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Categorization and naming. Lexical naming units. Lexicalization. Ways of lexical naming. Motivation. Demotivation. Remotivation. Folk etymology



Categorization and naming


Categorization — matching sense data and other information with conceptual prototypes — is common for all living beings. Without categorization survival of an organism is not possible.


But namingconceptual categories, or concepts, with economic linguistic labels is a purely human activity. Animals’ danger calls are not names; they are used ‘on-line’ only and are closely connected with emotions. Some animals, like chimps, can but do not want to name things /Aitchison 1996:96-97/, and this makes them different even from small human children.


We cannot restore the moment when humans acquired the habit of naming and what the first names looked like. But we can enumerate the basic ways of naming that all humans use.


The naming function can be performed by such language units as free word combination (a nice girl) (propositional naming), sentences (She is a nice girl) and even texts (discursive naming). The units of these types of naming are not ready-made, they are created each time in discourse by phrase forming rules and they do not enter lexicon as its units. These naming units are studied in syntax, discourse analysis and other branches of linguistics.


The most economic type of naming concepts is done with the help of lexical naming units and rules of their formation. This type of naming may be called lexical,and its processes as well as results are the subject matter of lexicology.



Lexical naming units. Lexicalization


Lexical naming of a concept is done by lexical naming units– the types of lexical units with a naming function such as words, phraseological units,andbytheir lexical-semantic variants (often referred as senses) in case the words or their equivalents are polysemantic. Creation of each of these lexical naming units in accordance with language rules may be called lexicalization of a concept.


However, lexicology deals only with conventional lexical naming units that entera lexicon, those that are approved of by the language community, and in this way becomelexicalized. In speech comprehension lexicalized items are processed quicker than non-lexicalized ones. In speechproductionlexicalization of naming units, their belonging to the lexicon,may besignalledby phonetic changes like change in stress, pronunciation, and the speed of pronouncing the nominative unit.


Thus, the term lexicalization has at least two interpretations (see also Chapter 5).


Not all concepts in the mind are lexicalized, or named by conventional lexical units, but only those that are especially important for communication. There are no names for many concepts, there are lexical gaps for them, though people may get to know about it only when they need to translate a name from one language to another. For example, the meaning of the American English lexeme caboose ‘a small carriage at the back of a goods train for people who work on the train’ is rendered in New English Russian Dictionary /Большой англо-русский словарь, 1987/ descriptively ‘амер. ж.-д. служебный вагон в товарном поезде’ as there is no equivalent lexeme in Russian.


For many concepts there are names in a language but common people may not know them. For example, we may have a clear-cut concept of a tag covering the ends of a lace but not all English speakers know its name aglet. (In Russian we may state a lexical gap for the concept as according to English-Russian dictionary this concept is rather described than lexicalized: металлический наконечник шнура. Nowadays it may not be necessarily metallic, and not only шнур but also шнурок has it, too).


The most important conceptual categories may have more than one name. For example, there are hundreds of synonyms in English for ‘drunk’ (boozy, intoxicated, foxed, jolly, tight, D and D ‘drunk and disorderly’, balmy, loaded, etc.), for ‘money’ (bucks, bread, bread and honey, beans, dough, cash, change, clam, gravy, jack, paper, scratch, shekel, etc.).


Naturally, different societies have different values, and this may lead to differences in their lexical systems.


Another important reason for lexical differences in different languages is that individuals categorize concepts about objects, properties and events in slightly different ways. Even though our senses are structured similarly, results of categorization may not be the same in the minds of different people (cf. the proverb: What is trash for one man is treasure for the other). Even in the mind of the same person categorization of the same object, property or event may be different due to new experiences because “we are constructed so as normally to be unaware of our own contribution to our experiences” /Jackendoff 1993:27/.


These discrepancies in categorization become especially obvious if we compare the results of categorization and naming concepts used among different language communities. Different colour categorization and naming by different language communities provides proof that preference for choosing the focus and attributes critical for categorization may be quite deliberate (cf. names for the same colour spectrum: blue in English and синий и голубой in Russian; red in English and красный и рыжий in Russian).


