Genesis of Figurative Lexico-Semantic Variant of a Word

 © The Editorial Council and Editorial Board of Linguistic Studies

Linguistic Studies
Volume 32, 2016, pp.  12-17

Genesis of Figurative Lexico-Semantic Variant of a Word

Peftieva Olena

Article first published online: December 26, 2016 


Additional information

 Author Information: 
Olena Peftieva is Doctor of Philosophy, associate professor, head of the Theory and Practice in Translation department of Mariupol State University. The domain of research interests includes cognitive and comparative linguistics. Correspondence: peftieva@gmail.com; o.peftieva@mdu.in.ua

Citation: 
Peftieva, O. Genesis of Figurative Lexico-Semantic Variant of a Word [Text] // Linhvistychni Studiyi / Linguistic Studies : collection of scientific papers / 
Vasyl' Stus Donetsk  National  University; Ed. by Anatoliy Zahnitko. – Vinnytsia : Vasyl' Stus DonNU, 2016. – Vol. 32. – Pp. 12-17. – ISBN 966-7277-88-7

Publication History:
Volume first published online: 
December 26, 2016

Article received: September 5, 2016, accepted: November 3, 2016 and first published online: December 26, 2016

Annotation.

Topicality of the given work is conditioned by the perception of figurativeness as an inherent component in the semantic structure of a word, besides verbal figurativeness has not been studied in terms of its genesis.

Keywords: verbal figurativeness; semantic paradigm; structure of a word; lexico-semantic variant; nuclear, differential, potential semes.



Abstract.

GENESIS OF FIGURATIVE LEXICO-SEMANTIC VARIANT OF A WORD

Olena Peftieva

Department of Theory and Practice in Translation, Mariupol State University, Ukraine

Abstract

Background: Topicality of the given work is conditioned by the perception of figurativeness as an inherent component in the semantic structure of a word, besides verbal figurativeness has not been studied in terms of its genesis.

Purpose: The purpose of the analysis is to determine the origin of verbal figurativeness using figurative nouns denoting a person as an empiric data.

Results: Verbal figurativeness is perceived here as a semantic component in the structure of a connotative meaning of a word along with the evaluative, stylistic, emotive and expressive components. Figurativeness is the quality transference from an object to another one. These objects do not belong to the same class but the identity is found in the real or imaginative associations between them. The regular occurrences take place in these transferences. The categorial shift from abstract to concrete and change in seme status in figurative LSV are among them. Genesis of figurativeness is rooted in a definite LSV of a word in the connotative or denotative meaning of a base LSV; the latter contains the common seme for the base and figurative LSV which is the stepping stone for figurativeness genesis.

Discussion: The figurative meaning of a word emerges mostly from the first lexico-semantic variant of a word, which is considered as a base LSV, and largely from potential seme of a base LSV. Besides the categorial shift and seme status variations occur in figurative lexico-semantic variant of a word.

Keywords: verbal figurativeness; semantic paradigm; structure of a word; lexico-semantic variant; nuclear, differential, potential semes.

 

Vitae

Olena Peftieva is Doctor of Philosophy, associate professor, head of the Theory and Practice in Translation department of Mariupol State University. The domain of research interests includes cognitive and comparative linguistics. 

Correspondence: peftieva@gmail.com; o.peftieva@mdu.in.ua


Article.

Olena Peftieva

УДК 811.111’373.612.2(045)

GENESIS OF FIGURATIVE LEXICO-SEMANTIC VARIANT OF A WORD

 

Статтю присвячено ґенезі образного лексико-семантичного варіанта слова. Досліджено джерела лінгвістичної образності. Встановлено продуктивність порядкового номера лексико-семантичного варіанту слова, а також ядерної, диференційної та потенційної сем з точки зору породження образності. Зафіксовано категоріальний зсув та зміна статусу сем у образному лексико-семантичному варіанті слова. Образний компонент розглядається як невід’ємна частина конотативного значення слова.

Ключові слова: образний компонент, лексико-семантичний варіант слова, семантична парадигма, ядерна, диференційна, потенційна семи.

