It is more or less universally recognised that word-meaning can be perceived through intralinguistic relations that exist between words. Intralinguistic relations of words are basically of two main types:
Syntagmatic relations define the meaning the word possesses when it is used in combination with other words in the flow of speech. Paradigmatic relations are those that exist between individual lexical items which make up one of the subgroups of vocabulary items, e.g. sets of synonyms, lexico-semantic groups, etc. Paradigmatic relations define the word-meaning through its interrelation with other members of the subgroup in question. For example, the meaning of the verb to get can be fully understood only in comparison with other items of the synonymic set: get, obtain, receive, etc. Cf. He got a letter, he received a letter, he obtained a letter, etc. Comparing the sentences discussed above we may conclude that an item in a sentence can be usually substituted by one or more than one other items that have identical part-of-speech meaning and similar though not identical lexical meaning. The difference in the type of subgroups the members of which are substitutable in the flow of speech is usually described as the difference between closed and open sets of lexical items. The members of closed systems are strictly limited in number and no addition of new items is possible.
The sets in which the number of alternatives is practically infinite as they are continually being adapted to new requirements by the addition of new lexical items are described as open systems. Closed systems are traditionally considered to be the subject matter of grammar, open systems such as lexico-semantic fields, hyponymic, synonymic sets, etc.1 are studied by lexicology. From the discussion of the paradigmatic and syntagmatic relations it follows that a full understanding of the semantic structure of any lexical item can be gained only from the study of a variety of contexts in which the word is used, i.e. from the study of the intralinguistic relations of words in the flow of speech. This is of greatest importance in connection with the problem of the synchronic approach to polysemy.
It will be recalled that in analysing the semantic structure of the polysemantic word table we observed that some meanings are representative of the word in isolation, i.e. they invariably occur to us when we hear the word or see it written on paper. Other meanings come to the fore only when the word is used in certain contexts. This is true of all polysemantic words. The adjective yellow, e.g., when used in isolation is understood to denote a certain colour, whereas other meanings of this word, e.g. ‘envious’, ‘suspicious’ or ‘sensational’, ‘corrupt’, are perceived only in certain contexts, e.g. ‘a yellow look’, ‘the yellow press’, etc. As can be seen from the examples discussed above we understand by the term context the minimal stretch of speech determining each individual meaning of the word. The context individualises the meanings, brings them out. It is in this sense that we say that meaning is determined by context.
The meaning or meanings representative of the semantic structure of the word and least dependent on context are usually described as free or denominative meanings. Thus we assume that the meaning ‘a piece of furniture’ is the denominative meaning of the word table, the meaning ‘construct, produce’ is the free or denominative meaning of the verb make. The meaning or meanings of polysemantic words observed only in certain contexts may be viewed as determined either by linguistic (or verbal) contexts or extra-linguistic (non-verbal) contexts.
The two more or less universally recognised main types of linguistic contexts which serve to determine individual meanings of words are:
§ the lexical context
§ the grammatical context.
These types are differentiated depending on whether the lexical or the grammatical aspect is predominant in determining the meaning. In lexical contexts of primary importance are the groups of lexical items combined with the polysemantic word under consideration. This can be illustrated by analysing different lexical contexts in which polysemantic words are used. The adjective heavy, e.g., in isolation is understood as meaning ‘of great weight, weighty’ (heavy load, heavy table, etc.). When combined with the lexical group of words denoting natural phenomena such as wind, storm, snow, etc., it means ’striking, falling with force, abundant’ as can be seen from the contexts, e.g. heavy rain, wind, snow, storm, etc. In combination with the words industry, arms, artillery and the like, heavy has the meaning ‘the larger kind of something’ as in heavy industry, heavy artillery, etc. It can be easily observed that the main factor in bringing out this or that individual meaning of the words is the lexical meaning of the words with which heavy is combined.
Some linguists go so far as to assert that word-meaning in general can be analysed through its collocability with other words. They hold the view that if we know all the possible collocations (or word-groups) into which a polysemantic word can enter, we know all its meanings. Thus, the meanings of the adjectiveheavy, for instance, may be analysed through its collocability with the words weight, safe, table; snow, wind, rain; industry, artillery, etc. In grammatical contexts it is the grammatical (mainly the syntactic) structure of the context that serves to determine various individual meanings of a polysemantic word. One of the meanings of the verb make, e.g. ‘to force, to enduce’, is found only in the grammatical context possessing the structure to make somebody do something or in other terms this particular meaning occurs only if the verb make is followed by a noun and the infinitive of some other verb (to make smb. laugh, go, work, etc.). Another meaning of this verb ‘to become’, ‘to turn out to be’ is observed in the contexts of a different structure, i.e. make followed by an adjective and a noun (to make a good wife, a good teacher, etc.). Such meanings are sometimes described as grammatically (or structurally) bound meanings.
In a number of contexts, however, we find that both the lexical and the grammatical aspects should be taken into consideration. It is usual in modern linguistic science to use the terms pattern or struсture to denote grammatical contexts. It is argued that difference in the distribution of the word is indicative of the difference in meaning. Sameness of distributional pattern, however, does not imply sameness of meaning.
