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Stylistic semasiology Essay

1. Semasiology is a branch of linguistics which studies semantics or meaning of linguistic units belonging to different language levels. Lexical semasiology analyses the meaning of words and word combinations, relations between these meanings and the changes these meanings undergo. Stylistic semasiology is concerned only with those semantic relations and changes which form the basis of EM and SD. The subject-matter of stylistic semasiology is stylistic semantics, i.e. additional meanings of a language unit which may be given rise to by: 1) the unusual denotative reference of words, word-combinations, utterances and texts (EM); or 2) the unusual distribution of the meanings of these units (SD). Semasiological EM are figures of substitution, i.e. different means of secondary nomination. The latter is based on the usage of existing words and word-combinations to denote new notions or to give a new name to the already known objects.

Secondary nomination is not completely arbitrary, it is carried out according to certain principles or rules. Most commonly the transfer of a name occurs: 1) on the basis of similiarity or likeness (real or imaginary) of two objects belonging to different areas of reality, which are regarded as such due to individual or collective perception (rat-spy, rabbit- coward); 2) on the basis of contiguity or some logical (usually objective) relations or associations between different objects (chicken – food, hat – man in a hat). Figures of substitution are secondary nomination units which either exist in the language as a system or are formed in speech on the basis of recurrent patterns. Secondary nomination units or tropes stand in paradigmatic (synonymic, or rather homofunctional) relations to corresponding primary nomination units. They are marked members of stylistic oppositions because they have connotations or additional stylistic meanings. Figures of substitution in English can be presented in the following table:

Here we refer tropes and figures of speech based on the comparison of two different objects or phenomena having a common feature expressed with a certain degree of intensity, if this feature characterizes the referent in a deliberately greater degree, it may be regarded as hyperbole, if this feature is ascribed to the referent in a deliberately less degree, it is considered to be meiosis or litotes, as a structural variety of the latter. Hyperbole is a deliberate overstatement or exaggeration aimed at intensifying one of the features of the object in question. An overstatement may be considered hyperbole only when the exaggeration is deliberate and both the speaker and the listener are aware of it. Hyperbole is mainly used to intensify physical qualities of objects or people: size, colour, quantity, age etc., e.g. Her family is one aunt about a thousand years old (F.Sc. Fitzgerald). The use of hyperbole may show the overflow of emotions, e.g. I loved Ophelia; forty thousand brothers could not, with all their quantity of love, make up my sum (W.Shakespeare).

Hyperbole in oral speech is often used to intensify a statement, e.g. She was a giant of a woman (Fl. O’Connor). Hyperbole, as any other semasiological EM, may become trite through frequent repetition: e.g. for ages, scared to death, I beg thousand pardons etc. Meiosis is a figure of speech opposite to hyperbole. This is a deliberate understatement, or underestimation of some feature of an object or phenomena with the aim of intensifying the expressiveness of speech. The features stressed are usually size, volume, distance, time etc. Meiosis is mainly used in oral speech where it usually emphasizes the insignificance of an object, e.g. She wore a pink hat, the size of a button (J.Reed), a pretty penny, Tom Thumb etc.

Litotes differs from meiosis by both its contents and structure. Litotes presents a statement in the form of negation. Like rhetorical questions, litotes can be regarded as the transposition of a syntactical construction. Litotes has a specific semantic and syntactic structure: the usage of not before a word with a negative prefix, e.g. Julia was not dissatisfied with herself (W.S. Maugham). This EM is used in oral speech to weaken positive characteristics of a thing or person; to convey the speaker’s doubts as to the exact value or significance of the object of speech, e.g. Her face was not unpretty (K. Kesey). In scientific prose litotes underlines carefulness of judgement or stresses the writer’s uncertainty.

To this group we refer tropes and figures of speech based on comparison of features and qualities of two objects, belonging to different areas or classes, which are perceived as having a common feature. The basic tropes in this group are metaphor, metonymy, and irony. Metaphor and metonymy are universal means of reinterpretation and transfer of a name from one denotate to another. The difference between them is that while in metaphor this transfer is realized on the basis of likeness (real or imaginary) of the two objects (e.g. He is a brick, a log, a bear), in case of metonymy it is realized on the basis of contiguity between the two objects (e.g. I like Beethoven). The latest linguistic investigations prove that metaphorical and metonymical transfers differ not only semantically but syntactically and lexically as well. Metonymy is more often found in the subject and object groups, while metaphor is commonly found in the predicate group (e.g. The hat is still here. She is a monkey.)

