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Tracing the Reasons for Semantic Change

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Running head: TRACING THE NATURE OF SEMANTIC CHANGE

Tracing the Nature of Semantic Change Shahrin Akter
1521358655
Department of English
North South University

Tracing the Nature of Semantic Change
Introduction
Language never stands still. All living languages are continually changing over the course of time due to social, cultural, environmental, historical and linguistic factors. Semantic change is one of the major phenomenon of language change. Basically, semantic change deals with the change of the original meaning of a word as well as the development of a new word which is reflected in the way the words are being used. This paper mainly puts an insight to the major causes of semantic change as well as trace the traditional classification made by various scholars. According to Varshney, “The main factors responsible for semantic change are vagueness in meaning, loss of motivation, polysemy, ambiguous contexts and the structure of the vocabulary”. (p. 284). Over the passage of time, people use words in a new context. Hence the meanings of the words are changing gradually, often to the point that the new meaning is radically different from the original usage. For instance, the word ‘awful’ originally meant ‘awe-inspiring, filling someone with deep awe’, as in the awful majesty of the Creator. At some point it becomes something ‘extremely bad’, as in ‘an awfully bad performance’, but now the intensity of the expression has lessened and the word is now used informally to just mean ‘very bad’, as in an awful mess. Some words also change semantically, not in their original meanings but change in a way that they acquire additional meanings or are used to refer to other named entities over time. For example, mouse is used originally to refer to small long-tailed animal but it is now also used to refer to a device used to control cursor movement. (Wijaya & Yeniterzi, 2011). The major concern of this paper is to trace the basic nature of semantic change referring how the meaning of some words from Old English (OE) were renewed in Modern English (MnE) over the course of time. This paper basically addresses three exploratory questions: (a) What are the major causes of Semantic Change? (b) What are the basic types of semantic change? (c) What are the ultimate consequences of semantic change?
Major Causes of Semantic Change The meaning of words never change suddenly. It takes time to develop a new meanings and these changed words are undoubtedly related to the previous ones. Moreover, it has been said that vocabulary is the most flexible part of a language and its semantic aspects are effected by every human activity. Multiple factors are responsible for the changing of meaning and development of a new word among which some major causes are discussed below: 1. Linguistic Causes: The linguistic causes of semantic changes are some factors which act within the language system. Hence, it can be addressed as an internal reason of semantic change. In this regard, Varshney (1985) mentioned, “Some semantic changes take place because of the association which words contract in speech. Habitual collocations may permanently affect the meaning of the term.” That means the meaning of words may be changed or transferred to another because a single word might be used in various contexts which ultimately causes semantic change with the passage of time. In fact, it deals with changes due to the constant interdependence of vocabulary units in language and speech, such as differentiation between synonyms, changes taking place in connection of ellipsis and with fixed contexts, changes resulting in ambiguity in certain contexts and some other case. Hence, the linguistic causes of semantic change may be discussed under following sections:
Differentiation of Synonymy: The conflict of synonyms often causes semantic change. When a perfect synonym of a native word is borrowed from other languages. For instance, in old English, the synonymous terms of the word tide were time/ season/ hour borrowed from French. But in modern English tide simply means regular rise and fall of the sea caused by the moon.
Ellipsis:
Generally, ellipsis refers to a change of meaning when the meaning of a word-combination is given to only one word of this combination. Ellipsis usually occurs in the collocation. For instance, adjective + noun or attributive noun+ noun, the last noun is always omitted, only leaving the previous part to keep the meaning of the whole phrase. For instance, the terms were shortened into General > a general officer and Transistor> transistor radio. In Old English the word to die only meant sterven of hunger but in Modern English starve means to die from hunger. In fact, the word daily usually means happening every day. But afterwards, daily newspaper was shortened into daily. Analogy: Analogy is another major factors in semantic change. It is very obvious that when one member of a synonymic set acquires a new meaning, the other members acquire it too. For instance, when the word catch acquired the meaning to understand; its synonyms get, grasp acquired the new meaning as well. 2. Historical Causes: “Language is the product of society and changes with the development of social history. There continuously occur the new innovations during the process of the transformation of objective world by human beings. Except creating the new words people, people tend to give the new meaning to the old words to express these new things.” (hao yu & chi ren, 2013, pg 63). For instance, the word pencil was derived from a Latin word meant a little tail or a fine brush which was regarded as a writing tool. Later the material of pencil was wood and graphite but the word pencil is still unchanged. In fact, Paper is a Greek word which was named after a plant called Papyrus as it was used for making paper. Although, paper is made from various materials presently, the word ‘Paper’ is still unchanged. In this manner, Varshney (1985) said, “the English word car originates from Latin Carrus which meant a four-wheeled wagon. Though the modern cars bear a little resemblance to the old Celtic wagons, yet the label has not been replaced and the word has remained phonetically unaltered. 3. Environmental Causes: “Semantic changes are also caused by environmental changes such as social, cultural, geographical, political, religious, physical and economic”. (Varshney, 1985, p. 285). One of the examples cited by him is the word winter which symbolizes cruelty or difficulty in western countries but conversely winter is treated as a more pleasant season in India. Moreover, in Hindi and Sanskrit the word hans standing for swan can be used for scholar, critic etc. but in English it cannot convey the same meaning. That means the meaning of words often vary due to environmental differences. 4. Human Psychological Causes: Some psychological factors are also responsible for semantic change. It has been said that the meaning of a words often change or a new word may develop in people’s subconscious mind. For example, the term to trash is a good example of erasing files or e-mails from computer. People decide to use for that purpose because it is “convincing”; the persuasive power of this metaphor lies in the clear-shaped similarity between the concept throwing waste into the garbage can and to erase data. “As a consequence of adoption, the semantic innovations become lexicalized”. (Andreas Blank & Peter Koch, 1999, pg 62). Varshney (1985) referred some examples in this manner such as clothes-horse, horse- fish, horse-tail, horse-sense, horse-power etc. which have come out of the horse, because something had a vague resemblance to horse- in shape, situation or character. Similarly, words such as chicken-hearted, henpecked etc. are the result of semantic changes caused by psychological factor. The psychological causes of semantic changes can be discussed under two sections such as: Emotive factors: Most figure of speech especially metaphors and similes are motivated by emotive factors. For example, in the sentence ‘This information throws some light in this question’ where light means clarity instead of brightness. The word head is another good example which refers to the top part of a living creature’s body. But this word can be used metaphorically while using the expressions like head of the department.
Taboo Replacement: Generally, the word taboo means prohibition or restrictions. In civilized world, people usually avoid dirty words which make them feel a little awkward. Taboo replacement and avoidance of obscenity are another reason for semantic change. In semantic studies, there have been discussed about three types of taboos such as: (a) Taboo of fear : God > the Master, the Lord (b) Taboo of delicacy: legs (among ladies) > limbs (c) Taboo of Propriety: to die> pass away

