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Unit 11

THE WORD AS A LINGUISTIC SIGN.

HOMONIMY. SYNONYMY, ANTONYMY.

FALSE FRIENDs. LEXICAL CREATIVITY.

0. INTRODUCTION: SEMANTIC 4. ANTONYMY:


RELATIONS. 4.1 Definition.
1. THE LINGUISTIC SIGN. 4.2 Morphological Formation.
1.1 Definition. 4.3 Types of Antonyms:
1.2 Characteristics: 4.3.1 Gradable.
1.2.1 Arbitrariness. 4.3.2 Ungradable.
1.2.2 Linearity. 4.3.3 Converses.
1.2.3 Mutability or Immutability. 5. FALSE FRIENDS.
2. HOMONYMY: 6. LEXICAL CREATIVITY:
2.1 Definition. 6.1 Metaphors:
2.2 Homography, Homophony and 6.1.1 Image Metaphors.
Polysemy. 6.1.2 Spatial Metaphors.
2.3 Homonymy vs. Polysemy. 6.1.3 Conceptual Metaphors.
3. SYNONYMY: 6.2 Metonymy.
3.1 Definition. 6.3 Contextual Designation.
3.2 Absolute and Partial Synonymy. 6.4 Multiple Designation.
3.3 Synonyms and Borrowings. 6.5 Ellipsis.
6.6 Lexical Change Resorts
7. CONCLUSION.
8. BIBLIOGRAPHY.
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According to LOMCE… (+)

0. INTRODUCTION: SEMANTIC RELATIONS.


First of all, and before going into detail onto the study of the Linguistic Sign, different meaning
relations, the phenomena of False Friends and Lexical Creativity, we shall address to Semantics in
order to frame our unit as we are going to deal with words and their relations of meaning.
As such, when we speak about Semantics, we refer to the study of meaning, aiming therefore, at
describing and explaining meaning in natural languages.
To highlight the pervasive nature of meaning, Jackson in his brief treatment of semantics
distinguishes between Pragmatic Semantics, Sentence Semantics and Lexical Semantics.
 Pragmatic Semantics, which studies the meaning of utterances in context.
 Sentence Semantics, which handles the meaning of sentences as well as meaning relations
between them.
 Lexical Semantics, which deals with the meaning of words and the meaning relations that
are internal to the vocabulary of a language.
However, Semantics is usually approached form one of these perspectives: Philosophical or
Linguistic.
 Philosophical Semantics concerns with the logical properties of language, the nature of
formal theories and the language of logic.
 Linguistic Semantics involves all aspects of meaning in natural languages, from the meaning
of complex utterances in specific contexts to that of individual sounds or syllables.
 In short, Semantics can help our students to go deeper into the analysis and understanding of
the English language and therefore, obtain a wider scope of the English culture as well.

1. THE LINGUISTIC SIGN.


1.1 DEFINITION.
For most people, language is composed by words that straightforwardly identify the object or
concept that they name. However, according to Ferdinand de Saussure, language is a complex
system composed of numerous interrelated elements. As such, in "The Nature of the Linguistic
Sign", Saussure specifies that the linguistic sign, the word, is composed by Signified and Signifier.
What Saussure goes on to demonstrate is that the linguistic sign is arbitrary, conventional, and
differential. The sign is arbitrary because there is no reason that the letters "c-a-t" (or the sound of
those phonemes) produce a four-legged domesticated feline on our brains. There is nothing special
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or inherent in those orthographic symbols or auditory impressions that is somehow mystically
connected to the nature of cats.
However, Saussure missed out one important aspect for a linguistic sign to be valid as such: the
reality (going beyond the linguistic world to enter the extra-linguistic one). It was the American
linguist Charles Pierce, some years later, the one who established the triangle of signification or the
semiotic triangle1 with the term 'referent':
Signified (concept in our minds, not physical)
Signifier (sound) — — — — — - Referent (Object from the external world)
The word is an entity of two sides namely signifier and signified. Both of them are related to an
extra-linguistic object called the referent.
<SIGNIFIED (concept) SIGNIFIER (sound-image) H-E-A-R-T

Bloomfield defines the word as the minimum free form of a language, which is a really special
application of the criterion of stability. The word as a stretch of speech that admits momentary
pause on either side may also appear between indefinite pauses as a minimal sentence. The sentence
is a free linguistic form and the word is its minimal version.

