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Languages. Semantics. English. Verbs


This section will deal with the idiomatizaion of Vpv-s’ lexical meaning.

The motivation of the derivative can be not only direct but also figurative. Alongside with verbs with postverbs with the standard and regular shift in their meaning, another significantly large group of phrasal verbs stands out characteristic of idiomatization of their lexical meaning viewed as peripheral sphere of a semantic field [lexico-semantic group]. Two successive stages of the idiomatization of the analytic verbal meaning can be distinguished:
  •     stage related with the phraseological unities
  •     stage related with phraseological fusions.
In the first case phrasal verbs are viewed as the result of the semantic derivation (motivation) on the basis of the figurative (metaphoric or metonymic) or non-figurative development (widening or narrowing) of the basic verbal meaning and are considered as instances of Vpv-s polysemy. In the second case the basic meaning changes in such an individual way that the semantic relation with the base can hardly be discerned. This is a group of verbs which meaning cannot be derived from the regular meanings of the verb and the postverb, i.e. which do not form a semantic opposition with their bases. The shift in their meaning is irregular, individual and therefore quite ambiguous to those who do not know the meanings of such formations, e.g.:

Take ‘to get into one’s hand’ – take up ‘to interrupt (sb), usu. So as to correct him or disagree with what he says’ (e.g. You won’t get far with your statement before the chairman takes you up short!); tuck 'to thrust in the edge of (of a garment, sheet, etc.) so as to hold in place' → tuck up 'to hang (a person)' e.g. The hangman asked the poor creature's pardon and …then calmly tucked up the criminal, etc. In linguistic works these Vpv-s are termed as “idiomatic” (Spasov, 1996:48; Cowie, Mackin, 1975) or “phraseolocigal units” (Amosova, 1963:131; Kunin, 1970:251-252).   

In a part of the idiomatic Vpv-s the semantic relation with the verbs at their base is completely lost, as in trump up (a card or its player) ‘to defeat with a trump’ – trump up (accusations) ‘to invent in order to make someone appear guilty of rime’, pull ‘drag, draw’ - pull in ‘to reduce (coats)’, blitz ‘to make blitz attacks’ – blitz out ‘to relax’, e.g. After my work I really like to blitz out in front of TV. Such extreme cases can be treated as “derivational idioms”. Here the term “idiomatization” is used in a very narrow sense – as applied to the cases with the complete loss of the semantic relation (Klijunaite, 2000:35).
It can be stated that all the Vpv-s as well as combinations of the type walk out with the second element, which has the meaning of direction, form the continuum according to the degree of the gradual loss of their primary meaning of direction with units, such as: take out ‘to produce (sth), as from container’ clearly established at the upper end and chew out ‘to scold someone’ appearing near the bottom, but with many items representing varying degrees of semantic and grammatical unity spaced out in between, such as put up prices ‘to increase, raise a cost’, etc. At the end of the continuum there are derivational idioms like peg (clothes on the rope) – peg out (because of heart attack) (ibid).


In this section the aspectuality of lexical meaning of the verb and its changes in the process of derivation will be analyzed.
When the meaning of direction ‘outside from inside’ is lost in derivatives, the postverbs develop the abstract new meanings related to the aspectual characteristics of the lexical meaning of the verb. The aspectual characteristics of the English verb involve the category of terminativeness/durativeness and modes of action, which can be determined by the addition of the postverbs.
In the course of the process of derivation, terminativeness/durativeness of the base verb can be modified or remain unchanged. It gives four reasonable possibilities, showing the change in the categories of terminativeness/durativeness, caused by the addition of the postverb. The examples below indicate the following ways:
1.    The postverb changes the durative character of the base into terminative:
Ring  -->  ring out (the bells rang  -->  A pistol shot rang out).
The sentence above means that no more sound was heard after the shot rang out, i.e. the ringing did not continue, while in the first sentence there are no restrictions for the continuation of ringing. Other examples could be:
Hear (a sound)  -->  hear out (a sound) meaning ‘to listen to the end’. It can be better understood by sentences: I heard him speaking and Hear me out and only then choose.
2.     The postverb maintains the durative character of the base:
Look (at)  -->  look out (He stood at the window and looked out (at the view).
Both the derivative look out and the base look denote the position of the object in space and are durative, since no terminal point is implied in their semantics.
3.    The terminative character of the base is retained Vpvs:
Sell and sell out ‘sell all the things’ (I sold my old furniture to my friend John and The tickets were sold out);
 Dry and dry out ‘to dry completely’ (She left dishes to dry and Will his flooded ground ever dry out?);
Give and give out ‘to give to several people’, as in the sentences: She gave me a book and Tom gave out the printouts to the listeners of the audience.
4.    The postverb can not impart the durative meaning to the bases of terminative character, though it seems logically to be the fourth pattern (Klijunaite, 1987:83-84).
The patterns discussed above denote that in most Vpv-s the postverb maintains or imparts the meaning of terminativeness to the base. In some cases the durative character of the base if retained, but no durative Vpv-s are produced from the bases of terminative character.


