Words in English public website
Ling/Engl 215 course information
Rice University
Prof. S. Kemmer

Study Guide: Study Test #2 Review

Fall 2013

Study Test #2 will cover Chapters 7 and 9 and the material on etymology and dictionaries talked about in class. Covered material includes class lectures, comments and discussion, as well as web pages linked to the course schedule during the dates since we started this material.

The focus will be on these topics:

Skills tested:

There is also a little on parsing and word formation types/neologism types, since as mentioned before these are topics that continue throughout the course. See earlier review pages and linked pages to review these.

1. Polysemy, Semantic change, etymology (incl. word stories)

The notes below the terms in this section are provided to clarify the differences betweeen some of the terms.

polysemy (words having different, related senses; contrast with homonymy)
synechdoche (= part for whole)
amelioration (= melioration)
pejoration (= degeneration)
widening (= broadening, generalization)
narrowing (= specialization)
cycle of euphemism (former euphemism for a taboo word itself becomes taboo)
technological change as factor in semantic change
relation of etymology and parsing
folk etymology (false etymologies. Sometimes these involve reanalysis; but sometimes they are just (false) urban legends about etymology, often spread by internet

Metaphor vs. metonymy

Metaphor is the use of a word for one concept to mean another, similar concept. Metaphor involves some perceived similarity between two things. ('Thing' is used in a very broad sense here.) Metonymy does not.

For example, the word fork can mean the place where a road or path splits into two roads. This meaning of fork is metaphorical: it is based on the shape similarity between instruments with prongs, like the forks you eat with or the barbecue tool for spearing meat, and the configuration of roads or paths on the ground: Two or more longish things emerging from a joined base.

Metaphor is sometimes called "domain shift" because we use it to think about concepts in one domain (area of experience) in terms of another domain. We use language of the domain we better understand to talk about the concepts we don't understand or don't know how to describe so well. For example, as discussed below, in English and many languages, we talk about time in the terminology we use for space, because time is not concrete, and is not at all easy to understand. Once we spatialize it, it becomes more understandable, to the point where we don't even have another way of understanding it.

The fork example, like the hippocampus example discussed in class, involve shape similarity between two physical objects. But some similarities are not visual at all; they are more abstract (cognitive) similarities. The many metaphors involving spatial terms being used for temporal concepts show that we view time and space as similar in their basic configurations. Also, when we speak of loud colors, or a sharp taste, we are taking words from the domain of perception of various kinds, and using them to talk about another channel of perception. Loud is usually about sounds in English, but a color or pattern that is visually striking can also be said to be loud.

Metonymy is a change or process in which there are two things conceptually close together - they occur in the same situation - and we use the word for one to refer to the other. If we said I hear a piano, what we are actually hearing is music (or at least noise from the piano), but we use the word for the object producing it to refer to the sound. "The same situation" is often described as "the same place and time". I think that "situation" is a clearer formulation.

Another example is the case of visual properties and the objects with those properties. For example, the case of loud colors above is a case of metaphor; but when we talk about a loud tie we mean a tie with a loud pattern or color. The property of the color/pattern (loud) is applied to an object having that property. The color and the object occur to our visual perception at the same time and in the same place. The two things (the color and the shirt) are so related that we might have trouble even realizing that they are logically separate concepts.

Synechdoche and eponymy are specific types of metonymy. All involve situational "contiguity" (nearness in time and space).

Broadening/generalization vs. Metaphor and metonymy

The following distinction was discussed in class. Broadening, like narrowing, is specifically about types and subtypes: the word for a specific type of thing or action comes to be used for the general type that INCLUDES the original thing or action. So, the English word DOG, originally a word for a particular breed of dog, now means 'dog' in general. The new meaning includes the old concept but is more general ('general' here MEANS inclusive); it is a more general TYPE of thing or action.

Metaphors don't really involve inclusion. They are about similarity in two different domains of experience. So even though a metaphorical meaning might SEEM more general than the original meaning, it is not, in the sense that semanticists use the word GENERAL. Example: LONG meaning 'extended for a considerable period in time' is a metaphorical usage based on simlarity of spatial and temporal longness (based more fundamentally on the perception of time as being line-like). The word LONG did acquire a temporal sense, so it might seem that it is more general than if it just meant 'extended a considerable distance in space'. But that is not what we mean by general in terms of semantic change, or else all cases of increasing polysemy would be generalization. But they are not. Temporal longness is not a more general (inclusive) type of longness than spatial longness. It is just a DIFFERENT type of longness.

The same arguments apply to metonymy. A metonymic extension might, it is true, yield greater polysemy, like when the word money first came to mean 'coins; currency' in addition to its original meaning. But that does not mean it refers to a more general TYPE of thing. Coins are not a more general type of thing that also includes temples or the warning goddess. They are a kind of thing that happened to be in situations where those earlier kinds of things were mentioned.

So watch out for the difference between generalization vs. types of change that involve increasing polysemy or layperson's other potential interpretations of generality. Generalization/broadening in semantics always mean 'process of coming to refer to a more general TYPE of thing/action, which includes the more specific types it used to refer to exclusively.

2. Dictionaries

first dictionaries of European languages
Samuel Johnson
Noah Webster
authoritative sources (necessity of)
senses of a word
standard or basic sense; extended senses
citations (quotations)
the OED (Oxford English Dictionary)
relation of definitions and semantic change in OED (first definition generally original sense; subsequent are extensions of various kinds

3. Latin and Greek morphology

Latin and Greek inflectional categories
base or stem (inflectional endings for the various categories are added to base or stem)
noun inflectional categories
case (endings in Latin, Greek marking sentence functions like subject, object etc.)
number: singular, plural
gender: masculine, feminine, neuter
difference betweeen semantic number or gender, vs. grammatical number or gender
(noun declension; not covered)
verb inflectional categories
person: 1st, 2nd, 3rd
verb conjugation classes (stem classes; stem vowels)
principal parts
voice: active, passive
past participle ( = perfect participle in book (-t-; sometimes shows up without participle meaning - just precedes certain suffixes, e.g. -t-or)
present participle morpheme (stem vowel + nt)
future participle morpheme (= gerundive in book) (stem vowel + nd)

© 2013 Suzanne Kemmer
Last modified 11 Nov 13