Causes of semantic change
The alteration of the interrelation between the signs and the real world may be due to different factors, among which Ullmann distinguishes the following:
a) LANGUAGE CAUSES
Among words that usually come together in the same context, it may happen that the meaning of one is transferred to the other: homine natu> omne nado ‘born man’. In combination with non, “omne nado” meant ‘nobody’. Hence “omne swim” will make sense of denial even in the absence of “non”: “swim”> “nadi”> “nobody”.
b) HISTORICAL CAUSES
Any historical transformation can gradually alter concepts, although words are more resistant to change. That may mean that, while maintaining the same signifier, its meaning is altered in part: car ‘vehicle driven by horses’> car ‘vehicle moved by motor’.
c) SOCIAL CAUSES
It may happen that a word ceases to be part of the common vocabulary and specializes in a limited social or professional group: ordinate ‘organize, tidy up’> milk (which ended up being restricted to the language of the farms: ‘tidying up the animals to extract the milk ‘).
d) PSYCHOLOGICAL CAUSES
The euphemism procedure is due to the desire to avoid a taboo. There are three types of taboos:
Taboo of fear: obeys reasons of a religious or superstitious nature. For example, words that mean ‘left’ have traditionally been avoided, because of their popular association with the devil. In medieval Castilian remains only one of the Latin terms with that meaning: sinister (which makes negative sense in almost all its uses). The Spanish borrowed the Basque term “left.”
Taboo of delicacy: in Spanish we have, for example, verbs and expressions that avoid the term “kill”: liquidate, eliminate, give passport …
Decency taboo: words related to sex (pregnant, pregnant, in state, pregnant) and excretory functions (going to the service) are usually replaced by euphemisms.
e) FOREIGN INFLUENCES
When two voices of two languages have an approximate meaning, any additional meaning that one of them possesses can be transferred to the other. From English we have rivers of words that compete with the traditional, for example Anglicisms such as apartment, factory and firm compete with floor, factory and company.
Anglicism can also take the form of semantic tracing, which consists of translating word by word a unitary expression: dormitory city, rush hour, light year, record time, safe, cold war, round table, hot dog, third world …
f) REQUIREMENT OF NEW NAMES
When a concept takes root in a society, there is a need to create a name to express it. Three solutions can be given:
– Adopt a word from another language: flying saucer> flying saucer (tracing); sandwich (loan).
– Create a new term: extraterrestrial.
– Expand the meaning of an existing term: tiger and lion for “jaguar” and “puma” at the beginning of the discovery of America.