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The difference between meaning and concept can also be observed by comparing synonymous words and word-groups expressing essentially the same concepts but possessing linguistic meaning which is felt as different in each of the units under consideration, e.g. big, large; to, die, to pass away, to kick the bucket, to join the majority; child, baby, babe, infant.

The precise definition of the content of a concept comes within the sphere of logic but it can be easily observed that the word-meaning is not identical with it. For instance, the content of the concept sixcan be expressed by ‘three plus three’, ‘five plus one’, or ‘ten minus four’, etc. Obviously, the meaning of the word sixcannot be identified with the meaning of these word-groups.

To distinguish meaning from the referent, i.e. from the thing denoted by the linguistic sign is of the utmost importance, and at first sight does not seem to present difficulties. To begin with, meaning is linguistic whereas the denoted object or the referent is beyond the scope of language. We can denote one and the same object by more than one word of a different meaning. For instance, in a speech situation an apple can be denoted

by thewords apple, fruit, something, this,etc. as all of these words may have the same referent. Meaning cannot be equated with the actual properties of the referent, e.g. the meaning of the word watercannot be regarded as identical with its chemical formula H2O as watermeans essentially the same to all English speakers including those who have no idea of its chemical composition. Last but not least there are words that have distinct meaning but do not refer to any existing thing, e.g. angelor phoenix.Such words have meaning which is understood by the speaker-hearer, but the objects they denote do not exist.

Thus, meaning is not to be identified with any of the three points of the triangle.

§ 2. Meaning in the Referential Approach

It should be pointed out that among the adherents of the referential approach there are some who hold that the meaning of a linguistic sign is the concept underlying it, and consequently they substitute meaning for concept in the basic triangle. Others identify meaning with the referent. They argue that unless we have a scientifically accurate knowledge of the referent we cannot give a scientifically accurate definition of the meaning of a word. According to them the English word salt,e.g., means ’sodium chloride (NaCl)’. But how are we to define precisely the meanings of such words as loveor hate,etc.? We must admit that the actual extent of human knowledge makes it impossible to define word-meanings accurately.1 It logically follows that any study of meanings in linguistics along these lines must be given up as impossible.

Here we have sought to show that meaning is closely connected but not identical with sound-form, concept or referent. Yet even those who accept this view disagree as to the nature of meaning. Some linguists regard meaning as the interrelation of the three points of the triangle within the framework of the given language, i.e. as the interrelation of the sound-form, concept and referent, but not as an objectively existing part of the linguistic sign. Others and among them some outstanding Soviet linguists, proceed from the basic assumption of the objectivity of language and meaning and understand the linguistic sign as a two-facet unit. They view meaning as “a certain reflection in our mind of objects, phenomena or relations that makes part of the linguistic sign — its so-called inner facet, whereas the sound-form functions as its outer facet.” 2 The outer facet of the linguistic sign is indispensable to meaning and intercommunication. Meaning is to be found in all linguistic units and together with their sound-form constitutes the linguistic signs studied by linguistic science.

The criticism of the referential theories of meaning may be briefly summarised as follows:

1. Meaning, as understood in the referential approach, comprises the interrelation of linguistic signs with categories and phenomena outside the scope of language. As neither referents (i.e. actual things, phenomena,

1 See, e. g., L. Bloomfield. Language. N. Y., 1933, p. 139.

2 А. И. Смирницкий. Значение слова. — Вопр. языкознания, 1955, № 2. See also С. И. Ожегов. Лексикология, лексикография, культура речи. М., 1974, с. 197.

etc.) nor concepts belong to language, the analysis of meaning is confined either to the study of the interrelation of the linguistic sign and referent or that of the linguistic sign and concept, all of which, properly speaking, is not the object of linguistic study.

2. The great stumbling block in referential theories of meaning has always been that they operate with subjective and intangible mental processes. The results of semantic investigation therefore depend to a certain extent on “the feel of the language” and cannot be verified by another investigator analysing the same linguistic data. It follows that semasiology has to rely too much on linguistic intuition and unlike other fields of linguistic inquiry (e.g. phonetics, history of language) does not possess objective methods of investigation. Consequently it is argued, linguists should either give up the study of meaning and the attempts to define meaning altogether, or confine their efforts to the investigation of the function of linguistic signs in speech.

