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§ 1.2 THE THEORETICAL AND PRACTICAL VALUE OF ENGLISH LEXICOLOGY - Арнольд И. В. А 84 Лексикология современного английского...


§ 1.2 THE THEORETICAL AND PRACTICAL VALUE OF ENGLISH LEXICOLOGY

The importance of English lexicology is based not on the size of its vocabulary, however big it is, but on the fact that at present it is the world’s most widely used language. One of the most fundamental works on the English language of the present — “A Grammar of Contemporary English” by R. Quirk, S. Greenbaum, G. Leech and J. Svartvik (1978) — gives the following data: it is spoken as a native language by nearly three hundred million people in Britain, the United States, Ireland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and some other countries. The knowledge of English is widely spread geographically — it is in fact used in all continents. It is also spoken in many countries as a second language and used in official and business activities there. This is the case in India, Pakistan and many other former British colonies. English is also one of the working languages of the United Nations and the universal language of international aviation. More than a half world’s scientific literature is published in English and 60% of the world’s radio broadcasts are in English. For all these reasons it is widely studied all over the world as a foreign language.

The theoretical value of lexicology becomes obvious if we realise that it forms the study of one of the three main aspects of language, i.e. its vocabulary, the other two being its grammar and sound system. The theory of meaning was originally developed within the limits of philosophical science. The relationship between the name and the thing named has in the course of history constituted one of the key questions in gnostic theories and therefore in the struggle of materialistic and idealistic trends. The idealistic point of view assumes that the earlier

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forms of words disclose their real correct meaning, and that originally language was created by some superior reason so that later changes of any kind are looked upon as distortions and corruption.

The materialistic approach considers the origin, development and current use of words as depending upon the needs of social communication. The dialectics of its growth is determined by its interaction with the development of human practice and mind. In the light of V. I. Lenin’s theory of reflection we know that the meanings of words reflect objective reality. Words serve as names for things, actions, qualities, etc. and by their modification become better adapted to the needs of the speakers. This proves the fallacy of one of the characteristic trends in modern idealistic linguistics, the so-called Sapir-Whorf thesis according to which the linguistic system of one’s native language not only expresses one’s thoughts but also determines them. This view is incorrect, because our mind reflects the surrounding world not only through language but also directly.

Lexicology came into being to meet the demands of many different branches of applied linguistics, namely of lexicography, standardisation of terminology, information retrieval, literary criticism and especially of foreign language teaching.

Its importance in training a would-be teacher of languages is of a quite special character and cannot be overestimated as it helps to stimulate a systematic approach to the facts of vocabulary and an organised comparison of the foreign and native language. It is particularly useful in building up the learner’s vocabulary by an effective selection, grouping and analysis of new words. New words are better remembered if they are given not at random but organised in thematic groups, word-families, synonymic series, etc.

A good knowledge of the system of word-formation furnishes a tool helping the student to guess and retain in his memory the meaning of new words on the basis of their motivation and by comparing and contrasting them with the previously learned elements and patterns.

The knowledge, for instance, of the meaning of negative, reversative and pejorative prefixes and patterns of derivation may be helpful in understanding new words. For example such words as immovable a, deforestation n and miscalculate v will be readily understood as ‘that cannot be moved’, ‘clearing land from forests’ and ‘to calculate wrongly’.

By drawing his pupils’ attention to the combining characteristics of words the teacher will prevent many mistakes.1 It will be word-groups falling into patterns, instead of lists of unrelated items, that will be presented in the classroom.

A working knowledge and understanding of functional styles and stylistic synonyms is indispensable when literary texts are used as a basis for acquiring oral skills, for analytical reading, discussing fiction and translation. Lexicology not only gives a systematic description of the present make-up of the vocabulary, but also helps students to master

1 Combining characteristics or distribution — structural patterns in which the words occur and their lexical collocations.

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the literary standards of word usage. The correct use of words is an important counterpart of expressive and effective speech.

An exact knowledge of the vocabulary system is also necessary in connection with technical teaching means.

Lexicology plays a prominent part in the general linguistic training of every philologist by summing up the knowledge acquired during all his years at the foreign language faculty. It also imparts the necessary skills of using different kinds of dictionaries and reference books, and prepares for future independent work on increasing and improving one’s vocabulary.