When metaphor is used as a subject, it takes on an anaphoric pronoun, e.g. He is a bear. That bear broke the vase. Irony is also a transfer of meaning, but if metaphor is based on similarity and metonymy on contiguity, irony is based on opposition of the two meanings of a speech unit. To the Metonymical Group we refer metonymy, synechdoche, periphrasis, and eu-phemism. Metonymy as a secondary nomination unit is based on the real association of the object of nomination with the object whose name is transferred. The simplest kind of metonymy is lexical metonymy, when the name of an object (most often, a proper name) is transferred to another object (Lewis, Makintosh, volt, amper). Such metonymies have no stylistic value as they become common nouns. Stylistic metonymy suggests a new, unexpected association between the two objects. In metonymy, the associations between the object named and the object implied vary.

They may bring together some features of a person and the person him/herself; an article of clothing and the person wearing it; an instrument and the action it performs; the two objects whose functions coincide, e.g. She was a sunny, happy sort of creature. Too fond of the bottle (A. Christie); He made his way through the perfume and conversation (I. Shaw). Synecdoche is a variety of metonymy in which the transfer is based on the association between a part and the whole, the singular and the plural. This type of metonymical relationship may be considered a quantitative one, e.g. Since I left you, mine eye is in my mind (W. Shakespeare). Metonymy and synecdoche as genuine EM are used to achieve concreteness of description. By mentioning only one seemingly insignificant feature or detail connected with the object, person, or phenomenon, the author draws the reader’s attention to it and makes him/her visualize the object or the character he describes. Periphrasis (Greek: peri – around; phraseo – speak) is a stylistic figure which substitutes a word designating an object for a word-combination which describes its most essential and characteristic features.

Periphrasis both names and describes. Every periphrasis indicates a feature which the speaker or writer wants to stress and often conveys an individual perception of the object or phenomenon named, e.g. The hospital was crowded with the surgically interesting products {the wounded} of the fighting in Africa (I. Shaw). As a result of frequent repetition, periphrasis can become well-established as a synonymous expression for the word generally used to designate the object. It is called traditional, dictionary or language periphrasis, e.g. gentlemen of the long robe (lawyers), the better (fair, gentle) sex, my better half (my spouse), the minions of the law (police). Euphemism (Greek: eupheme – speaking well) is a variety of periphrasis which is used to replace an unpleasant word or expression by a conventionally more acceptable one.

Euphemisms may be divided into several groups according to the spheres of usage: 1) religious euphemisms: God may be replaced by Goodness, Lord, Jove, Heaven etc.; Devil – by the dence, the dickens, old Nick, old Harry; 2) euphemisms connected with death: to join the majority, to pass away, to go the way of all flesh, to go west, to breathe one’s last, to expire, to depart etc; 3) political euphemisms, widely used in mass media: undernourishment for starvation, less fortunate elements for the poor, economic tunnel for the crisis etc. Euphemisms as well as periphrases have no direct reference to the denotate, which is known to both the author and the reader. The euphemistic transfer of a name is often based on metaphor or metonymy. In fiction, euphemisms are used to give more positive characteristics to the denotate, e.g. Jean nodded without turning and slid between two vermilion-coloured buses so that two drivers simultaneously used the same qualitative word (J. Galsworthy). In colloquial speech euphemisms are typical of more cultured and educated people.

Metaphor is a secondary nomination unit based on likeness, similarity or affinity (real or imaginary) of some features of two different objects. Metaphor is usually used in the predicate group, because it aims at individualization and characterization of the object. Linguists distinguish four types of metaphor, the stylistic value of each type being different: 1) nominative metaphor, i.e. one name which is substituted for by another. In this case, nominators or identifying lexical units undergo metaphorization. The nominative metaphor gives a new name to a class of objects. Such metaphors are a mere technical device for extracting a new name, from the old word-stock, e.g. the apple of the eye, a leg of the table, an arm of the clock, the foot of the hill. 2) cognitive metaphor is created as a result of the shift in the combinability of qualifying lexical units, when their meaning becomes more abstract. In this case, objects named are ascribed the features of quite different objects, sometimes even alien qualities, e.g. black night (water, heat, despair etc). It may be based on implied simile, e.g.

