Semasiology is the branch of the study of language concerned with the meaning of words and word equivalents. As semasiology deals not with every kind of meaning but with the lexical meaning only, it may be regarded as a branch of Lexicology.
There are two schools of thought in present- day linguistics representing the main lines of contemporary thinking on the problem: the referential approach which seeks to formulate the essence of meaning by establishing the interdependence between words and things or concepts they denote the functional approach, which studies the functions of a word in speech and is less concerned with what meaning is than with how it works
All major works on semantic theory have so far been based on referential concepts of meaning.
The essential feature of this approach is that it distinguishes between the three components closely connected with meaning: the sound form of the linguistic sign, the concept underlying this sound form and the referent. The best known referential model of meaning is the so-called basic triangle.
The sound form of the linguistic sign, e.g. [teibl], is connected with our concept of the piece of furniture which it denotes and through it with the referent, i.e. the actual table. The common feature of any referential approach is the implication that meaning is in some form or other connected with the referent.
The sound form of the word is not identical with its meaning. The connections are conventional and arbitrary. This can be easily proved by comparing the sound forms of different languages conveying the same meaning: стіл- стол- table – tisch.
For more convincing evidence of the conventional and arbitrary nature of the connection between sound form and meaning all we have to do is to point to homonyms. The word case means something that has happened and case also means a box, a container.
Concept is the category of human cognition. Concept is the thought of the object that singles out its essential features. Our concepts reflect the most common and typical features of different objects. Being the result of abstraction and generalisation all concepts are thus almost the same for the whole of humanity in one and the same period of its historical development.
e.g.: The concept of the physical organism is expressed in English by the word body but the semantic range of the English word is not identical. The word body is known to have developed a number of secondary meanings and may denote: a number of persons and things, a collective whole (the body of electors) as distinguished from the limbs and the head; hence, the main part as of an army, a structure of a book (the body of a book).
The difference between meaning and concept can also be observed by comparing synonymous words and word-groups expressing the same concepts but possessing a linguistic meaning which is felt as different in each of the units under consideration. e.g.: - to fail the exam, to come down, to muff; - to be ploughed, plucked.
Meaning is linguistic whereas the denoted object or the referent is beyond the scope of language. We can denote the same object by more than one word of a different meaning. e.g.: a table can be denoted by the words table, a piece of furniture, something, this as all these words may have the same referent.
The functional approach maintains that a linguistic study of meaning is the investigation of the relation of sign to sign only. The meaning of a linguistic unit may be studied only through its relation to either concept or referent.
e.g.: We know that the meaning of the two words a step and to step is different because they function in speech differently. To step may be followed by an adverb, a step cannot, but it may be proceeded by an adjective.
Grammatical Meaning Word-forms such as tables, chairs, bushes though denoting widely different objects of reality have something in common. This common element is the grammatical meaning of plurality.
Grammatical meaning may be defined as the component of meaning recurrent in identical sets of individual forms of different words. e.g.: the tense meaning in the word-forms of verbs (asked, spoke) or the case meaning in the word-forms of various nouns (the girls, the nights).
Lexical Meaning Unlike the grammatical meaning this component of meaning is identical in all the forms of the word. e.g.: the words write – writes – wrote – written possess different grammatical meanings of tense, person but in each of these forms we find the same semantic component denoting the process of putting words on the paper. This is the lexical meaning of the word which may be described as a linguistic unit recurrent in all the forms of the word and in all possible distributions of these forms.
The denotational meaning is component of the lexical meaning which makes communication possible. E.g. a doctor knows more about pneumonia than a dancer does but they use the word and understand each other.
The second component of the lexical meaning is the connotational component which has some stylistic value of the word, the emotive charge.
Words contain an element of emotive evaluation as part of the connotational meaning. The word hovel denotes a small house or cottage and besides implies that it is a miserable dwelling place, dirty, in bad repair and unpleasant to live in.
Many connotations associated with names of animals, birds, insects are universally understood and used. e.g.: calf (теленок)– a young inexperienced person; donkey (осел)– a foolish person; monkey (обезьяна)– a mischievous child; serpent (змея)– a treacherous, malicious person.
A word that has more than one meaning in the language is called polysemantic.