§ 1.3 THE CONNECTION OF LEXICOLOGY WITH PHONETICS, STYLISTICS, GRAMMAR AND OTHER BRANCHES OF LINGUISTICS

The treatment of words in lexicology cannot be divorced from the study of all the other elements in the language system to which words belong. It should be always borne in mind that in reality, in the actual process of communication, all these elements are interdependent and stand in definite relations to one another. We separate them for convenience of study, and yet to separate them for analysis is pointless, unless we are afterwards able to put them back together to achieve a synthesis and see their interdependence and development in the language system as a whole.

The word, as it has already been stated, is studied in several branches of linguistics and not in lexicology only, and the latter, in its turn, is closely connected with general linguistics, the history of the language, phonetics, stylistics, grammar and such new branches of our science as sociolinguistics, paralinguistics, pragmalinguistics and some others.1

The importance of the connection between lexicology and phonetics stands explained if we remember that a word is an association of a given group of sounds with a given meaning, so that top is one word, and tip is another. Phonemes have no meaning of their own but they serve to distinguish between meanings. Their function is building up morphemes, and it is on the level of morphemes that the form-meaning unity is introduced into language. We may say therefore that phonemes participate in signification.

Word-unity is conditioned by a number of phonological features. Phonemes follow each other in a fixed sequence so that [pit] is different from [tip]. The importance of the phonemic make-up may be revealed by the substitution test which isolates the central phoneme of hope by setting it against hop, hoop, heap or hip.

An accidental or jocular transposition of the initial sounds of two or more words, the so-called spoonerisms illustrate the same

Paralinguistics — the study of non-verbal means of communication (gestures, facial expressions, eye-contact, etc.).

Pragmalinguistics — the branch of linguistics concerned with the relation of speech and its users and the influence of speech upon listeners. See: Leech G. Principles of Pragmatics. London, 1985.

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point. Cf. our queer old dean for our dear old queen, sin twister for twin sister, May I sew you to a sheet? for May I show you to a seat?, a half-warmed fish for a half-formed wish, etc.1

Discrimination between the words may be based upon stress: the word ‘import is recognised as a noun and distinguished from the verb im'port due to the position of stress. Stress also distinguishes compounds from otherwise homonymous word-groups: ‘blackbird : : ‘black ‘bird. Each language also possesses certain phonological features marking word-limits.

Historical phonetics and historical phonology can be of great use in the diachronic study of synonyms, homonyms and polysemy. When sound changes loosen the ties between members of the same word-family, this is an important factor in facilitating semantic changes.

The words whole, heal, hail, for instance, are etymologically related.2 The word whole originally meant ‘unharmed’, ;unwounded’. The early verb whole meant 4to make whole’, hence ‘heal’. Its sense of ‘healthy’ led to its use as a salutation, as in hail! Having in the course of historical development lost their phonetic similarity, these words cannot now exercise any restrictive influence upon one another’s semantic development. Thus, hail occurs now in the meaning of ‘call’, even with the purpose to stop and arrest (used by sentinels).

Meaning in its turn is indispensable to phonemic analysis because to establish the phonemic difference between [ou] and [o] it is sufficient to know that [houp] means something different from [hop].

All these considerations are not meant to be in any way exhaustive, they can only give a general idea of the possible interdependence of the two branches of linguistics.

Stylistics, although from a different angle, studies many problems treated in lexicology. These are the problems of meaning, connotations, synonymy, functional differentiation of vocabulary according to the sphere of communication and some other issues. For a reader without some awareness of the connotations and history of words, the images hidden in their root and their stylistic properties, a substantial part of the meaning of a literary text, whether prosaic or poetic, may be lost.

Thus, for instance, the mood of despair in O. Wilde’s poem “Taedium Vitae” (Weariness of Life) is felt due to an accumulation of epithets expressed by words with negative, derogatory connotations, such as: desperate, paltry, gaudy, base, lackeyed, slanderous, lowliest, meanest.

An awareness of all the characteristic features of words is not only rewarded because one can feel the effect of hidden connotations and imagery, but because without it one cannot grasp the whole essence of the message the poem has to convey.

1 Spoonerism — from the name of W.A. Spooner, warden of a college at Oxford, who was known for such slips.

2 Etymology that branch of linguistics which deals with the origin and history of words, tracing them to their earliest determinable base.

