I don't grasp this Reddit comment.

An example of (3) might be this (from a 15th-century will):

I now the seid John Smyth, for diu[er]se causez and consyderacyonys shevyd vnto me, will ordeyne and declare ...

Here, "consideration" means "something to be considered, a reason". The semantic sense has shifted from the act of considering to the thing considered. A parallel might be the word "obligation", where the shift is from the act of obliging, to the thing one is obliged to do.

These semantic shifts are too apart, far-reaching, far-fetched for me to grasp! To the common Anglophone, "the act of considering" plainly differs from "the thing considered". For instance, rational humans perform "the act of considering", while "the thing considered" is an inanimate valuable object like money.

How can I interpret these semantic shifts so they feel natural, intutitive common sense? How can these semantic shifts be bridged?

  • 2
    I find the question intriguing. PIE forms verbal nouns with TIS, TUS, and MEN, but the semantic relationship is often puzzling. Consider Greek θεσις/θημα, etc. – Bert Barrois Dec 3 '19 at 13:06

It's quite common for semantics to shift from "action" to "central object of the action" or "result of action." The opposite is also quite common, as in how English can turn many nouns into verbs that mean "to use the noun in its characteristic way." (for example, "Google" in "you can Google metonymy to see similar phenomena")

To use an parallel example from George Lakoff's "Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things," this sort of semantic leeching can bring an idea like "over" (two things in the same vertical line, with the bottom not necessarily supporting or even touching the top one "the picture is OVER the fireplace") to "path over" ("the road goes over yonder hill") to even an object at the end of that path ("the house is just over the bridge"). It might be hard to go from the first example to the third, but if you conceptualize the metaphorical chain between the two, it can make more sense.

  • The example with "over" is very difficult, IMHO, because it's not a mere comparative form of up, and contrast with above. In German we talk over a topic for example. In Latin one is hyper active (right?). In PIE, if wiktionary is correct, the supposed root means "below, under". What? In the sense of how we learn those uses synchronically, it's first of all not necessary to have a chain of semantic inferences, if we rather have to learn the patterns first, before we can even analyze them. – vectory Dec 3 '19 at 20:52
  • @vectory in Latin one would be super active I guess, hyper being the Greek cognate. – LjL Dec 3 '19 at 22:40

There are of course many ways "the act-of X-ing" can come to mean "the thing X-ed". Therefore I think the glosses are misleading. You might as well ask how a verb can turn noun.

The general answer would have to be about a shift in the perception of what's important in a phrase. For example, if words can become morphemic, it's obvious that part of its semantics will transfer to the root of the attached words. Equivalently, syntax can be interpreted diversely, and cause certain words to be perceived more prominent than others. This is often due to accentuation and prosody. Therefore, it can happen accidentally. Further, it can happen on purpose, if a thing needs to be named, that a semantically near word presents itself as suitable and is taken as a label for the name, potentially with a nominalizing adage, but not necessarily so if it's already there, and not obviously describing a different sense of thing.

For the legalese as in your specific case, it's that sidere is the root. German has e.g. Vor-satz "preset opinion; intent, resolution*. The words for sit, set, stay, stand, etc are featured a lot in legal terms, first and foremost Gesetz "law", with ge- corresponding to co-, building passive and past senses. It's also notable that -er most often denotes the "thing that does X"; -t is instrumental, agentive, and -ion is ca -ing, that is the gerundive morpheme. So I'd presume that consideration had those ambiguous senses for a long time, at the latest from early church Latin. It probably also helps that Latin Grammar is easy to interpret varyingly, especially for second language speakers. In effect, I said it meant something like y-set/sit-er-t-ing; or a setting / sitting for short. The difference is rather passive / active and the accentuation as I said. Which is a bit of a joke. More research is needed.

  • con sidere means "[to view] with the stars" (from a time when astrology was respectable). -[t]ion changes an act (verb) to an action (abstract noun) which becomes ambiguous with the 'result' of that action (direct object). – amI Dec 18 '19 at 8:36
  • @aml to tell the truth, I had pulled that out of my ass and had to look up translations for to sit, but I wasn't disappointed: consido "to move oneself into sitting position" – vectory Dec 18 '19 at 9:55

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