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The term motivation is used to denote the relationship existing between the phonemic or morphemic composition and structural pattern of the word on the one hand, and its meaning on the other. There are three main types of motivation: phonetical motivation, morphological motivation, and semantic motivation.

When there is a certain similarity between the sounds that make up the word and those referred to by the sense, the motivation is phonetical. Examples are: bang, buzz, cuckoo, giggle, gurgle, hiss, purr, whistle, etc. Here the sounds of a word are imitative of sounds in nature because what is referred to is a sound or at least, produces a characteristic sound (cuckoo). Although there exists a certain arbitrary element in the resulting phonemic shape of the word, one can see that this type of motivation is determined by the phonological system of each language as shown by the difference of echo-words for the same concept in different languages. St. Ullmann2 stresses that phonetic motivation is not a perfect replica of any acoustic structure but only a rough approximation. This accounts for the variability of echo-words within one language and between different languages. Gf. cuckoo (Engl), Kuckuck (Germ), кукушка (Russ). Within the English vocabulary there are different words, all sound imitative, meaning ‘quick, foolish, indistinct talk’: babble, chatter, gabble, prattle. In this last group echoic creations combine phonological and morphological motivation because they contain verbal suffixes -le and -er forming frequentative verbs. We see therefore that one word may combine different types of motivation.




1 See: Ginzburg R.S., Khidekel S.S., Knyazeva G.Y., Sankin A.A. A Course in Modern English Lexicology. M., 1979. P. 16.

2 Ullmann St. The Principles of Semantics. P. 88.


3И. В. Арнольд 33

Words denoting noises produced by animals are mostly sound imitative. In English they are motivated only phonetically so that nouns and verbs are exactly the same. In Russian the motivation combines phonetical and morphological motivation. The Russian words блеять v and блеяние n are equally represented in English by bleat. Сf. also: purr (of a cat), moo (of a cow), crow (of a cock), bark (of a dog), neigh (of a horse) and their Russian equivalents.

The morphological motivation may be quite regular. Thus, the prefix ex- means ‘former’ when added to human nouns: ex-filmstar, ex-president, ex-wife. Alongside with these cases there is a more general use of ex-: in borrowed words it is unstressed and motivation is faded (expect, export, etc.).

The derived word re-think is motivated inasmuch as its morphological structure suggests the idea of thinking again. Re- is one of the most common prefixes of the English language, it means ‘again’ and ‘back’ and is added to verbal stems or abstract deverbal noun stems, as in rebuild, reclaim, resell, resettlement. Here again these newer formations should be compared with older borrowings from Latin and French where re- is now unstressed, and the motivation faded. Compare re-cover ‘cover again’ and recover ‘get better’. In short: morphological motivation is especially obvious in newly coined words, or at least words created in the present century. Сf. detainee, manoeuvrable, prefabricated, racialist, self-propelling, vitaminise, etc. In older words, root words and morphemes motivation is established etymologically, if at all.

From the examples given above it is clear that motivation is the way in which a given meaning is represented in the word. It reflects the type of nomination process chosen by the creator of the new word. Some scholars of the past used to call the phenomenon the inner word form.

In deciding whether a word of long standing in the language is morphologically motivated according to present-day patterns or not, one should be very careful. Similarity in sound form does not always correspond to similarity in morphological pattern. Agential suffix -er is affixable to any verb, so that V+-er means ‘one who V-s’ or ‘something that V-s’: writer, receiver, bomber, rocker, knocker. Yet, although the verb numb exists in English, number is not ‘one who numbs’ but is derived from OFr nombre borrowed into English and completely assimilated.

The cases of regular morphological motivation outnumber irregularities, and yet one must remember the principle of “fuzzy sets” in coming across the word smoker with its variants: ‘one who smokes tobacco’ and ‘a railway car in which passengers may smoke’.

Many writers nowadays instead of the term morphological motivation, or parallel to it, introduce the term word-building meaning. In what follows the term will be avoided because actually it is not meaning that is dealt with in this concept, but the form of presentation.