The word face meaning front part of a human head was made to serve as the name of the front part of the watch where all the changes of time were shown; the word hand meaning part of a human body used to work and indicate things with was made to serve as the name of the indicator.
Monosemantic words are comparatively rare in the English language. These are pronouns and numerals. The greatest number of monosemantic words can be found among terms, the very nature of which requires precision. But even here we must mention that terms are monosemantic only within one branch of science. e.g.: to dress – to bandage a wound (medical terminology); to dress – to prepare the earth for sowing (terminology of agriculture); to dress – to decorate with flags (naval terminology).
Words belonging to the most active, vitally important and widely used part of the English vocabulary are generally polysemantic.
Extension of meaning means extension of the word range. In most cases it is naturally combined with a higher degree of abstraction than implied in the earlier meaning of the word.
Most words begin as specific names for things. however, this precise denotation is lost ant the meaning of the word gets extended and generalised. e.g.: Season once had the meaning spring, time for sowing. Now it embraces all parts of the year.
Salary once had the meaning the money to buy salt for. Now it means money to buy anything. Town once meant fence. Now it denotes a settlement. Arrive once meant to land, to reach the shore. Now any place of destination is presupposed.
Narrowing of meaning is the process when a word acquires a specialised sense in which it is applicable only to some of the objects it had previously denoted or a word of wide usage is restricted in its application and comes to be used only in a special sense.
Coffin once meant a box. Then it began to mean a special box for the dead.
These are the cases in which narrowing took place due to the concretization of meaning. Sometimes narrowing takes place due to the differentiation of concepts. This is the case when two words were synonyms once and then they acquired different meanings. e.g.: Stool once meant табурет і стул. After the word chair was borrowed from French, the word stool began to be used only for табурет.
Elevation of meaning presupposes the following thing. Words often rise from humble beginnings to positions of greater importance.
Some highly complimentary words were originally applied to things of comparatively slight importance. e.g.: Fame meant news (good or bad). Now it means glory.
To adore had the meaning to speak with, to greet, to address. Now it means to love, to worship. The words офис, менеджмент, курьер are considered to have better meanings than контора, управления, посыльный.
Degradation of meaning is the process whereby for one reason or another a word falls into disrepute. Words once respectable may become less respectable. Some words reach such a low point that it is considered improper to use them at all. e.g.: Idiot meant private in Greek and uneducated in Latin. Now it has a negative meaning of a fool in both languages.
Metaphor is a transfer of name based on the association of similarity and thus is actually a hidden comparison.
Metaphors may be created on the similarity of different physical properties, such as: - similarity of shape : needles eye, tables leg; - similarity of size: midget, elephantine; - similarity of colour: orange, violet; - similarity of function: hand, finger-post; - similarity of position: back of the chair, foot of the mountain; - similarity of firmness: egg-shell china, steel resolution.
Metonymy is a device in which the name of one thing is changed for that of another to which it is related by association of ideas as having close relationship to one another.
The simplest case of metonymy is synecdoche. Synecdoche means giving a part for the whole or vice versa. e.g.: The word violin is often used to denote not the instrument but the musician who plays it.
Faded metonymy can be found in the political vocabulary when the place of some establishment is used not only for the establishment itself or its staff but also for its policy: the White House, the Pentagon, Інститут святкує своє десятиріччя.
Other examples of metonymy include: 1. The sign for the thing signified: grey hair (old age). 2. The instrument for the agent: the best pens of the day (the best writers). Он – первая скрипка. 3. The container for the thing contained: He drank a cup. Чайник закипел.
4. The names of various organs can be used in the same way: head can be used for brains; heart often stands for emotions. Honey tongue, a heart of gall.У нее золотое сердце.
5. A part of species substituted for a whole or genus: He manages to earn his bread (the necessaries of life).
6. A whole or genus substitutes for a part or species: He is a poor creature (man). Он – бедное существо.
7. The name of the material which stands for the thing made of this material: iron, kid, фарфор, фаянс. Due to a great variety of associations there are a lot of cases where metonymy is disguised. e.g.: sandwich is named after John Montague, earl of Sandwich, who invented this kind of meal; champagne – a white sparkling wine made in the province of Champagne (France);