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Awful adjectives: a type of semantic change in present-day corpora

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Chapter Summary

Semantic change observable in isolated linguistic items is both frequent and interesting in itself. More interesting, perhaps, are cases of structural change, i.e. cases where one and the same tendency can be discerned in a related group of words. This paper uses modern corpus material in order to sketch the development of one such group, words meaning ‘frightening’, and suggests that they all follow the same trend in the direction of ‘impressive, overwhelming’ although they differ with respect to how far they have advanced along that route. The semantic changes of some 25 words in the chosen area are studied in detail, and their development is illustrated with corpus material. One of the conclusions of the study is that their rate of semantic progress is partly dependent on the time when they entered the semantic field. The paper deals with the adjectives in the group and leaves the adverbs, although equally interesting, out of account for a later investigation.



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