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The difference and interconnection between grammar and lexicology is one of the important controversial issues in linguistics and as it is basic to the problems under discussion in this book, it is necessary to dwell upon it a little more than has been done for phonetics and stylistics.

A close connection between lexicology and grammar is conditioned by the manifold and inseverable ties between the objects of their study. Even isolated words as presented in a dictionary bear a definite relation to the grammatical system of the language because they belong to some part of speech and conform to some lexico-grammatical characteristics of the word class to which they belong. Words seldom occur in isolation. They are arranged in certain patterns conveying the relations between the things for which they stand, therefore alongside with their lexical meaning they possess some grammatical meaning. Сf. head of the committee and to head a committee.

The two kinds of meaning are often interdependent. That is to say, certain grammatical functions and meanings are possible only for the words whose lexical meaning makes them fit for these functions, and, on the other hand, some lexical meanings in some words occur only in definite grammatical functions and forms and in definite grammatical patterns.

For example, the functions of a link verb with a predicative expressed by an adjective cannot be fulfilled by every intransitive verb but are often taken up by verbs of motion: come true, fall ill, go wrong, turn red, run dry and other similar combinations all render the meaning of ‘become sth’. The function is of long standing in English and can be illustrated by a line from A. Pope who, protesting against blank verse, wrote: It is not poetry, but prose run mad.1

On the other hand the grammatical form and function of the word affect its lexical meaning. A well-known example is the same verb go when in the continuous tenses, followed by to and an infinitive (except go and come), it serves to express an action in the near and immediate future, or an intention of future action: You're not going to sit there saying nothing all the evening, both of you, are you? (Simpson)

Participle II of the same verb following the link verb be denotes absence: The house is gone.

In subordinate clauses after as the verb go implies comparison with the average: ... how a novel that has now had a fairly long life, as novels go, has come to be written (Maugham). The subject of the verb go in this construction is as a rule an inanimate noun.

The adjective hard followed by the infinitive of any verb means ‘difficult’: One of the hardest things to remember is that a man’s merit in one sphere is no guarantee of his merit in another.

Lexical meanings in the above cases are said to be grammatically

1 A modern ‘invasion’ of grammar into lexicological ‘territory’ is a new and promising trend referred to as semantic syntax, in which a lexico-semantic approach is introduced into syntactic description. See, for example, the works by T.B. Alisova, V.V. Bogdanov, V.G. Gak, I.P. Sousov. Compare also communicative syntax as studied by L.P. Chakhoyan and G.G. Poсheptsov.

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conditioned, and their indicating context is called syntactic or mixed. The point has attracted the attention of many authors.1

The number of words in each language being very great, any lexical meaning has a much lower probability of occurrence than grammatical meanings and therefore carries the greatest amount of information in any discourse determining what the sentence is about.

W. Chafe, whose influence in the present-day semantic syntax is quite considerable, points out the many constraints which limit the co-occurrence of words. He considers the verb as of paramount importance in sentence semantic structure, and argues that it is the verb that dictates the presence and character of the noun as its subject or object. Thus, the verbs frighten, amuse and awaken can have only animate nouns as their objects.

The constraint is even narrower if we take the verbs say, talk or think for which only animate human subjects are possible. It is obvious that not all animate nouns are human.

This view is, however, if not mistaken, at least one-sided, because the opposite is also true: it may happen that the same verb changes its meaning, when used with personal (human) names and with names of objects. Compare: ^ The new girl gave him a strange smile (she smiled at him) and The new teeth gave him a strange smile.

These are by no means the only relations of vocabulary and grammar. We shall not attempt to enumerate all the possible problems. Let us turn now to another point of interest, namely the survival of two grammatically equivalent forms of the same word when they help to distinguish between its lexical meanings. Some nouns, for instance, have two separate plurals, one keeping the etymological plural form, and the other with the usual English ending -s. For example, the form brothers is used to express the family relationship, whereas the old form brethren survives in ecclesiastical usage or serves to indicate the members of some club or society; the scientific plural of index, is usually indices, in more general senses the plural is indexes. The plural of genius meaning a person of exceptional intellect is geniuses, genius in the sense of evil or good spirit has the plural form genii.

