14.553, Sum: Contrasting senses for 'leave'

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Tue Feb 25 02:54:57 UTC 2003

LINGUIST List:  Vol-14-553. Mon Feb 24 2003. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 14.553, Sum: Contrasting senses for 'leave'

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Date:  Fri, 21 Feb 2003 17:40:01 +0530 (IST)
From:  baskaran at au-kbc.org
Subject:  Sum: "leave"

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Fri, 21 Feb 2003 17:40:01 +0530 (IST)
From:  baskaran at au-kbc.org
Subject:  Sum: "leave"

Hi all,

I had posted a question in January (Linguist 14.34) as quoted below:

Recently I came across a conversation given below.
      Person-1: John left his company last month.
      Person-2: Then what is left there?

   It is interesting to see the meaning of 'left' in these
sentences. In the first one, it means, 'go away' or 'move permanantly
out' and in the second one, it means, 'remaining there'. These two
senses are squarely opposite to each other.
   (The 10th edition of the Consice Oxford dictionary lists the
following two (contrasting) senses among others for the word 'leave',
   1. go away from, depart permanantly
   2. allow or cause to remain)
   I would like to know whether this phenomenon has been studied
earlier for any language. I would also welcome more examples in
English or other languages.
   I will post the summary of the responses. Thanks in advance.


I summarize the responses for the posting. I deeply regret for the
delayed summary, which was not intentional.

1. Karen gave a list of similar words, he prefer to call
auto-antonyms. He further says that, most of these are secondary
meanings that have grown up in place of the originals (moot) some of
them are parallel derivations, usually two verbs from one noun (dust)
some are cultural (table) some are derived from entirely different
sources (cleave, which come from "kleben" (stick) and "klioban"

Some of them are considered substandard or "wrong", but they're in
common, valid use. Like these:

everything, all / nothing, zero

invoice, charge / money

cut apart / stick together

cut apart / join together

usual, ordinary / special, made-to-order

causing doubt or uncertainty / having doubt; showing doubt

remove fine particles / cover with fine particles

steady, unmoving / at high speed, quick

able to be set aflame / unable to be set aflame

to permit / to hinder (without let or hindrance; a let ball)

actually / figuratively (at least in the US!)

to join two people in marriage / to get married

archetype, prototype / copy, imitation, display

immediately / for a moment

academic, of little importance / debatable, important

a promise to pay / money

to look over / to refuse or fail to see

official / spurious

a division / the thing used to divide

NOTE: I am not giving a complete list to save space. Interested
persons pls. write me personally.

2. Marc picard have provided a thread from linguistlist in this
regard.  http://www.linguistlist.org/issues/6/6-74.html NOTE: I could
not add the content of this link due to space constraints.

3. Geoffrey Sampson writes:

I shouldn't have thought that the alternative senses of "leave" are so
opposite to one another.  One of them is transitive, the other
intransitive; it seems natural that if you go away, what you go away
from stays put!

There are certainly cases in various languages where a word has senses
that are opposite in different contexts.  For English, I think a
better case might be "cleave".  In Chinese, the middle syllable of the
late Chiang Kai-shek's name (in Mandarin, jie4 I think) has a sense
"big", and also has a sense "small" -- I don't know what the
respective contexts are, though.

4. Kurt Godded sent a related joke which reads like below.

The English professor summed up his lecture by saying, "And while
there are cases where a double negative is used to indicate a positive
meaning, there are no cases where a double positive is used to
indicate a negative."  And from the back of the room there came the
voice of a disgruntled student who said, "Yea, right!"  (I had to say
English prof, because a Linguistics prof would never make such a claim
in the first place.)

5. Laurence Horn points out a thread in linguistlist that ran in
1998. He now prefer to call this phenomenon as 'enantionymy' which he
earlier termed as 'antilogy'.

NOTE: He has also attached a collection of relevant posts from the thread. Again I am not attaching it for fear of overloading the list. I am willing to send it to interested persons when they write me separately.

6. Pete Unseth says:

I think part of the answer to this question is that when something is
"left behind", that is a passive verb construction.  So it is "leave a
place" and "leave a thing".  NOt so different after all.

7. Luis gives another example: 'overlook'

It means 'fail to observe' and 'supervise, oversee'. The
Merriam-Webster dictionary gives the senses as INSPECT, on the one
hand, and MISS, IGNORE, EXCUSE, NEGLECT, on the other.

8. John Atkinson explains:

Two well-known examples in English are "cleave" (meaning either
"split, separate" or "stick together") and "let" (meaning either
"allow" or "hinder").  In both these cases, the two meanings
correspond to different Old English words, whose pronunciation has
become the same in modern English through regular sound changes. This
is not the case with "leave", apparently, both senses you mention
deriving from the same OE word. (The noun "leave", meaning permission,
has a different derivation.)

