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Durham e-Theses
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Aspects of semantic change as exemplified in some representative plays of Shakespeare

Bowan, A. (1969) Aspects of semantic change as exemplified in some representative plays of Shakespeare. Masters thesis, Durham University.



A living language is constantly subject to semantic change, for there is no such thing as the fixed meaning of a word. Meaning is determined by usage. Every speaker of the language brings his own ideas and experiences to it. He does not find it ready-made, but has to re-create it for himself. Nevertheless, there is a central core of meaning which makes communication possible. Many social, structural and psychological factors operate when changes of meaning take place. This involvement of factors which are not purely linguistic has often led linguists to by-pass the study of semantics. But, as Meillet has pointed out, language is a social fact. This presentation studies meaning within a live context in an attempt to understand the kind of conditions under which changes of meaning operate. For this purpose the plays of Shakespeare have been chosen, because they provide rich material for many different senses of one and the same word. Six tragedies form the basis, but examples .have been used from most of the plays. Each word bas been studied in a variety of contexts and in connection with related words. Although the material has been divided into roughly five sections in an attempt to discover general tendencies which might be at work, these divisions are not meant to be rigid, as many words could be placed in more than one group. The approach is historical. An audience's understanding of the dramatist's meaning will be influenced to some extent by the time and place in which the members live. For this reason each word has been studied in relation to both earlier and later senses, in an attempt to gain a fuller appreciation of the complexity and subtlety of Shakespeare's meaning and to observe the possible influence of one man on the English language. Finally, some general conclusions and suggestions with regard to the material have been made.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Arts
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:1969
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:14 Mar 2014 16:25

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