It may also happen that a form that originally expressed grammatical meaning, for example, the plural of nouns, becomes a basis for a new grammatically conditioned lexical meaning. In this new meaning it is isolated from the paradigm, so that a new word comes into being. Arms, the plural of the noun arm, for instance, has come to mean ‘weapon’. E.g. to take arms against a sea of troubles (Shakespeare). The grammatical form is lexicalised; the new word shows itself capable of further development, a new grammatically conditioned meaning appears, namely, with the verb in the singular arms metonymically denotes the military profession. The abstract noun authority becomes a collective in the term authorities and denotes ‘a group of persons having the right to control and govern’. Compare also colours, customs, looks, manners, pictures, works which are the best known examples of this isolation, or, as it

1 See the works by V.V.Vinogradov, N.N. Amosova, E. Nida and many others.

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is also called, lexicalisation of a grammatical form. In all these words the suffix -s signals a new word with a new meaning.

It is also worthy of note that grammar and vocabulary make use of the same technique, i.e. the formal distinctive features of some derivational oppositions between different words are the same as those of oppositions contrasting different grammatical forms (in affixation, juxtaposition of stems and sound interchange). Compare, for example, the oppositions occurring in the lexical system, such as work :: worker, power :: will-power, food :: feed with grammatical oppositions: work (Inf.) :: worked (Past Ind.), pour (Inf.) :: will pour (Put. Ind.), feed (Inf.) :: fed (Past Ind.). Not only are the methods and patterns similar, but the very morphemes are often homonymous. For example, alongside the derivational suffixes -en, one of which occurs in adjectives (wooden), and the other in verbs (strengthen), there are two functional suffixes, one for Participle II (written), the other for the archaic plural form (oxen).

Furthermore, one and the same word may in some of its meanings function as a notional word, while in others it may be a form word, i.e. it may serve to indicate the relationships and functions of other words. Compare, for instance, the notional and the auxiliary do in the following: What you do’s nothing to do with me, it doesn’t interest me.

Last but not least all grammatical meanings have a lexical counterpart that expresses the same concept. The concept of futurity may be lexically expressed in the words future, tomorrow, by and by, time to come, hereafter or grammatically in the verbal forms shall come and will come. Also plurality may be described by plural forms of various words: houses, boys, books or lexically by the words: crowd, party, company, group, set, etc.

The ties between lexicology and grammar are particularly strong in the sphere of word-formation which before lexicology became a separate branch of linguistics had even been considered as part of grammar. The characteristic features of English word-building, the morphological structure of the English word are dependent upon the peculiarity of the English grammatical system. The analytical character of the language is largely responsible for the wide spread of conversion1 and for the remarkable flexibility of the vocabulary manifest in the ease with which many nonce-words2 are formed on the spur of the moment.

This brief account of the interdependence between the two important parts of linguistics must suffice for the present. In future we shall have to return to the problem and treat some parts of it more extensively.

§ 1.4 TYPES OF LEXICAL UNITS

The term unit means one of the elements into which a whole may be divided or analysed and which possesses the basic properties of this

1 See Chapter 8.

2 A nonce-word is a word coined for one occasion, a situational neologism: (for the) nones — by misdivision from ME (for then) ones.

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whole. The units of a vocabulary or lexical units are two-facet elements possessing form and meaning. The basic unit forming the bulk of the vocabulary is the word. Other units are morphemes that is parts of words, into which words may be analysed, and set expressions or groups of words into which words may be combined.

Words are the central elements of language system, they face both ways: they are the biggest units of morphology and the smallest of syntax", and what is more, they embody the main structural properties and functions of the language. Words can be separated in an utterance by other such units and can be used in isolation. Unlike words, morphemes cannot be divided into smaller meaningful units and are functioning in speech only as constituent parts of words. Words are thought of as representing integer concept, feeling or action or as having a single referent. The meaning of morphemes is more abstract and more general than that of words and at the same time they are less autonomous.

Set expressions are word groups consisting of two or more words whose combination is integrated so that they are introduced in speech, so to say, ready-made as units with a specialised meaning of the whole that is not understood as a mere sum total of the meanings of the elements.

