Shallow Brooks and Rivers Wide : A Study of Lexical and Semantic Change in English Nouns Denoting Watercourse

Abstract: This study is intended to provide new insight into the change and stability of lexical fields by means of a new theoretical model for the identification, description and interpretation of the mechanisms of lexical and semantic change.The first part of the study is a detailed investigation of the origin and innovation of the nouns within the lexical field ‘watercourse’ in order to be able to account for the patterns of creation, especially in relation to the current status of the nouns. Similarly, the rate of occurrence of the nouns during the centuries and the regularity of their occurrence have been investigated and related to the current status of the nouns. The second part of the study proposes a new model of markedness as the theoretical framework of the study. The model advocates two systems of markedness: the linguistic system and the extra-linguistic system. The linguistic system consists of two parameters: linguistic-internal construction (content) and linguistic-external construction (usage). Similarly, in the extra-linguistic system, the markedness situation in the linguistic system functions as one of the parameters, and extra-linguistic factors as the other.The major claims of the study are that the survival rate of the nouns is governed by their markedness situation, and that there is a predisposition to favour more unmarked nouns rather than more marked ones.The investigation of creation patterns and frequency/regularity shows that the extra-linguistic perception of a concept will decide whether the linguistic-internal construction of the noun denodng that concept will be marked or not. The linguisticinternal marking gives rise to a linguistic-external construction; that is, usage of a noun is regulated by its content. The linguistic-external marking will govern the extra-linguistic perception of the noun; the apprehension of a word is governed by its frequency. The continued usage of a noun is determined by the extra-linguistic apprehension of it; its continued usage depends on how it is used. The extra-linguistic apprehension of the usage of the noun might trigger an altered linguistic-internal construction, which, in turn, might result is a new linguistic-external construction and so on.The results of the study reveal that the rate of survival is dependent on an interaction of the parameters of the linguistic system and the extra-linguistic system, and that this interaction functions as a loop in which the importance of one parameter increases at the expense of another within a system.