Semantic change through change in non-linguistic practice
Betting with lay and the laying down of stakes
This paper is concerned with the relation between semantics and non-linguistic practice and with change in that relation. The particular case involves two classes of clausal constructions that have lay as their verb and are used in initiating bets. One class involves lay a wager and the other involves lay stake. Associated with the use of these constructions are a number of practices that have to do with what is done with the stakes of the bet. The crucial distinction among these practices in terms of the semantics of lay is whether or not stakes are physically laid down. If they are, then lay is interpretable as naming the physical action. Otherwise, some other interpretation must be sought for lay. I show that, over three centuries, there is a decline in the practice of laying stakes down when lay stake is used. With lay a wager there is no significant change. The result of the changing use of lay stake is that lay is increasingly interpreted as having a metaphoric or abstract meaning. Where the new meaning is metaphoric, this is due not to a deliberate expressive choice on the part of the speaker – as is usually assumed for metaphoric use – but to change in non-linguistic practice.
Keywords: betting, composite utterance, genesis of metaphor, naming of action, non-linguistic practice, semantic change
- 2.Composites of linguistic and non-linguistic action
- 5.Semantics of lay
- 6.Semantics of wager
- 7.Semantics of lay a wager and lay stake
- 8.Change in staking practice
- 9.Metaphor through change in practice
Published online: 10 August 2018
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