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Lexical Meaning and Semantic Structure of the Word

Lexical Meaning and Semantic Structure of the Word

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Published by: Nicole Palada on Mar 07, 2010
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The branch of linguistics concerned with the meaning of words and word equivalents is calledsemasiology. The name comes from the Gree
‘signification’ (from
 sign’  sēmantikos
‘significant’ and
‘learning’).In the present book we shall not deal with every kind of linguistic meaning. Attention will beconcentrated on lexical meaning and semasiology will be treated as a branch of lexicology.This does not mean, of course, that no attention will be paid to grammatical meaning; on the contrary,grammatical meaning must be considered because it bears a specific influence upon lexical meaning (see§ 1.3). In most present-day methods of lexicological analysis words are studied by placing them, or rather considering them in larger units of context; a word is defined by its functioning within a phrase or asentence. This means that the problem of autonomy of lexicology versus syntax is now being raised andsolved by special study. This functional approach is attempted in contextual analysis, semantic syntax andsome other branches of linguistics.
The influence of grammar on lexical meaning is manifold (see §1.3) and will be further discussedat some length later. At this stage it will suffice to point out that a certain basic component of theword meaning is described when one identifies the word morphologically, i.e. states to what grammaticalword class it belongs.If treated diachronically, semasiology studies the change in meaning which words undergo.Descriptive synchronic approach demands a study not of individual words but of semantic structurestypical of the language studied, and of its general semantic system.The main objects of semasiological study treated in this book are as follows: semantic development of words, its causes and classification, relevant distinctive features and types of lexical meaning,
The problem is not new. M. Bréal, for instance, devoted much attention to a semasiological treatment of grammar. AGerman philologist H. Hatzfeld held that semasiology should include syntax, and that many of its chapters need historical andcultural comments.The problem has recently acquired a certain urgency and a revival of interest in semantic syntax is reflected in a largenumber of publications by Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev scholars.
 polysemy and semantic structure of words, semantic grouping and connections in the vocabulary system,i.e. synonyms, antonyms, terminological systems, etc. The present chapter does not offer to cover all of this wide field. Attention will be centred upon semantic word structure and semantic analysis.An exact definition of any basic term is no easy task altogether (see § 2.1). In the case of lexicalmeaning it becomes especially difficult due to the complexity of the process by which language andhuman mind serve to reflect outward reality and to adapt it to human needs.The definition of lexical meaning has been attempted more than once in accordance with the main principles of different linguistic schools. The disciples of F. de Saussure consider meaning to be therelation between the object or notion named, and the name itself (see § 2.2). Descriptive linguistics of theBloomfieldian trend defines the meaning as the situation in which the word is uttered. Both ways of approach afford no possibility of a further investigation of semantic problems in strictly linguistic terms,and therefore, if taken as a basis for general linguistic theory, give no insight into the mechanism of meaning. Some of L. Bloomfield’s successors went so far as to exclude semasiology from linguistics onthe ground that meaning could not be studied “objectively", and was not part of language but “an aspectof the use to which language is put”. This point of view was never generally accepted. The more generalopinion is well revealed in R. Jakobson’s pun. He said: “Linguistics without meaning is meaningless."
This crisis of semasiology has been over for some twenty years now, and the problem of meaning has provided material for a great number of books, articles and dissertations.In our country the definitions of meaning given by various authors, though different in detail, agreein the basic principle: they all point out that lexical meaning is the realisation oconcept or emotion by means of a definite language system. Thedefinition stresses that semantics studies only such meanings that can be expressed, that is concepts bound by signs.It has also been repeatedly stated that the plane of content in speech reflects the whole of humanconsciousness, which comprises not only mental activity but emotions, volition, etc. as well. The
mentalistic approach to meaning treating it only as a concept expressed by a word oversimplifies the problem because it takes into consideration only the referential function of words. Actually, however, allthe pragmatic functions of language communicative, emotive, evaluative, phatic, esthetic, etc., arealso relevant and have to be accounted for in semasiology, because they show the attitude of the speaker to the thing spoken of, to his interlocutor and to the situation in which the act of communication takes place.The complexity of the word meaning is manifold. The four most important types of semanticcomplexity may be roughly described as follows:
Note how this epigram makes use of the polysemy of the word meaning
Firstly, every word combines lexical and grammatical meanings. E.g.:
is a personal noun.Secondly, many words not only refer to some object but have an aura of associations expressing theattitude of the speaker. They have not only denotative but connotative meaning as well.E. g.:
is a colloquial term of endearment.Thirdly, the denotational meaning is segmented into semantic components or semes.E.g.:
is a male parent.Fourthly, a word may be polysemantic, that is it may have several meanings, all interconnected andforming its semantic structure.E. g.:
may mean: ‘male parent’, ‘an ancestor’, ‘a founder or leader’, ‘a priest’.It will be useful to remind the reader that the grammatical meaning is defined as anexpression in speech of relationships between words based on contrastive features of arrangements inwhich they occur. The grammatical meaning is more abstract and more generalised than the lexicalmeaning, it unites words into big groups such as parts of speech or lexico-grammatical classes. It isrecurrent in identical sets of individual forms of different words. E. g.