 

1. Introductory remarks 

The article highlights the results of the study of verbal figurativeness genesis in the structure of the lexical meaning of the nouns denoting a person in English language, such lexical units as given in the examples (1) – (2). 

 

(1) dumpling 1. a small savoury ball of dough; 2. a small fat person

(2) predator 1. an animal that naturally preys on others; 2. a person whose behaviour is rapacious or exploitative (SOED)  

Lexical units, with figurative component (synonymic term: an image-bearing component of a word) in their semantic structure, constitute the bulk of the vocabulary. Words with an available figurative component in their semantic structure rank a significant place in the language vocabulary. It’s difficult even to imagine the existence of a word without image-bearing component, because while hearing a completely unfamiliar word, presented out of the context, certain associations arise in the mind of the listener. Ferdinand de Saussure believed that “each word may always evoke everything which is somehow capable to be associated with it in the memory” (Saussure 159). The same idea is supported by G. Kustova, who claims that “every word has a semantic potential and can serve as a source of semantic extension because any word can have a derivative” (Kustova 23). Olexander Potebnya stated that figurative words should concurrently exist along with the words without figurative component (Potebnya 224).

The figurative meaning of a word is interpreted in various ways by different linguists. In this work, verbal figurativeness is understood as a semantic component in the structure of a word lexical meaning along with denotative and connotative components. The figurative component is based on the expression of one object or phenomenon by means of another one. These two objects are not identical but real or imaginative associations are found between them.

The history of verbal figurativeness is rooted in high antiquity. First, the interest to it appears as an interest to poetic language and stylistic devices to embellish language. Some aspects of verbal figurativeness were considered in ancient treatise of rhetoric by Aristotle (Aristotle). The commencement of verbal figurativeness in modern researches was given by the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who reasoned “Figurative language was the first to be born. Proper meaning was discovered last” (Rousseau 12) and Leo Hartley Grindon with his seminal work Figurative language, its origin and constitution (Grindon).  

A significant contribution to the study of verbal figurativeness was made by contemporary works of N. Arutyunova, A. Blinova, L. Belekhova, A. Koralova, M. Lebedeva, S. Mezenin, O. Peftieva, M. Rooth, U. Soloviy, V. Harchenko, A. Yurina, A. Barcelona, M. Black, L. Boroditsky, S. Coulson, W. Croft, R. Dirven, D. Geeraerts, R. Gibbs, J. Grady, T. Oakley, V. Haser, A. Katz, G. Lakoff, G. Murphy, A. Musolff, G. Persson, R. Pexman, G. Radden, J. Stern, E. Sweetser that demonstrate a variety of approaches to understanding of verbal figurativeness, metaphorical and metonymical transferences [Peftieva 7–10]. However, the acquaintance with a significant amount of literature on this issue shows the lack of elaborated theoretical issues related to the origin of verbal figurativeness and this is what determines the topicality of the research.

The empiric data of the research numbers 1,567 English figurative nouns denoting a person which were obtained by continuous sampling from the fifth edition of the authoritative Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles (hereinafter referred to as SOED) edited by William Trumble and Angus Stevenson. The set of selection criteria was established to select figurative nouns denoting persons. First criterion is the availability of such markers as a person of, a person who, a person like, a person with, adjective+person in lexico-semantic variants of a word (hereinafter LSV, which is understood in this work as one of the elements of a semantic paradigm of a word). Second criterion is the set of labels, which explicitly indicate figurative meaning such as fig. – figurative, transf. – transferred, transf. and fig. – transferred and figurative, lit. and fig.literally and figuratively, was determined. Thirdly, additional labels, which implicitly indicate figurative meaning such as abusive, colloq., contempt., derog., depreciating, dial., endearment, iron., joc., offensive, poet., slang, were set up. They indicate the emotional, expressive, evaluative, and stylistic nature of lexical units. Fourth criterion, the availability of a common seme (minimal unit of content; synonymic term: semanteme) for a base and figurative lexico-semantic variant of a word, proved to be very important, like in (3).

 

(3) affinity – 4. inclination or attraction; 5. fig. a person who attracts another (SOED)

As it is shown in the example, figurative LSV is based on the nuclear seme attraction of the base LSV, i.e. there is a categorical shift from the abstract notion affinity to a concrete person who attracts.

