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Aims of the course in Modern English Lexicology




 

The object of the course in Modern English Lexicology is lexicon, or word-stock in modern English — one of the youngest world languages, the language spoken by more than 300 million people around the world as their native language and one of foreign languages most frequently taught as a compulsory subject at school.

 

The major aimof this course is systematic description of modern English word-stock, or vocabulary. The course will describe the characteristic features of origin of English words, their specific morphological structures, the most important word building means and major ways of replenishing the English vocabulary, peculiarities of meaning of English words, their relation to one another in a language system and their combination with one another in speech, major standard variants of English, and traditions of British and American lexicography.

 

Written by and for a Russian-speaking person, the course of modern English lexicology inevitably contains elements of contrastive lexicology based on comparing English and Russian words.

 

Some general theoretical problems concerning the word will also be discussed in order to understand better the nature of concrete specific features of words in English. Different theories and points of view will be presented, though they will be left open to criticism.

 

So, like any other science, lexicology has its own object and aims of investigation, a set of theoretical concepts, laws and regularities, various methods of analysis and spheres of application.

 

Theoretical and practical values of lexicologyfor all other branches of linguistics and cognitive sciences related to lexicon study such as psychology, computer science, neuroscience, anthropology and ethology, are manifold. All these sciences widely use both lexicological data and it methods of analysis and modelling. Lexicology is also of great use for foreign language learners as it makes them more aware of what they learn, more sophisticated learners and more proficient language users, interpreters, translators and teachers.

 

 

Lexical units

 

Lexicology studies lexical units.A lexical unitis a constituent unit of lexicon, no matter if it is understood as an external or internal lexical system, presented in a word-book or a theoretical dictionary stored in our mental lexicon.

 

Each lexical unit has individual phonological, morphological, semantic and syntactic properties.

 

Lexical units are two-faceted (двусторонние), having meaning and form, and ready-made (готовые), registered in a dictionary and reproducible in speech. Thus, they differ from other linguistic units like single-faceted phonetic units (phonemes) — the smallest language units that do not have meaning of their own, and from two-faceted syntactic units (free word combinations or sentences), which are created according to syntax rules for every speech occasion and cannot be listed in any dictionary.

 

The smallest two-faceted ready-made lexical unit is a morpheme (for example, pre-, work-, -er).

 

Lexicology deals mainly with derivational, orword building morphemes producing new words. Grammatical,orform building morphemes, or inflections, expressing number, gender, person or tense, are added to stems later, when all derivative processes are already complete (work-er + -s). They serve to express a grammatical form and a morphosyntactic category of the word (for e.g., the form-building morpheme -sexpresses the plurality of the word workersand demands the plural form of the following verb, for e.g. are).

 

In some languages, like English, with a limited system of inflectional morphemes and an abundance of monomorphic words (work, desk, sing), derivational morphemes very often look like autonomous units coinciding with words into which a sentence can be segmented (I like fruit), and many linguists believe morphemes to be the central vocabulary units.

 

However, in inflectional, agglutinating or incorporating languages morphemes enjoy far less central and independent status (cf.: Дев-очк-а чит-а-ет книг-у in Russian, where the root morphemes are used together with word-forming or grammatical affixes, or the declension of the word adam‘a man’ in Turkish, being used in Nominative Singular without perceptible affixes but with different affixes including interfixes in other cases: adam-a — Dative Singular, adam-lar — Nominative Plural and adam-lar-aDative Plural). That is why the majority of linguists believe that morphemes in any language have their true significance only in relation to the words in which they appear, and that makes a word, not a morpheme, the central unit of lexicon. The question, however, is what do we understand by the term ‘word’ in lexicology?

 

Wordis the most typical, central two-faceted ready-made lexical unit and it is most easily apprehended psychologically and perceptually. Even illiterate people may dictate the text ‘word by word’. Edward Sapir, studying languages of Native Americans, pointed out that even an uneducated person, not familiar with the idea of a written word, can easily dictate a text word by word. Ferdinand de.Saussure also underlined the fact that the word corresponds to a deeply rooted intuition.

 

But the question remains what makes boundaries for the word (more ice or more rice, an ice palace or a nice palace?), how it happens that we realize their presence, what a word is. No adequate definition of a word is available so far.

Orthographic definition of a word as any sequence of letters between spaces is not enough, because spelling just registers what is understood, and then, in many non-alphabetical languages, like Chinese, the characters give no clue as to where a word starts and where it ends.

Morphological definition of a word as a minimal free morpheme may also be criticized, as it is not always clear what a morpheme is and which morpheme should be called free, especially in some English compounds.