The third type of motivation is called semantic motivation. It is based on the co-existence of direct and figurative meanings of the same word within the same synchronous system. Mouth continues to denote a part of the human face, and at the same time it can


metaphorically apply to any opening or outlet: the mouth of a river, of a cave, of a furnace. Jacket is a short coat and also a protective cover for a book, a phonograph record or an electric wire. Ermine is not only the name of a small animal, but also of its fur, and the office and rank of an English judge because in England ermine was worn by judges in court. In their direct meaning neither mouth nor ermine is motivated.

As to compounds, their motivation is morphological if the meaning of the whole is based on the direct meaning of the components, and semantic if the combination of components is used figuratively. Thus, eyewash ‘a lotion for the eyes’ or headache ‘pain in the head’, or watchdog ‘a dog kept for watching property’ are all morphologically motivated. If, on the other hand, they are used metaphorically as ‘something said or done to deceive a person so that he thinks that what he sees is good, though in fact it is not’, ‘anything or anyone very annoying’ and ‘a watchful human guardian’, respectively, then the motivation is semantic. Compare also heart-breaking, time-server, lick-spittle, sky-jack v.

An interesting example of complex morpho-semantic motivation passing through several stages in its history is the word teenager ‘a person in his or her teens’. The motivation may be historically traced as follows: the inflected form of the numeral ten produced the suffix -teen. The suffix later produces a stem with a metonymical meaning (semantic motivation), receives the plural ending -s, and then produces a new noun teens ‘the years of a person’s life of which the numbers end in -teen, namely from 13 to 19’. In combination with age or aged the adjectives teen-age and teen-aged are coined, as in teen-age boy, teen-age fashions. A morphologically motivated noun teenager is then formed with the help of the suffix -er which is often added to compounds or noun phrases producing personal names according to the pattern *one connected with...’.

The pattern is frequent enough. One must keep in mind, however, that not all words with a similar morphemic composition will have the same derivational history and denote human beings. E. g. first-nighter and honeymooner are personal nouns, but two-seater is ‘a car or an aeroplane seating two persons’, back-hander is ‘a back-hand stroke in tennis’ and three-decker ‘a sandwich made of three pieces of bread with two layers of filling’.

When the connection between the meaning of the word and its form is conventional that is there is no perceptible reason for the word having this particular phonemic and morphemic composition, the word is said to be non-motivated for the present stage of language development.

Every vocabulary is in a state of constant development. Words that seem non-motivated at present may have lost their motivation. The verb earn does not suggest at present any necessary connection with agriculture. The connection of form and meaning seems purely conventional. Historical analysis shows, however, that it is derived from OE (ze-)earnian ‘to harvest’. In Modern English this connection no longer exists and earn is now a non-motivated word. Complex morphological structures tend to unite and become indivisible units, as St. Ullmann

demonstrates tracing the history of not which is a reduced form of nought from OE nowiht1 < no-wiht ‘nothing’.2

When some people recognise the motivation, whereas others do not, motivation is said to be faded.

Sometimes in an attempt to find motivation for a borrowed word the speakers change its form so as to give it a connection with some well-known word. These cases of mistaken motivation received the name of folk etymology. The phenomenon is not very frequent. Two examples will suffice: A nightmare is not ‘a she-horse that appears at night’ but ‘a terrifying dream personified in folklore as a female monster’. (OE таrа ‘an evil spirit’.) The international radio-telephone signal may-day corresponding to the telegraphic SOS used by aeroplanes and ships in distress has nothing to do with the First of May but is a phonetic rendering of French m'aidez ‘help me’.

Some linguists consider one more type of motivation closely akin to the imitative forms, namely sound symbolism. Some words are supposed to illustrate the meaning more immediately than do ordinary words. As the same combinations of sounds are used in many semantically similar words, they become more closely associated with the meaning. Examples are: flap, flip, flop, flitter, flimmer, flicker, flutter, flash, flush, flare; glare, glitter, glow, gloat, glimmer; sleet, slime, slush, where fl- is associated with quick movement, gl- with light and fire, sl- with mud.

This sound symbolism phenomenon is not studied enough so far, so that it is difficult to say to what extent it is valid. There are, for example, many English words, containing the initial fl- but not associated with quick or any other movement: flat, floor, flour, flower. There is also nothing muddy in the referents of sleep or slender.

