2. SEMANTIC CHANGE



The later half of the ninteenth century saw the initiationof a process that has been instumental in the evolution of today's world, dominated as it is by glbal communication and the gradual erosion of ethnic and national boundaries. This process has given toil, pleasureand employment to whole armies of linguists, pedagogues, philosphers and psychologists, as well as generatinga worldwide industry centred on the learning of languages. Today in everty devoped country and in many less developed ones, lealrning one or more foreignlanguages is for most people as natural a part of life as learning to drive a car or use a video machine. For the maijority, the motivationis instrumentasl: being able to use other languages makes it easier to survive in the world. This instrumental motivation is taken as a given quantity in all approaches to language- and language-teaching within national schol systems, private language school courses and professional training establishments. Often it combines successfully with a form of affective motivation via which learness feel more accepted or integrated into the global village as they become more proficient in language use. Within this motivational framework several revolutions have taken place over the last hundred years or so, in teachers approaches to languge itself, the methodlogies and sub-methodologies applied to the teaching of language in general, language skills and lisguintic components. Widely-differing psychological theories of language-learning have come and gone and left their mark; tecnology has made language-learning easier, more effective and sometimes more spectacular. Languages themselves have been analysed, atomised, reconstructed and reorganised by structuralist, generativists, pragmaticists and even neuroscientist, all anxious to improve in some way the application of what has become an activity of the first order of importance, almost on a par with learning to read and write.




The principle of Semanctic Compositionality is the principle that the meaning of a clomplex expression is a function of its parts together with teh method by which those parts are combined. Proponents of compositonally typically emphazise the productivity and systimaticity of our linguistic understanding. Compositionality incorporates separte claims such as the meaning of a clomplex expression is completely determined by the meanings of its constituents or the meaning of a clomplex explression is completely determinated by general rules from the meanings of its contituents.

The principle of compositionality derives  mainly from two deeper presuppositions. The first is that a language has an infinite number of grammatical sentences; the second is that language has unlimited expresive power. The infinte inventory of sentences arises from rulegoerned combinations of elements from a finite list according to genrative rules al  least some of which are recursive; the only way such sentences could in their interity is if their meanings are composed in rules governed ways out of the meanings of their part.


The principle of compostionality does not take us very far in understanding how meaning to make a third. We may combining a first division between additive modes of combination an interactive mode. Combinations will be said to additive if the meaning of the constituents are simply added together an both survive without radical change in the combination.

In interactive we can distinguis two types of interactive modification. The endocentric type where the resultant meaning is of the same basic type to either of the constinents.


Ever under the general heading of endocentric comobinations there are differnt modes of interaction between meanings. One of the most elementary type is “The Boolean combinations” and is illustrated by “Red hats”. Red hats are thing that are simultaneously hats and red. A red hats denotes is of the same basic ontological type as whay a hat denotes an endocentric combination; second the effect of red is to restrict the applicability of hat, this is an interactive combination.

The relative descriptor exemplifies a more complex interaction between meanings. It is a illustrative by a large mouse. This cannot be glassed “something which is large and is a mouse” because all mice, even large ones, are small animals. Large must be interpreted relative to the norm of size for the class of mice and means something more like “significantly larger than the average mouse” Here we have a two-way interaction, because mouse determines how large is to be interpreted and large limits the application of mouse. It is none less the case that what mouse denotes.

The effect in negational modifier is to negate the head, while at the same time giving indications as to where to wher to look for the intended referent. These are examples of this type: “a former president” and  “an ex-lover”. Notice that an imitation fur coat is not something that is simultaneously a fur coat  buy it is not strictly a fur coat. On the other hand, there is no radical change in basic ontological type as a result of combining the meanings.

Indirect combinations require a more complex compositional process, but still can be held to be rule governed. Consider the case of “bad cook” this phrase can ambiguosus. One of the radings denoting someone who is bad an cook at the same time, this is standard Boolean type. Other rading can be requires some semantic recontruction of th phrase so that bad becames an adverbial modifier of the verbal root cook an the phrase means “someone who cooks bad”.


In language there is a permanently process of conventionalization, this process according to Hamain and O. Dahl, rooted individual psychology, called routinization. We make them into a routine when two or more actions are perfomed together. But conventionalization opens the door for non-compositonal meaning. Conventionalization produces cases which are not prdictible from the meanings of their constituent. Conventionalization's effects are full of expressions which are compatible with the compositional meaning but in this is much more specific. In conclusion of this conventionalization is an expression comes to be used routinely such as “you are welcome (to do or use that again)”.

