English lexicology changes in word meaning l.jpg
This presentation is the property of its rightful owner.
Sponsored Links
1 / 35

English Lexicology Changes in word meaning PowerPoint PPT Presentation

  • Uploaded on
  • Presentation posted in: General

English Lexicology Changes in word meaning. Week 12 Instructor: Liu Hongyong. Warming-up. Do you think the following two words are related or not? In what way are they related? salt salary holyholiday awe awesomeawful (awesome/awful day?) fondfoolish

Download Presentation

English Lexicology Changes in word meaning

An Image/Link below is provided (as is) to download presentation

Download Policy: Content on the Website is provided to you AS IS for your information and personal use and may not be sold / licensed / shared on other websites without getting consent from its author.While downloading, if for some reason you are not able to download a presentation, the publisher may have deleted the file from their server.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - E N D - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Presentation Transcript

English lexicology changes in word meaning l.jpg

English LexicologyChanges in word meaning

Week 12

Instructor: Liu Hongyong

Warming up l.jpg


Do you think the following two words are related or not? In what way are they related?

salt salary


awe awesomeawful (awesome/awful day?)


nice know <ne (Latin: not)+scire (Latin: know)

ladyloaf<loaf+kneader (lady)

lordloaf<lo(af+wa)rd (lord)

Overview l.jpg


  • Definition of changes of word meaning

  • Types of changes

    • Specialization

    • Extension

    • Degeneration

    • Elevation

    • Transference

  • Causes of changes

    • Historical reason

    • Social reason

    • Psychological reason

    • Linguistic reason

Changes in word meaning l.jpg

Changes in word meaning

  • When a word loses its old meaning and comes to refer to something different, the result is a change in word meaning.

  • Change of meaning refers to the alternation of the meaning of existing words, as well as theaddition of new meaning to a particular word.

  • Changing word meaning has never ceased since the beginning of the language and will continue in the future.

  • The changes in meaning are gradual, and words are not changed in a day.

Types of change l.jpg

Types of Change

  • Extension of meaning

  • Narrowing of meaning

  • Elevation of meaning

  • Degradation of meaning

Extension of meaning l.jpg

Extension of Meaning 词义的扩大

  • Generalization of Meaning

  • It is a process by which a word which originally had a specialized meaning has now become generalized or has extended to cover a broader concept.

  • 一个原本具有特殊意义的单词的词义被延伸,范围扩大,可以用来指代一种更普遍的词义。

Slide7 l.jpg


  • (original) a sum of money given to Roman soldiers to enable them to buy salt (政府按时发给古罗马军人一些买盐的钱)

  • (present) fixed payment made by employer at regular intervals to employees (薪水)


  • (original) holy day, a day of religious significance (宗教节日,神圣的日子)

  • (present) day of festivity or recreation


    由专指“农业收成”扩大到指称 “一切行为的所得”,如“参观的收获”。


    由专指“船舶进入水浅的地方不能前进”扩大到指称 一切“事情遭到阻碍而不能进行”, 如“这次旅游的事无限期地搁浅了。”

Slide8 l.jpg

A large proportion of polysemous words of modern English have their meanings extended sometime in the course of development. Some words are generalized to such a degree that they can mean almost everything.

  • She is such a pretty little thing.

  • I have to pack my thingsfor the journey.

  • There is another thingI want to ask you about.

  • That only makesthings worse.

  • The thingis, can we finish the job in time?

“Thing” which used to mean “a public assembly” or “a council” in Anglo-Saxon times, now has become an all-purpose word. Its meaning is so general, and we sometimes call this noun a ‘light noun’.

A chinese example l.jpg

A Chinese Example: …的话





(original) Spoken words

A light noun, which can refer to anything



Jiang, L.-S. 2004. About the lexicalization of the cross-structural combination “de hua”. Zhongguo Yuwen 5: 387-400.

(downloadable from 中国期刊网)

Slide10 l.jpg

  • Generalization of meaning is also found in many technical terms, which are confined to specialized use.


