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The Catalogue of Semantic Shifts

The framework of The Catalogue of Semantic Shifts (CSSh) has been in development since 1998, beginning within the scope of the project of Anna A. Zalizniak on the typology of semantic derivation supported by the RFBR. At this preliminary stage a general conceptual design of the Catalogue has been developed, and the initial data collection began.
Since 2002, the implementation of the CSSh in the form of the Database of Semantic Shifts in the Languages of the World (DatSemShift) has been carried out by a working group at the Institute of Linguistics of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Maria Bulakh, Dmitry Ganenkov, Ilya Gruntov, Timur Maisak, Maxim Russo, and Anna A. Zalizniak).
In 2003 the team was supported by another research grant from the RFBR.
From 2005 to 2009, the project was part of the international project “Core Vocabulary in a Typological Perspective: Semantic Shifts and Form/Meaning Correlations” supported by INTAS with Maria Koptjevskaja-Tamm as project coordinator. Information about the conceptual idea of CSSh, the architecture of the database (DatSemShift) in which it is implemented, and some preliminary conclusions concerning the occurrence of semantic shifts in the languages of the world may be found in Zalizniak 2001, 2008, 2009, 2013a, Gruntov 2007, Zalizniak et al. 2012.
From 2013 until the spring of 2018, the DatSemShift has been available online at http://semshifts.iling-ran.ru/. Further elaboration of CSSh and development of the database (Datsemshift 2.0) are being conducted currently at the Institute of Linguistics within the scope of the project “Cognitive Mechanisms of Semantic Derivation in Light of typological data”, supported by RFBR by a working group (Maria Bibaeva, Tatjana Mikhajlova, Maria Orlova, Maksim Russo, Anna Smirnitskaja, Mikhail Voronov, and Anna A. Zalizniak).

Types of realization of semantic shifts

Depending on the nature of the relationship between linguistic units having the meanings A and B in a given language we distinguish the following realization types of realizations of a semantic shift (SSh):

  1. 1. Sychronic polysemy:

    • A and B are meanings of a polysemous word, e.g. Rus. golova ‘head (= upper part of the body)’ and ‘head (= unit, when counting cattle, cf. 20 golov ovec ‘20 head of sheep’)’, Engl. to call ‘to call (smb.)’ and ‘to give a telephone call’, Sp. sentir ‘to feel’ and ‘to be upset’

    • B is the meaning of a word and A is the meaning of its stem used in a morphologically complex word, e.g.: Rus. žena ‘wife’ and ženoljub ‘womanizer’ (SSh ‘woman’ → ‘wife’), Rus. syr ‘cheese’ and syrnik ‘cottage cheese pancake’ (SSh ‘cottage cheese’ → ‘cheese’); Rus. revnost’ ‘jealousy’ and revnostnyj ‘zealous, fervent’ (SSh ‘zeal, fervency’ → ‘jealousy’).

  2. 2. Diachronic semantic evolution of a word in one language or from an ancestor language to a descendant language, e.g. from Old Rus. krasьnyj ‘beautiful’ to Rus. krasnyj ‘red’ (SSh ‘beautiful’ → ‘red’); from Latin caput ‘head’ to French chef ‘chief’ (SSh ‘head’ → ‘chief’).

  3. 3. Morphological derivation:

    • [the main subtype] the meaning B is represented by a morphological derivative from the word which has meaning A., e.g. Rus. slušat’ – slušat’sja (SSh ‘to listen’ → ‘to obey’), Lat. capitulum ‘chapter’ from caput ‘head’ (SSh ‘head’ → ‘chapter’); Sp. ventana from viento (SSh ‘wind’ → ‘window’), Germ. anrufen from rufen (SSh ‘to call (smb.)’ → ‘to give a telephone call’), It. zucchino from zucca (‘pumpkin’ → ‘vegetable marrow’);

    • vice versa, meaning A is represented by a morphological derivative from the word which has meaning B, e.g. Rus. ženščina ‘woman’ morpologicaly derives from žena ‘wife’ (SSh ‘woman’ — ‘wife’), Germ. Mann — Mensch (SSh ‘human being’ — ‘male’), Lat. puto — computo (SSh ‘to calculate’ — ‘to have opinion’).

    • the meanings A and B are expressed by different grammatical forms of the same word, e.g. Anc.Gr. eidon ‘to see’ (aorist 2th form) and oida (perfect form) ‘to know’; Sp. celo ‘zeal, fervency’ and celos (plural form) ‘jealousy’.

  4. 4. Cognates:

    • Meanings A and B belong to words of two sister languages diachronically going back to one and the same root in their common ancestor; e.g.: Germ. Zahl ‘number’ and Engl. tale ‘story’ (Germanic cognates, SSh ‘to calculate’ – ‘to narrate’); Rus. meškat’ ‘to be slow {in doing something}’ and Pol. mieszkać ‘live, inhabit {in some place}’ (Slavonic cognates); Lat. vertere ‘to turn’ and Germ. werden ‘to become’ (Indo-European cognates)

    • b) Words of a single language having a common ancestor: Rus. videt’ ‘to see’ and vedat’ ‘to know’; Rus. golova ‘head’ and glava ‘chapter’.

  5. 5. Borrowing:

  6. B is the meaning of a borrowed word in the recipient language, while A is the meaning of its source in the donor language, e.g. Rus. original’nyj ‘peculiar, special’ is a loanword, from Germ. original ‘authentic, genuine’; Rus. sortir derives from the Fr. verb sortir ‘to go out’ (SSh ‘to go out’ → ‘WC’).

The direction of semantic shifts

The most frequent case is unidirectional shift (A → B), A being a SOURCE-meaning, B – a TARGET-meaning. Other possibilities are: bidirectional shifts (A ↔ B) and the shifts for which we cannot specify direction (A — B).


Bidirectional shifts (A ↔ B):

‘to suffer’ ↔ ‘to work’:

  • ‘to suffer’ → ‘to work’:
    Rus. trud ‘work’, older meaning ‘to suffer’;
    Old-Rus. stradati ‘to suffer’, a derivative meaning (subsequently lost) ‘to work’ (cf. stradnik ‘worker’, strada ‘work’);
    Fr. travailler ‘to work’, from Anc.Fr. ‘to suffer’

  • ‘to work’ → ‘to suffer’:
    Lat. labor, a derivative meaning ‘to suffer’
    Sp. trabajo ‘work’, trabajos (pl.) ‘suffering’


Shifts without direction (A — B)

We mark shifts as being “without direction” when we cannot be sure about the direction of the shift, or when both meanings in a given shift seem to derive from a third one.

  • to say’ — ‘to indicate’:
    Lat. dico ‘to say’, Greek deiknymi ‘to indicate’
    Ukrain. kazaty ‘to say’, Russ. ukazat’ ‘to indicate’

  • ‘to hear’ — ‘to understand’:
    Fr. entendre, Sp. entender
    Both meanings derive from Latin intendere (= ‘to strain attention’