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On the instability of Meaning : English in time and place

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posted on 15.12.2014, 10:43 by Ghsoon Reda
This study is concerned with semantic change in English along two dimensions: time and place. The second dimension considers controversies that have arisen after the global spread of English and the subsequent emergence of 'deviant' semantic norms as perceived by native speakers. This is linked to the puristic role that English pedagogy has been playing since the heyday of 'etymology'. The thesis argues as follows. Although the prevalence of the Saussurean (1915) principle of 'arbitrariness' has contributed to the sanctioning of semantic change, it has not freed modern linguistics from the shackles of linguistic purism. This purism, however, has acquired a nationalistic face now that English derives its high status from belonging to English-speaking nations. The 'true' meanings of English words are now commonly seen as those that have developed with the rise and development of the Anglo-Saxons' language. These are evolutionary processes and must be accounted for validity in historical semantics. The thesis contributes to the field by offering a corpus-based study of semantic change using the case of the lexical category to show in a diachronic version of Lakoff and Johnson's (1980) work on metaphor. The aim is to stress the role of metaphor in semantic change on both levels of semasiology and onomasiology. A second contribution highlights the extent to which the study of meaning in time in western linguistics is thought to be worthwhile as compared to that of meaning in place. Meaning in place is a synchronic, controversial issue commonly examined along sociolinguistic parameters in which the role of conceptual metaphor in generating local innovations is neglected. A third contribution shows how the focus on spreading the 'core' and 'fixed' norms of the English vocabulary through ELT has shifted attention from the centrality of metaphor to language use. An empirical study is also offered to demonstrate the influence of nationalism on the design of the EFL/EIL lexical syllabus.


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University of Leicester

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