Talk:Semantic change

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It may be a cultural issue, but in North America 'Punk' certainly doesn't mean someone who doesn't stand up for themselves and gets pushed around. This example should be cut or fixed.-- 23:56, 25 January 2006 (UTC) It does in certain socio-cultural North American contexts such as hip-hop, urban, and inner-city communities and among younger people. You are right that there is an omission of the more widespread use of "punk" to mean a rebellious or badly behaved (usually young male) person.


Interesting article. But what exactly is your source on this:

it was picked up by homosexuals as an acronym for "Good As You

Do you have anything to support that the word was originally used among homosexuals as an acronym (which may be the case today), rather than as a euphemism? --JJay 22:19, 14 October 2005 (UTC)

Is my teacher good enough? If not, David Crystal mentions it in his encyclopedia of the English Language, which I did cite. Sonic Mew | talk to me 11:46, 15 October 2005 (UTC)

Hi Sonic Mew and thanks for your response. I checked your cited source- (Crystal, David, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, Cambridge University Press; 2 edition, 2003). On page 134 he discusses the word “gay” but makes no mention of “good as you”. In fact this idea is examined at length on the Wikipedia Gay page (under folk etymologies), where “good as you'” is identified as a backronym (based on a fake etymology). I will therefore edit that part in your article. --JJay 14:35, 15 October 2005 (UTC)

Okay. I didn't have the encyclopedia with me when I wrote the article because it was in my school library and my school had been IP-banned. Sonic Mew | talk to me 16:19, 16 October 2005 (UTC)


I think an example of a word changing right now is nationality. Philosophically it's a concept all it's own - but in legal documents it's much more akin to citizenship (not exactly citizenship, but much closer to that than the old concept of nationality). And in common use "What is your nationality" is akin to "What is your ethnicity?" I'll leave it to the more experienced to decide whether or not to include this, but I wanted to bring it up to discussion. 1 December 2005


Is there a linguistic term for a the phenomenon of a word losing linguistic intensity (such as "spill", which once meant "to destroy"?) Does the opposite ever occur? The Jade Knight 05:27, 28 January 2006 (UTC)

Yes, the term is "weakening," and it is much more common than the opposite phenomenon, "strengthening." An example of strengthening is the word "drown" which originally meant something along the lines of "to drink," or "to get wet" according to C.M. Millward's A Biography of the English Language.

Dear friends, mechanisms of semantic change have received a large amount of attention in recent years. The most common term for the phenomenon of affaiblissement sémantique (a designation used by Michel Bréal back in 1899) is semantic bleaching, which has acquired a well-defined status in bibliography (especially within the framework of grammaticalisation and cognitive linguistics), although the term generalisation has also been used. If anyone is interested, I could cite relevant references to the above mentioned terminology. Thank you. Dr Moshe 08:48, 1 November 2006 (UTC)
Absolutely! You don't need permission to put more sources and references in an article. Ƶ§œš¹ [aɪm ˈfɻɛ̃ⁿdˡi] 20:47, 1 November 2006 (UTC)
Many thanks! I have added a section on Limitations of historical semantics. Dr Moshe 11:19, 2 November 2006 (UTC)

A note to all editors[edit]

Please would editors not simply add sections on individual examples of semantic change, as the talk page suggests might happen. There few words in the Englush language (never mind others). If we are going to have examples, we should restrict them to clear examples which illustrate types of change, and we should include them within a section on the change, not separately. Controversial words like "gay" are more likely to be subjects of edit wars and/or vandalisation, so let's stick to things like notorious.--Nema Fakei 11:21, 9 March 2006 (UTC)

rv of 11/03/05[edit]

I decided to rv the page partly because the change of Aeusoes removed the distinctions between 2nd level headings and 3rd level headings, thus making two headings redundant (one of which empty). I'm also not convinced about making 'gay' a pejoration: it could equally be a euphemism or just an extension. Additionally, since homosexuality is received very differently across the English-speaking world, the effects on how the word is used varies. Encyclopaedic examples need to be clear-cut, to help users distinguish between different types of semantic change.--Nema Fakei 13:21, 11 March 2006 (UTC)