1.2 CHARACTERISTICS.
The linguistic sign has the following characteristics:
1.2.1. The Arbitrariness of the Linguistic Sign.
The arbitrariness of language shows the fact that a signifier like the series of sounds /paj/ has no
internal connection with the signified (concept) "pie". In other words, the link between the signifier
and the signified is not natural or absolute
1.2.2. The linearity of signifiers.
For Saussure, linguistic signifiers are "linear" because of their temporal existence that can only be
measured as a line.
1.2.3. Mutability or Immutability of the Linguistic Sign.
The linguistic sign appears as something impossible to change that has been imposed by the
linguistic community and conventions. But this is so, due to the traditional and conservative nature
of the language. However, within a diachronic perspective of the language, the linguistic sign is
mutable and its signifier and signified can be transformed, disappeared or substituted by others.
In addition, there are six linguistic features that are fundamental to English and each has its own
“word” as we will see next:
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a) The orthographic word. The word understood in terms of alphabetic or syllabic writing
systems is a visual sign with space around it. It may or may not have a canonical form: in
the 14th century, before print encouraged standardization some words had many different
spellings. On occasions, the orthographic word has canonical form for different varieties
within English such as ‘colour’ in British English and ‘color’ in American English.
b) The phonological word. The word understood in terms of sound is a spoken signal that
occurs more commonly as part of a longer utterance than in isolation and is subject to
rhythm. Traditional spoken English is a series of stressed and unstressed syllables which
behave in a more or less predictable way. In the flow of speech, words do not have such a
distinct shape as on paper and syllable boundaries do not necessarily reflect grammatical
boundaries: the phrases ‘a notion’ and ‘an ocean’ are usually homophonic and only context
establishes which has in fact been said.
c) The morphological word. The word in terms of form lies behind both the orthographic and
the phonological word. This morphological entity is capable of realization in different
substances; it is distinct from such spelt-out variant as in ‘colour’ and ‘color’ as well as from
the innumerable ways in which African, American, English, Irish and Scottish may say it.
However, all such users have in common and it is the basis of such further forms as
“colourful” and “discoloured”.
d) The lexical word. The word in terms of content relates to things, actions and states in the
world. It is usually realized by one or more phonological words as when ‘do’, ‘does’,
‘doing’, ‘did’, ‘done’ are taken to be five versions of the one verb ‘do’. Lexical words are
generally fitted into the flow of language through such mechanisms as affixation,
suppletion, stress shift and vowel change, all of which have morphological and other effects.
e) The grammatical word. The word in terms of syntactic function contrasts with the lexical
word and is an element in the structural system of a language. It serves to link lexical words.
In English, conjunctions, determiners, interjections, particles and pronouns are grammatical
words.
f) The lexicographical word. The word in terms of dictionaries is usually presented in
alphabetic setting.
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2. HOMONYMY.
2.1 DEFINITION.
Homonyms are words that have the same phonetic form (homophones) or orthographic form
(homographs) but unrelated meaning. In derivation, homonym means the same name, homophone
means the same sound, and homograph means the same letters.
2.2 HOMOGRAPHS AND HOMOPHONY.
Within the scope of the word homonymy we are confronted with words which have the same
spelling but differ in pronunciation, these are called Homographs. For instance, we have lead
(metal) and lead (dog's lead).
On the contrary, there are words which share the same pronunciation but have different spellings,
such words are called Homophones. For instance, we have right, rite and write.
2.3 HOMONYMY VS POLYSEMY.
As we have seen so far homonymous words are those that have different unrelated meanings. As
such, polysemic words are those whose different meanings are related somehow. For example: Foot
means two things (at least):
a) the terminal part of the leg: My left foot is bigger than my right one.
b) A measure of length: To get into the army you must be 5 foot tall at least.

