Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Wackernagel on Auto-Antonyms

Jacob Wackernagel (1853-1938), Lectures on Syntax, ed. and tr. David Langslow (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009) pp. 695-696 (original Vorlesungen über Syntax, II 235-236):
Furthermore, these days we are wont to do more justice again to the theory—earlier discredited by an absurd book by ABEL (1884)—according to which the meaning of a word can shift into its exact opposite, so-called 'enantiosemia;5 cf. NÖLDEKE (1910) on 'words with the opposite meaning'. MEILLET points out (1922b: 99) that you can easily fall into using a word that means the opposite of what you want to say: words with opposite meaning are indeed associated with each other, and hence often assimilated to each other formally, too; cf. SCHUCHARDT (1922: 206), with reference to Goethe's statement that 'every word awakes its opposite meaning'.6 It seems that prepositions also furnish examples of this phenomenon. Very recently Dietrich SCHÄFER has shown (1921: 378-81) that in Medieval Latin cis and citra are often used to mean 'beyond'. One might say that this was a misunderstanding based on the imperfect learning of those for whom Latin was not a living language, but Latin of the Middle Ages really cannot be called a dead language. Moreover, we can show that prepositions have this sort of opposite sense even in the earliest period: Gk ὑπό and Lat. sub, for example, mean 'under', but the corresponding comparative and superlative forms Gk ὕπερος (in ὑπέρα 'yard at the top of the sail', ὕπερος 'pestle'): Lat. superus, Gk ὕπατος: Lat. summus mean 'higher' and 'highest', respectively, which is matched by Gk ὑπέρ, Lat. super ('over'). In Germanic there is an opposition even in the positive grade between Gothic uf 'under' and German ob 'on top'. On Lat. sub meaning 'upwards' in compound verbs, see K. MEISTER (1924/5: 32-5). I recently had the experience in a meeting of hearing a certain Herr Niederer (lit. Mr Lower) constantly referred to by someone there as 'Herr Oberer' (lit. Mr Upper)! (See II, 182-3 above on compound verbs; on the confusion of opposite words in child language, see JESPERSEN (1922: 120 [ = 1925: 99]). Note the important monograph of Hans SPERBER (1915) on the semantic evelopment of the preposition über.)

5 On Carl Abel (1827-1906), who lived part of his life in England (cf. Abel 1882, in English), and whose ideas influenced Freud, and the notion of enantiosemy, see Morpurgo Davies (1998: 339), with references to a detailed study by Giulio Lepschy.
6 This is from Goethe's novel Die Wahlverwandschaften (Elective Affinities, 1809), part 2, ch. 4, 'Jedes ausgesprochene Wort erregt den Gegensinn'.
In note 5, Abel's birth date is incorrect—it should be 1837.



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