Dealing with verbal contexts we consider only linguistic factors: lexical groups of words, syntactic structure of the context and so on. There are cases, however, when the meaning of the word is ultimately determined not by these linguistic factors, but by the actual speech situation in which this word is used. The meanings of the noun ring, e.g. in to give somebody a ring, or of the verb get in I've got it are determined not only by the grammatical or lexical context, but much more so by the actual speech situation. The noun ring in such context may possess the meaning ‘a circlet of precious metal’ or ‘a call on the telephone’; the meaning of the verb to get in this linguistic context may be interpreted as ‘possess’ or ‘understand’ depending on the actual situation in which these words are used. It should be pointed out however that such cases, though possible, are not actually very numerous. The linguistic context is by far a more potent factor in determining word-meaning.
It is of interest to note that not only the denotational but also the connotational component of meaning may be affected by the context. Another type of classification almost universally used in practical classroom teaching is known as thematic grouping. Classification of vocabulary items into thematic groups is based on the co-occurrence of words in certain repeatedly used contexts. In linguistic contexts co-occurrence maу be observed on different levels. On the level of word-groups the word question, for instance, is often found in collocation with the verbs raise, put forward, discuss, etc., with the adjectives urgent, vital, disputable and so on. As a rule, thematic groups deal with contexts on the level of the sentence. Words in thematic groups are joined together by common contextual associations within the framework of the sentence and reflect the interlinking of things or events. Common contextual association of the words, e.g.tree — grow — green; journey — train — taxi — bags — ticket or sunshine — brightly — blue — sky, is due to the regular co-occurrence of these words in a number of sentences. Words making up a thematic group belong to different parts of speech and do not possess any common denominator of meaning.
Значение в сложных словах
It follows that the meaning of a compound is made up of the combined lexical meaning of the bases and the structural meaning of the pattern. The semantic centre of the compound is the lexical meaning of the second component modified and restricted by the meaning of the first. The semantic centres of compounds and the semantic relations embedded in the structural patterns refer compound words to certain lexico-semantic groups and semantic sets within them as, for example:
1. compound words denoting action described as to its agent, e.g. sunrise, earthquake, handshake,
2. compounds denoting action described as to its time or place, e.g. day-flight, street-fight,
3. compounds denoting individual objects designed for some goal, e.g. bird-cage, table-cloth, diving-suit,
4. compounds denoting objects that are parts of the whole, e.g. shirt-collar, eye-ball,
5. compounds denoting active doers, e.g. book-reader, shoe-maker, globe-trotter.
The lexical meanings of both components are closely fused together to create a new semantic unit with a new meaning which is not merely additive but dominates the individual meanings of the bases and is characterised by some additional semantic component not found in any of the bases. For example, a hand-bag is essentially ‘a bag, designed to be carried in the hand’, but it is also ‘a woman’s bag to keep money, papers, face-powder and the like’; a time-bombis ‘a bomb designed to explode at some time’, but also ‘after being dropped or placed in position’. The bulk of compound words are monosemantic and motivated but motivation in compounds like in all derivatives varies in degree. There are compounds that are completely motivated like sky-blue, foot-pump, tea-taster. Motivation in compound words may be partial, but again the degree will vary. Compound words a hand-bag, a flower-bed, handcuffs, a castle-builderare all only partially motivated, but still the degree of transparency of their meanings is different: in a hand-bag it is the highest as it is essentially ‘a bag’, whereas handcuffs retain only a resemblance to cuffs and in fact are ‘metal rings placed round the wrists of a prisoner’; a flower-bed is neither ‘a piece of furniture’ nor ‘a base on which smth rests’ but a ‘garden plot where flowers grow’; a castle-builder is not a ‘builder’ as the second component suggests but ‘a day-dreamer, one who builds castles in the air’.
There are compounds that lack motivation altogether, i.e. the native speaker doesn't see any obvious connection between the word-meaning, the lexical meanings of the bases and the meaning of the pattern, consequently, he cannot deduce the lexical meaning, of the word, for example, words like eye-wash — ’something said or done to deceive a person’, fiddlesticks — ‘nonsense, rubbish’, an eye-servant — ‘a servant who attends to his duty only when watched’, a night-cap — ‘a drink taken before going to bed at night’ all lack motivation. Lack of motivation in compound words may be often due to the transferred meanings of bases or of the whole word as in a slow-coach — ‘a person who acts slowly’ (colloq.), a sweet-tooth — ‘one who likes sweet food and drink’ (colloq.). Such words often acquire a new connotational meaning (usually non-neutral) not proper to either of their components. Lack of motivation may be often due to unexpected semantic relations embedded in the compound.
Sometimes the motivated and the non-motivated meanings of the same word are so far apart that they are felt as two homonymous words, e.g. a night-cap: 1) ‘a cap worn in bed at night’ and 2) ‘a drink taken before going to bed at night’ (colloq.); eye-wash: 1) ‘a liquid for washing the eyes’ and 2) ’something said or done to deceive somebody’ (colloq.); an eye-opener: 1) ‘enlightening or surprising circumstance’ (colloq.) and 2) ‘a drink of liquor taken early in the day’ (U.S.)