Bitch: an example of semantic development and change

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Colllns, Charles A.

Colllns, Charles A. (1984). Bitch: an example of semantic development and change. -- Lambda Alpha Journal of Man, v.16, no.1, p.69-86.


Perhaps the most undisputable statement which can be made about language is that it changes. This process of change has occurred since the beginning of spoken language and most definitely remains active in the present day. Change may happen on several linguistic levels but most often concerns syntax, morphemics, 9honetics, or semantics. The most common language change, according to Liles, is in a texical item or, more simply stated, in the meanings we assign to words (1975:286). New words may be added, old words may disappear, functions may change, features may be added, new dimensions of meaning may appear, or any other unforeseeable change may o~cur, for change is not limited to one type and is totally unpredictable in nature. In fact, Wardhaugh states that the process of change is predictable only in that certain kinds of things happen and these things happen slowly (1972:185). With this in mind, all that a student of language change can do is attempt to note past changes, what they were and what possibly prompted them into being. It is according to this thinking that, in this paper, I investigate the several meanings of one word, "bitch," which is extremely common in American vocabularies. I will show not only what it has meant through the years, but also what might be the ideas behind the changes in this particular lexical item. To best do this, it is beneficial to look first at some of the theory regarding the ways in which language accomplished meaning changes as well as at a few ideas regarding the interaction of word meanings with cultural environments.

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