2.3. Hermann Paul's Assumptions.
All this, aside from its extra-linguistic interest, gives us some measure of probability by which we can judge of etymologic comparisons, but it does not tell us how the meaning of a linguistic form can change in the course of time. When we find a form used at one time in a meaning A and at a later time in a meaning B, what we see is evidently the result of at least two shifts, namely, an expansion of the form from use in situations of type A to use in situations of a wider type A-B, and then a partial obsolescence by which the form ceases to be used in situations which approximate the old type A, so that finally the form is used only in situations of type B. In ordinary cases, the first process involves the obsolescence or restriction of some rival form that gets crowded out of use in the B-situations, and the second process involves the en-croachment of some rival form into the A-situations. We can symbolize this diagrammatically as follows:
meaning: 'nourishment' 'edible 'edible 'muscular
thing' part of part of
first stage: food meat flesh flesh
second stage: food meat meat flesh
third stage: food food meat flesh
In the normal case, therefore, we have to deal here with fluctuations of frequency like those of analogic change; the difference is only that the fluctuations result in lexical instead of grammatical displacements, and therefore largely elude the grasp of the linguist. The first student, probably, to see that semantic change consists of expansion and obsolescence, was Hermann Paul [4, p. 431]. Paul saw that the meaning of a form in the habit of any speaker is merely the result of the utterances in which he has heard it. Sometimes, to be sure, we use a form in situations that fairly well cover its range of meaning, as in a definition ("a town is a large settlement of people") or in a very general statement ("vertebrate animals have a head"). In such cases a form appears in its general meaning. Ordinarily, however, a form in any one utterance represents a far more specific practical feature. When we say that John Smith humped his head, the word head is used of one particular man's head. When a speaker in the neighborhood of a city says "I'm going to town", the word town means this particular city. In such cases the form appears in an occasional meaning. In eat an apple a day the word apple has its general meaning; in some one utterance of the phrase eat this apple, the word apple has an occasional meaning: the apple, let us say, is a large baked apple. All marginal meanings are occasional, for - as Paul showed - marginal meanings differ from central meanings precisely by the fact that we respond to a marginal meaning only when some special circumstance makes the central meaning impossible. Central meanings are occasional whenever the situation differs from the ideal situation that matches the whole extent of a form's meaning.
Accordingly, if a speaker has heard a form only in an occasional meaning or in a series of occasional meanings, he will utter the form only in similar situations: his habit may differ from that of other speakers. The word meat was used of all manner of dishes; there must have come a time when, owing to the encroachment of some other word (say, food or dish), many speakers had heard the word meat only (or very predominantly) in situations where the actual dish in question consisted of flesh; in their own utterances these speakers, accordingly, used the word meat only when flesh-food was involved. If a speaker has heard a form only in some marginal meaning, he will use this form with this same meaning as a central meaning - that is, he will use the form for a meaning in which other speakers use it only under very special conditions - like the city child who concluded that pigs were very properly called pigs, on account of their unclean habits. In the later Middle Ages, the German word Kopf, cognate with English cup, had the central meaning 'cup, bowl, pot' and the marginal meaning 'head'; there must have come a time when many speakers had heard this word only in its marginal meaning, for in modern German Kopf means only' head.'
2.3.1. The Process of Isolation.
Paul's explanation of semantic change takes for granted the occurrence of marginal meanings and of obsolescence, and views these processes as adventures of individual speech-forms, without reference to the rival forms which, in the one case, yield ground to the form under consideration, and, in the other case, encroach upon its domain. This view, nevertheless, represents a great advance over the mere classification of differences of meaning. In particular, it enabled Paul to show in detail some of the ways in which obsolescence breaks up a unitary domain of meaning - a process which he called isolation [2, p. 432].
Thus, beside the present central meaning of the word meat 'flesh-food,' we have today the strange marginal (apparently, widened) uses in meat and drink and in sweetmeats; for dishes other than flesh, the word meat went out of use, except in these two expressions, which are detached from what is now the central meaning of the word: we may say that these two expressions have been isolated by the invasion of the intermediate semantic domain, which is now covered by food, dish. In the same way, knave has been shifted from 'boy, young man, servant' to 'scoundrel,' but the card-player's use of knave as a name for the lowest of the three picture-cards ('jack') is an isolated remnant of the older meaning. The word charge is a loan from Old French charger that meant originally 'to load a wagon.' Its present multiplicity of meanings is evidently due to expansion into marginal spheres followed by obsolescence of