In the spelling system of the language words are the smallest units of written discourse: they are marked off by solid spelling. The ability of an average speaker to segment any utterance into words is sustained by literacy. Yet it is a capacity only reinforced by education: it is well known that every speaker of any language is always able to break any utterance into words. The famous American linguist E. Sapir testified that even illiterate American Indians were perfectly capable of dictating to him — when asked to do so — texts in their own language “word by word”. The segmentation of a word into morphemes, on the other hand, presents sometimes difficulties even for trained linguists.

Many authors devoted a good deal of space to discussing which of the two: the word or the morpheme is to be regarded as the basic unit. Many American linguists (Ch. Hockett or Z. Harris, for instance) segmented an utterance into morphemes ignoring words. Soviet lexicologists proceed from the assumption that it is the word that is the basic unit, especially as all branches of linguistic knowledge and all levels of language have the word as their focal point. A convincing argumentation and an exhaustive review of literature is offered by A. A. Ufimtseva (1980).

If, however, we look now a little more closely into this problem, we shall see that the boundaries separating these three sets of units are sometimes fluid. Every living vocabulary is constantly changing adapting itself to the functions of communication in the changing world of those who use it. In this process the vocabulary changes not only quantitatively by creating new words from the already available corpus of morphemes and according to existing patterns but also qualitatively. In these qualitative changes new morphemic material and new word-building patterns come into being, and new names sometimes adapt features characteristic of other sets, those of groups of words, for instance.

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Orthographic words are written as a sequence of letters bounded by spaces on a page. Yet, there exist in the English vocabulary lexical units that are not identical with orthographic words but equivalent to them. Almost any part of speech contains units indivisible either syntactically or in terms of meaning, or both, but graphically divided. A good example is furnished by complex prepositions: along with, as far as, in spite of, except for, due to, by means of, for the sake of, etc.

The same point may be illustrated by phrasal verbs, so numerous in English: bring up ‘to educate’, call on ‘to visit’, make up ‘to apply cosmetics’, ‘to reconcile after a disagreement’ and some other meanings, put off “to postpone’. The semantic unity of these verbs is manifest in the possibility to substitute them by orthographically single-word verbs. Though formally broken up, they function like words and they are integrated semantically so that their meaning cannot be inferred from their constituent elements. The same is true about phrasal verbs consisting of the verbs give, make, take and some others used with a noun instead of its homonymous verb alone: give a smile, make a promise, take a walk (cf. to smile, to promise, to walk).

Some further examples are furnished by compound nouns. Sometimes they are not joined by solid spelling or hyphenation but written separately, although in all other respects they do not differ from similar one-word nominations. By way of example let us take some terms for military ranks. The terms lieutenant-commander and lieutenant-colonel are hyphenated, whereas wing commander and flight lieutenant are written separately. Compare also such inconsistencies as all right and altogether, never mind and nevertheless.

All these are, if not words, then at least word equivalents because they are indivisible and fulfil the nominative, significative, communicative and pragmatic functions just as words do.

It is worth while dwelling for a moment on formulaic sentences which tend to be ready-made and are characterised by semantic unity and indivisibility: ^ All right, Allow me, Nothing doing, Never mind, How do you do, Quite the contrary. They are learned as unanalysable wholes and can also be regarded as word equivalents.

To sum up: the vocabulary of a language is not homogeneous. If we view it as a kind of field, we shall see that its bulk, its central part is formed by lexical units possessing all the distinctive features of words, i.e. semantic, orthographic and morphological integrity as well as the capacity of being used in speech in isolation. The marginal elements of this field reveal only some of these features, and yet belong to this set too. Thus, phrasal verbs, complex prepositions, some compounds, phraseological units, formulaic expressions, etc. are divided in spelling but are in all other respects equivalent to words. Morphemes, on the other hand, a much smaller subset of the vocabulary, cannot be used as separate utterances and are less autonomous in other respects but otherwise also function as lexical items. The new term recently introduced in mathematics to describe sets with blurred boundaries seems expressive and worthy of

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use in characterising a vocabulary — such sets are called fuzzy sets.1

§ 1.5 THE NOTION OF LEXICAL SYSTEM

It has been claimed by different authors that, in contrast to grammar, the vocabulary of a language is not systematic but chaotic. In the light of recent investigations in linguistic theory, however, we are now in a position to bring some order into this “chaos”.