§ 3. Functional Approach to Meaning

In recent years a new and entirely different approach to meaning known as the functional approach has begun to take shape in linguistics and especially in structural linguistics. The functional approach maintains that the meaning of a linguistic unit may be studied only through its relation to other linguistic-units and not through its relation to either concept or referent. In a very simplified form this view may be illustrated by the following: we know, for instance, that the meaning of the two words moveand movementis different because they function in speech differently. Comparing the contexts in which we find these words we cannot fail to observe that they occupy different positions in relation to other words. (To) move,e.g., can be followed by a noun (movethe chair), preceded by a pronoun (we move),etc. The position occupied by the word movementis different: it may be followed by a preposition (movementof smth),preceded by an adjective (slow movement),and so on. As the distribution l ofthe two words is different, we are entitled to the conclusion that not only do they belong to different classes of words, but that their meanings are different too.

The same is true of the different meanings of one and the same word. Analysing the function of a word in linguistic contexts and comparing these contexts, we conclude that; meanings are different (or the same) and this fact can be proved by an objective investigation of linguistic data. For example we can observe the difference of the meanings of the word takeif we examine its functions in different linguistic contexts, take the tram (the taxi, the cab,,etc.) as opposed to to take to somebody.

It follows that in the functional approach (1) semantic investigation is confined to the analysis of the difference or sameness of meaning; (2) meaning is understood essentially as the function of the use of linguistic units. As a matter of fact, this line of semantic investigation is the primary concern, implied or expressed, of all structural linguists.

1 By the term distribution we understand the position of a linguistic unit in relation to other linguistic units.

§ 4. Relation between the Two Approaches

When comparing the two approaches described above in terms of methods of linguistic analysis we see that the functional approach should not be considered an alternative, but rather a valuable complement to the referential theory. It is only natural that linguistic investigation must start by collecting an adequate number of samples of contexts.1 On examination the meaning or meanings of linguistic units will emerge from the contexts themselves. Once this phase had been completed it seems but logical to pass on to the referential phase and try to formulate the meaning thus identified. There is absolutely no need to set the two approaches against each other; each handles its own side of the problem and neither is complete without the other.


It is more or less universally recognised that word-meaning is not homogeneous but is made up of various components the combination and the interrelation of which determine to a great extent the inner facet of the word. These components are usually described as types of meaning. The two main types of meaning that are readily observed are the grammatical and the lexical meanings to be found in words and word-forms.

§ 5. Grammatical Meaning

We notice, e.g., that word-forms, such as girls, winters, joys, tables,etc. though denoting widely different objects of reality have something in common. This common element is the grammatical meaning of plurality which can be found in all of them.

Thus grammatical meaning may be defined ,as the component of meaning recurrent in identical sets of individual forms of different words, as, e.g., the tense meaning in the word-forms of verbs (asked, thought, walked,etc.) or the case meaning in the word-forms of various nouns (girl’s, boy’s, night’s,etc.).

Ina broad sense it may be argued that linguists who make a distinction between lexical and grammatical meaning are, in fact, making a distinction between the functional (linguistic) meaning which operates at various levels as the interrelation of various linguistic units and referential (conceptual) meaning as the interrelation of linguistic units and referents (or concepts).

In modern linguistic science it is commonly held that some elements of grammatical meaning can be identified by the position of the linguistic unit in relation to other linguistic units, i.e. by its distribution. Word-forms speaks, reads, writeshave one and the same grammatical meaning as they can all be found in identical distribution, e.g. only after the pronouns he, she, itand before adverbs like well, badly, to-day,etc.

1 It is of interest to note that the functional approach is sometimes described as contextual, as it is based on the analysis of various contexts. See, e. g., St. Ullmann. Semantics. Oxford, 1962, pp. 64-67.

It follows that a certain component of the meaning of a word is described when you identify it as a part of speech, since different parts of speech are distributionally different (cf. my work and I work).1

§ 6. Lexical Meaning

Comparing word-forms of one and the same word we observe that besides grammatical meaning, there is another component of meaning to be found in them. Unlike the grammatical meaning this component is identical in all the forms of the word. Thus, e.g. the word-forms go, goes, went, going, gonepossess different grammatical meanings of tense, person and so on, but in each of these forms we find one and the same semantic component denoting the process of movement. This is the lexical meaning of the word which may be described as the component of meaning proper to the word as a linguistic unit, i.e. recurrent in all the forms of this word.