3. SYNONYMY.
3.1 DEFINITION.
When we talk about synonymy we refer to the relations that two words have to each other. The term
synonymy comes from a Greek word sunonumon meaning "having the same name". It is used in
modern semantics to refer to a relationship of "sameness of meaning" that may hold between two
words. More than one word having the same meaning, or alternatively, the same meaning being
expressed by more than one word. Here is a list of examples of synonym pairs in modern English:
Beseach Implore Intricate Involved Glitter Sparkle Native Indigenous.
3.2 ABSOLUTE AND LOOSE SYNONYMY.
When we talk about synonymy we can distinguish between Absolute or strict and Loose synonymy.
In the strict sense two words that are synonyms would have to be interchangeable in all their
possible contexts of use. The choice would have no effect on the meaning, style or connotation of
what has been said or written.
In the opinion of many authors though, Strict or Absolute Synonymy is something that does not
exist; that is, no two words or expressions have exactly the same meaning.
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Indeed, it would appear that were historically, two words have been in danger of becoming strict
synonyms, one of them has either changed its meaning in some way or fallen out of use. For
example, when the word sky was borrowed form old Norse into English it came into competition
with the native English word heaven, both words denoted both the physical firmament and the
spiritual realm of God and the angels.
In due course, sky came to denote just the physical, and heaven just the spiritual; though each is still
sometimes used in the context where the other would normally be expected.
There are two arguments against Strict Synonymy:
1. Economic: The economy of a language will not tolerate, except perhaps for a short period of
time, the existence of two words with exactly the same range of contexts of use; and it
certainly will not tolerate a proliferation of them.
2. The second argument is the historical counterpart to the first one. It has been noted that if
strict synonymy occurs in the language, whether by borrowing or for some other reason,
then one or two things tend to happen. One is that a differentiation of meaning takes place
and one of the words begins to be used in contexts from which the other is excluded,
perhaps through semantic specialisation.
When we talk about synonymy we do not generally have strict synonymy in mind, we are thinking
much rather of pairs of words that can substitute for each other in a wide range of contexts but not
necessarily absolutely, or that we think of as having the same general reference such as ‘big/large’,
‘refuse/decline’, ‘freedom/liberty’ or ‘sometimes/occasionally’.
3.3 SYNONYMS AND BORROWINGS.
We can also mention synonyms that come from a different linguistic system, that is borrowings that
are involved in a process of synonymy. For instance, we have "party" and "fiesta", "macho" and
"tough", "patois" and "dialect" etc.
3.4 SYNONYMY IN DIFFERENT DIALECTS.
A pair of synonyms may belong to different dialects. Speakers of one dialect use only one of the
pair of synonyms but readily understand the other. This is the case for example with many pairs of
synonyms in British and American English, such as the following: ‘lift-elevator’, ‘pavement-
sidewalk’, ‘sweet-candy’, ‘biscuit-cookie’, ‘tap-faucet’, ‘boot-trunk’. There are synonyms not only
between national varieties of the language but also between dialects of a national variety.
3.5 SYNONYMY AND FORMALITY
There is general preponderance of Anglo-Saxon words in colloquial language and an increase in
French or Latin-derived words in more formal kinds of speaking and writing. For example, of the
synonym pair ‘climb-ascend’, ‘climb’ is Anglo Saxon in origin, while ‘ascend’ entered English
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from Latin. Similarly, ‘go in’ is Anglo-Saxon in origin, while ‘enter’ came into English from
French.

3.6 SYNONYMY AND TECHNICALITY.


Many professions, traded, sports and hobbies have developed vocabularies which contain lexemes
appropriate to the activity engaged in but which are not part of everyday language. We refer to such
lexemes as technical vocabulary or jargons. For example, medical specialists may refer to matter
related to the ‘lung’ by means of the Latin-derived adjective ‘pulmonary’. Doctors talking to
patients need, therefore, to translate their technical jargon into the words of everyday language.
Some examples of these synonyms are: ‘cardiac-heart’, ‘incision-cut’, ‘lesion-injury’, ‘cranium-
skull’…
3.7 SYNYNOMY AND CONNOTATION.
One member of a pair of synonyms may have connotations not shared by the other member. For
example, ‘love’ and ‘adore’ could be said to be synonyms, but ‘adore’ has connotations of passion
or worship, which ‘love’, does not share.
3.8. SYNONYMY AND EUPHEMISM.
There is a taboo, in some contexts at least, of referring directly to certain subjects, especially death,
sex and some bodily functions. Consequently, euphemistic synonyms have been coined to refer
more obliquely to these taboo subjects. For example, the euphemistic synonym of ‘die’ is ‘pass
away’. Similarly, ‘kill’ has the euphemistic synonym ‘liquidate’ and the colloquial synonym ‘do
in’.
3.9 PARTIAL SYNONYM.
Part of the meaning of two or more words is the same: there is overlap in meaning, but not complete
identity of meaning. For example, the meaning of the lexemes ‘mature’, ‘ripe’, ‘adult’ overlap, they
all refer to growth having been achieved to a certain point of maturity, but they each other refer to
something more than that. ‘Ripe’ infers ‘ready to eat’ as well as ‘mature’, ‘adult’ infers
‘responsible, no longer a child’ as well as ‘physically mature’, ‘mature’ as the most general
reference of the three, but infers ‘wise, sound in judgement’ in relation to human beings and ‘stored
long and well’ in relation to wine.
3.10 DISTINGUISHING SYNONYMS.
Finally, we will deal with the differences between different synonyms. These differences are
demonstrated with reference to the first word in each of the following pairs.
- One term is more general than the other: refuse and reject.
- One term is more intense that the other: repudiate and refuse.
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- One term is more emotive than the other: reject and decline.
- One term is more "professional" than the other: deceased and dead.
- One term is more literary than the other: passing and dead.
- Moral connotation vs. neutrality: thrifty and economical.
- One term is more literary than the other: letter and missive.
- One term is more colloquial than the other: beauty and pulchritude.
- One term is more local than the other: flesher and butcher
- Children's talk. Daddy and father.
- One term belongs to slang and the other does not: steal and nick.