Lexicology studies the recurrent patterns of semantic relationships, and of any formal phonological, morphological or contextual means by which they may be rendered. It aims at systematisation.

There has been much discussion of late, both in this country and abroad, concerning different problems of the systematic nature of the language vocabulary. The Soviet scholars are now approaching a satisfactory solution based on Marxist dialectics and its teaching of the general interrelation and interdependence of phenomena in nature and society.

There are several important points to be made here.

The term system as used in present-day lexicology denotes not merely the sum total of English words, it denotes a set of elements associated and functioning together according to certain laws. It is a coherent homogeneous whole, constituted by interdependent elements of the same order related in certain specific ways. The vocabulary of a language is moreover an adaptive system constantly adjusting itself to the changing requirements and conditions of human communications and cultural surroundings. It is continually developing by overcoming contradictions between its state and the new tasks and demands it has to meet.

A set is described in the abstract set theory as a collection of definite distinct objects to be conceived as a whole. A set is said to be a collection of distinct elements, because a certain object may be distinguished from the other elements in a set, but there is no possibility of its repeated appearance. A set is called structured when the number of its elements is greater than the number of rules according to which these elements may be constructed. A set is given either by indicating, i.e. listing, all its elements, or by stating the characteristic property of its elements. For example the closed set of English articles may be defined as comprising the elements: the, a/an and zero. The set of English compounds on the other hand is an infinite (open) set containing all the words consisting of at least two stems which occur in the language as free forms.

In a classical set theory the elements are said to be definite because with respect to any of them it should be definite whether it belongs to a given set or not. The new development in the set theory, that of fuzzy sets, has proved to be more relevant to the study of vocabulary. We have already mentioned that the boundaries of linguistic sets are not sharply delineated and the sets themselves overlapping.

1 Another term often used nowadays and offered by V.G. Admoni is field-structure.

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The lexical system of every epoch contains productive elements typical of this particular period, others that are obsolete and dropping out of usage, and, finally, some new phenomena, significant marks of new trends for the epochs to come. The present status of a system is an abstraction, a sort of scientific fiction which in some points can facilitate linguistic study, but the actual system of the language is in a state of constant change.

Lexicology studies this whole by determining the properties of its elements and the different relationships of contrast and similarity existing between them within a language, as well as the ways in which they are influenced by extra-linguistic reality.

The extra-linguistic relationships refer to the connections of words with the elements of objective reality they serve to denote, and their dependence on the social, mental and cultural development of the language community.

The theory of reflection as developed by V.I. Lenin is our methodological basis, it teaches that objective reality is approximately but correctly reflected in the human mind. The notions rendered in the meanings of the words are generalised reflections of real objects and phenomena. In this light it is easy to understand how things that are connected in reality come to be connected in language too. As we have seen above, the original meaning of the word post was ‘a man stationed in a number of others along a road as a courier’, hence it came to mean the vehicle used, the packets and letters carried, a relay of horses, the station where horses could be obtained (shortened for post-office), a single dispatch of letters. E. g.: It is a place with only one post a day (Sidney Smith). It is also used as a title for newspapers. There is a verb post ‘to put letters into a letter-box.'

The reflection of objective reality is selective. That is, human thought and language select, reflect and nominate what is relevant to human activity.

Even though its elements are concrete and can be observed as such, a system is always abstract, and so is the vocabulary system or, as Academician V.V. Vinogradov has called it, the lexico-semantic system. The interdependence in this system results from a complex interaction of words in their lexical meanings and the grammatical features of the language. V.V. Vinogradov includes in this term both the sum total of words and expressions and the derivational and functional patterns of word forms and word-groups, semantic groupings and relationships between words. The interaction of various levels in the language system may be illustrated in English by the following: the widespread development of homonymy and polysemy, the loss of motivation, the great number of generic words and the very limited autonomy of English words as compared with Russian words are all closely connected with the mono-morphemic analytical character of the English language and the scarcity of morphological means. All these in their turn result, partly at least, from levelling and loss of endings, processes undoubtedly connected with the reduction of vowels in unstressed syllables. In this book the relations between these elements and the regularity of these relations are shown

In terms of oppositions, differences, equivalencies and positional values. Equivalence should be clearly distinguished from equality or identity. Equivalence is the relation between two elements based on the common feature due to which they belong to the same set.