5. Foreign Influences: Foreign words often put a great emphasize on semantic change. The influence of foreign words or substratum is one the major causes of semantic change. According to Campbell (1998), the substratum theory of linguistic change involves the idea that if people migrate into an area and their language is acquired by the original inhabitants of the area, then any changes in the language can be put down to the to the influence of the original language. For instance, in Old English pig, goat, ox were used not only to express the name of animal but also the flesh. But since the Norman conqueror named these flesh as pork, mutton and beef; those words are only used to express the name of animals. 6. The need for a New Name: When a new object is invented or new idea arises, we feel the need for a new name. In this case people do one of the three things: (a) Form a new word from existing elements. (b) Borrow a term from a foreign language or some other sources. (c) Alter the meaning of an old word.

For instance, the words such as rocket, missile, satellite, internet, hypertext, e-mail, selfie which are the new words emerged by new things or new tradition. That means, semantic change frequently occurs due to new tradition as well as new inventions. 7. Semantic Shift: The most neutral way of referring to change is simply to speak about semantic shift. For instance, the word gentle was borrowed in Middle English in the sense of born of a good-family, with a higher social standing. Later the sense courteous and kind, mild in manners developed because these qualities were regarded as qualities of the upper class.
Classification of Semantic Change Linguists have traced various types of semantic changes. In fact, Varshney says that there is a considerable disagreement among scholars on the classification and terminology of semantic change. He mentioned about the classification of semantic change stressed by Meillets such as changes due to linguistic reason, changes due to historical reason and changes due to social stratification. On the other hand, Prof. Sperber classifies these changes into two categories such as non-affective changes which deals with ellipsis and affective changes which deals with expansion, attraction and euphemism. According to Varshney, Stephen Ullmann classified semantic changes more comprehensively in his book The Principles of Semantic in which he tries to fuse the logico-rhetorical, generic, causal, eclectic empirical and functional approaches. According to Saussure, there are four types of semantic changes Similarity of Senses (metaphor), Contiguity of Senses (metonymy), Similarity of Names (popular etymology) and Contiguity of Names (ellipsis). But the most acceptable classification of semantic change has been made by Lehmann. According to him, semantic change occurs due to: 1. Reduction in Context: Occurs when the contexts of words is reduced. 2. Expansion in Context: Occurs when the words expand in possibility of context. 3. Alternation in Context: Occurs when the meaning of words totally change by alteration due to geographical, technical and social dialects. (Nerlich, 1992, P. 143).
The Consequences of Semantic Change Semantic change effectively changes the meaning of lexical items in multiple ways. As a result, the consequences of semantic change have enough importance which have been discussed in the following manner:

Narrowing or Restriction of Meaning: Due to semantic change, the meaning of words are often narrowed. For instance, the word hound was originally the general word for dog but today it only marks its hunting breeds. Here, the new meaning is more precise, covers only the part of the original meaning. Moreover, the English word meat was used for food in general but now it is restricted for a type of food only.
Widening or Extension of Meaning: Extension of meaning is another remarkable result of semantic change. Although it is somehow less common than restriction which is again observable diachronically. For instance, the English word rubbish only meant broken-stones but now it means all kinds of unwanted or left-over property. So, the expression of this word has become wider than before. Transfer or Shift of Meaning: Semantic change often results a complete shift or transfer of meaning. In ancient times, the word fee originally meant cattle because they were once used as payment but now fee means all kinds of payment instead of cattle. Similarly, the word pen meant quill or feathers as it was made of goose quills or feathers but at present it no longer means in this way. This is how, meanings of many words were completely shifted as a result of semantic change. Conclusion The job of linguists is to establish a diachronic study of language change. They have been tracing the origin, structure, historical development of all living languages of the world as well as studying the types and reasons of language change very precisely. At present, discussion about semantic change has received much significance since it has been traced as one of the major types of language change. Semantic change not only adds a new meaning to a word but also change the meaning entirely. It has been found out that the meaning of words are greatly affected by social, cultural, technological, environmental and political circumstances. William B. Hollmann (2009) says, “While semantic change was, due to its apparently complete unpredictability, for a long time the black sheep of the family of areas of language change, as a result of recent developments, it is now very well respected and as such is likely to attract a lot more research in the future”. In fact, different scholars have discussed about semantic change and classified it differently which ultimately shows a considerable disagreement among them. In this paper, the types, reasons and consequences of semantic change have been discussed to understand semantic change more precisely which may undoubtedly play a significant role to master more vocabulary and trace the historical development of language.

References
Blank, A & Koch, P. (1999). Historical Semantics and Cognition. Language Arts and Disciplines. (p. 62)
Campbell, L. (1998). Historical Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hollmann, W. H. (2009). English Language: Description, Variation and Context. (Ch. 35, p. 536).
Nerlich, B. (1992). Semantic Theories in Europe. Language Arts and Disciplines. (p. 143).
Yu, H & Ren, C. (2013. Analysis of English Semantic Change. Higher Education of Social Science. (p. 63).
Varshney, R.L. (1985). An Introductory Textbook of Phonetics and Linguistics. (Ch.19, p. 284-289).
Wijaya, D.T., & Yeniterzi, R. (2011). Understanding Semantic Change. Language Technologies Institute.…...

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Semantic

...επινόησε τον παγκόσμιο ιστό το 1989,είχε το όραμα ενός ιστού δεδομένων αυτόματα επεξεργάσιμων από τις εφαρμογές ,βάσει του νοήματος και όχι της μορφής της πληροφορίας Το κέντρο βάρους των περιεχομένων του διαδικτύου μετατοπίζεται συνεχώς από το ελεύθερο κείμενο που είναι πλήρως κατανοητό μόνο από τον άνθρωπο, προς την ημιδομημένη ή/και πλήρως δομημένη πληροφορία η οποία μπορεί να γίνει αυτόματα κατανοητή από διαδικτυακές εφαρμογές ,όπως είναι οι διαδικτυακές υπηρεσίες ή οι ευφυείς πράκτορες. Το Σημασιολογικό Διαδίκτυο αποτελεί πρωτοβουλία της Κοινοπραξίας του Παγκόσμιου Ιστού(W3C) και η σχετική δραστηριότητα (Semantic Web Activity) έχει δημιουργηθεί για να διαδραματίσει έναν ηγετικό ρόλο ,τόσο στο σχεδιασμό προδιαγραφών, όσο και ανοικτή ανάπτυξη της τεχνολογίας μέσω της συνεργασίας. Θα πρέπει να διευκρινιστεί ότι η ακριβής μετάφρασή του αγγλικού όρου Semantic Web είναι Σημασιολογικός Ιστός . όμως η τεχνολογία που αναπτύσσεται και το εύρος των εφαρμογών ,καλύπτουν και άλλους τομείς του διαδικτύου πχ το ηλεκτρονικό ταχυδρομείο. Επίσης, είναι γεγονός πως το διαδίκτυο(internet) γίνεται πλέον αντιληπτό στο χρήστη σχεδόν αποκλειστικά μέσω του παγκοσμίου ιστού. Σαν αποτέλεσμα, οι δύο όροι ιστός και διαδίκτυο χρησιμοποιούνται σχεδόν ταυτόσημα. Για τα παραπάνω, στο εξής θα χρησιμοποιείται ο όρος Σημασιολογικό Διαδίκτυο. 2.Το όραμα του Σημασιολογικού Διαδικτύου Το Σημασιολογικό Διαδίκτυο αποτελεί μια επέκταση του υπάρχοντος διαδικτύου, στην οποία η πληροφορία που......

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