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Semantic motivation of words


indicates most essential characteristic features of the notion expressed by the term under discussion distinguishing it from other notions (the word from the morpheme and the word group). A word is the basic unit of a given lg. resulting from the association of a particular meaning with a particular group of sounds capable of a particular grammatical employment.(I.V. Arnold)

DESCRIPTION: aims at enumerating all the essential features of a notion.

The word is the basic unit of the lg.

· It unites meaning and form,

· is composed of one or more morphemes,

· each consisting of one or more spoken sounds or their written representation.

Morphemes are also meaningful units but cannot be used independently, only as parts of words, but words can be used as complete utterances (Look! Listen!)

Words can be formed with the help of derivational affixes: work > worker.

Words fulfill different grammatical functions with the help of functional affixes (work, works, worked) or analytically with the help of auxiliaries (I am working now).

Words are syntactically organized

But their freedom of entering into syntactical constructions is limited by different factors and constraints (They saw me. They looked(not saw) at me attentively).

Word Definition


Th. Hobbes(1588-1679) - (materialistic approach)

Words are not mere sounds but names of matter.

I. P. Pavlov(second signal system):

A universal signal that can substitute any other signal from the environment in evoking a response in a human organism.

Machine translation:

A word is a sequence of graphemes which can occur btw. spaces, or the representation of such a sequence on morphemic level.

In linguistics:

The word is defined

· Syntactically;

· Semantically;

· Phonologically and

· By combining various approaches.

Syntactically: Bloomfield, H.Sweet, S. Potter:

“A minimum free form” ( forms which occur as sentences).

H. Sweet:

“the minimum sentence”.

Syntactic and semantic aspects:

E. Sapir: ‘A word is one of the smallest completely satisfying bits of isolated ‘meaning’ into which the sentence resolves itself. It cannot be cut into without a disturbance of meaning’…(the essence of indivisibility: a(living or dead) lion and alive).Each other and one another are word-units(not word-groups).

J. Lyons: two criteria: ‘positional mobility and uninterruptability’:

(the- boy-s-walk-ed-slow-ly-up-the-hill)

‘One of the characteristics of the word is that it tends to be internally stable (in terms of the order of the component morphemes) but positionally mobile, (permutable with other words in the same sentence)

Semantic treatment:

Stephen Ullmann’s

«A connected discourse will fall into a certain number of meaningful segments which are ultimately composed of meaningful units. These meaningful units are called words»

Semantic, phonological and grammatical criteria:

A. Meillet

The association of a particular meaning with a particular group of sounds capable of a particular grammatical employment (objections: child but a pretty child – no difference).

Phonological approach:

Л.С. Бархударов:

- Последовательность морфем (в простейшем случае – одна морфема) внутри которой не может быть вставлена другая такая же последовательность морфем

The semantic-phonological approach:


An articulate sound – symbol in its aspect of denoting smth which is spoken about

E.M. Mednicova

The basic unit of language.It directly corresponds to the object of thought (referent) which is a generalized reverberation of a certain “slice”, “piece” of objective reality – and by immediately referring to it names the thing meant

Ladislave Zgusta: Words are treated

As Interpersonal units of Language, as signs of the system of a language above all to construct sentences

Sidney M.:

A sequence of graphemes which can occur between space, or the representation of such a sequence on morphemic level




A speech unit used for the purposes of human communication, materially representing a group of sounds, possessing a meaning, successible to grammatical employment and characterized by formal and semantic unity

Collins Cobuild

Is a single unit of language that can be represented in writing or speech

Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary (OALD)

– A sound/combination of sounds which expresses a meaning and forms an independent unit of grammar or vocabulary of a language

American Heritage Dictionary (1985):”a sound or a combination of sounds, or its representation in writing or printing, that symbolizes and communicates a meaning and may consist of a single morpheme or of a combination of morphemes”.

Collins English Dictionary (1986):

“One of the units of speech or string that native speakers of a language usually regard as the smallest isolated meaningful element of the language, although linguists would analyze these further into morphemes”.

Chambers English Dictionary (1988):

“A unit of spoken language: a written sign representing such an utterance”.


I.V. Arnold:

‘A word is the smallest significant unit of a given lg. capable of functioning alone and characterized by

· positional mobility within a sentence

· morphological uninterruptability

· semantic integrity.


These definitions create the basis of opposition btw.

· The word and the phrase,

· The word and the phoneme,

· The word and the morpheme.


The common feature: they are all units of the lg.

The weak point of the definitions: no indication of the relationship btw. Lg. and thought.


The word is a fundamental unit of lg.

It is a dialectal unity of form and content.


Content (meaning) reflects human notions, concepts are fixed in the meaning of words, reflecting the reality by the content of words.


F. de Saussure

A word is a linguistic sign ‘signifiant’ (signifier).

It refers to ‘signifie’ (that which is signified)



Gotlieb Frege(1848-1925)

C.K. Ogden and I.A. Richards’ triangles:

Semantic triangle,

Triangle of signification,

Frege’s semiotic triangle,

O. and R.’s basic triangle

Referential approach:

Word meaning –

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