The term sуstem as applied to vocabulary should not be understood to mean a well-defined or rigid system. As it has been stated above it is an adaptive system and cannot be completely and exactly characterised by deterministic functions; that is for the present state of science it is not possible to specify the system’s entire future by its status at some one instant of its operation. In other words, the vocabulary is not simply a probabilistic system but a set of interrelated adaptive subsystems.

An approximation is always made possible by leaving some things out of account. But we have to remember that the rules of language are mostly analogies.

The following simple example offered by J. Lyons illustrates this point: the regular, that is statistically predominant, pattern for adjective stems is to form abstract nouns by means of the suffix -ness: shortness, narrowness, shallowness. All the antonyms of the above-mentioned words, however, follow a different pattern: they have a dental suffix: length, width, depth. This second analogy becomes a constraint on the working of the first. Moreover, the relationship of the adjective big with the rest of the system is even more unpredictable, as it is mostly correlated with the noun size. The semantic correlation then is as follows:

short = narrow = shallow = long = wide = deep = big shortness narrowness shallowness length width depth size

At this point it will be helpful to remember that it is precisely the most frequent words that show irregular or suppletive derivation and inflection.

Last but not least, one final point may be made about the lexical system, namely that its elements are characterised by their combinatorial and contrastive properties determining their syntagmatic and paradigmatic relationships. A word enters into syntagmatic (linear) combinatorial relationships with other lexical units that can form its context, serving to identify and distinguish its meaning. Lexical units are known to be context-dependent. E. g. in the hat on her head the noun head means ‘part of the body’, whereas in the head of the department Head means ‘chief. A word enters into contrastive paradigmatic relations with all other words, e. g. head, chief, director, etc. that can occur in the same context and be contrasted to it.1 This principle of contrast or opposition is fundamental in modern linguistics and we shall deal with it at length in § 1.6. concerned with the theory of oppositions.

1 paradigm < Lat paradigtna < Gr paradeigma ‘model’ < paradeiknynai ‘to compare'

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Paradigmatic and syntagmatic studies of meaning are functional because the meaning of the lexical unit is studied first not through its relation to referent but through its functions in relation to other units.

Functional approach is contrasted to referential or onomasiological approach, otherwise called theory of nomination, in which meaning is studied as the interdependence between words and their referents, that is things or concepts they name, i.e. various names given to the same sense. The onomasiological study of lexical units became especially prominent in the last two decades. The revival of interest in onomasiological matters is reflected in a large volume of publications on the subject. An outline of the main trends of current research will be found in the monographs on the Theory of Nomination issued by the Institute of Linguistics of the Academy of Sciences.

The study of the lexical system must also include the study of the words’ combinatorial possibilities •— their capacity to combine with one another in groups of certain patterns, which serve to identify meanings. Most modern research in linguistics attaches great importance to what is variously called valency, distributional characteristics, colligation and collocation, combining power or otherwise. This research shows that combinatorial possibilities of words play an important part in almost every lexicological issue.

Syntagmatic relationships being based on the linear character of speech are studied by means of contextual, valency, distributional, transformational and some other types of analysis.

Paradigmatic linguistic relationships determining the vocabulary system are based on the interdependence of words within the vocabulary (synonymy, antonymy, hyponymy, etc.).

Diachronically the interdependence of words within the lexical subsystem may be seen by observing shifts in the meaning of existing words that occur when a new word is introduced into their semantic sphere. This interdependence is one of the reasons why historical linguistics can never achieve any valuable results if it observes only the development of isolated words. Almost any change in one word will cause changes in one or several other words. Characteristic examples are to be found in the influence of borrowings upon native words. The native OE haerfest (ModE harvest || Germ Herbst) originally meant not only the gathering of grain’ but also ‘the season for reaping’. Beginning with the end of the 14th century, that is after the Romance word autumne > autumn was borrowed, the second meaning in the native word was lost and transferred to the word autumn.

When speaking about the influence of other aspects on the development of the vocabulary, we mean the phonetical, morphological and syntactical systems of the English language as they condition the sound form, morphological structure, motivation and meaning of words. This influence is manifold, and we shall have to limit our illustration to the most elementary examples. The monosyllabic phonological type of the English word, for instance, enhances homonymy. Сf. miss v ‘not hit’, ‘not catch’ and miss n — a title for a girl or unmarried woman.