The difference between the lexical and the grammatical components of meaning is not to be sought in the difference of the concepts underlying the two types of meaning, but rather in the way they are conveyed. The concept of plurality, e.g., may be expressed by the lexical meaning of the world plurality;it may also be expressed in the forms of various words irrespective of their lexical meaning, e.g. boys, girls, joys,etc. The concept of relation may be expressed by the lexical meaning of the word relationand also by any of the prepositions, e.g. in, on, behind,etc. (cf. the book isin/on, behind the table). “

It follows that by lexical meaning we designate the meaning proper to the given linguistic unit in all its forms and distributions, while by grammatical meaning we designate the meaning proper to sets of word-forms common to all words of a certain class. Both the lexical and the grammatical meaning make up the word-meaning as neither can exist without the other. That can be also observed in the semantic analysis of correlated words in different languages. E.g. the Russian word сведения is not semantically identical with the English equivalent informationbecause unlike the Russian сведения the English word does not possess the grammatical meaning of plurality which is part of the semantic structure of the Russian word.

§ 7. Parf-of-Speech Meaning

It is usual to classify lexical items into major word-classes (nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs) and minor word-classes (articles, prepositions, conjunctions, etc.).

All members of a major word-class share a distinguishing semantic component which though very abstract may be viewed as the lexical component of part-of-speech meaning. For example, the meaning of ‘thingness’ or substantiality may be found in all the nouns e.g. table, love, sugar,though they possess different grammatical meanings of number, case, etc. It should be noted, however, that the grammatical aspect of the part-of-speech meanings is conveyed as a rule by a set of forms. If we describe the word as a noun we mean to say that it is bound to possess

1 For a more detailed discussion of the interrelation of the lexical and grammatical meaning in words see § 7 and also А. И. Смирницкий. Лексикология английского языка. М., 1956, с. 21 — 26.

a set of forms expressing the grammatical meaning of number (cf. table — tables),case (cf. boy, boy’s)and so on. A verb is understood to possess sets of forms expressing, e.g., tense meaning (worked — works),mood meaning (work! — (I) work),etc.

The part-of-speech meaning of the words that possess only one form, e.g. prepositions, some adverbs, etc., is observed only in their distribution (cf. to come in (here, there)and in (on, under)the table).

One of the levels at which grammatical meaning operates is that of minor word classes like articles, pronouns, etc.

Members of these word classes are generally listed in dictionaries just as other vocabulary items, that belong to major word-classes of lexical items proper (e.g. nouns, verbs, etc.).

One criterion for distinguishing these grammatical items from lexical items is in terms of closed and open sets. Grammatical items form closed sets of units usually of small membership (e.g. the set of modern English pronouns, articles, etc.). New items are practically never added.

Lexical items proper belong to open sets which have indeterminately large membership; new lexical items which are constantly coined to fulfil the needs of the speech community are added to these open sets.

The interrelation of the lexical and the grammatical meaning and the role played by each varies in different word-classes and even in different groups of words within one and the same class. In some parts of speech the prevailing component is the grammatical type of meaning. The lexical meaning of prepositions for example is, as a rule, relatively vague (independent of smb, one of the students, the roof of the house).The lexical meaning of some prepositions, however, may be comparatively distinct (cf. in/on, under the table).In verbs the lexical meaning usually comes to the fore although in some of them, the verb to be,e.g., the grammatical meaning of a linking element prevails (cf. he works as a teacherand he is a teacher).

§ 8. Denotational and Connotational Meaning

Proceeding with the semantic analysis we observe that lexical meaning is not homogenous either and may be analysed as including denotational and connotational components.

As was mentioned above one of the functions of words is to denote things, concepts and so on. Users of a language cannot have any knowledge or thought of the objects or phenomena of the real world around them unless this knowledge is ultimately embodied in words which have essentially the same meaning for all speakers of that language. This is the denotational meaning, i.e. that component of the lexical meaning which makes communication possible. There is no doubt that aphysicist knows more about the atom than a singer does, or that an arctic explorer possesses a much deeper knowledge of what arctic ice is like than a man who has never been in the North. Nevertheless they use the words atom, Arctic,etc. and understand each other.

The second component of the lexical meaning is the connotational component, i.e. the emotive charge and the stylistic value of the word.

