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V. Analyse the process of development of new meanings in the italicized words in the examples given below


1.I put the letter well into the mouth of the box and let it go and it fell turning over and over like an autumn leaf. 2. Those v/ho had been the head of the line paused momentarily on entry and looked around curiously. 3. A cheerful-looking girl in blue jeans came up to the stairs whistling. 4. Seated behind a desk, he wore a light patterned suit, switch from his usual tweeds. 5. Oh, Steven, I read a Dickens the other day. It was awfully funny. 6. They sat on the rug before the fireplace, savouring its warmth, watching the rising tongues of flame. 7. He inspired universal confidence and had an iron nerve. 8. A very small boy in a green jersey with light red hair cut square across his forehead was peering at Steven between the electric fire and the side of the fireplace. 9. While the others were settling down, Lucy saw Pearson take another bite from his sandwich. 10. As I walked nonchalantly past Hugo's house on the other side they were already carrying out the Renoirs.

VI. Explain the basis for the following jokes. Trace the logical associations between the different meanings of the same word.


1. Father was explaining to his little son the fundamentals of astronomy.

"That's a comet."

"A what?"

"A comet. You know what a comet is?" "No."

"Don't you know what they call a star with a tail?"

"Sure — Mickey Mouse."


2. "Pa, what branches did you take when you went to school?"

"I never went to high school, son, but when I attended the little log school-house they used mostly hickory and beech and willow."


3. What has eyes yet never sees? (Potato)


4. H e (in telephone booth)'. I want a box for two.

Voice (at the other end): Sorry, but we don't have boxes for two.

He: But aren't you the box office of the theatre? Voice: No, we are the undertakers.


VII. In the examples given below identify the eases of widening and narrowing of meaning.


1. While the others waited the elderly executive filled his pipe and lit it. 2. Finn was watching the birds. 3. The two girls took hold of one another, one acting gentleman, the other lady; three or four more pairs of girls immediately joined them and began a waltz. 4. He was informed that the president had not arrived at the bank, but was on his way. 5. Smokey had followed a dictum all his life: If you want a woman to stick beside you, pick an ugly one. Ugly ones stay to slice the meat and stir the gravy.

VIII. Have the italicized words evaluative connotations in their meanings? Motivate your answer and comment on the history of the words.


1. The directors now assembling were admirals and field marshals of commerce. 2. For a businessman to be invited to serve on a top-flight bank board is roughly equivalent to being knighted by the British Queen. 3.1 had a nice newsy gossip with Mrs. Needham before you turned up last night. 4. The little half-starved guy looked more a victim than a. villain. 5. Meanwhile I nodded my head vigorously and directed a happy smile in the direction of the two ladies. 6.1 shook hands with Tom; it seemed silly not to, for I felt suddenly as though I were talking to a child.


IX. Read the following. Find examples of "degeneration" and "elevation" of meaning. Comment on the history of the words.


1. King Arthur invented Conferences because he was secretly a Weak King and liked to know what his memorable thousand and one knights wanted to do next. As they were all jealous knights he had to have the memorable Round Table made to have the Conferences at, so that it was impossible to say which was top knight.

(From 1066 and All That by C. W. Sellar, R. J. Yeatman)


2. Alf: Where are you going, Ted?

Ted: Fishing at the old mill.

Alf: But what about school?

Ted: Don't be silly. There aren't any fish there!


X. Try your hand at the following scientific research. Write a short essay on the development of the meanings of three of the following words. Try to explain each shift of meaning. Use "The Shorter Oxford Dictionary" or "The Merriam-Webster Book of Word Histories".

Fee, cattle, school, pupil, nice, pen, gossip, coquette, biscuit, apron, merry, silly, doom, duke, pretty, yankee.





Words of the Same Form

Homonyms are words which are identical in sound and spelling, or, at least, in one of these aspects, but different in their meaning.


E. g. bank, n. — a shore

bank, n.— an institution for receiving,

lending, exchanging, and

safeguarding money

ball, n. — a sphere; any spherical body

ball, n. — a large dancing party


English vocabulary is rich in such pairs and even groups of words. Their identical forms are mostly accidental: the majority of homonyms coincided due to phonetic changes which they suffered during their development.

If synonyms and antonyms can be regarded as the treasury of the language's expressive resources, homonyms are of no interest in this respect, and one cannot expect them to be of particular value for communication. Metaphorically speaking, groups of synonyms and pairs of antonyms are created by the vocabulary system with a particular purpose whereas homonyms are accidental creations, and therefore purposeless.

In the process of communication they are more of an encumbrance, leading sometimes to confusion and misunderstanding. Yet it is this very characteristic which makes them one of the most important sources of popular humour.

The pun is a joke based upon the play upon words of similar form but different meaning (i. e. on homonyms) as in the following:


"A tailor guarantees to give each of his customers a perfect fit."


(The joke is based on the homonyms: I. fit, n. — perfectly fitting clothes; II. fit, n. — a nervous spasm.)

