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Synchronic and diachronic approaches to conversion

Conversion is the formation of a new word through changes in its paradigm (category of a part of speech). As a paradigm is a morphological category, conversion can be described as a morphological way of forming words (Смирницкий). The term was introduced by Henry Sweet.

The causes that made conversion so widely spread are to be approached diachronically. Nouns and verbs have become identical in form firstly as a result of the loss of endings. The similar phenomenon can be observed in words borrowed from the French language. Thus, from the diachronic point of view distinctions should be made between homonymous word-pairs, which appeared as a result of the loss of inflections (окончание, изменяемая часть слова).

In the course of time the semantic structure of the base nay acquire a new meaning or several meanings under the influence of the meanings of the converted word (reconversion).

Synchronically we deal with pairs of words related through conversion that coexist in contemporary English. A careful examination of the relationship between the lexical meaning of the root-morpheme and the part-of-speech meaning of the stem within a conversion pair reveals that in one of the two words the former does not correspond to the latter.




Denotational and connotational aspects of meaning

The lexical meaning comprises two main components: the denotational aspect of meaning and the connotational aspect of meaning. The term " denotational aspect of meaning" is derived from " to denote" and it is through this component of meaning that the main information is conveyed in the process of communication. Besides, it helps to insure references to things common to all the speakers of the given language (e.g. " chemistry" - I'm not an expert in it, but I know what it is about, " dentist", " spaceship" ).

The connotational aspect may be called " optional". It conveys additional information in the process of communication. And it may denote the emotive charge and the stylistic value of the word. The emotive charge is the emotive evaluation inherent in the connotational component of the lexical meaning (e.g. " notorious" => [widely known] => for criminal acts, bad behaviour, bad traits of character; " famous" => [widely known] => for special achievement etc.).

Positive/Negative evaluation; emotive charge/stylistic value.

" to love" - neutral

" to adore" - to love greatly => the emotive charge is higher than in " to love"

" to shake" - neutral.

" to shiver" - is stronger => higher emotive charge.

Mind that the emotive charge is not a speech characteristic of the word. It's a language phenomenon => it remains stable within the basical meaning of the word.

If associations with the lexical meaning concern the situation, the social circumstances (formal/informal), the social relations between the interlocutors (polite/rough), the type or purpose of communication (poetic/official)the connotation is stylistically coloured. It is termed as stylistic reference. The main stylistic layers of the vocabulary are:

Literary " parent" " to pass into the next world" - bookish

Neutral " father" " to die"

Colloquial " dad" " to kick the bucket"

But the denotational meaning is the same.

Semantic fields


lexico-semantic groups

lexical sets


semantic field

The broadest semantic group is usually referred to as the semantic field. It is a closely neat section of vocabulary characterized by a common concept (e.g. emotions). The common semantic component of the field is called the common dominator. All members of the field are semantically independent, as the meaning of each is determined by the presence of others. Semantic field may be very impressive, covering big conceptual areas (emotions, movements, space). Words comprising the field may belong to different parts of speech.

If the underlying notion is broad enough to include almost all-embracing sections of vocabulary we deal with semantic fields (e.g. cosmonaut, spacious, to orbit – belong to the semantic field of ‘space’).




Assimilation of borrowings

The term 'assimilation of borrowings' is used to denote a partial or total conformation to the phonetical, graphical and morphological standards of the English language and its semantic system.

According to the degree of assimilation all borrowed words can be divided into three groups:

1) completely assimilated borrowings;

2) partially assimilated borrowings;

3) unassimilated borrowings or barbarisms.

1. Completely assimilated borrowed words follow all morpholo­gical, phonetical and orthographic standards, take an active part in word-formation. The morphological structure and motivation of completely assimilated borrowings remain usually transparent, so that they are morphologically analyzable and therefore supply the English vocabulary not only with free forms but also with bound forms, as affixes are easily perceived and separated in series of borrowed words that contain them (e.g. the French suffixes - age, -ance and -ment).

They are found in all the layers of older borrowings, e. g. cheese (the first layer of Latin borrowings), husband (Scand), face (Fr), animal (Latin, borrowed during the revival of learning).

A loan word never brings into the receiving language the whole of its semantic structure if it is polysemantic in the original language (e.g., ‘sport’in Old French - ‘pleasures, making merry and entertainments in general’, now - outdoor games and exercise).

2. Partially assimilated borrowed words may be subdivided depending on the aspect that remains unaltered into:

a) borrowings not completely assimilated graphically (e.g., Fr. ballet, buffet; some may keep a diacritic mark: café, cliché; retained digraphs (ch, qu, ou, etc.): bouquet, brioche);

b) borrowings not completely assimilated phonetically (e.g., Fr. machine, cartoon, police(accent is on the final syllable), [3] bourgeois, prestige, regime(stress + contain sounds or combinations of sounds that are not standard for the English language));

c) borrowings not assimilated grammatically (e.g., Latin or Greek borrowings retain original plural forms: crisis - crises, phenomenon - phenomena;

d) borrowings not assimilated semantically because they denote objects and notions peculiar to the country from which they come (e. g. sari, sombrero, shah, rajah, toreador, rickshaw(Chinese), etc.

3. Unassimilated borrowings or barbarisms. This group includes words from other languages used by English people in conversation or in writing but not assimilated in any way, and for which there are corresponding English equivalents, e.g. the Italian addio, ciao— 'good-bye'.

Etymological doublets are two or more words originating from the same etymological source, but differing in phonetic shape and meaning (e.g. the words ‘whole’(originally meant ‘healthy’, ‘free from disease’) and ‘hale’both come from OE ‘hal’: one by the normal development of OE ‘a’ into ‘o’, the other from a northern dialect in which this modification did not take place. Only the latter has servived in its original meaning).



There is a specific group of morphemes whose derivational function does not allow one to refer them unhesitatingly either to the derivational affixes or bases. In words like half-done, half-broken, half-eaten and ill-fed, ill-housed, ill-dressed the ICs ‘half-‘ and ‘ill-‘ are given in linguistic lit­erature different interpretations: they are described both as bases and as derivational prefixes. The comparison of these ICs with the phonetically identical stems in independent words ‘ill’ and ‘half’ as used in such phrases as to speak ill of smb, half an hour ago makes it obvious that in words like ill-fed, ill-mannered, half-done the ICs ‘ill-‘ and ‘half-‘ are losing both their semantic and structural identity with the stems of the independent words. They are all marked by a different distributional meaning which is clearly revealed through the difference of their collocability as compared with the collocability of the stems of the independently functioning words. As to their lexical meaning they have become more indicative of a generalizing meaning of incompleteness and poor quality than the indi­vidual meaning proper to the stems of independent words and thus they function more as affixational morphemes similar to the prefixes ‘out-, over-, under-, semi-, mis-‘ regularly forming whole classes of words.

Be­sides, the high frequency of these morphemes in the above-mentioned generalized meaning in combination with the numerous bases built on past participles indicates their closer ties with derivational affixes than bases. Yet these morphemes retain certain lexical ties with the root-mor­phemes in the stems of independent words and that is why are felt as occu­pying an intermediate position, as morphemes that are changing their class membership regularly functioning as derivational prefixes but still retaining certain features of root-morphemes. That is why they are sometimes referred to as semi-affixes. To this group we should also refer ‘well-‘ and ‘self-‘ (well-fed, well-done, self-made), ‘-man’ in words like postman, cabman, chairman, ‘-looking’ in words like foreign-looking, alive-looking, strange-looking, etc.






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