2. Genesis of figurative lexico-semantic variant of a word

A semantic paradigm of a word is decomposed into a set of LSVs (a set of various definitions of a word) among which a base (core) LSV (gives the ground for figurativeness) and a figurative (image bearing) LSV are in a focal point of this article.

As the research result shows, a base LSV of a word is not necessarily the first one in the semantic paradigm. The table below demonstrates the quantity and percentage of LSV running number from which figurativeness originates. The LSV running numbers are presented in the table in the order of a diminishing importance (see table 1).


 

Table 1

Productivity of LSV running numbers in semantic paradigm

1 LSV

2 LSV

3 LSV +

Without reference to LSV

Total

847

423

188

109

1567

54%

27%

12%

7%

100%

As it is seen, the first LSV from semantic paradigm serves as a basis for 847 (54%) figurative nouns denoting a person. Thus the first LSV is the major source for verbal figurativeness. It may be explained by the fact that the inner form of a word (according to O.O. Potebnya: closest etymological meaning (Potebnya 134)) is, in most cases, transparent and as a result, it is an unlimited source for figurativeness, as in (4).

 

(4) glutton 1. a. a person who eats to excess, or who takes pleasure in immoderate eating; a greedy person. b. a person who is inordinately fond (of a specified pursuit), or insatiably eager (for something) (SOED) 

It is the first LSV with the semes who eats to excess, immoderate eating gives the ground to the figurative nomination of a person. As the example testifies, the figurative LSV originates from the first LSV which is the base for image creation. So the first lexico-semantic variant of a word is the most conducive to verbal figurativeness. 

The second LSV numbers 423 (27%) figurative nouns denoting a person. See the example (5) below, where negative associations arise while hearing about the job as cleaning streets, such work is considered to be unqualified, dirty and low paid. These associations are transferred to a person who is perceived as a dishonourable one in the second LSV.

(5) scavenger 1. a. scavenger. b. an official in the East India Company. 2. a. a person employed to clean streets. b. fig. a person who does corrupt or disgusting work; a dishonourable person (SOED)

 

188 (12%) figurative nouns denoting a person take the roots from the third LSV, as in (6).

 

(6) spice 1. a sort, a kind; a species. 2. appearance. 3. any of various strongly flavoured or aromatic vegetable substances, esp. to flavoured or scent food. 4. a person who adds interest or piquancy to something (SOED)

 

As the example shows, the figurative LSV person who adds interest is rooted in the third LSV with the semes flavoured or aromatic substances.

109 (7%) figurative nouns denoting a person have no references to any previous LSV, like in the example (7).

 

(7) card 1. a flat object, typically oblong and made from layers of pasteboard pressed together, used with similar objects in a pack for playing various games. 2. a map, a plan, a chart. 3. a flat piece of thick paper. 4. a published advertisement, notice. 5. a backing of pasteboard to which several small objects of a commercial product are fastened. 6. a person with a specific quality; an eccentric person. colloq. (SOED)

 

The abovementioned example shows, that the individual associative links are strong enough to nominate a person for indication of his/her characteristic feature, even if a figurative LSV does not have any bonds with a previous LSV. Genesis of verbal figurativeness is based upon the semantic potential of the word, which is realized in a figurative LSV. The latter one leads to semantic expansion. The absence of links between base and figurative LSV can be explained by the vastness of associations that arise in person’s mind while hearing and perceiving a word.

Thus, the lower LSV position in a semantic paradigm, the less productive it is for figurativeness. Furthermore, LSV is a denotative (literal, dictionary, explicit) meaning of a word, hence the genesis of verbal figurativeness is rooted mostly in the denotative meaning of the first LSV.

2.1. Productivity of semes

One of the elements of semantic paradigm (a set of LSV of a word, which links all these meanings) is a figurative meaning of a word which is consistent with a certain seme, highlighted in a particular context. Semes (nuclear, differential and potential) are differentiated according to their role in the structure of the lexical meaning and by the place in the hierarchy of a word meaning.

