Correlation between the meaning of a word combination and the meaning of its components

September 29th, 20123:43 am


Correlation between the meaning of a word combination and the meaning of its components

The meaning of a word combination does not equate to a simple sum of the meanings of its components but appears an intricate interlacement of lexical meaning of combining units.

Thus, for instance, the isolated use of the noun axis is associated, first of all, with a part of a construction. However, when this noun is included in a word combination, its meaning undergoes modifications. Thus, for exam­ple, in the combination axis of evil, the word axis ceases to denote “axis” as “a technical part”, and the whole group axis of evil means “the countries whose governments are suspected by the USA in supporting terrorists”. The word house denotes, under normal conditions, a building. Still, the word combination the White House means the US administration.

It should be noted, however, that word combinations where the main meanings of components are preserved appear considerably more typical. Still, the general meaning of a word combination contains something new compared to the meaning of each component and is not a simple sum of meanings of components.

Attributive groups, formed by two nouns, are the best illustration of the statement. Here, the meaning of the whole word combination depends not only on meanings of the components but also on their position in relation to each other. One of the most popular examples of this statement in linguistic literature, illustrating that two groups, with identical components and differ­ent in word order, may deliver different meanings, is the combinations a dog house and a house dog. The meaning of the word combination a dog house may be explicated as “a house in which a dog lives” but the word combina­tion a house dog does not necessarily mean “a dog that lives in a house”.

Relations between an attribute and a modified noun may be diverse. For example, the word combination meat pie denotes a dish, whereas the combination a meat market exhibits different relations between the com­ponents – it is a market where meat is sold and bought. Accordingly, the combination a Vietnam village denotes a village in Vietnam, and the group an Oxford man stands for a person educated in the Oxford University.

It is also worth mentioning the correlation between two attributive word combinations formed by nouns: horse shoes – “U-shaped iron shoe for a horse” and alligator shoes – “shoes made of crocodile skin”. The combina­tion horse shoes does not mean footwear made of horse skin.

The comparison drawn between groups where the head is expressed by an animate noun also reveals different relations between their elements. Compare, for example, the word combinations an orphan child and a wine waiter. The former may be paraphrased a child who is an orphan, while the latter does not allow for such transformations.

Absence of identity between the meaning of a word combination and the simple sum of meanings of its components marks groups of different morphological structure as well. For example, in a group that consists of the combination “adjective + noun”, the meaning of the adjective is modified by the noun. Compare, for example, the meanings of the adjective black in the following word combinations: black hair, a black list, a black market, black humour.

Similarly, the same process is observed in verbal combinations: She moved the tray, and put the table back in its place (move means “change position”);

The story moved me (move means “touch”);

Curiosity moved me to open the box (move means “induce, impel”);

move that we accept the proposal (move means “suggest”);

Let’s move before it’s too late (move means “act, take measures”);

The story moved far too slowly (move means “develop”);

Booksellers moved easily The Da Vinci Code by Den Brown (move means “sell”), etc.

Besides semantic modifications, members of a word combination ac­quire additional characteristics as units participating in syntactic structures and marked by certain types of syntactic relations. In the groups like meat pie, there is an attributive relation between the components. In groups with the verbal centre, there is either an object relation (to move the tray, to move somebody) or circumstantial (to move slowly, to move south).

Thus, when a word is introduced into a syntactic structure, it may change its properties and acquire such characteristics that are not typical when it is used in isolation. These characteristics are the status of a certain sentence part or a word combination (attribute, object, adverbial modifier, etc.).

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