 parents, books, intentions,
whosecommon element is the grammatical meaning of plurality. The interrelation of lexics and grammar hasalready been touched upon in § 1.3. This being a book on lexicology and not on grammar, it is permissible not to go into more details though some words on lexico-grammatical meanings arenecessary.The lexiсo-grammatical meaning is the common denominator of all the meanings owords belonging to a lexico-grammatical class of words, it is the feature according to which they aregrouped together. Words in which abstraction and generalisation are so great that they can be lexicalrepresentatives of lexico-grammatical meanings and substitute any word of their class are calledgeneric terms. For example the word
is a generic term for material nouns, the word
 — for collective nouns, the word
 — for personal nouns.Words belonging to one lexico-grammatical class are characterised by a common system of forms inwhich the grammatical categories inherent in them are expressed. They are also substituted by the same prop-words and possess some characteristic formulas of semantic and morphological structure and acharacteristic set of derivational affixes. See tables on word-formation in: R. Quirk et al., “A Grammar of Contemporary English”.
The common features of semantic structure may be observed in their dictionarydefinitions:
Quirk R., Greenbaum S., Leech G., Svartvik J.
A Grammar of Contemporary English. London, 1974.
 — a group of persons in charge of some enterprise,
 — a group of singers,
 — a group of persons acting together in work or in a game.The degree and character of abstraction and generalisation in lexico-grammatical meanings and thegeneric terms that represent them are intermediate between those characteristic of grammatical categoriesand those observed on the lexical level — hence the term lexico-grammatical.The conceptual content of a word is expressed in its denotative meaning.
To denote is toserve as a linguistic expression for a concept or as a name for an individual object. The denotativemeaning may be signifiсative, if the referent is a concept, or demоfistrative, if it is an individualobject. The term referent or denotatum (pl.
is used in both cases. Any text willfurnish examples of both types of denotative meaning. The demonstrative meaning is especiallycharacteristic of colloquial speech where words so often serve to identify particular elements of reality. E.
g.: “Do
 you remember what the young lady did with the telegram?”
(Christie) Here the connection withreality is direct.Especially interesting examples of significative meaning may be found in aphorisms, proverbs andother sayings rendering general ideas. E. g.:
 A good laugh is sunshine in the house
(Thackeray) or 
Thereason why worry kills more people than work is that more people worry than work 
(Frost) contain words intheir significative meanings.The information communicated by virtue of what the word refers to is often subject to complexassociations originating in habitual contexts, verbal or situational, of which the speaker and the listener are aware, they give the word its connotative meaning. The interaction of denotativemeaning and its pragmatic counterpart connotation is no less complicated than in the case of lexical and grammatical meaning. The connotative component is optional, and even when it is present its proportion with respect to the logical counterpart may vary within wide limits.We shall call connotation what the word conveys about the speaker’s attitude to the socialcircumstances and the appropriate functional style
about his approval or disapproval of theobject spoken of 
about the speaker’s emotions
or the degree of intensity
The emotional overtone as part of the word’s communicative value deserves special attention.Different approaches have been developing in contemporary linguistics.
The emotional and evaluative meaning of the word may be part of the denotational meaning. For example
‘a person who offers his services for payment and does not care about the type of work'
There are other synonymous terms but we shall not enumerate them here because terminological richness is morehampering than helpful.
See the works of E.S. Aznaurova, T.G. Vinokur, R.H. Volpert, V.I. Maltzev, V.N. Mikhaylovskaya, I.A. Sternin,V.I. Shakhovsky and many others.
has a strong derogatory and even scornful connotation, especially when the name is applied to hiredsoldiers. There is a considerable degree of fuzziness about the boundaries between the denotational andconnotative meanings.The third type of semantic segmentation mentioned on p. 39 was the segmentation of the denotationalmeaning into semantic components. The componential analysis is a veryimportant method of linguistic investigation and has attracted a great deal of attention. It is usuallyillustrated by some simple example such as the words
man, woman, boy, girl,
all belonging to thesemantic field “the human race” and differing in the characteristics of age and sex. Using the symbolsHUMAN, ADULT, MALE and marking them positively and negatively so that -ADULT means ‘young’and -MALE means ‘female’, we may write the following componential definitions:man:+ HUMAN+ ADULT+ MALEwoman:+ HUMAN+ ADULTMALE boy:+ HUMANADULT+ MALEgirl:+ HUMANADULTMALEOne further point should be made: HUMAN, ADULT, MALE in this analysis are not words of English or any other language: they are elements of meaning, or semes which can be combined invarious ways with other similar elements in the meaning of different words. Nevertheless a linguist, as ithas already been mentioned, cannot study any meaning devoid of form, therefore these semes are mostlydetermined with the help of dictionary definitions.To conclude this rough model of semantic complexities we come to the fourth point, that of  polysemy.Polysemy is inherent in the very nature of words and concepts as every object and every notionhas many features and a concept reflected in a word always contains a generalisation of several traits of the object. Some of these traits or components of meaning are common with other objects. Hence the possibility of using the same name in secondary nomination for objects possessing common featureswhich are sometimes only implied in the original meaning. A word when acquiring new meaning or meanings may also retain, and most often retains the previous meaning.E. g.
 — 1) the act or time of being born, 2) an origin or beginning, 3) descent, family.The classification of meanings within the semantic structure of one polysemantic word will bediscussed in § 3.4.

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