To sum up this discussion of motivation: there are processes in the vocabulary that compel us to modify the Saussurian principle according to which linguistic units are independent of the substance in which they are realised and their associations is a matter of arbitrary convention. It is already not true for phonetic motivation and only partly true for all other types. In the process of vocabulary development, and we witness everyday its intensity, a speaker of a language creates new words and is understood because the vocabulary system possesses established associations of form and meaning.



1 All the etymologies have been checked in the “Webster’s New World Dictionary”. The length of vowels in Old English is not marked in the present book, because it is not the phonetic but the semantic and morphological development of the vocabulary that is our primary concern.

2 Ullmann St. The Principles of Semantics. P. 90.


Chapter 3



The branch of linguistics concerned with the meaning of words and word equivalents is called semasiology. The name comes from the Greek sē masiā ‘signification’ (from sē ma sign’ sē mantikos ‘significant’ and logos ‘learning’).

In the present book we shall not deal with every kind of linguistic meaning. Attention will be concentrated on lexical meaning and semasiology will be treated as a branch of lexicology.

This does not mean, of course, that no attention will be paid to grammatical meaning; on the contrary, grammatical meaning must be considered because it bears a specific influence upon lexical meaning (see § 1.3). In most present-day methods of lexicological analysis words are studied by placing them, or rather considering them in larger units of context; a word is defined by its functioning within a phrase or a sentence. This means that the problem of autonomy of lexicology versus syntax is now being raised and solved by special study. This functional approach is attempted in contextual analysis, semantic syntax and some other branches of linguistics.1

The influence of grammar on lexical meaning is manifold (see §1.3) and will be further discussed at some length later. At this stage it will suffice to point out that a certain basic component of the word meaning is described when one identifies the word morphologically, i.e. states to what grammatical word class it belongs.

If treated diachronically, semasiology studies the change in meaning which words undergo. Descriptive synchronic approach demands a study not of individual words but of semantic structures typical of the language studied, and of its general semantic system.

The main objects of semasiological study treated in this book are as follows: semantic development of words, its causes and classification, relevant distinctive features and types of lexical meaning,

1 The problem is not new. M. Bré al, for instance, devoted much attention to a semasiological treatment of grammar. A German philologist H. Hatzfeld held that semasiology should include syntax, and that many of its chapters need historical and cultural comments.

The problem has recently acquired a certain urgency and a revival of interest in semantic syntax is reflected in a large number of publications by Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev scholars.



polysemy and semantic structure of words, semantic grouping and connections in the vocabulary system, i.e. synonyms, antonyms, terminological systems, etc. The present chapter does not offer to cover all of this wide field. Attention will be centred upon semantic word structure and semantic analysis.

An exact definition of any basic term is no easy task altogether (see § 2.1). In the case of lexical meaning it becomes especially difficult due to the complexity of the process by which language and human mind serve to reflect outward reality and to adapt it to human needs.

The definition of lexical meaning has been attempted more than once in accordance with the main principles of different linguistic schools. The disciples of F. de Saussure consider meaning to be the relation between the object or notion named, and the name itself (see § 2.2). Descriptive linguistics of the Bloomfieldian trend defines the meaning as the situation in which the word is uttered. Both ways of approach afford no possibility of a further investigation of semantic problems in strictly linguistic terms, and therefore, if taken as a basis for general linguistic theory, give no insight into the mechanism of meaning. Some of L. Bloomfield’s successors went so far as to exclude semasiology from linguistics on the ground that meaning could not be studied “objectively", and was not part of language but “an aspect of the use to which language is put”. This point of view was never generally accepted. The more general opinion is well revealed in R. Jakobson’s pun. He said: “Linguistics without meaning is meaningless." 1 This crisis of semasiology has been over for some twenty years now, and the problem of meaning has provided material for a great number of books, articles and dissertations.

In our country the definitions of meaning given by various authors, though different in detail, agree in the basic principle: they all point out that lexical meaning is the realisation of concept or emotion by means of a definite language system. The definition stresses that semantics studies only such meanings that can be expressed, that is concepts bound by signs.

