in the belle-letters and publicistic styles. Here a polysemantic word can perform the stylistic function not only because of its correlation with other words in a certain context but due to the author’s will. Very often the writers intentionally make the word actualize more than one of its meanings in context in order to create a complex of associations between the concepts described:

Мене спиняє біла піна гречок, запашна, легка, наче збита крилами бджіл (М. Коцюбинський).

Все вище й вище я здіймаюсь на крилах мрій (Леся Українка).

The stylistic context favours the emergence of new semantic shades or even new independent meanings in the words which are not necessarily polysemantic in language. Hence the problem of direct and figurative meaning arises. The meaning is figurative when it not only nominates an object or a concept but also describes and characterizes it through its similarity with other object or concept:

She was a dynamo of activity. She was here, there and everywhere – admonishing the doctor, slanging the nurses, telling you to do something and then snatching it away to do it herself (M. Dickens).

Give everyone thy ear and few thy voice (W. Shakespeare).

Polysemy that occurs in stylistic context does not hinder the understanding of the idea encoded in the word. The direct and figurative meanings coexist and contribute to the development of the imagery system of the text. The ambiguity of the interpretation of the following poetic images is caused by the polysemy of the word sentence, the simultaneous realization of its meanings – as a linguistic term and as a legal term:

A lexicon contains words as a prison contains men. What sentence would free them? (O’Brien).

Life is a run-on sentence (Finnegan).

In the following sonnet of Shakespeare the idea of harmony in marriage compared to the harmony in music is expressed through the simultaneous realizations of two (matrimonial and musical) meanings of words. For example the word concord can be construed as співзвучність and згода, the word union as унісон and шлюбний союз the word married as звязаний and одружений the word single as неодружений and окремий, the word husband as бути чоловіком and підбирати:

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