"Cleave" is a fairly rare word today, in both senses, and it has been
argued that it is avoided because of its ambiguity.  "Let" with the
meaning "allow" is very common, but with the meaning "hinder" is just
about obsolete except in a few fixed phrases like "without let or
hindrance"; some say for a similar reason.  However both senses of
"leave" remain in common use, despite the possibility of some
ambiguity (as in "He left the car").

9. Khalifa offers some cognitive perspective to the question, which I
give below in his own words.

>Recently I came across a conversation given below.  Person-1: John
>left his company last month.  Person-2: Then what is left there?  It
>is interesting to see the meaning of 'left' in these sentences. In
>the first one, it means, 'go away' or 'move permanantly out' and in
>the second one, it means, 'remaining there'. These two senses are
>squarely opposite to each other.

I wouldn't really say that here. From a cognitive point of view, what
we have is some sort of entity (call it "trajector" if you like, in
cognitive grammar fashion) breaking away, or losing contact, with some
reference point (call it "ground" if you like). Now, everything will
crucially depend on whether it is only the trajector that is being
profiled (i.e. John left), or trajector AND ground (i.e. John left the
company), or ground only, in which case you get meanings that indeed
might sound as opposite or contradictory to the first use, but it is
only a question of windowing (i.e. what part of the complex event is
lexicalized). To take another example, the English verb "to fetch" is
analysable as :

1) move away towards object
2) pick up object
3) come back with object to departure point

In French for instance, we'd have to use 2 verbs in something quite
similar to a serial construction: "aller chercher", literally "go look
for" ; now, that means that French will only window stage 1 of the
process (GO), and, say, half of stage 2 (LOOK FOR, and then FIND &
PICK UP). It's pretty much what happens with "leave", I guess, where
different languages might (and indeed, do) need a different verb when
it's only ground that is profiled.  Interestingly though, French does
not behave like English, the verb "laisser" (leave) being available to
translate "John left his coat in the room" ("Jean a laissé son manteau
dans la pièce"), but neither "John left" (where a different verb is
needed, i.e. "partir" [go away, depart] => "Jean est parti"), nor
"John left Mary/the company" (another berb, "quitter" => "Jean a
quitté Marie / l'entreprise).

>    (The 10th edition of the Consice Oxford dictionary lists the
>following two (contrasting) senses among others for the word 'leave',
>1. go away from, depart permanantly 2. allow or cause to remain)

Well, what is interesting to note is the underlying causative in sense
2, which shows that, even though it is indeed the ground (departure
point) that is being profiled, the trajector is construed as the
causee of the new state of affairs prevailing relative to the ground.

These were just off-the-cuff thoughts on your problem, don't know
whether this is relevant, I'd be curious to know what other languages
do behave like English when you get enough replies.

10. Ghil `ad Zuckermann gives few Hebrew examples along with two
references (which I am yet to see).

You might want to check out ENANTIOSEMIC words or AUTO-OPPOSITES, see
both Zuckermann 2000 and 2003 - as following:

Zuckermann, G. 2003 (forthcoming). Language Contact and Lexical
Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew. London - New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Zuckermann, G. 2000. Camouflaged Borrowing: 'Folk-Etymological
Nativization' in the Service of Puristic Language Engineering. D.Phil.
Thesis, University of Oxford. LOCATIONS: HARVARD (USA): Widener
Library: Harvard Depository HNFW3I; OXFORD (UK): Bodleian Library:
Bookstack, MS.  D.Phil. c.15877; CAMBRIDGE (UK): Churchill College
Library: 492.424.

Some examples from Hebrew:

mazor: remedy; disease

k.l.s.: praize; curse

11. Michael Johnstone's response:
Thinking about 'leave/left' in English:

According to the OED, 'leave' comes from Germanic *laibjan, the
causative of *liban 'to remain'. So the earlier meaning would appear
to be 'cause to remain'.

I suppose on the one hand 'cause to remain' led to a newer sense 'go
away from':

John left his briefcase in the office = caused it to remain
(intentionally or not)

John left the office = went away from (temporarily or for good)

While on the other hand, the past participle 'left' would logically
mean 'caused to remain', which if the agent is not mentioned, comes to
mean simply 'remaining':

The briefcase was left by John = allowed to remain

It was left = still there, remaining

Did you leave any cake for us? (let it remain)

Is there any cake left? (remaining)

So 'go away', and 'remaining' both come from the sense 'cause to
remain' - somebody leaves something, and that thing is left behind.

Interestingly, *liban 'to remain' also led to Dutch 'blijven', High
German 'bleiben', Low German 'blieven', all meaning 'to remain'. But
when this verb was borrowed from Low German into Danish as 'blive', it
came to mean not only 'remain' but also 'become', and it is used to
form the passive:

blive hjemme - stay at home
blive siddende - stay sitting down


blive vred - become angry
blive spist - get eaten

I wonder if you've received any other examples of this semantic

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