Time flies (as a bird). 3) generalizing metaphor leads to polysemy as it destroys the borderline between different notions. In this case, predicative lexical units undergo metaphorization and transform into identifying lexical units. This metaphor is somewhat artificial and it indicates the feelings some artefacts can evoke in the customers rather than the qualities of some goods. Its stylistic effect is weak, e.g. восторгаться → шоколад “Bocmopг”. 4) figurative or image-bearing metaphor presupposes that identifying lexical units are transferred into the predicate-slot and, as a predicate, refer to other objects or a class of objects. Here, metaphor is a means of individualization, evaluation, and discrimination of the shades of meaning. Such metaphor appeals to the reader’s intuition, giving him/her a chance to interpret the text creatively. The stylistic effect of this metaphor is great, e.g. They walked along, two continents of experience and feeling, unable to communicate (W.S. Gilbert). According to its structure, metaphor may be:

a) simple or elementary, which is based on the actualization of one or several features common for two objects; b) prolonged or sustained, which is not confined to one feature that forms the main, central image but also comprises other features linked with and developing this image in context, e.g. He was surprised that the fire which flashed from his eyes did not melt the glasses of the spectacles (A. Huxley). In this example, subsidiary images flashed and melted are connected with the main image expressed by the word fire. According to the peculiarities of its semantics, metaphor may be trite (traditional, language) and genuine (speech). Stylistic functions of metaphor are twofold. By evoking images and suggesting analogies, it: 1) makes the author’s thought more concrete, definite, and clear, and 2) reveals the author’s emotional attitude towards what he/she describes.

The main function of figurative metaphor is not merely communicative but aesthetic. It appeals to imagination rather than gives information. Antonomasia (Greek: antonomasia – renaming) is a peculiar variety of metaphor. There are two types of antonomasia: 1) the usage of a proper name for a common noun (Othello, Romeo, Hamlet); 2) the usage of common nouns or their parts as proper names (Mr.Snake, Mr.Backbite etc.), e.g. “Don’t ask me,” said Mr. Owl Eyes washing his hands off the whole matter (F.Sc. Fitzgerald). The main stylistic function of antonomasia is to characterize a person simultane-ously with naming him/her. Personification (Latin: persona – person, facere – do) is also a variety of metaphor. It is based on ascribing some features and characteristics of a person to a thing, e.g. Autumn comes

And trees are shedding their leaves
And Mother Nature blushes
Before disrobing
(N. West)
Unlike metaphor, personification:
1) is used only in fiction while metaphor can be found practically in every style; 2) can appear only within context, no matter how short. Allegory is another variety of metaphor. It differs from metaphor as it is mainly used in fiction and it differs from personification as it appears only in a text, no matter how short it may be (e.g. proverbs, fables or fairy tales). Irony (Greek: eironeia – concealed mockery). The difference between metaphor and metonymy, on the one hand, and irony, on the other, can be defined as follows: in metaphor and metonymy, the transfer is based on affinity of the objects, in irony, it is based on their opposition. The relations of opposition here are not objective but subjective because irony always suggests evaluation. It is positive in form but negative in meaning. In a narrow sense, irony is the use of a word having a positive meaning to express a negative one.

In a wider sense, irony is an utterance which formally shows a positive or neutral attitude of the speaker to the object of conversation but in fact expresses a negative evaluation of it, e.g. She was a gentle woman, and this, of course, is a very fine thing to be; she was proud of it (in quite a gentlewomanly way), and was in the habit of saying that gentlefolk were gentlefolk, which, if you come to think of it, is a profound remark (W.S.Maugham). In contrast with metaphor and metonymy, irony does not employ any particular syn-tactical structure or lexical units. In context, there are usually some formal markers of irony pointing out to the meaning implied. In oral speech, a word used ironically is strongly marked by intonation and other paralinguistic means. In written speech, such markers are not easily found.

Language irony comprises words, word-combinations and utterances which, due to regular usage, have acquired connotative ironical meaning which does not depend on context, e.g. to orate, a speechmaker, too clever by half, mutual admiration society. More often, however, words or word-combinations acquire ironical meaning due to particular syntagmatic relations between the meanings of different speech units in macrocontext (a fragment of a text) or megacontext (the whole text), e.g. An Ideal Husband, A Devoted Friend, The Quiet American. The ironical meaning appears, when lexical units expressing positive evaluation in a certain context acquire a negative meaning, e.g. This naturally led to some pleasant chat about… fevers, chills, lung diseases … and bronchitis (J.K. Jerome).