§ 9. Emotive Charge

Words contain an element of emotive evaluation as part of the connotational meaning; e.g. a hoveldenotes ‘a small house or cottage’ and besides implies that it is a miserable dwelling place, dirty, in bad repair and in general unpleasant to live in. When examining synonyms large, big, tremendousand like, love, worshipor words such as girl, girlie; dear, deariewe cannot fail to observe the difference in the emotive charge of the members of these sets. The emotive charge of the words tremendous, worshipand girlieis heavier than that of the words large, likeand girl.This does not depend on the “feeling” of the individual speaker but is true for all speakers of English. The emotive charge varies in different word-classes. In some of them, in interjections, e.g., the emotive element prevails, whereas in conjunctions the emotive charge is as a rule practically non-existent.

The emotive charge is one of the objective semantic features proper to words as linguistic units and forms part of the connotational component of meaning. It should not be confused with emotive implications that the words may acquire in speech. The emotive implication of the word is to a great extent subjective as it greatly depends of the personal experience of the speaker, the mental imagery the word evokes in him. Words seemingly devoid of any emotional element may possess in the case of individual speakers strong emotive implications as may be illustrated, e.g. by the word hospital.What is thought and felt when the word hospitalis used will be different in the case of an architect who built it, the invalid staying there after an operation, or the man living across the road.

§ 10. Sfylistic Reference

Words differ not only in their emotive charge but also in their stylistic reference. Stylistically words can be roughly subdivided into literary, neutral and colloquial layers.1

The greater part of the literаrу layer of Modern English vocabulary are words of general use, possessing no specific stylistic reference and known as neutral words. Against the background of neutral words we can distinguish two major subgroups — standard colloquial words and literary or bookish words. This may be best illustrated by comparing words almost identical in their denotational meaning, e. g., ‘parent — father — dad’.In comparison with the word fatherwhich is stylistically neutral, dadstands out as colloquial and parentis felt as bookish. The stylistic reference of standard colloquial words is clearly observed when we compare them with their neutral synonyms, e.g. chum — friend, rotnonsense,etc. This is also true of literary or bookish words, such as, e.g., to presume (cf. to suppose), to anticipate (cf. to expect)and others.

Literary (bookish) words are not stylistically homogeneous. Besides general-literary (bookish) words, e.g. harmony, calamity, alacrity,etc., we may single out various specific subgroups, namely: 1) terms or

1 See the stylistic classification of the English vocabulary in: I. R. Galperin. Stylistics. M., 1971, pp. 62-118.

scientific words such as, e g., renaissance, genocide, teletype,etc.; 2) poetic words and archaisms such as, e.g., whilome — ‘formerly’, aught — ‘anything’, ere — ‘before’, albeit — ‘although’, fare — ‘walk’, etc., tarry — ‘remain’, nay — ‘no’; 3) barbarisms and foreign words, such as, e.g., bon mot — ‘a clever or witty saying’, apropos, faux pas, bouquet,etc. The colloquial words may be subdivided into:

1) Common colloquial words.

2) Slang, i.e. words which are often regarded as a violation of the norms of Standard English, e.g. governorfor ‘father’, missusfor ‘wife’, a gagfor ‘a joke’, dottyfor ‘insane’.

3) Professionalisms, i.e. words used in narrow groups bound by the same occupation, such as, e.g., labfor ‘laboratory’, hypofor ‘hypodermic syringe’, a busterfor ‘a bomb’, etc.

4) Jargonisms, i.e. words marked by their use within a particular social group and bearing a secret and cryptic character, e.g. a sucker — ‘a person who is easily deceived’, a squiffer— ‘a concertina’.

5) Vulgarisms, i.e. coarse words that are not generally used in public, e.g. bloody, hell, damn, shut up,etc.

6) Dialectical words, e.g. lass, kirk,etc.

7) Colloquial coinages, e.g. newspaperdom, allrightnik,etc.

§ 11. Emotive Charge and Stylistic Reference

Stylistic reference and emotive charge of words are closely connected and to a certain degree interdependent.1 As a rule stylistically coloured words, i.e. words belonging to all stylistic layers except the neutral style are observed to possess a considerable emotive charge. That can be proved by comparing stylistically labelled words with their neutral synonyms. The colloquial words daddy, mammyare more emotional than the neutral father, mother;the slang words mum, bobare undoubtedly more expressive than their neutral counterparts silent, shilling,the poetic yonand steedcarry a noticeably heavier emotive charge than their neutral synonyms thereand horse.Words of neutral style, however, may also differ in the degree of emotive charge. We see, e.g., that the words large, big, tremendous,though equally neutral as to their stylistic reference are not identical as far as their emotive charge is concerned.