Creativity is another restriction to compositionality but with others characteristics. Linguistic communication  always relies an extra knowledge. Creativity provide information that is not strictly given the conventional interpretation of the expression.

One example of creativity can be “ there was no fish pudding left on the kitchen's table. The cat climbed down from it licking it mouth. Finally creativity is when speakers try to find new ways of saying things.


Semantic constituents can be recognized by the recurrent contrast test. Semantic constituents have some characterics such as they can be substituted by something else giving a different meaning.

“Meaning implies choice” expresses that cannot have meaning unless it was chosen from a set of possible alternatives. The corollary of this is that  if an element is obligatory, it cannot be said to have meaning.

Other charasterics is that al least some of the contrasts of meaning produced by substitution in one context should be reproducible using the same items in a different context. This sounds clumsy and obscure. It attempts to state precisely the idea that a meaningful linguistic item should be capable of carrying of content meaning from context to context.

An example can be mat an box, which produce the same semantic contrast in two different context. These two items therefore pass the recurrent contrast test for semantic constituency. With this notion of semantic constituent we can make non-tautlogus sense of the principle of compositionality as expressed in the second characteristic. We can also characterize a type of grammatically complex expression  no all of whose grammatical constituents are semantic constituents.


Many noun compounds can be compounds can be condered to be idioms by our criteria. For instance, tea-towel. But there are other example which show recurrent semantic constituents, buet which display semantic propertiestaht are no predictable in any way except perhaps on the basis of pragmatic world knowledge.

Active zone is Langacker's term for the precise locus of a colour adjective and its head noun. Very often the colour does not apply globally to the object denoted by the head noun. Some examples can be a red hat, a yellow beach, blue eyes... These cases also seem to be different from the noun-compound cases. But active zones need in some sense to be learned and are not predictable by any sort of formal rule.

The point at issue in relation to complex category. This is the known in prototype theorical circles as the guppy effect. It is claimed that certain properties of a complex category cannot be predicted from the corresponding properties of the constituent. When informants are asked to say what they consider to be the best or most representative example of the category “pet”, they tend to go for cats and dogs; when asked to name the best examples of the category “fish” they choose trout or salmon.


There are some semantic elements, which have an important relevance in the context. That is the case of “cran-, rasp-, goose-, pad-, gang-, and soon of the words  cranberry, raspberry, gooseberry, padlock, gangway etc. the biefixgdoe not have a complete meaning, therefore they are called semantic talles and their partner words (-berries, -lod, .way) indicate a general category, therefore they are semantic categorise.

But there are also semantic indicators which have a semantic function, called semantic indicators some examples are blackbird and greenhouse, from which black- and green- are semantic indicators. Other prefixes are included in this category, that is, the case of mi- oof impertinent, dis- of disgust. Here, the second segments -pertinent, -disgust have no a concrete functions, so they do not need a lebel.

It has longo be cognised that expressions such as to pull someone's leg, round the bend up the creek are semantically peculiar. They are usually described as idioms. A traditional definition of idiom, runs roughly as follow; as idiom is an expression whose meaning cannot be inferred from the meanings of its parts.

The definition must be understood as stating that an idiom is an expression whose meaning cannot be accounted for as a compositional function of the meanings its parts have when they are not parts of idioms.

Fortunately it is possible to define an idiom precisely an non-circularly using the notion of a semantic constituent.

Most idioms are homophonous whit grammatically well formed transparent expressions which any expression which is divisible into semantic constituents.


There is a class of idiom-like expressions, which come out as non- compositional by the recurrent contrast test and may show some of the features of syntactic frozenness typical of idioms, such as resistance to modification, transformation and so forth by which differ from idioms in an important respect. Some example can be: “A cat can look at a queen”, “he drives me up the wall”.

In the examples in one can hardly say that the substitution ha no effect, but non-literal meaning is still recoverable. This seems to indicate that the connection between the meanings which results from normal compositional processes in these expressions and their non-compositional reading is not an arbitrary one. In the examples in there is always an element of the global meaning of the complex expression which is arbitrary with respect to the free meanings of constituents.

The degree of relatedness between literal and non-literal meanings of idioms varies continuously from none at all to such a big degree that the expression fall as into a shadowy border area between idiomatically and full compositionally.


we have so far been thinking of compositionally from the point of view  of the hearer. There is, however, another side to compositionality namely the point of view of the speaker: given that a speaker wishes to formulate a particular message and no single elements available. There are idioms of encoding. Some of these are not idioms of decoding. To these we shall we the name collocations. Like the more familiar kind of idioms, they have to individually learned. Like the more familiar kind of idiom, they have to be individually learned. Like the more familiar kind of idiom, they have to be individually learned. As examples of collocations take the intensifiers great, heavy, high, utter extreme and severe.