It has also been repeatedly stated that the plane of content in speech reflects the whole of human consciousness, which comprises not only mental activity but emotions, volition, etc. as well. The mentalistic approach to meaning treating it only as a concept expressed by a word oversimplifies the problem because it takes into consideration only the referential function of words. Actually, however, all the pragmatic functions of language — communicative, emotive, evaluative, phatic, esthetic, etc., are also relevant and have to be accounted for in semasiology, because they show the attitude of the speaker to the thing spoken of, to his interlocutor and to the situation in which the act of communication takes place.

The complexity of the word meaning is manifold. The four most important types of semantic complexity may be roughly described as follows:




1 Note how this epigram makes use of the polysemy of the word meaning.


Firstly, every word combines lexical and grammatical meanings. E.g.: Father is a personal noun.

Secondly, many words not only refer to some object but have an aura of associations expressing the attitude of the speaker. They have not only denotative but connotative meaning as well.

E. g.: Daddy is a colloquial term of endearment.

Thirdly, the denotational meaning is segmented into semantic components or semes.

E.g.: Father is a male parent.

Fourthly, a word may be polysemantic, that is it may have several meanings, all interconnected and forming its semantic structure.

E. g.: Father may mean: ‘male parent’, ‘an ancestor’, ‘a founder or leader’, ‘a priest’.

It will be useful to remind the reader that the grammatical meaning is defined as an expression in speech of relationships between words based on contrastive features of arrangements in which they occur. The grammatical meaning is more abstract and more generalised than the lexical meaning, it unites words into big groups such as parts of speech or lexico-grammatical classes. It is recurrent in identical sets of individual forms of different words. E. g. parents, books, intentions, whose common element is the grammatical meaning of plurality. The interrelation of lexics and grammar has already been touched upon in § 1.3. This being a book on lexicology and not on grammar, it is permissible not to go into more details though some words on lexico-grammatical meanings are necessary.

The lexiсo-grammatical meaning is the common denominator of all the meanings of words belonging to a lexico-grammatical class of words, it is the feature according to which they are grouped together. Words in which abstraction and generalisation are so great that they can be lexical representatives of lexico-grammatical meanings and substitute any word of their class are called generic terms. For example the word matter is a generic term for material nouns, the word group — for collective nouns, the word person — for personal nouns.

Words belonging to one lexico-grammatical class are characterised by a common system of forms in which the grammatical categories inherent in them are expressed. They are also substituted by the same prop-words and possess some characteristic formulas of semantic and morphological structure and a characteristic set of derivational affixes. See tables on word-formation in: R. Quirk et al., “A Grammar of Contemporary English”.1 The common features of semantic structure may be observed in their dictionary definitions:




1 Quirk R., Greenbaum S., Leech G., Svartvik J. A Grammar of Con­tempora­ry English. London, 1974.

management — a group of persons in charge of some enterprise,

chorus — a group of singers,

team — a group of persons acting together in work or in a game.

The degree and character of abstraction and generalisation in lexico-grammatical meanings and the generic terms that represent them are intermediate between those characteristic of grammatical categories and those observed on the lexical level — hence the term lexico-grammatical.

The conceptual content of a word is expressed in its denotative meaning.1 To denote is to serve as a linguistic expression for a concept or as a name for an individual object. The denotative meaning may be signifiсative, if the referent is a concept, or demоfistrative, if it is an individual object. The term referent or denotatum (pl. denotata) is used in both cases. Any text will furnish examples of both types of denotative meaning. The demonstrative meaning is especially characteristic of colloquial speech where words so often serve to identify particular elements of reality. E. g.: “Do you remember what the young lady did with the telegram? ” (Christie) Here the connection with reality is direct.

Especially interesting examples of significative meaning may be found in aphorisms, proverbs and other sayings rendering general ideas. E. g.: A good laugh is sunshine in the house (Thackeray) or The reason why worry kills more people than work is that more people worry than work (Frost) contain words in their significative meanings.

The information communicated by virtue of what the word refers to is often subject to complex associations originating in habitual contexts, verbal or situational, of which the speaker and the listener are aware, they give the word its connotative meaning. The interaction of denotative meaning and its pragmatic counterpart — connotation — is no less complicated than in the case of lexical and grammatical meaning. The connotative component is optional, and even when it is present its proportion with respect to the logical counterpart may vary within wide limits.