The analysis of the empiric data showed that 78% of figurative LSV (1222 out of 1567 analysed nouns denoting a person) are based on potential seme of the base LSV. Differential seme ranks the second place with 20% or 313 figurative nouns denoting a person. Nuclear seme is not productive and accounts for only 2% or 32 figurative nouns denoting a person (see table 2).

Table 2

Quantitative Characteristics of Seme Productivity

Semes

Total

Potential

Differential

Nuclear

1222

313

32

1567

78%

20%

2%

100%

 

As the results of the research show, potential seme proved to be the most productive one in creation of a figurative meaning.

(8) windlestraw – 1. an old dry stalk of grass; 2. fig. a person of feeble health (SOED)

 

In the above example (8), the denotative meaning of the first LSV does not contain potential seme weak or feeble, however, it is the potential seme which gives the ground for the figurative nomination of a person. Figurative meaning arises on the association that old dry grass stem can be very easily broken and as a result, it is feeble.

Potential seme (synonymic terms: associative, peripheral) is not necessarily available in the definition of a word and it may appear due to general or individual associations connected with the word. Potential semes may be highlighted, giving the ground for a figurative meaning of a word.  

As it is shown in the example (9), figurative LSV is based upon negative associations related to weed and this negativity is resulted in potential semes troublesome, harmful, which are not present in the base LSV of a word. 

 

(9) weed – 1. a plant of no utility growing wild among crops and competing with them for light, nutrients; 2. fig. a troublesome, harmful person (SOED)

In the example that follows in (10), semes short, stocky are not found in the base LSV of a word, but it is apparent from experience that the stump is usually short and very wide, so the association with a short, stocky man arises. For instance,

 

(10) stump – 2. the projecting portion of the trunk of a felled or fallen tree that remains fixed in the ground; 7. a short stocky person (SOED)

Accordingly, potential semes are forefronted and nuclear and differential semes are neutralized giving the birth to figurative nomination a short stocky person. This figurative meaning expands the semantic paradigm of a word stump. Besides, potential semes are in the connotative meaning.

Differential seme expands and enriches nuclear seme with subtle nuances, it is subordinate to the nuclear seme and indicates such features of objects, which differentiate them one from another inside of the word class they belong to. As the example (11) demonstrates, the differential seme of the first LSV for poking a fire serves as the ground for figurative LSV person who pokes his nose into other people’s affairs.

 

(11) poker – 1. a stiff strait metal rod for poking a fire; 2. a person who pokes or pries into things (SOED)

In the semantic structure of a word nuclear seme (synonymic terms: archyseme, categorical, categorial-lexical, integral) is very specific one, it is the core of a word, its pivot, it is always independent and autonomous, it reflects the features which characterize the whole class of extralinguistic objects.

In the example (12) the archaic word tribune acquires new life and it means officer today. When figurative LSV is based on nuclear seme, the image which is created is not so vivid and memorable as against those created with the help of potential and differential semes. 

 

(12) Tribune – 1. Roman history: an ancient Roman official; 2. transf. and fig.: an officer holding a position similar to that of a Roman tribune (SOED)

Summing up the results of componential (analysis of semes) and quantitative analyses of empiric data, it becomes clear that the most productive seme, which serves as a source of figurativeness, is the potential one. It may be explained by unlimited possibilities of a word to produce associations which are resulted in new nominations.

So long as the most productive potential seme is found in the connotation, figurativeness is rooted largely in connotative meaning of a word. As for the structure of connotative meaning the scholars’ opinions differ from 8 components (pragmatic, associative, ideological, conceptual, evaluative, emotive, expressive, stylistic) to traditional 4 (stylistic, emotive, evaluative, expressive (intensifying)). In this article the traditional classification is taken as the fundamentals but figurative component is added to it. Hence the figurative component is the fifth element in the structure of a connotative meaning of a word.

2.2. Shifts in status of semes

Being located in denotative meaning nuclear and differential semes acquire new status in figurative LSV. The same is with potential seme which is found in connotative meaning. So there is a direct evidence of categorial shift of the common (for a base and figurative LSV) seme.