Some expressions are useful for conveying ideas quickly, but clichés are uninspiring and boring writers are speakers should use more imagination and creativity when crafting their messages. We have briefly describe these clichés to help people create more original expressions


In the vats majority of words, the relationship between sounds and meaning is arbitrary. There is no reason why a particular sound on group of sounds, should be used to represent a particular word, with a particular meaning. Phonasthemes are certain sounds which do not represent a specific  enough meaning to constitute morphs appear to be vaguely associated with some kind of meaning.

Onomatopeias refer to word in which a direct association is made between the sounds of a word-form and the meaning that it represent. We might say that the relation ship between sound and meaning is to some extent iconic.




Most people are aware that if someone says Jane's eyes nearly popped out of her head, a literal truth has not been expressed. At the everyday level, the contrast between literal and figurative use does not seem problematical. It is not so easy, however, to be more precise about what “ literal meaning” really is. Dictionaries often organize their entries historically, with the earliest first. It would be a reasonable requirement of a dictionary that it should indicate which meaning are literal an which figurative: most users would probably assume that the literal meaning would be given first. The most obvious objection is that while we might reasonably expect an in intelligible path of change from past meaning to present meanings.

Frequency is another common principle for organizing dictionary entries. At fist sight this seems more promising as a rationable for intuitions of literalness. An example is the verb see. Two of the readings of this verbs are “have a visual experiencie” and “understand”. There can be little doubt that it is the first of these readings which intuition point to us the literal reading.

The default reading of a word is the one which first come to mind when the word is encountered out of the context or the reading which assume to be operative in the absence of contextual indications to the contrary.


The criterion for a lexical unit was that it should be “at least one word”. We must now therefore examine what this entails. It would not be appropriate o review their in detail here. For our purposes it will be sufficient to draw attention to two fairly general and constant characteristics of words across a wide range of languages. The first is that a word is typically the smallest element of a sentence which has positional mobility that is the smallest that can be moved around without destroying the grammaticality of the sentence.

By no means all words are equally mobile in this sense.  The morphemes constricting  a singles word have a rigidly fixed sequential order.

Other characteristics of words is tat they are typically the largest units which resist “interruption” by the insertion of new material between their constituent parts. The possible in section points clearly represent word-boundaries. In a language such as Turkish, in which word composed of a relatively large number of basic grammatical units are common, this charasterics words may seen less salient.

However, there is a marked difference in the degree of interpretability between words and phrases. In the Turkish example, although several grammatical elements can be inserted within the word. We hall not pursue the matter any further here. It will be henceforth assumed that the typical unit of lexicology is the word.


What is historically no doubt and extended meaning may be so entrenched and familiar part of a language that its speakers no longer feel that figure of speech is involved at all: such readings of a word will be said be naturalized. For example: the kettle's boiling

there are also readings which are well established and presumably have entries in the mental lexicon, but are none the less felt to be figures of speech. An example is “she swallowed the story”.

Nonce readings are ones for which there are no entries in the mental lexicon; they therefore cannot be “looked up” but have to be generated and interpreted using strategies of meaning extension such as metaphor and metonymy. For example: “he had never told her his fantasies about being over powered by her.


A metaphor is a word or phrase that means one thing used to referring to another thing to emphasize the same characteristics. And metonymy is responsible for a great proportion of the cases of so- called regular polysemy.


Metonymy and metaphor are quite distinct processes of extension, in spite of the fact that there may exit extensions that cannot be classified, because the end point could have been reached by either route.

Jakobson's dictum captures some of the diffences  between metaphor and metonymy but leaves and important point unhighlited. Metaphor involves the use of one domain as an analogical model to structure our conception of another domain. Metonymy on the other hand relies on an association between two components within a single domain. In fact associated with the customer serves as a convenient identifying device. There is no question of drawing any structural parallels.


So far we have examined what we will call structural  metaphors, cases where one concept is metaphorically structured in terms of another. But their is another kind metaphorical concept. We will call these orientation metaphors, since most of them have to do with spatial orientation. Orientational metaphors five a concept a spacial orientation; for example HAPPY IS UP.

Such metaphorical orientations are not arbitrary. They have a basis in our physical and cultural experience. For example, in some cultures the future is in front of us, whereas in others it is in back. We will be looking at up-down spatialization metaphors, which have been studied intensively by William Nagy, as an illustration. These accounts are meant to be suggestive and plausible, not definitive.