Homonyms which are the same in sound and spelling (as the examples given in the beginning of this chapter) are traditionally termed homonyms proper.

The following joke is based on a pun which makes use of another type of homonyms:



"Yes, sir." ,

"What's this?"

"It's bean soup, sir."

"Never mind what it has been. I want to know what it is now."

Bean, n. and been. Past Part. of to be are homophones. As the example shows they are the same in sound but different in spelling. Here are some more examples of homophones:


night, n. — knight, n.; piece, n. — peace, n.; scent, n. — cent, n. — Bent, v. (Past Indef., Past Part, of to send); rite, n. — to write, v. — right, adj.; sea, n. — to see, v. — С [sl:] (the name of a letter).


The third type of homonyms is called homographs. These are words which are the same in spelling but different in sound.



Sources of Homonyms


One source of homonyms has already been mentioned: phonetic changes which words undergo in the course of their historical development. As a result of such changes, two or more words which were formerly pronounced differently may develop identical sound forms and thus become homonyms.

Night and knight, for instance, were not homonyms in Old English as the initial k in the second word was pronounced, and not dropped as it is in its modern sound form: O. E. kniht (cf. О. Е. niht). A more complicated change of form brought together another pair of homonyms: to knead (O. E. cnedan) and to need (O. E. neodian).

In Old English the verb to write had the form writan, and the adjective right had the forms reht, riht. The noun sea descends from the Old English form sx, and the verb to see from O. E. seon. The noun work and the verb to work also had different forms in Old English: wyrkean and weork respectively.

Borrowing is another source of homonyms. A borrowed word may, in the final stage of its phonetic adaptation, duplicate in form either a native word or another borrowing. So, in the group of homonyms rite, n. — to write, v. — right, adj. the second and third words are of native origin whereas rite is a Latin borrowing (< Lat. ritus). In the pair piece, n. —peace, n., the first originates from O. F. pais, and the second fromO. F.(< Gaulish) pettia. Bank, n. ("shore") is a native word, and bank, n. ("a financial institution") is an Italian borrowing. Fair, adj. (as in a fair deal, it's not fair) is native, and fair, a. ("a gathering of buyers and sellers") is a French borrowing. Match, n. ("a game; a contest of skill, strength") is native, and match, n. ("a slender short piece of wood used for producing fire") is a French borrowing.

Word-building also contributes significantly to the growth of homonymy, and the most important type in this respect is undoubtedly conversion. Such pairs of words as comb, n. — to comb, v., pale, adj. — to pale, v., to make, v. — make, n. are numerous in the vocabulary. Homonyms of this type, which are the same in sound and spelling but refer to different categories of parts of speech, are called lexico-grammatical homonyms. [12]

Shortening is a further type of word-building which increases the number of homonyms. E. g. fan, n. in the sense of "an enthusiastic admirer of some kind of sport or of an actor, singer, etc." is a shortening produced from fanatic. Its homonym is a Latin borrowing fan, n. which denotes an implement for waving lightly to produce a cool current of air. The noun rep, n. denoting a kind of fabric (cf. with the R. репс) has three homonyms made by shortening: rep, n.(< repertory), rep, n. (< representative), rep, n.(< reputation)', all the three are informal words.

During World War II girls serving in the Women's Royal Naval Service (an auxiliary of the British Royal Navy) were jokingly nicknamed Wrens (informal). This neologistic formation made by shortening has the homonym wren, n. "a small bird with dark brown plumage barred with black" (R. крапивник).

Words made by sound-imitation can also form pairs of homonyms with other words: e. g. bang, n. ("a loud, sudden, explosive noise") — bang, n. ("a fringe of hair combed over the forehead"). Also: mew, n. ("the sound a cat makes") — mew, n. ("a sea gull") — mew, n. ("a pen in which poultry is fattened") — mews ("small terraced houses in Central London").

The above-described sources of homonyms have one important feature in common. In all the mentioned cases the homonyms developed from two or more different words, and their similarity is purely accidental. (In this respect, conversion certainly presents an exception for in pairs of homonyms formed by conversion one word of the pair is produced from the other: a find < to find.)

Now we come to a further source of homonyms which differs essentially from all the above cases. Two or more homonyms can originate from different meanings of the same word when, for some reason, the semantic structure of the word breaks into several parts. This type of formation of homonyms is called split polysemy.

From what has been said in the previous chapters about polysemantic words, it should have become clear that the semantic structure of a polysemantic word presents a system within which all its constituent meanings are held together by logical associations. In most cases, the function of the arrangement and the unity is determined by one of the meanings (e. g. the meaning "flame" in the noun fire — see Ch. 7, p. 133). If this meaning happens to disappear from the word's semantic structure, associations between the rest of the meanings may be severed, the semantic structure loses its unity and falls into two or more parts which then become accepted as independent lexical units.