§ 12. Summary and Conclusions

1. In the present book word-meaning is viewed as closely connected but not identical with either the sound-form of the word or with its referent.

Proceeding from the basic assumption of the objectivity of language and from the understanding of linguistic units as two-facet entities we regard meaning as the inner facet of the word, inseparable from its outer facet which is indispensable to the existence of meaning and to intercommunication.

1 It should be pointed out that the interdependence and interrelation of the emotive and stylistic component of meaning is one of the debatable problems in semasiology. Some linguists go so far as to claim that the stylistic reference of the word lies outside the scope of its meaning. (See, e. g., В. А. Звягинцев. Семасиология. M, 1957, с. 167 — 185).

2. The two main types of word-meaning are the grammatical and the lexical meanings found in all words. The interrelation of these two types of meaning may be different in different groups of words.

3. Lexical meaning is viewed as possessing denotational and connotational components.

The denotational component is actually what makes communication possible. The connotational component comprises the stylistic reference and the emotive charge proper to the word as a linguistic unit in the given language system. The subjective emotive implications acquired by words in speech lie outside the semantic structure of words as they may vary from speaker to speaker but are not proper to words as units of language.


In modern linguistics it is more or less universally recognised that the smallest two-facet language unit possessing both sound-form and meaning is the morpheme. Yet, whereas the phono-morphological structure of language has been subjected to a thorough linguistic analysis, the problem of types of meaning and semantic peculiarities of morphemes has not been properly investigated. A few points of interest, however, may be mentioned in connection with some recent observations in “this field.

§ 13. Lexical Meaning

It is generally assumed that one of the semantic features of some morphemes which distinguishes them from words is that they do not possess grammatical meaning. Comparing the word man, e.g., and the morpheme man-(in manful, manly, etc.) we see that we cannot find in this morpheme the grammatical meaning of case and number observed in the word man.Morphemes are consequently regarded as devoid of grammatical meaning.

Many English words consist of a single root-morpheme, so when we say that most morphemes possess lexical meaning we imply mainly the root-morphemes in such words. It may be easily observed that the lexical meaning of the word boy and the lexical meaning of the root-morpheme boy — in such words as boyhood, boyish and others is very much the same.

Just as in words lexical meaning in morphemes may also be analysed into denotational and connotational components. The connotational component of meaning may be found not only in root-morphemes but in affixational morphemes as well. Endearing and diminutive suffixes, e.g. -ette (kitchenette), -ie(y) (dearie, girlie), -ling (duckling), clearly bear a heavy emotive charge. Comparing the derivational morphemes with the same denotational meaning we see that they sometimes differ in connotation only. The morphemes, e.g. -ly, -like, -ish,have the denotational meaning of similarity in the words womanly, womanlike, womanish, the connotational component, however, differs and ranges from the positive evaluation in-ly (womanly)to the derogatory in-ish (womanish):1 Stylistic reference may also be found in morphemes of differ-

1 Compare the Russian equivalents: женственный — женский — женоподобный, бабий.

ent types. Thestylistic value of such derivational morphemes as, e.g. -ine (chlorine), -oid (rhomboid), -escence (effervescence)is clearly perceived to be bookish or scientific.

§ 14. Functional (Parf-of-Speech) Meaning

The lexical meaning of the affixal morphemes is, as a rule, of a more generalising character. The suffix -er, e.g. carries the meaning ‘the agent, the doer of the action’, the suffix-lessdenotes lack or absence of something. It should also be noted that the root-morphemes do not “possess the part-of-speech meaning (cf. manly, manliness, to man);in derivational morphemes the lexical and the part-of-speech meaning may be so blended as to be almost inseparable. In the derivational morphemes -er and -lessdiscussed above the lexical meaning is just as clearly perceived as their part-of-speech meaning. In some morphemes, however, for instance -ment or -ous (asin movement or laborious),it is the part-of-speech meaning that prevails, the lexical meaning is but vaguely felt.


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