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The influence of morphology is manifest, for instance, in the development of non-affixed word-formation. Cf. harvest n and harvest v.

The above considerations are not meant to be exhaustive; they are there to give some general idea of the relationships in question.

In this connection it is necessary to point out that various interpretations of the same linguistic phenomena have repeatedly been offered and have even proved valuable for their respective purposes, just as in other sciences various interpretations may be given for the same facts of reality in conformity with this or that practical task. To be scientific, however, these interpretations cannot be arbitrary: they must explain facts and permit explanation and prediction of other facts. Therefore they must fit without bringing contradictions into the whole system of the theory created for the subject.

§ 1.6 THE THEORY OF OPPOSITIONS

This course of English lexicology falls into two main parts: the treatment of the English word as a structure and the treatment of English vocabulary as a system. The aim of the present book is to show this system of interdependent elements with specific peculiarities of its own, different from other lexical systems; to show the morphological and semantic patterns according to which the elements of this system are built, to point out the distinctive features with which the main oppositions, i.e. semantically and functionally relevant partial differences between partially similar elements of the vocabulary, can be systematised, and to try and explain how these vocabulary patterns are conditioned by the structure of the language.

The theory of oppositions is the task to which we address ourselves in this paragraph.

Lexical opposition is the basis of lexical research and description. Lexicological theory and lexicological description cannot progress independently. They are brought together in the same general technique of analysis, one of the cornerstones of which is N.S. Trubetzkoy’s theory of oppositions. First used in phonology, the theory proved fruitful for other branches of linguistics as well.

Modern linguistics views the language system as consisting of several subsystems all based on oppositions, differences, samenesses and positional values.

A lexical opposition is defined as a semantically relevant relationship of partial difference between two partially similar words.

Each of the tens of thousands of lexical units constituting the vocabulary possesses a certain number of characteristic features variously combined and making each separate word into a special sign different from all other words. We use the term lexical distinctive feature for features capable of distinguishing a word in morphological form or meaning from an otherwise similar word or variant. Distinctive features and oppositions take different specific manifestations on

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different linguistic levels: in phonology, morphology, lexicology. We deal with lexical distinctive features and lexical oppositions.

Thus, in the opposition doubt : : doubtful the distinctive features are morphological: doubt is a root word and a noun, doubtful is a derived adjective.

The features that the two contrasted words possess in common form the basis of a lexical opposition. The basis in the opposition doubt :: doubtful is the common root -doubt-. The basis of the opposition may also form the basis of equivalence due to which these words, as it has been stated above, may be referred to the same subset. The features must be chosen so as to show whether any element we may come across belongs to the given set or not.1 They must also be important, so that the presence of a distinctive feature must allow the prediction of secondary features connected with it. The feature may be constant or variable, or the basis may be formed by a combination of constant and variable features, as in the case of the following group: pool, pond, lake, sea, ocean with its variation for size. Without a basis of similarity no comparison and no opposition are possible.

When the basis is not limited to the members of one opposition but comprises other elements of the system, we call the opposition polydimensional. The presence of the same basis or combination of features in several words permits their grouping into a subset of the vocabulary system. We shall therefore use the term lexical group to denote a subset of the vocabulary, all the elements of which possess a particular feature forming the basis of the opposition. Every element of a subset of the vocabulary is also an element of the vocabulary as a whole.

It has become customary to denote oppositions by the signs: , ÷

or ::, e. g.



The common feature of the members of this particular opposition forming its basis is the adjective stem -skilled-. The distinctive feature is the presence or absence of the prefix un-. This distinctive feature may in other cases also serve as the basis of equivalence so that all adjectives beginning with un- form a subset of English vocabulary (unable, unaccountable, unaffected, unarmed, etc.), forming a correlation:



In the opposition man :: boy the distinctive feature is the semantic component of age. In the opposition boy :: lad the distinctive feature is that of stylistic colouring of the second member.

The methods and procedures of lexical research such as contextual analysis, componential analysis, distributional analysis, etc. will be briefly outlined in other chapters of the book.

1 One must be careful, nevertheless, not to make linguistic categories more rigid and absolute than they really are. There is certainly a degree of “fuzziness” about many types of linguistic sets.


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