Stylistic lexicology – Denotative and connotative meanings of a word

October 19th, 20108:36 am


Stylistic lexicology – Denotative and connotative meanings of a word

Stylistic lexicology

1.     Denotative and connotative meanings of a word

2.     Main types of connotation: pragmatic, associative, ideological, conceptual, evaluative, emotive, expressive, stylistic

3.     Neutral and stylistically marked vocabulary

4.     The use of polysemy for stylistic purposes: polysemantic effect.

Being the medium of verbal communication language is capable of transmitting actually any type of information. It has names for all things, phenomenon and relations existing in objective reality and act of verbal communication is made possible due to the fact that words are referable to the out-word reality. A linguistic unit of major significance, i.e the word serves to name, to qualify and evaluate the surrounding world.

The most essential feature of a word is that it expresses the idea of a thing, process, phenomenon, denoting (naming) them. The word can denote a concrete thing, as well as notion of a thing. Thus the word has the so-called denotative (referential, logical) meaning. The denotative meaning may be of two types: demonstrative and significative.

It is demonstrative if it makes reference to an actively existing individual thing. It is significative if the word evokes a general idea of an object or phenomenon.

E.g. The word “horse” may denote a concrete object (I see a horse in the meadow) and a whole class of such objects, as a general notion (The horse is a domestic animal).

The knowledge of the word denotation is shared by all the members of language community. Denotational meaning is inherent in any notional word. Notion is a logical category and its linguistic counterpart is meaning.

Meaning according to Vugodskiy is a unity of thinking, generalization and communication. The meaning of a word is liable to historic changes, which is responsible for the formation of an expanded semantic structure of a word. This structure consists of various types of lexical meaning, the major one being denotative (which informs of a subject of communication) and also including connotative (which informs about the participants and conditions of communication). It means that besides denoting a concrete thing, action or notion the word may also carry a connotation, an overtone. These connotations vary. The list and specification of connotational meaning vary with different schools and individual scholars and include such entries as:

Pragmatic (directed at the desired affect of the utterance, associative connected thorough individual psychological or linguistic association with related and non-related notions.

Ideological or conceptual – revealing political, social, ideological preferences of a user: e.g. “The poorer” seems harsh for politicians and they use “less successful”; “starvation” is being replaced by “undernourishment”.

In terms of stylistics we shall deal with the falling connotative meanings: emotive connotations. The emotive component of meaning may have its linguistic expression with the help of suffixes of diminutiveness: hubby, tummy, daddy).

The emotive component of meaning may have no specific linguistic form, but may be contained in notions which the given words denote.

E.g. Lovely, wonderful, horrid.

There are words of purely emotive meaning, which belong to interjections (E.g. “Ouch!”, “Oh!”).

Evaluative connotation states the value of the indicated object or notion, based on the rational assessment, which is always based on the opposition.

Approval – disapproval

Fashionable – unfashionable

Up-to-date – out-dated

The expressive connotation aims at creating an object, action or phenomenon.

E.g. To work, to toil, to slave.

Stylistic connotation indicates the register or the situation of the communication.

E.g. “maiden” is used predominantly in poetry; “chap” is used in colloquial speech.

The above mentioned meanings are classified as connotative, not only they supply additional and not the denotative information, but also because for the most part they are not observed at once and not in all words – some of them are more important for the act of communication than the others, sometimes they overlap.

E.g. All the words possessing the emotive meaning are also evaluative – e.g. honey; old rascal (both emotional and personal characteristics).

As a rule this is not a reversed process since we can find non-emotive intellectual evaluations (for instance: good – bad, relevant – irrelevant). All emotive words are also expressive, while there is a lot of expressive words, which can not be treated as emotive (e.g. there are expressive verbs, which do not only denote some action or process, but also create their image: the word “to gulp”, which means to swallow in big lumps in a hurry; to sprint – to run fast).

In the semantic actualization of a word the context plays a dual-role. On one hand, it cuts of all meanings, which are irrelevant for the given communicative situation. And on the other hand, it foregrounds (висуває на перший план) one of the meaningful options of a word, focusing the communicator’s attention on one of the denotative or connotative components of its semantic structure.

The word stock of any given language can be roughly divided into three uneven groups differing from each other by the sphere of their possible use. The biggest division is made up by neutral words possessing no stylistic connotation and suitable for any communicative situation.

E.g.     father (neutr.) – parent (book.) – daddy (colloq.)

Literary words serve to satisfy communicative requirements of official, scientific, poetic messages, ect., while the colloquial ones are employed in non-official, every-day communication.

Though there is no immediate correlation between the written and the oral forms of speech, on one hand, and the literary and colloquial words, on the other hand, for the most part the first ones are mainly observed in the written forms as most literary messages appear in writing and vice versa. Though there are many examples of colloquialisms in writing; in formal letters, diaries, certain passages of memoirs, ect.) their usages is predominantly associated with the oral form of communication.

The use of polysemy

Polysemy is inherent in the very nature of words, since they always contain a generalization of several traits of the object they denote. The greater the relative frequency of the word, the greater the number of elements that constitute its semantic structure is. These elements are called the lexico-semantical variants of the words, which are inter-related due to some common semantic component and form a unity.

Thus we may speak of the word’s semantic structure which is an organized whole composed by denotative meanings that a particular word possesses.

The lexical meaning of a word in speech is contextual and rigidly definite, therefore polysemy, as a rule does not interfere with the communicative function of a language, because in every particular case the situation of context cancels all the meanings, which are unnecessary or irrelevant in the given act of communication and make speech unambiguous.

If a polysemantic word is not intended to produce a particular stylistic effect it generally actualizes only one concrete lexical meaning, but when a word begins to manifest an interplay between the primary and derivative meanings a stylistic device of polysemantic effect materializes itself.

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