In order to investigate the aspectual meanings expressed by the postverb in a more detail way, the postverb must deal with modes of action, i.e. the groups of verbs distinguished on the basis of certain temporal and quantitative characteristics of their meaning. The purpose of this section is to reveal what aspectual meanings in terms of MA-s are developed by the postverb when it does not retain its original meaning of direction in the derivatives.

“Modes of action” (Further MA) is the English equivalent of the Russian term “спосабы действия”, which was first used by S. Agrel as the calque of the German “Aktionsart”, denoting all kinds of aspectual characteristics of the verb. Modes of action were distinguished as the aspectual characteristics of the lexical meaning of verbs, contrarily to the aspect, which was viewed as a category of grammatical character (Maslow, 1984:12).

There are distinguished two approaches towards the semantics of MA in the general theory of aspectuality. The first one denotes that the modes of action are treated as semantic-derivational classes of verbs (Soboleva, 1984). According to the second approach MA-s are investigated as semantic classes of all verbs, both the derived and non-derived ones, which means the obligatory attribution of each verb to a certain MA. On the ground of the second approach, all MA-s fall into two groups: morphemically non-characterized, i.e. non-derivative, and morphemically characterized MA-s, which are derivational groups of verbs.
Providing a theoretical view on the category of modes of actions, there have been distinguished the following modes of action: resultative, completive, terminative, distributive, ingressive, momentary and stative MA-s.

The resultative MA includes Vpv-s denoting the action, which achieves the result, for instance, paint  -->  paint out ‘to remove by covering with paint’; wash  -->  wash out; scorch  -->  scorch out, etc.

The completive MA denotes the completion of the action since the greatest extent of the action has been reached. Most frequent it is signaled by the meaning ‘completely’ added to the base by the postverb, e.g.:
Tire  -->  tire out ‘to make someone completely tired’,
Sell  -->  sell out ‘to sell all the goods’,
Die  -->  die out ‘to cease living completely’, as in the sentence: Some tribes of Latin America died out many years ago.

The terminative MA is another MA expressed by the postverb, which indicates the end point reached by the action. The meaning imparted by the postverb are ‘to the end’ or ‘until finished’, as illustrated with Vpv-s from the following oppositions:
Wait  -->  wait out (the storm) ‘to wait till the storm is finished’,
Talk  -->  talk out ‘to discuss the matter till the end’,
Sit  -->  sit out (performance) ‘to stay till the end’, as in the sentence: A strange man came and sat beside me and I sat out through the whole performance.

The following MA includes the Vpv-s which denote the action consisting of separate acts involving successively a number (or all) of the objects or performed by a number (or all) of the subjects, e.g.:

Hand (a sheet of paper) ‘to give’  -->  hand out (sheets of paper) ‘to hand (i.e. to give) to each of several people; distribute, as illustrated with the sentence Hand out question papers as the students enter the examination room.

The distributive mode of action includes the Vpv-s which denote the action consisting of separate acts involving successively a number (or all) of the objects of performed by a number (or all) of the subjects, e.g.:

Hand (a sheet of paper) ‘to give’  -->  hand out (sheets of paper) ‘to hand (i.e. to give) to each of several people; distribute’, as illustrated with the sentence Hand out the question papers as the students enter the examination room.

The ingressive MA is characterized by the meaning ‘beginning of the action’. It consists mostly of Vpv-s denoting the beginning of some movement as a result of the addition of the postverb to a base with the meaning of ‘movement’, cf.:

Pull ‘to move in the specified direction by pulling (carriages)’,  -->  pull out (of a train) ‘to move away, leave a station’ (cf.: The train pulled along the line  -->  we reached the station too late, just as the train was pulling out).

A number of Vpv-s in the English language have the meaning of a momentary sudden action, e.g.:

She called to her father for help  -->  Jane called out when she  saw her friend across the street;
The child cried for its mother  -->  “Be careful”, she cried out.

The examples explain a momentary sudden action, which is performed by the Vpv. Whereas the base mean express the action, which continues in time.
A number of durative Vpv-s express position of the object in space, its state, which is regarded by some linguists as the meaning of the statal MA (Maslov, 1983:13). The action expressed by these Vpv-s is static, permanent, which can be viewed, therefore, as the abstract meaning of the statal MA.

These are Vpv-s denoting the stative MA:

Stand  -->  stand out ‘to be in a position further forward from sth.’, e.g. The pot has two handles standing out;
Jut  -->  jut out ‘to be in a position further forward than its surroundings’, as in the sentence The wall juts out here to allow room for the chimney.
The definitions provided make it obvious that the meaning of direction ‘forward’ is also inherent in the semantics of these derivatives. On close inspection an observation can be made that this meaning is different from the meaning of direction. The Vpv-s related to movement of transference in space express the action developing in an outward direction, outside, while in the derivatives of type jut out the meaning ‘outside’ or ‘forward’ is the meaning of location rather than direction – it is static and denotes position of the object in space rather than action.

Having analyzed a great number of V  -->  Vpv oppositions, the conclusions can be drawn that in a number of English Vpv-s the postverb expresses the aspectual meanings of the verb in the plane of terminativeness/durativeness and modes of action. Such function is acquired by the postverb when it loses its primary meaning direction ‘outside from the inside’, which occurs usually when the postverb is added to the verbs that do not denote motion or transference in space.


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