As a result of this deliberateness even the most common words in different languages, like house, door, window, table,red, blue, hot, or to close, may stand for conceptual categories that differ in boundaries and prototypes. A typical house in English is one- or two-storied. For Russian speakers the number of stories does not matter for this category named by the word ‘дом’. An entry may have in English one or two doors that makes possible a sentence such as ‘Use the other door, please’ to denote ‘Используйте, пожалуйста, вторую створку двери’ in Russian because any door structure is still one door in Russain. The narrower reference of the English verb to close than the correlative Russian verb закрывать is also revealed when we translate into English the Russian sentence Ты закрыл [на замок] двери? where another English verb to lock (not to close) should be used: Did you lock the door?


Conceptual space may be categorized and further lexicalized with different degrees of detail, the discriminative ability being governed to a great extent by practical needs. Thus, due to differences in culture and ways of life, Greeks, for example, distinguish more than one category, and accordingly, words for ‘a stone’, Eskimos for ‘snow’, Australian aborigines for ‘a hole’, Arabs for ‘a horse’ and ‘a camel’, and Belarusians for ‘a mushroom’.


So, though naming is an inherent feature of the human language, the number of names in different languages and their meanings usually do not coincide. One of the reasons for this is at the conceptual level – in categorization differences. The other major reason for lexicon differences between languages is in different naming strategies.



Types of lexical naming


Nobody knows how the first words came into being; it is one of the biggest mysteries. Yet, investigating this topic has become recently quite respectable after many centuries of religious and scientific dogmatism.


Now there are many theories of how humans started inventing words. Among them is onomatopoeictheory, suggesting that the initial human vocabulary was made up of words imitating natural soundsand animal calls. Cries of emotion theory supports the idea that the first words came from involuntary closing and opening vocal cords in emotionally affected ape-like animals. Primitive song theory highlights the importance of tune and rhythm for an emerging human language.


While emergence of first words remains a mysterythe major types of lexical naming of concepts seem to be obvious and universal. They are borrowing(not a quite adequate term as words are taken, or even stolen from another language)andname creation (derivation)through available linguistic means. Both take place in any human language though their role and types may be different in different languages.


Borrowings (the term is not quite adequate either, as it implies the borrowed thing will be returned, but the borrowed word is not!) enter the lexical system of a different language under conditions, which have not been thoroughly investigated.


One of the reasons for borrowing is the novelty of a concept that needs naming in a certain language community which is however has already a name in another language known to this community (cf.: Russ. ваучер, приватизация). Another reason is a lexical gap, the absence of an economic name for a quite a familiar concept (харизма). The reason for borrowing may also be a high social prestige of a source language (as Russian регион, саммит from English region, summit).


The process of borrowing may become easier if the phonetic structure of the borrowed word is quite imitable or when other words with similar elements have been borrowed already. We may say that the noun рэкетир‘racketeer’entered the Russian vocabulary easily as there already borrowed words with the same ending element: командир, бригадир, бомбaрдир).


Borrowingis complete when both the form and meaning of a nominative unit is loaned (fr. Japanese sushi). It is partial when the structure of a foreign naming unit is borrowed, as in superman [from G Ǖbermensch] or when one meaning of a word is borrowed, as ‘COMMUNIST’ [fr. its use as a form of address in the Soviet Union] in the word comrade that borrowed this meaning from the correlative Russian word товарищ.


Borrowings bring both losses and profits for the language as they enrich its vocabulary system and at the same time change its character.


But no matter how important borrowings may be in the lexicon most of the namesin anylanguage are created out of means available.


A newlycreated namemay beanew word. Word creation that involves derivational affixes and results in a new word is called morphological word derivation. In English the three most important types of such word derivations are:a) affixation (prefixingandsuffixing; b) conversion(zero derivation)and c) compositionof two free or combining forms.


Less productive ways of forming new words in English out of the available in the language system means are connected with changing morphological characteristics of their predecessors. These include clipping, blending, acronyms, abbreviations, back derivation, lexicalizationand some others.


Besides word-formation a new name may be createdby lexical-semantic derivation–secondary use of a word or its equivalent to denote a different though related category.


The function of a new name may also perform a multiword expression that becomes fixed and that has a meaning different from the meanings of its constituent units. This type of naming may be called lexicalization of a syntactic form/a word group or lexical-syntactic derivation.


All these ways of naming in English are the subject matter of this course and will be discussed in detail in the following chapters.


Different languages use different ways of naming the same concept; thus, they make lexical differences more distinct. A borrowed Russian name, колибри, for example, correlates with the English morphologically derived name humming-bird. The English borrowed name, roqual,correlates with two Russian names кит-полосатик and роквал, one of which is a morphologically derived name and the other is a borrowing.


