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quinta-feira, 10 de novembro de 2011

Meet 4 reasons for vocabulary meaning changes

According to the examples  shown on the last post published on Nov 8, many people view semantic change with strong emotions. The discussion of meaning change is often emotionally charged, with the meanings perceived as "improving" (amelioration) or "worsening" (pejoration) over time. Try this: flip through the dictionary and look at random for a word with four or more meanings, preferably a word you think you know. Chances are you will find that it has an unlikely hodge-podge of meanings, at least one of which will surprise you. The next paragraphs will attempt to provide a more clinical overview of how words change meanings.

1)    Pejoration is the process by which a word's meaning worsens or degenerates, coming to represent something less favorable than it originally did. An example of this process is the word silly which in older times meant naïve.

2)    Amelioration is the process by which a word's meaning improves or becomes elevated, coming to represent something more favorable than it originally referred to. An example of this process is the word silly which in older times meant naïve.

3)    Generalization is the use of a word in a broader realm of meaning than it originally possessed, often referring to all items in a class, rather than one specific item. For instance, place derives from Latin platea, "broad street", but its meaning grew broader than the street, to include "a particular city", "a business office", "an area dedicated to a specific purpose" before broadening even wider to mean "area". It’s important to point out that Generalization is a natural process, especially in situations of "language on a shoestring", where the speaker has a limited vocabulary at her disposal, either because she is young and just acquiring language or because she is not fluent in a second language.

4)    Specialiazation The opposite of generalization, specialization is the narrowing of a word to refer to what previously would have been but one example of what it referred to. For instance, the word meat originally referred to "any type of food", but came to mean "the flesh of animals as opposed to the flesh of fish". The original sense of meat survives in terms like mincemeat, "chopped apples and spices used as a pie filling"; sweetmeat, "candy"; and nutmeat, "the edible portion of a nut". Other examples of specialization, from the development of English are: starve, which meant die; forest, which meant countryside and deer, which meant animal.

For more examples, check the post “vocabulary meaning curiosities” on this blog!

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