Figures of combination are SD of semasiology. They are stylistically relevant semantic means of combining lexical, syntactical and other units (including EM) belonging to the same or different language levels. So, the realization of the figures of combination is possible only in context. Frequently, these figures of speech are the result of the interaction of word meanings or the meanings of word-combinations, seldom – of paragraphs or larger text fragments. There are three basic types of semantic relations between words, phrases, and utterances: 1) those involving similar (synonymous) meanings of such units. The speaker combines within an utterance or text the units whose meaning he/she considers similar, thus figures of identity are formed; 2) those based on opposite (antonymous) meanings of the units. The speaker combines within an utterance or text two semantically contrasting units. As a result, figures of opposition are formed; 3) those comprising somewhat different meanings of the units. The speaker combines within an utterance or text lexical units denoting different but close notions. As a result, the figures of unequality are formed.

Relations of identity are realized in context where close or synonymous units referring to the same object, or phenomenon are used. Here we refer simile and two kinds of synonyms – specifying and substituting ones. Simile (Latin: simile – similar) is a partial identification of two objects belonging to different spheres or bringing together some of their qualities. The objects compared are not identical, though they have some resemblance, some common features. Emphasizing their partial identity gives new characteristics to the referent. Simile is a structure consisting of two components: the subject of comparison, and the object of comparison which are united by formal markers: as, as … as, like, as though, as if, such as etc., e.g. Unhappiness was like a hungry animal waiting beside the track for any victim /G.Greene/. If formal markers are missing but the relations between the two objects are those of similarity and identity, we have implied simile.

In such similes notional or seminotional words (verbs, nouns etc.) substitute formal markers (Cf: to resemble, to remind, to seem, resemblance etc.: e.g. H.G.Wells reminded her of the nice paddies in her native California (A.Huxley). We should distinguish simile which is stylistically charged from logical comparison which is not. The latter deals with the notions belonging to the same sphere and it states the degree of their similarity and difference. In case of comparison, all qualities of the two objects are taken into consideration, but only one is brought to the foreground, e.g. He was a big man, as big as Simon, but with sandy hair and blue eyes (D.G-arett). Both simile and metaphor are based on comparison.

Metaphor is often called a compressed simile which differs from simile proper structurally. However, the difference between the two is not only structural but semantic as well. Simile and metaphor are different in their linguistic nature: 1) metaphor aims at identifying the objects; simile aims at finding some point of resemblance by keeping the objects apart; 2) metaphor only implies the feature which serves as the ground for comparison, simile, more often than not, indicates this feature, so it is semantically more definite. Synonyms-substitutes (substituting synonyms) are words used to denote objects or action, supplementing new additional details, which helps to avoid monotonous repetitions, e.g. But he had no words to express his feelings and to relieve them would utter an obscene jest; it was as though his emotion was so violent that he needed vulgarity to break the tension. Mackintosh observed this sentiment with an icy disdain /W.S.Maugham/. Substituting synonyms are characterized by contextual similarity giving rise to emotive-evaluative meaning.

That is why some synonyms can be treated as such only in context. Synonyms-substitutes are widely used in publicist style. They are also regarded as situational synonyms. Synonyms-specifiers (specifying synonyms) are used as a chain of words which express similar meanings. Such synonyms are used for a better and more detailed description of an object or person, when every other synonym adds new information about it. There are two ways of using specifying synonyms: 1) as paired synonyms, and 2) as synonymic variations, e.g. …the intent of which perjury being to rob a poor native widow and her helpless family of a plantation-patch, their only stay and support in their bereavement and desolation /M.Twain/. These synonyms specify the utterance, adding some new information. Though the given synonyms are very close in their meaning, they are different in stylistic colouring. Synonymic variations specify the utterance, intensifying its emotional value. Such synonyms are widely used in fiction and the publicistic style. In scientific prose and official style, their usage is limited.

This group of semasiological SD is characterized by the combination in context of two or more words or word-groups with opposite meanings. Their relations are either objectively opposite or are interpreted as such by the speaker. Here we refer antithesis and oxymoron. Antithesis (Greek – opposition) is a stylistic device which presents two contrasting ideas in close proximity in order to stress the contrast. There are several variants of antithesis based on different relations of the ideas expressed: 1) opposition of features possessed by the same referent, e.g.

Some people have much to live on, and little to live for (O.Wilde); 2) opposition of two or more different referents having contrasting features, e.g. Their pre-money wives did not go together with their post-money daughters /E.Hemingway/; 3) opposition of referents having not only contrasting feature but embracing a wider range of features, e.g. New England had a native literature, while Virginia had none; numerous industries, while Virginia was all agricultural /Th.Dreiser/. Antithesis often goes along with other stylistic features: anaphoric repetition, parallelism, chiasmus, in particular. It is widely used in all kinds of speech: fiction, publicistic, scientific, and colloquial English. It performs various stylistic functions: stressing the contrast and rhythmically organizing the utterance. Due to the last quality antithesis is widely used in poetry in combination with anaphora, epiphora, and alliteration. Oxymoron – (Greek: oxymoron – witty – foolish) is also a combination of opposite meanings which exclude each other. But in this case, the two semantically contrasting ideas are expressed by syntactically interdependent words (in predicative, attributive or adverbial phrases), e.g.