Still another source of lexical differences between languages in the field of naming is motivation.



Motivation and demotivation

There is certain arbitrariness between a name and a referent. We cannot but agree with the famous W. Shakespeare’s thought: ‘What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’. Moreover, the same referent, for example, a flower, may be called different names, each of them having a different meaning: plant, rose, Chinese rose.


Yet the relationship between a name and a referent is not simple. The distortion of a proper name, for example, is generally intended to influence, to harm the owner, or at least to hurt his/her feelings. Newly created names do not appear out of thin air. They arise from preexisting names created by the language community for different, though somehow related concepts, and maintain relationships with them for a long time.


When a name is created, its phonetic, morphological or semantic structure usually serves to point to some salient features of the newly lexicalized concept. This reflection is called motivation.


St. Ullmann /С.Ульман 1970:255/ describes three types of motivation:

phonetic motivation that includes the so called imitation, or onomatopoeic words: buzz, clatter, crash, click, giggle, hum, titter, boom, sputter, gargle, chirp, clap, bang, gulp, whine, growl, mutter, mumble, owl(a bird that howls),and a cuckoo;

morphological motivation which is observed in all morphologically derived words whose meaning can be expressed by a word combination with a motivating word: a teacher — a person who teaches, a sunflower —a plant with a flower looking like the sun;

semantic motivation which takes place in polysemantic lexemes that include names derived by means of metaphor or metonymy: fox — a cunning person (like a fox); chicken — meat of a chicken.


Motivation registers the concept feature or features believed to be its most distinguishing (wagtail, redbreast, cardinal (a bird), cupboard, blackboard, летучая мышь) and for many generations it preserves the reason why the concept was named in a particular way. Thus naming turns out to be secondary categorization of concepts by linguistic means.

The results of this verbal categorization differ from language to language because different language communities may single out different features of a concept as the basis for correlative motivated names (cf.: Ferris wheel and колесо обозрения;цветная бумага (для уроков труда) and construction paper; первыйвзнос (за квартиру) and down payment;noblemanand дворянин; bird houseandскворечник; handand стрелка часов, bedroomandспальня, horse-fly and слепень).

So, those who can understand the complexity of the word form may learn a lot about its meaning. From this respect motivation provides the foundation for questioning the well-known F. de Saussure’s statement about the arbitrariness between the form of a word and its content.


Furthermore, the motivated character of new names adds to the generative character of a lexicon, unites lexical units and makes them a system. Motivation may be compared with a contagious disease — if some concept is lexicalized, other related concepts may be lexicalized by the same linguistic form or a new one derived on its basis.


In the course of time the concept of an entity may change and a feature formerly believed to be the leading one and chosen as motivating the name may become loosely associated with its current content (cf.: breakfast[ from break the fast], cranberry [ from crane + berry]).


Changes may happen to the motivating word too, it may become archaic and drop from the language system (as ham ‘village’ in hamlet ‘little village’), or radically change its form (as poke ‘in pocket or eage ‘eye’ in window [wind + eage]).


In these cases the connection between the structure of a word form and its meaning may become opaque and the former motivated units usually become demotivated.As the process is gradual, the words may becompletely or partially demotivated. Thus, garlic is a pure Anglo-Saxon name used to mean ‘spear leek’ but now it lost this meaning; a cupboardis not any more exclusively a board for cups, a blackboard should not necessarily be black.


St. Ullmann believes that modern English is far less motivated than Old English, and one of the reasons is the abundance of non-motivated borrowings in modern English. As for the degree of motivation of lexical names in English as compared with other languages, no concrete data is available so far.


A word motivated in one language may correlate with a nonmotivated word in the other, thus adding to differences in naming strategies. For example, a simple modern English word, molar [fr. Lat molere ‘to grind’],correlates with a fully motivated Russian коренной зуб. (Cf. also bat and летучая мышь.) Or, vice versa, a motivated English word may correlate with a simple Russian word as in horse-cover and попона, mountain ash and рябина, merry-go-round and карусель.


So, different choice of concepts for lexicalization, arbitrary borderlines of lexicalized concepts, different naming strategies for lexicalization and different degree of motivation in contemporary words nowadays are the major lines along which the lexical systems of different languages diverge, and they are major causes for lexical interference in bilinguals.



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