4. ANTONYMY.
4.1 DEFINITION.
Sometimes a pair of words have meanings that are felt as somehow "opposite" to each other. Such
is the case of antonyms. -short, wide-narrow, new-old, rough-smooth, light-dark, deep-shallow,
fast-slow etc. Antonyms occur within the same style, dialect or register. But the relation of
Antonymy in not uniform; there are different kinds of Antonymy as we will see next.
4.2 MORPHOLOGICAL IMPLICATIONS.
In English, we can also derive antonyms by means of prefixes and suffixes. For instance, we have
negative prefixes such as dis-, un-, or in- that may derive in antonyms from the positive root. E.g.:
Dishonest Encourage-Discourage Unsympathetic Entangle-Disentangle Infertile Increase-Decrease.
Similarly, the suffixes –ful, -less may derive pairs of antonyms e.g.: Useful and Useless, Thoughtful
and Thoughtless
4.3 TYPES OF ANTONYMS:
Unlike synonymy, antonymy covers a number of different types of opposites of meaning. Three
types are commonly identified:
4.3.1 Gradable Antonyms.
Gradable antonyms include pairs like the following: Ex. Very ugly, very beautiful.
These pairs are called gradable antonyms because they point to a scale which can have many
different values that is why they allow comparative morphemes like -er or -est. this is the same to
say that they are not absolute measures, but relative to a norm or scale. They are adjectives which
do not refer to absolute qualities, but which may be subjects to comparison or qualification. For
example, we could say of a road that is ‘very narrow’ or ‘very wide’, ‘quite narrow’ or ‘quite wide’
or that one road is ‘wider’ or ‘narrower’ than another. Moreover, the reference of the adjective is
relative to the noun that is modifying.
4.3.2 Ungradable Antonyms.
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Ungradable antonyms include pairs like the following:
Ex: These are non-acceptable: Very pregnant, very exhausted member of the pair e.g.:" if you
permit some behaviour, then it is not forbidden".

4.3.3 Complementary Antonyms.


The denial of one member of the pair implies the assertion of the other. For example, if someone is
‘not dead’ they are ‘alive’. There is a more clear-cut or opposition with complementary antonyms
than with gradable antonyms.
4.3.4 Converse Antonyms.
For each pair of antonyms, one expresses the converse meaning of the other. They are related terms
such as husband and wife but also we have to bear in mind that they are more related to a question
of perspective than anything else.

5. FALSE FRIENDS.
They are also known as false cognates. Broadly speaking, the problem of ‘false friends’ is a result
of the similarities of signifiers, either in pronunciation or in spelling, between two words belonging
to different languages or linguistic systems.
Here we have some examples that illustrate this concept ‘constipated’ and ‘constipado’,
‘embarrassed’ and ‘embarazada’, ‘insane’ and ‘insano’, and Spanish ‘"fatal’.
There are different criteria for considering what kind of words are ‘false friends’:
 Words which are ‘false friends’ in spelling and/or pronunciation. It is assumed that ‘ly’ is
readily associated with ‘mente’ in the Latin languages. It is also assumed that many final
vowels in Latin languages are lost in English.
 Words where the foreign language has a broader range of meanings than English, though
one or more meanings may be identical, for example ‘etiquette’ has the ‘correct manners’
meaning in many languages. However, it also means ‘label’ in the same languages but not in
English. This easily leads to EFL student making mistakes.
 Words causing trouble in the same part of speech.
 Words nor related semantically or etymologically are included as they really help the leaner
to increase his vocabulary.