He was certain the whites could easily detect his adoring hatred to them /R.Wright/. Oxymoron reveals the contradictory sides of one and the same phenomenon. One of its elements discloses some objectively existing feature while the other serves to convey the author’s personal attitude towards this quality (pleasantly ugly, crowded loneliness, unanswerable reply). Such semantic incompatibility does not only create unexpected combinations of words, violating the existing norms of compatibility, but reveals some unexpected qualities of the denotate as well. As soon as an oxymoron gets into circulation, it loses its stylistic value, becoming trite: pretty bad, awfully nice, terribly good. Original oxymorons are created by the authors to make the utterance emotionally charged, vivid, and fresh, e.g. Oh brawling love! Oh loving hate! Oh heavy lightness! Serious vanity! Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health! /W. Shakespeare/.

Relations of unequality are the relations of meanings of words and word-combinations with differ in their emotive intensiveness or logical importance. To this group we refer: 1) figures based on actualizing the emotional power of the utterance (climax or anticlimax); 2) figures based on two different meanings of words and word-combinations (pun, zeugma). Climax, or gradation, (Latin: gradatio – gradualness; Greek: climax – a ladder) is a structure in which every successive word, phrase, or sentence is emotionally stronger or logically more important than the preceding one, e.g. Like a well, like a vault, like a tomb, the prison had no knowledge of the brightness outside /Ch.Dickens/. There are three types of climax:

1) the arrangement of some lexical units characterizing the object in the same emotional direction, e.g. As he wondered and wondered what to do, he first rejected a stop as impossible, then as improbable, then as quite dreadful. /W.S.Gilbert/; 2) the arrangement of lexical units with logical widening of notions, e.g. For that one instant there was no one else in the room, in the house, in the world, besides themselves. /M.Wilson/; 3) emphatic repetition and enumeration, e.g. Of course it is important. Incredibly, urgently, desperately important /D.Sayers/. Gradation is widely used in fiction and the publicistic style. It is one of the main means of emotional and logical influence of a text upon the reader and listener. Anticlimax presents a structure in which every successive word, phrase, or sentence is emotionally or logically less strong than the preceding one, e.g. Fledgeby hasn’t heard anything. “No, there’s not a word of news,” says Lammle. “Not a particle,” adds Boots. “Not an atom,” chimes in Brewer /Ch.Dickens/. We can distinguish two types of anticlimax:

1) gradual drop in intensity;
2) sudden break in emotive power. In this case, emotive and logical importance is accumulated only to be unexpectedly brought up to a sudden break, e.g. He was unconsolable – for an afternoon /J.Galsworthy/. Anticlimax is mostly used as a means of achieving a humorous effect. Pun is a device based on polisemy, homonymy, or phonetic similarity to achieve a humorous effect. There are several kinds of pun:

1) puns based on polysemy. They had the appearance of men to whom life had appeared as a reversible coat – seamy on both sides. /O.Henry/; 2) puns based on complete or partial homonymy:
Diner: Is it customary to tip a waiter in this restaurant?
Waiter: Why-ah-yes, sir.
Diner: Then hand me a tip. I’ve waited three quarters of an hour. 3) puns based on phonetic similarity:
-I’ve spent last summer in a very pretty city of Switzerland. -Bern?
-No, I almost froze.
Pun is used for satirical and humorous purposes. Many jokes are based on puns. Zeugma (Greek: zeugyana – to join, to combine) are parallel constructions with unparallel meaning. It is such a structural arrangement of an utterance in which the basic component is both a part of a phraseological unit and a free word-combination. So, zeugma is a simultaneous realization within the same short context of two meanings of a polysemantic unit, e.g. If the country doesn’t go to the dogs or the Radicals, we shall have you Prime Minister some day /O.Wilde/. The verb “to go” here realizes two meanings: to go to the dogs (to perish) and to go to the Radicals (to become politically radical). Zeugma combines syntactical and lexical characteristics. Syntactically, it is based on similar structures, semantically it comprises different meanings, which leads to logical and semantic incompatibility. Zeugma is mainly a means of creating a humorous effect.

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