Semantic change in the domain of the vocabulary of Christian clergy

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In the evolution of the language, English terms referring to Christian clergy underwent semantic changes (acquired additional meanings) which sometimes led to their partial transfer to domains unrelated to the Church and its activities, domains such as secular offices, lay people, animals, plants, food, beverages, household objects and clothing. The paper shows how society’s perception of Christian clergy was mirrored in lexical and semantic change. The lexical material of the present study describes the creation of the said domain in Old English and the appearance of Latin/French innovations in Middle English. The study also examines trends in the semantic development of Modern English, with a substantial increase in the number of secular meanings in the centuries following the Protestant Reformation. Set in the framework of cognitive linguistics and prototype semantics, this paper offers a description not only of the relations between language and society but also of the secularisation processes reflected in the English lexicon.


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