I changed the headings stuff because it looked weird having headings looking exactly the same size as the text. I took out cliché because I've never heard that as a process of semantic change, there were no examples, and it doesn't seem like a process of semantic change in its own description.
As I tried to explain it in the article, "gay" is not only avoided in common speech, but it's common for teenagers and young adults to use "gay" to mean lame or stupid. I've reverted your revert but edited the headers thing. I had put in a lot more than you added back in and I don't think a blind revert was necessary. AEuSoes1 00:42, 12 March 2006 (UTC)
Apologies: in retrospect, I agree the revert was a little clumsy, and I hadn't readded as much of your extra as I'd liked.
I'm going to have to think about the examples and sectioning: ideally, I don't want to be trying to exclude any material, so perhaps we could, say, create a new section for complex or compound examples, discussing common side-effects of semantic changes? --Nema Fakei 01:04, 12 March 2006 (UTC)
It's quite all right. I like that idea. Jeffers and Lehiste cite the different forms of change as extension, reduction, or replacement from one set of contexts to another. They also point out that reinterpretation of the derivational morphemes can drive lexical change. Punk could probably go in the section on complex examples, seeing as how it looks like it's in the political correctness section right now. AEuSoes1 03:53, 12 March 2006 (UTC)

Meillet on causes of semantic change[edit]

The page has Meillet identify 3 causes of semantic change, after which there are only two bullet points. Can anyone clarify Meillet's position in this article? Dsp13 00:14, 28 February 2007 (UTC)

I intend to add some material as soon as possible. For several months there was really no time to follow-up what I have started in this section. Many thanks for reminding me of it. :) Dr Moshe 20:26, 9 April 2007 (UTC)

bad means good[edit]

what class if any for this semantic reversal?-- 23:19, 7 April 2007 (UTC)

It belongs to "Amelioration" (which is from French "Ameliorer" means "to improve") -- because the word "bad" originally has a negative connotation, but is now being used to mean "good", other examples inculdes "wicked" (evil→superb), and pretty (cunning and sly→attractive). I dont think this is on the article, so I think I might add this into the article. The opposite of amelioration is pejoration. Ingramhk (talk) 06:01, 14 August 2008 (UTC)

Revert and accusation of vandalism[edit]

User:JdeJ has accused me of vandalism and reverted my contribution. He has written on me here. I would like to repeat my reply here.

First, let me react to the accusation of vandalizing the References section in the article semantic change. Let me state the following: I have not just quoted myself, but several other authors who have carried out research on this matter. I can offer to add a positive review on my book quoted. As to Crystal, I have not deleted his encyclopedias because I think they are bad, but they are not really exhaustive (Crystal himself says that his list shows only “some” types of semantic change and he doesn't say who these types go back to!) or up to current research on many historical topics (the newer editions lack many of the recent developments). Actually, the vandalism has now been done by JdeJ himself: he has deleted respected and current sources that are specifically on the topic of semantic change; the revert means that the current knowledge and the wide-spread terminology has now been replaced by a basically out-dated terminology in a very general encyclopedia. Second—and more important--, I don't get quite see why experts on a specific field (who are experts not because they've read a lot about this field, but because they have worked in this field themselves) should not write on topics and therefore add links also to their own work. Jean-Pol Martin has written a few things on this in the German wikipedia here, among other things on the destruction of expert articles by laypersons. I am certainly not going to insist on my contributions. I offer my knowledge and expertise and I can give arguments regarding the content; however, I am not going to enter a discussion on judging a contribution on who made the contribution. In my view, collective construction of knowledge shall be content-oriented, not author-oriented.

I am not going to change the article again myself, but hope that somebody else is convinced of my viewpoint. -Sinatra 14:34, 20 August 2007 (UTC)

I definitely see both sides. I'd rather not encourage researchers to add information from and links to their own work, because in my experience the researchers who do that here tend to overestimate the importance of their work and its relevance to the article at hand. On the other hand, barring contributions from the people who know the most about a subject is obviously unpalatable. I think the important thing is to tread with care, and to use articles' discussion pages (and relevant WikiProjects' discussion pages) to gather input before making radical changes based on one's own published research. —RuakhTALK 15:49, 20 August 2007 (UTC)
Thanks for the comment. If the community doesn't want to see my own book quoted here, okay. I think the rest of the references are enough. But the rest of the references and information that I've added should be included, if this article is to represent current terminology. You could also add one more English reference:
Koch, Peter (2002), “Lexical Typology from a Cognitive and Linguistic Point of View”, in: Cruse, Alan et al. (eds.), Lexicology: An International Handbook on the Nature and Structure of Words and Vocabularies / Lexikologie: Ein internationales Handbuch zur Natur und Struktur von Wörtern und Wortschätzen, (Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft 21), Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, vol. 1, p. 1142-1178.
If you feel that my own work could be included, you may want to point out a relevant review on my book: Kelle, Bernard (2006) in Zeitschrift für Dialektologie und Linguistik 73: 92-95. If you prefer an English article of mine from a peer-reviewed journal you could take: Grzega, Joachim (2000), "Historical Semantics in the Light of Cognitive Linguistics: Some Aspects of a New Reference Book Reviewed", Arbeiten aus Anglistik und Amerikanistik 25: 233-244.
-Sinatra 22:03, 20 August 2007 (UTC)
All right, I wasn't paying enough attention here. I was under the impression that Jdej was accusing Sinatra of original research. Quoting from WP:NOR