Potential seme of a base LSV acquires the status of differential one in the figurative LSV, as in (13), where figurative LSV a person of Irish origin is based upon the background information about a harp as a symbol of Ireland. Potential seme harp is a symbol of Ireland is found in connotative meaning of the base LSV, it gives the ground for figurative LSV person of Irish origin. It is apt to note, that the figurative LSV is much more vivid, memorable if it is rooted upon potential seme.

 

(13) harp 1. a stringed musical instrument played by plucking the strings of different length with the fingers; 2. more fully mouth-harp; a mouth-organ, a harmonica; 3. US slang. a person of Irish origin (SOED)

Differential seme of a base LSV retains the status of differential one in the figurative LSV. In the example (14) the differential seme light of the base LSV is highlighted and retains the same status of differential one in the figurative LSV a person who metaphorically gives light.

 

(14) lantern – a lamp consisting of a transparent case to contain and protect light; fig. a person who metaphorically gives light. G. Bancroft. The lantern of science has guided us on the track of time (SOED)

Nuclear seme of a base LSV may acquire the status of differential and may retain the status of nuclear in the figurative LSV, like in (15). 

 

(15) potency – 1. (great) power, authority or influence 2. transf: person possessing power or influence (SOED)

In the base LSV nuclear semes power, authority or influence serve as the source of figurative LSV person possessing power or influence. It changes the status from nuclear into differential and indicates the individual quality of a person.

Thus, the following shifts in seme status take place in figurative LSV: potential seme of the base LSV becomes differential, differential seme retains its status, and nuclear seme may retain its status and may acquire the position of a differential one. Hence the figurative meaning originates when common semes for base and figurative LSV are forefronted and other semes are neutralized. 

3. Summing up the empiric data, it is of importance to note that:

1) figurative LSV is mainly developed from the first LSV of a word (54%), but at the same time, 7% of figurative LSV do not have links with the previous LSV, thus the figurative meaning of a word emerges from the first LSV;

2) among the minimal meaningful elements of a word meaning, potential seme is the most productive (78%) in figurativeness creation, differential seme ranks the second position (20%), and the less productive is the nuclear seme with 2%; 

3) the figurativeness is rooted largely in the connotative meaning of a base LSV;

4) the categorial shift from abstract to concrete occurs in the figurative LSV;

5) the common seme for a base and figurative LSV is forefronted and other semes are neutralized;

6) the most productive potential seme of a base LSV becomes differential in figurative LSV, differential seme retains its status, nuclear seme may retain its status and may acquire the position of a differential seme; 

7) the structure of the connotative meaning is expanded with fifth element which is the figurative component of a word meaning. 

The further research may be devoted to verbal figurativeness in phraseological units.

References. 

Aristotle. Ritorika. Poetika. (Treatise on Rhetoric). Moscow : Labirint, 2000. Web 10 Aug. 2016.

Grindon, Leo Hartley. Figurative Language, Its Origin and Constitution. London: J. Speirs, 1879. Web 25 Jul. 2016.

Kustova, Galina Tipy Proizvodnyh Znacheniy i Mehanizmy Yazykovogo Razshirenia (Types of Derivative Meanings and Mechanisms of Linguistic Broadening). Moscow: Languages of Slavic culture, 2004. Print

Peftieva, Olena “Obraznist’ yak Semantychniy Component Leksychnogo Znachennya Naymenuvan’ Osoby v Angliys’kiy ta Ukrains’kiy Movah (Figurativeness as a Semantic Component of Lexical Meaning of Nouns Denoting a Person in English and Ukrainian Languages)”. Linguo-Cognitive and Linguo-Cultural Researches. Kiyv: printing house SPD Nestroyeviy А.І., 2015. Print

Potebnya, Alexander. Mysl' i Yazyk (Thought and Language). Complete Collection of Works. Moscow: Labirint, 1999. Print

Rousseau, Jean Jacques, and Herder Johann Gottfried. On the Origin of Language. [translated by Moran John, Gode Alexander]. Chicago and London, 1986. Web 25 Jul. 2016.

Saussure, Ferdinand de. General Linguistics Course. Kyiv: Osnovy, 1998. Print

SOED: Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles. Fifth edition. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2002. Print

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