Let us consider the history of three homonyms:

board, n. — a long and thin piece of timber

board, n. — daily meals, esp. as provided for pay,

e. g. room and board

board, n. — an official group of persons who direct

or supervise some activity, e. g. a board

of directors


It is clear that the meanings of these three words are in no way associated with one another. Yet, most larger dictionaries still enter a meaning of board that once held together all these other meanings "table". It developed from the meaning "a piece of timber" by transference based on contiguity (association of an object and the material from which it is made). The meanings "meals" and "an official group of persons" developed from the meaning "table", also by transference based on contiguity: meals are easily associated with a table on which they are served; an official group of people in authority are also likely to discuss their business round a table.

Nowadays, however, the item of furniture, on which meals are served and round which boards of directors meet, is no longer denoted by the word board but by the French Norman borrowing table, and board in this meaning, though still registered by some dictionaries, can very well be marked as archaic as it is no longer used in common speech. That is why, with the intrusion of the borrowed table, the word board actually lost its corresponding meaning. But it was just that meaning which served as a link to hold together the rest of the constituent parts of the word's semantic structure. With its diminished role as an element of communication, its role in the semantic structure was also weakened. The speakers almost forgot that board had ever been associated with any item of furniture, nor could they associate the concepts of meals or of a responsible committee with a long thin piece of timber (which is the oldest meaning of board). Consequently, the semantic structure of board was split into three units. The following scheme illustrates the process:

Board, n. (development of meanings)




Board I, II, III, n. (split polysemy)



A somewhat different case of split polysemy may be illustrated by the three following homonyms:

spring, n. — the act of springing, a leap spring, n. — a place where a stream of water comes up out of the earth (R. родник, источник)

spring, n. — a season of the year.


Historically all three nouns originate from the same verb with the meaning of "to jump, to leap" (O. E. springan), so that the meaning of the first homonym is the oldest. The meanings of the second and third homonyms were originally based on metaphor. At the head of a stream the water sometimes leaps up out of the earth, so that metaphorically such a place could well be described as a leap.On the other hand, the season of the year following winter could be poetically defined as a leap from the darkness and cold into sunlight and life. Such metaphors are typical enough of Old English and Middle English semantic transferences but not so characteristic of modern mental and linguistic processes. The poetic associations that lay in the basis of the semantic shifts described above have long since been forgotten, and an attempt to re-establish the lost links may well seem far-fetched. It is just the near-impossibility of establishing such links that seems to support the claim for homonymy and not for polysemy with these three words.

It should be stressed, however, that split polysemy as a source of homonyms is not accepted by some scholars. It is really difficult sometimes to decide whether a certain word has or has not been subjected to the split of the semantic structure and whether we are dealing 5 with different meanings of the same word or with homonyms, for the criteria are subjective and imprecise. The imprecision is recorded in the data of different dictionaries which often contradict each other on this very issue, so that board is represented as two homonyms in Professor V. K. Muller's dictionary [41], as three homonyms in Professor V. D. Arakin's [36] and as one and the same word in Hornby's dictionary [45].

Spring also receives different treatment. V. K. Muller's and Hornby's dictionaries acknowledge but two homonyms: I. a season of the year, II. a) the act of springing, a leap, b) a place where a stream of water comes up out of the earth; and some other meanings, whereas V. D. Arakin's dictionary presents the three homonyms as given above.


Classification of Homonyms


The subdivision of homonyms into homonyms proper, homophones and homographs is certainly not precise enough and does not reflect certain important features of these words, and, most important of all, their status as parts of speech. The examples given in the beginning of this chapter show that homonyms may belong both to the same and to different categories of parts of speech. Obviously, a classification of homonyms should reflect this distinctive feature. Also, the paradigm of each word should be considered, because it has been observed that the paradigms of some homonyms coincide completely, and of others only partially.

Accordingly, Professor A. I. Smirnitsky classified homonyms into two large classes: I. full homonyms, II. partial homonyms [15].

Full lexical homonyms are words which represent the same category of parts of speech and have the same paradigm.



Partial homonyms are subdivided into three subgroups:

A. Simple lexico-grammatical partial homonyms are words which belong to the same category of parts of speech. Their paradigms have one identical form, but it is never the same form, as will be seen from the examples.



B. Complex lexico-grammatical partial homonyms are words of different categories of parts of speech which have one identical form in their paradigms.


E. g. rose, n.

rose, v. (Past Indef. of to rise}

maid, n.

made, v. (Past Indef., Past Part. of to make}

left, adj.

left, v. (Past Indef., Past Part. of to leave)

bean, n.

been, v. (Past Part. of to be)

one, num.

won, v. (Past Indef., Past Part. of to win)

C. Partial lexical homonyms are words of the same category of parts of speech which are identical only in their corresponding forms.


E. g. to lie (lay, lain), v.

to lie (lied, lied), v.

to hang {hung, hung}, v.

to hang (hanged, hanged), v.

to can canned, canned)

(I) can (could)





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