Some of metaphorical concepts can be that most of our fundamental concepts are organized in terms of one ore more spatialization metaphors, there is an overall external systemacity among the various specialization metaphors, which defines coherence among them and specialization metaphors are rooted in physical and cultural experience; they are not randomly.

The most fundamental values in a culture will be coherent with the metaphorical structure of the most fundamental in the culture.

We are not claiming that all cultural values coherent with metaphorical system actually exist, only that those that do exist and are deeply entrenched are consistent with the metaphorical system.

In general, which values are given priority is partly a matter of the subculture one lives in and partly a matter of personal values.

Ontological metaphors serve various purposes, and the various kinds of metaphors there are reflect the kinds of purposes served. This gives us a way of referring to the experience. Some examples can be: inflation is an entity, referring, quantifying, identifying aspects, identifying causes, setting goals and motivating actions.

Ontological metaphors like these are so natural and so pervasive in our thought that they are usually taken as self-evident, direct descriptions of mental phenomena. The fact that they are metaphorical never occurs to most of us. The reason is that metaphors like the mind is a brittle object are an integral part of the model of the mind that we have in this culture; it is the model most of us think and operate in terms of.


We are using one entity to refer to another that is related to it. This is a casa of what we will call metonymy. For example: he's a dance.

We are including as a special case of metonymy what traditional rhetoricians have called synecdoche, where the part stands for the whole. Metaphors and metonymy are different kinds of processes. Metaphor is principally a way of conveying of one thing in terms of another and its primary function, that is, it allows us to use one entity to stand for another. But metonymy is not merely a referential device. It also serves the function of providing understanding.

Thus metonymy saves some of the same purpose that metaphor does, and in somewhat the same way, buy it allows us to focus more specifically on certain aspects of what is being referred to.

This metonymy functions actively in our culture. The tradition of portraits, in both painting and photography, is based on it. Metonymies are not random or arbitrary occurrences, to be treated as isolated instances. Metonymic concepts are also systematic, as can be seen in the following representative examples that exist in our culture. Metonymic concepts allow us to conceptualizes one thing by means of its relation to something else.

Some examples of metonymies are: the part for the whole (get your butt over here!), producer for product (he bought a Ford),  object used for user (the sax has the flu today), controller for controlled (Nixon bombed Hanoi), institution for people responsible (Exxon has raised its prices again), the pace for the institutions (the White houses is not saying anything).

Symbolic metonymies are critical links between everyday experience and the coherent metaphorical systems that characterizes and the coherent metaphorical systems that characterize religions and cultures.

Cultural and religious symbolism are special cases of metonymy. Within Christianity, for example, their is metonymy “cove for holy spirit”. As is typical with metonymies, this  is not arbitrary.


One can be read a chapter of without becoming aware of the fact that words change their meaning through time.

This can be illustrate with English expire. First before their were such things as tickets an licences with limited periods of validity, this meant “die”. Then, it was metaphorically extended to mean “come to the end of a period of validity” which existed as a clear figurative use alongside the literal use. Nowadays, the “die” sense  is quite un common, and classes of students will declare  that for them, it is a metaphorical extension of the “cease to be valid” sense. Stage is perhaps yet to occur, but there is no doubt that the default reading has changed.

This example illustrates one way in which synchronic meaning extension forms an essential part of diachronic change. In principle, the meaning of a word may change along any of semantic dimensions.


The semantic field, here shown, is no less than the grammar of educed English current in the second in the second half of the twentieth century in the world's major  English- speaking communities. Only where a feature belongs specifically to British usage or American usage, to informal conversation or to the dignity of formal writing, are “labels” introduced in the description to show that my longer is no longer discussing the “common core” of educated English.

For this common core, as well as for the special varieties surrounding it, I have augmented our own experience as speakers and teachers of the language with research on corpora of contemporany  English and on data from elicitation tests, in both cases making appropriate use of facilities available in our generation for bringing spoken English fully within the grammarian's scope. For reasons of simplicity and economic presentation, however, illustrative examples from our basic material are seldom given without being adapted and edited; and while informal and familiar styles of speech and writing receive due consideration in our treatment, I  put the main emphasis on describing the English of serious exposition.






Jakobson, R & Halle, M. 1956. Fundamentals of Language. The Hague: Mouton.

Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M 1980  Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Cruse, A 2000 Meaning in Language. Oxford University Press

Cruse, D.A 1986 Lexical Semantics.Cambridge University Press.