This policy does not prohibit editors with specialist knowledge from adding their knowledge to Wikipedia, but it does prohibit them from drawing on their personal knowledge without citing their sources. If an editor has published the results of their research in a reliable publication, they may cite that source while writing in the third person and complying with our NPOV policy. See also Wikipedia's guidelines on conflict of interest

COI lists four ways to avoid conflicts of interest, none of which would include editing articles on subjects which one has published scientific research on. While I understand the point that citing oneself might exhibit a bias of notability, I think that being published in a peer-reviewed journal or by what appears (from a cursory google search) to be a reputable source of linguistic publications is, all things being equal, enough of a notability test to remove any question.
Anyway, that's just my opinion on using oneself in general. Since we're discussing this now (and since I've actually looked in detail at these particular edits), I question the repeated phrase "more recent studies on semantic change doubt the usefulness of the term." That's really vague and seems to be a weasel sentence. More elaboration on the merits of such an analysis would be helpful? I also don't think that it's appropriate to delete Crystal just because he's not exhaustive. Jeffers and Lehiste are referenced throughout the article as sources for a number of examples and deleting them is not constructive either. Finally, the edits in question added metonymy although metonymy was already listed between Grammaticalization and Euphemism. Ƶ§œš¹ [aɪm ˈfɻɛ̃ⁿdˡi] 02:17, 21 August 2007 (UTC)
Ok, I don't have anything against inserting Crystal again. It's just a little akward for me to see Crystal listed on a historical topic. Many developments of the past 20 years are neglected in this article, but the big weak section of the article is the section on types of semantic change. The typology mixes so many different sorts of procedures and sorts of phenomena. This was done by some early linguists and is still repeated by some linguists (who don't deal with historical linguistics theoretically), but already since Ullmann in the 1950's linguists have been trying to keep the various phenomena strictly apart. That "metonymy" is treated as a form of "extension of meaning" is one such problematic case. And a basic opposition of metaphor vs. metonymy vs. extension/generalization vs. narrowing/specialization has become accepted. Juxtaposing "extension" and "narrowing" the way the article does is another weak point that becomes quickly visible: defined that way it doesn't make much sense, as in this definition there simply is no single semantic change without "extension", and so on. "Grammaticalization" is a phenomenon on still another level. --Sinatra 16:36, 21 August 2007 (UTC)
All right, I'd say that since you're an expert in the field and you've got appropriate resources at hand that you're more than welcome to make major revisions to the organization of that section (be bold). The next best thing is to put a test draft either here in the talk page or as a subpage under your userpage. Ƶ§œš¹ [aɪm ˈfɻɛ̃ⁿdˡi] 23:18, 21 August 2007 (UTC)
Ok, I'll try to do so. Thanks for the suggestion. -Sinatra 13:27, 23 August 2007 (UTC)

Suggested revision of the article[edit]

I've finally completed a revised version of this article, but would like to have it commented before I replace the current version. Please add your comments here. Thanks. - Sinatra 15:06, 6 October 2007 (UTC)

I have some comments:
  • The Theoretical Studies on Semantic Change doesn't seem fleshed out. It just says that people have discussed Semantic change but not what they've said. Also (this is pretty minor) this section cites Blank & Koch 1999. Is that a or b? I'm assuming that it's b since there's no citation of b in the article.
  • I'm not sure exactly why you've gone for scrapping the whole current article. There's a well-developed "History" section, which you can add and flesh out the sources you cite in the "Theoretical Studies on Semantic Change."
  • The typology section is, overall, confusing. If Bloomfield's is the most widely accepted, then we should list it first and in more detail. The other ones could probably go in the Theoretical studies on Semantic Change page. Since Blank's typology is gaining more acceptance then I can see it listed as well but it's so similar that it can probably be described in a manner of modification of Bloomfield's typology. Ullmann is definitely a simple reorganization of Bloomfield so that's not really worthy of a whole extra list.
I also recommend including as many of the (cited) examples from the current page into your revision. Examples are good, especially with this subject. Ƶ§œš¹ [aɪm ˈfɻɛ̃ⁿdˡi] 19:09, 6 October 2007 (UTC)
Thanks for the comments. - Sinatra 22:13, 8 October 2007 (UTC)
I've restructured and completed my suggestion based on your comments and have now inserted it here. I am sorry to say that I could keep almost nothing from the original version, not even the History section (as was suggested). I checked Hirt 1921 again and the presentation of his typology was simply wrong here. Actually, Hirt quotes Paul. The summary of Trier, that he showed the structural change of German bewteen 1200 and 1300, is also wrong. As far as the examples go, they would have been in need of complete revision, so I decided to take my own examples, which have always worked very well in my linguistics classes. I hope that I have not offended anybody by doing this and that I have contributed in a helpful way. -- Sinatra 14:22, 13 October 2007 (UTC)
I'll go through the different versions and see if I can't add anything myself from the earlier version. Ƶ§œš¹ [aɪm ˈfɻɛ̃ⁿdˡi] 19:31, 13 October 2007 (UTC)
Ok, thanks. - Sinatra 23:29, 13 October 2007 (UTC)
There's reference to a Blank (1997) but it's not cited at the bottom. Is that supposed to be 1998 or 1999? — Ƶ§œš¹ [aɪm ˈfɻɛ̃ⁿdˡi] 19:22, 6 July 2008 (UTC)