We shall call connotation what the word conveys about the speaker’s attitude to the social circumstances and the appropriate functional style (slay vs kill), about his approval or disapproval of the object spoken of (clique vs group), about the speaker’s emotions (mummy vs mother), or the degree of intensity (adore vs love).

The emotional overtone as part of the word’s communicative value deserves special attention. Different approaches have been developing in contemporary linguistics.2

The emotional and evaluative meaning of the word may be part of the denotational meaning. For example hireling ‘a person who offers his services for payment and does not care about the type of work'




1 There are other synonymous terms but we shall not enumerate them here because terminological richness is more hampering than helpful.

2 See the works of E.S. Aznaurova, T.G. Vinokur, R.H. Volpert, V.I. Maltzev, V.N. Mikhaylovskaya, I.A. Sternin, V.I. Shakhovsky and many others.


has a strong derogatory and even scornful connotation, especially when the name is applied to hired soldiers. There is a considerable degree of fuzziness about the boundaries between the denotational and connotative meanings.

The third type of semantic segmentation mentioned on p. 39 was the segmentation of the denotational meaning into semantic components. The componential analysis is a very important method of linguistic investigation and has attracted a great deal of attention. It is usually illustrated by some simple example such as the words man, woman, boy, girl, all belonging to the semantic field “the human race” and differing in the characteristics of age and sex. Using the symbols HUMAN, ADULT, MALE and marking them positively and negatively so that -ADULT means ‘young’ and -MALE means ‘female’, we may write the following componential definitions:


woman: + HUMAN + ADULT – MALE


girl: + HUMAN – ADULT – MALE

One further point should be made: HUMAN, ADULT, MALE in this analysis are not words of English or any other language: they are elements of meaning, or semes which can be combined in various ways with other similar elements in the meaning of different words. Nevertheless a linguist, as it has already been mentioned, cannot study any meaning devoid of form, therefore these semes are mostly determined with the help of dictionary definitions.

To conclude this rough model of semantic complexities we come to the fourth point, that of polysemy.

Polysemy is inherent in the very nature of words and concepts as every object and every notion has many features and a concept reflected in a word always contains a generalisation of several traits of the object. Some of these traits or components of meaning are common with other objects. Hence the possibility of using the same name in secondary nomination for objects possessing common features which are sometimes only implied in the original meaning. A word when acquiring new meaning or meanings may also retain, and most often retains the previous meaning.

E. g. birth — 1) the act or time of being born, 2) an origin or beginning, 3) descent, family.

The classification of meanings within the semantic structure of one polysemantic word will be discussed in § 3.4.

If the communicative value of a word contains latent possibilities realised not in this particular variant but able to create new derived meanings or words we call that implicational.1 The word bomb,


1 See on this point M.V. Nikitin’s works.

See also the term epidigmatic offered by D.N. Shmelev for a somewhat similar notion of the elements of meaning that form the basis for semantic and morphological derivation and characterise the similarities and differences of variants within the semantic structure of one word.

for example, implies great power, hence the new colloquial meanings ‘great success’ and ‘great failure’, the latter being an American slang expression.

The different variants of a polysemantic word form a semantic whole due to the proximity of the referents they name and the notions they express. The formation of new meanings is often based on the potential or implicational meaning. The transitive verb drive, for instance, means ‘to force to move before one’ and hence, more generally, ‘to cause an animal, a person or a thing work or move in some direction’, and more specifically ‘to direct a course of a vehicle or the animal which draws it, or a railway train, etc.’, hence ‘to convey in a vehicle’ and the intransitive verb: ‘to go in a vehicle’. There are also many other variants but we shall mention only one more, namely — the figurative — ‘to mean’, as in: “What can he be driving at? ” (Foote)

All these different meanings can be explained one with the help of one of the others.

The typical patterns according to which different meanings are united in one polysemantic word often depend upon grammatical meanings and grammatical categories characteristic of the part of speech to which they belong.

Depending upon the part of speech to which the word belongs all its possible meanings become connected with a definite group of grammatical meanings, and the latter influence the semantic structure of the word so much that every part of speech possesses semantic peculiarities of its own.



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