6. LEXICAL CREATIVITY.
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Lexical creativity can be defined as one of the main distinguishing features of human language, by
which it is possible to give several signifieds to one signifier.
6.1 METAPHORS.
Normally, we invoke metaphors to make sense of some domain which is not clearly understood. In
addition to its literary use, metaphors are a device frequently used by speakers to designate an
object. Therefore, a metaphor such as "Time is money'" is a common theme that lies behind a long
list of metaphorical expressions:
In this way, the existence of the metaphor "Time is money'" allow us to use many different
expressions with time as we do it with money so we can spend time, invest it, save it, waste it, give
it, rob it, spare it, borrow it, lend it etc.
We can distinguish between three classes of metaphors:
6.1.1 Image Metaphors.
Some metaphors are based on image. The clearest example is "Mouse". (the rodent and part of a
computer)
6.1.2 Spatial Metaphors.
By spatial metaphors we understand those that has to do with spatial orientation. Specially "Up and
Down" orientation. For example, in English, as in Spanish, quantity is very often conceptualized in
terms of verticality, giving rise to "The More is Up" metaphor:
- "Prices are going up."
- "Prices are soaring."
- "The unemployment rate is very high."
Similarly:
The counterpart also works, "Less is Down."
Health and Life are Up; Sickness and Death are Down.
Good is Up; Bad is Down.
Virtue is up; depravity is down.
6.1.3 Conceptual Metaphors.
On this metaphors, two different domains are put into correspondence. For instance we have "Love
is a journey":
- "Our relationship is not going anywhere."
- "Form now on, we will have to go separate ways."
- "Their marriage is on the rocks."
- "Look how far we have come."
In short what we are doing here is to use our knowledge of journeys and apply it to the domain of
love relationships.
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6.2 METONYMY
Metonymy is a figure of speech in which a thing or concept is called not by its own name but rather
by the name of something associated in meaning with that thing or concept.
Here are some examples:
"The ham sandwich is waiting for his check".
- "There are a lot of good heads in the university."
Object used for user. Controller for controlled.
- "The sax has the flue today." (the saxophonist)
Institution for people responsible. The place for the events.
- "The senate thinks abortion is immoral."
- "Watergate changed our politics."
The place for the institution.
- "Wall Street is in panic."
Moreover, cultural and religious symbolism are special cases of metonymy within Christianity, for
example, there is the metonymy Dove for Holy Spirit.
6.3 CONTEXTUAL MODULATION.
"Arthur poured the butter into a dish", in this sentence, context helps us realize that the butter in
question is hot.
6.4 MULTIPLE DESIGNATION.
The possibility of calling a "book" a "volume" an "essay", a "paper" or a "work" depending on
whether it belongs to an encyclopaedia, a research paper a literary work etc.
6.5. ELLIPSIS.
For instance: "Daily Paper" is commonly accepted as "Daily".
6.6. LEXICAL CHANGE RESORTS
In order to coin new terms, speakers make use of already existing procedures in their language,
such as...
1) Taking known words and change their word class: CONVERSION. Sight-seeing - to sightsee
To doubt - a doubt
2) Adding suffixes/prefixes or lexemes: AFFIXATION + COMPOUNDING
3) Taking the beginning of one word and the end of another: BLENDING brunch (breakfast +
lunch), motel (motoway + hotel), smog (smoke + fog), transistor (transfer + resistor), Eurovision
(Europe + television).
4) Using abbreviations (2 ways):
 Subtraction of one or more syllables from a word: CLIPPING (they are common of informal
style) phone (teleophone), flu (influenza), photo (photograph), ad.
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 Taking the initial letters or parts of the word/s: ACRONYMS: UFO, VIP, BBC, TV, ESP,
EEC, NATO, radar, UNESCO, scuba
5) Deleting part of the word: BACK FORMATION (this is really a case of conversion) editor - edit,
television - televise (the former ones entered the language before the latter; they are not suffixes)
6) Making up words: WORD COINAGE. There are two purposes of inventing words: when we
want them just to solve a momentary problem (There is a lot of repro-w.aiting. — queue at the
photocopy shop
7) Introducing one word from another language: BORROWING. They are also called loanwords:
siesta, mosquito (Spanish English), fiancee, fete (French English).
REDDUPLICATIVES.
walkie-talkie, tick-tack, wishy-washy, goody-goody, teeny-weeny. Experimenting with words is a
never-ending process.

7. CONCLUSION.
Making reference to that creativity of the English language we could go further in its analysis and
say that due to the influence especially of the American films and television series, as well as the
pop music industry, many words that were formerly restricted to American English are now well
understood and incorporated to British English speaker's vocabulary and therefore, they account as
lexical instruments in the creative process of the language.
This phenomenon can be traced back into a classroom context by making our students aware of the
fact that they can have a more updated and real access to different kinds of material in English than
the text book in itself.