  • (original) too sensitive to medicine 患过敏症的

  • (present) averse or disinclined to 反感的;厌恶的


  • (original) a legal term signifying “the plea that the accused is not at the place when the crime is committed” (被告人不在犯罪现场的证明)

  • (present) excuse (借口)

Narrowing of meaning l.jpg

Narrowing of Meaning词义的缩小

  • It is a process by which a word of wide meaning acquires a narrow or specialized sense. In other words, a word which used to have a more general sense becomes restricted in its application and conveys a special concept in present-day English.

  • 把词义范围较广的词缩小,表示特指,即过去具有普遍意义的词变化后,现在仅仅表达特殊意义。

  • Narrowing; specialization; restriction

Narrowing of meaning13 l.jpg

Narrowing of Meaning

For economy, some phrases are shortened and only one element of the original, usually an adjective, is left to retain the meaning of the whole. Such adjectives have thus taken on specialized meanings.

  • a general = a general officer

  • an editorial = an editorial article

    Some material nouns are used to refer to objects made of them and thus have a more specific sense.

  • glass a cup-like container or a mirror

  • iron device for smoothing clothes

Change in associative meaning l.jpg

Change in associative meaning

  • Both extension and narrowing of meaning are talking about the changes in conceptual meaning. Next we will talk about the changes in associative meaning.

    • Elevation of meaning

    • Degradation of meaning

Elevation of meaning l.jpg

Elevation of Meaning 词义的升华

  • It is the process by which words rise from humble beginnings to positions of importance.

  • Some words early in their history signify something quite low or humble, but change to designate something agreeable or pleasant.

  • 词义的升华指词由贬义或中性转变为褒义。即,有些词在历史上表示“卑微、下贱”之义,随着时间的推移转为“惬意的,愉快的”。

  • A “snarl” word becomes a “purr” word, or a slang becomes a common word.

  • elevation; amelioration

Examples of elevation l.jpg

Examples of elevation


  • ignorant --- foolish --- delightful, pleasant


  • foolish --- affectionate


  • terrible---terrific


  • a keeper of horses --- a high ranking army officer


  • a keeper of horses --- a policeman

Terrific headache

Terrific party

Degradation of meaning l.jpg

Degradation of Meaning 词义的降格

  • It is a process by which words with appreciatoryor neutral affective meaning fall into ill reputation or come to be used in a derogatory sense.

  • 这是一个词由原先表示褒义或者中性意义转为表示贬义的过程。

  • A “purr” word becomes a “snarl” word.

  • degradation, degeneration, pejoration

Examples l.jpg



  • blessed and happy--- innocent----simple or simple-minded ----foolish


  • full, satisfied, contented ----- calm ------ serious ----sorrowful

Transference of meaning l.jpg

Transference of Meaning词义的转移

  • Definition

    • Some words which were used to designate one thing but later changed to mean something else have experienced the process of semantic transfer, known as transference of meaning.

    • 有些词原指称某些事物,后来发生变化,转为指称另外的事物,就是词义的转移。

  • The lip of a wound 伤口的边缘

  • The tongues of fire

  • The footof a mountain

Causes of change l.jpg

Causes of Change

Extra-linguistic factors

  • Historical reason

  • Social reason

  • Psychological reason

    Linguistic factors

  • Ellipsis

  • Analogy

  • Figurative use of words

    • Metaphor

    • Metonym

Historical reason l.jpg

Historical reason

  • A word is retained its original form, though its meaning has changed because the referent has changed.



Social reason l.jpg

Social reason

  • Language records the speech and attitude of different social classes, so different social varieties of language have come into being.

  • The attitude of classes have penetrated into lexical meaning, particularly in the case of elevation and degradation.

  • Quite a number of words that denote different sorts of working people or their occupations have taken on a pejorative sense.

    Churl, hussy, villain which were originally neutral have been down-graded as “ill-manned or bad people”.

Psychological reason l.jpg

Psychological reason

  • The associated transfer of meaning and euphemistic use of words, etc. are often due to psychological factors.