reviewing this article[edit]

Does no one find this article a bit confusing to read? I personally think that under "Types of semantic change", there should just be one list, and not an explanation of which scholars think if something should be classed as a semantic change; and maybe have another section later to explain what the scholars think. I think this will make the article a lot easier to read for people who have no previous ideas about semantic change. Ingramhk (talk) 06:08, 14 August 2008 (UTC)

Merge "Semantic progression" to here[edit]

It seems to me that Semantic progression is pretty much the same topic as this article, so I think a merge would be appropriate. The Almighty Google says that "semantic change" is the most common term (Semantic progression, 1,420, Semantic change, 77,300, Semantic shift, 27,100), so this seems like the logical destination. -kotra (talk) 00:34, 3 September 2008 (UTC)

Google scholar is even more condemning with Semantic Progression 87, Semantic change, 5,980, and [Semantic shift 2,930]. Yeah, should definitely merge. — Ƶ§œš¹ [aɪm ˈfɻɛ̃ⁿdˡi] 01:47, 3 September 2008 (UTC)

Section "Examples"[edit]

This section seems a bit unfortunate to me because (1) inverted commas and italics are not used consistently, (2) it isn't clear why these examples are given such a prominent place, and (3) it destroys the general structure of the article. Why not add the examples at the respective points under the section "Types of semantic change"? -- Sinatra (talk) 15:21, 5 November 2009 (UTC)

"Three major processes"[edit]

The lead says, "Semantic change is one of three major processes to find a designation for a concept." Without the other two - much less a source stating that there are exactly three ways to do this - this sentence is fairly pointless. Fishal (talk) 00:22, 6 September 2010 (UTC)


Isn't hyperbole the opposite of what is listed here? Crowley and Bowern (An Introduction to Historical Linguistics, 4th edition, Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 203) say "an originally strong connotation of a word is lost because of constant use." They give the example of Latin "extonare" (strike with thunder), become French "etonner" (surprise). It is interesting the litotes, which is opposite to hyperbole uses the same example. Neillhowell (talk) 02:12, 29 October 2010 (UTC)Neil

this page does need a section or link devoted to showing lots of examples[edit]

I noticed people complaining about the examples,but really this article should have tons of examples. it doesnt even link with a "see also" to another page that has a list of specific examples right now. that needs to be changed. most people coming to this page are probably coming to it to learn about specific examples, not just about the phenomenon itself. also it seems like new words are being changed every few years, and a current exhautive list would be very useful here. for example, Im not happy about it at all, but the younger generation has decided to start using the word "sick" to mean(to them) "really cool". I for one think this is a stupid and sick use of the word sick, but where would one go to discover this information if they didn't already know about it? I think this article would be the best place to contain that type of specific information on specific words and list many examples, or at least a link to them. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Gawdsmak (talkcontribs) 16:24, 24 January 2012 (UTC)

Awful as portmanteau?[edit]

Beautiful, delightful and remorseful could all be said as "full of beauty, delight or remorse". I don't think that it behooves the reader to throw other linguistic terminology at them for issues that are understood to them (-ful) and not fully understood to them (how -ful is a bound morpheme that comes from the free morpheme "full", etc.)

I guess, what I'm trying to get at is why it would be necessary to overly "jargonize" an intro snipet to Semantic Change with other heavy linguistic terminology, seemingly just added for its own sake. To me, portunhol, chillaxing and frappuccino are portmanteaux, not words like "awful" that simply underwent internal orthographic changes because of morphemic shift. Save the introduction of other linguistic jargon for more authentic examples. (talk) 19:07, 12 February 2012 (UTC)Tom in Florida