Conceptual definition of a word as a linguistic counterpart of a single concept is not enough either, as one and the same concept may be expressed by one or two words (cf.: die and join the majority; toothpaste, tooth-paste and tooth paste). Vice versa, one word may express different concepts when it is polysemantic.

As George Miller put it, “definitions always leak at the margins” /Miller 1991: 31/, and it is hardly possible to give any single definition of such complicated phenomenon as a word. Segmentation into words includes many strategies, phonetic and semantic, morphological and syntactic. The use of only one of them may lead to different results.

 

A word may consist of one morpheme (bag) or several of them attached by special derivation(word-formation)rules specific for each language (anti-de-mobil-iz-ing feel-ing-s). Sometimes segmenting a word into morphemes is not easy, but understanding the word as the central lexical unit avoids the problem of ‘locating’ morphosyntactic categories fused in one form (the monomorphic word has incorporates two grammatical meanings: of simple present tense and third person singular which are usually presented in English by two special grammatical morphemes as in read-s).



 

The term word is ambiguous. Different grammatical forms, like go and went are also often referred to as words (as in ‘the word go or the word went’). That is why instead of the ambiguous term word it is more convenient and preferable to use the term lexeme that unites different grammatical forms of a word. When we look up words in a dictionary we are looking up lexemes rather than words (for example, the lexeme go). And yet the term word is often used in lexicology to name a central lexical unit, and in this book we shall use the term lexeme,thekey term for lexicology, synonymically with the term word.

 

The biggest ready-made two-faceted lexical unit is called a set expression, or some other semisynonymic names like or a phraseological unit,oran idiom.It is made up of at least two words, or lexemes, and the meaning of each is different from the meaning of the complex unit (red tape, baker’s dozen).

 

The difference between these lexical units — morpheme, word and phraseological unit — is size, constitutive capacities, autonomy and ability to perform a naming function, one of the most important functions of a language.

 

Morphemes are the smallest lexical units, and phraseological units, or idioms, are the largest ones. Morphemes have the greatest constitutive capacity. They add much to the generative character of lexicon but they are not autonomous in naming concepts as a word or an idiom. Lexical meaning in morphemes is of a general, not individual character as in words (though it doesn’t concern root morphemes that have highly individualized lexical meaning).

 

Word, unlike morpheme, isan autonomous two-faceted ready-made lexical unit, and can be used in isolation to perform a naming function. Unlike an idiom, a word is the smallest autonomous two-faceted ready-made unit with a naming function that makes it the basic lexical unit.

 

It should be stressed, however, that all the lexical units are quite difficult to define and they all have fuzzy margins. The difference between a morpheme and a word, a word and a phrase or an idiom is not always clear-cut (cf.: clever-er and more clever; make-up and makeup; uppermost and upper class, clear-cut or clear cut). So far there are no technical tests or common sense definitions that would be accurate enough to distinguish between these units.

 

So, the constituents of lexicon, or lexical units are lexemes, or words, word building morphemes and phraseological units, though there are no distinct boundaries between them. All lexical units may be mono- and polysemantic, and conventional meanings of a lexical unit enter the lexicon, too.

 

The rules that form lexicon and the kinds of interrelations within each type of a lexical unit are far less obvious. Establishing them is the greatest task of lexicology. Those that have been studied extensively and described in linguistic literature are the subject matter of this course and will be discussed later.

 

 

Further reading:

 

Смирницкий А.И. Лексикология английского языка. – M.: Изд-во литературы на иностранных языках, 1956.

Суша Т.Н. Лексикология английского языка. Практикум: Учебно-методическое пособие/На английском языке. – Минск: МГЛУ, 2001.

Харитончик З.A. Лексикология английского языка. – Miнск: Вышэйшая школа, 1992.

Arnold, I.V. The English Word. – M.: Высшая школа, 1986.

Antrushina G.B., Afanasyeva O.V., Morozova N.N. English Lexicology. – M.: Дрофа, 1999.

Allan, K. Linguistic Meaning. – London and New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986.

Ginzburg, R.S., Khidekel, S.S., et al. A Course in Modern English Lexicology. – M.: Высшая школа, 1979.

Lipka, L. Outline of English Lexicology. – Tubingen, Verlag: Max Niemeyer, 1992.

Miller, G. A. The Science of Words. – New York: Scientific American Library, 1991.

Pinker, St. Words and Rules. The Ingredients of Language. – New York: Basic Books, 1999.

Quemada, B. Lexicology and Lexicography // Current Trends in Linguistics. Mouton - the Hague – Paris, 1972. V.9. – Pp.395-476.


Chapter 2. NAMING INSTINCT

 

The word makes men free. Whoever cannot express himself is a slave. Speaking is an act of freedom; the word is freedom itself.

— Ludwig Feuerbach

 

 





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