  • People change word meaning owing to various psychological motives: love, respect, courtesy, suspicion, pessimism, sarcasm, irony, contempt, hatred, avoidance of embarrassment, etc.

Example rubber l.jpg

Example: rubber

Occasionally you can see some good reason for a change of meaning. For example, the word rubber used to be used to mean ‘eraser’ in New Zealand varieties of English (as in British varieties), but was rejected in favor of eraser once rubber came to mean ‘condom’.

This kind of embarrassment has also led people in many parts of the English-speaking world to stop calling the male of the domestic fowl a cock, preferring rooster instead.

This kind of embarrassment has been suggested as the reason that ass was replaced by the word donkey in everyday usage.

Linguistic factors l.jpg

Linguistic factors

  • The change of meaning may be caused by the internal factors within the language system.

    • Ellipsis

    • Borrowing

    • Analogy

    • Figurative use of a word

Ellipsis l.jpg

Ellipsis (省略)

  • The meaning of a word may change when a phrase is shortened to one word which retains the meaning of the whole. This is called ellipsis.

    gold: gold medal

    daily: daily newspaper

The meaning of the word “gold” has changed from material to refer to the whole phrase “gold medal”. This kind of change often occurs in habitual collocations.

Borrowing l.jpg


The influx of borrowings has caused some words to change in meaning.


(original) a wild animal of any sort from a lion to a mouse.

In Middle Ages, the French word beste (=beast) became the general word.

In 16th century, the Latin word animal was also adopted into the English vocabulary.

Today deercan only refer to a particular kind of animal.

Analogy l.jpg

Analogy (类推)

  • If an adjective develops a new meaning, the derived noun from the adjective will have a corresponding new meaning by analogy. The process can be applied to a word of any word class.

Diplomatic: Diplomacy


(original) skillful in dealing with international relations

(present) skillful in dealing with any kind of relations


(original) the art of dealing with international relations

(present) ???


Figurative use of words l.jpg

Figurative use of words

Change in word meaning may result from the figurative use of the language. Metaphor and metonymy are two important figures of speech (修辞手法).

  • Metaphor is a figure of speech containing an implied comparison based on similarity. A cunning person may be referred to as a fox. Here “fox” means something other than its literal meaning. The word “fox” gets the figurative meaning of “a cunning person”.

Metaphor l.jpg


This is also a horse, but a metaphorical horse.

Example foot l.jpg

Example: foot

This meaning is derived through the metaphor

“The last line on this page is the foot of the page.”


1. The lower extremity of the vertebrate leg that is in direct contact with the ground in standing or walking.

2. The lowest part; the bottom

the foot of a mountain

the foot of a page

Metonymy l.jpg

Metonymy (借喻)

  • Metonymy is another important factor in semantic change. It is a figure of speech by which an object or an idea is described by the name of something else closely related to it.

    如“敌人像狗一样夹着尾巴逃跑了”运用的是明 喻,换成借喻就是“这条狗夹着尾巴逃跑了”。在上面 两句中,本体是“敌人”,喻体是“狗”,喻词是“像”。由明喻到借喻,只是省略了本体和喻词。因此所有借喻 只要增加本体和喻词都可以转换成明喻。

Example seat l.jpg

Example: seat

Seat (its sense is extended to the right to sit as a member of a committee, such as the House of Commons)

He lost his seat in House of Commons.

The word “seat” has acquired the meaning of “the right to sit as a member” through the above metonym.

More example cradle l.jpg

More Example: cradle

These meanings are derived through the following metonyms.


1. A small low bed for an infant, often furnished with rockers

2. The earliest period of life; infancy

from the cradle to the grave

3. A place of origin; a birthplace

the cradle of civilization.

Summary l.jpg


  • Definition of changes of word meaning

  • Types of changes

    • Specialization

    • Extension

    • Degeneration

    • Elevation

    • Transference

  • Causes of changes

    • Historical reason

    • Social reason

    • Psychological reason

    • Linguistic reason

  • Login