A word as the basic unit of the language

Study of the article lexicology as industries of linguistics, its connection with the sections of linguistics. Description of word as an element of language. Correlation of phonetic and semantic types of motive in lexical units of English and Ukrainian.

Рубрика Иностранные языки и языкознание
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Язык английский
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Lecture 1.


1. Lexicology as a branch of linguistic science and its basic notions

2. The connection of Lexicology with other branches of linguistics

3. Characteristics of the word as the basic unit of the language

4. Motivation as a language universal. Correlation of phonetic, morphological and semantic types of motivation in the lexical units of English and Ukrainian

lexical unit word phonetic motive

1. Lexicology as a branch of linguistic science and its basic notions

The object of Lexicology (Gr. “lexis” - word, “logos” - learning) is the science of the word. The literal meaning, however, gives only a general notion of the aims of this branch of linguistic science.

The basic task of Lexicology is a study and systematic description of vocabulary in respect to its origin, development and current use. The term vocabulary is used to denote the system formed by the sum total of all the words and word equivalents that the language possesses. Lexicology is concerned with words, word-groups, phraseological units, and with morphemes that make up words.

The term system as used in present-day Lexicology denotes a set of elements associated and functioning together according to certain laws. The lexical system of every speech contains productive elements typical of this particular period, others that are archaic and are dropping out of usage, and, finally, some new phenomena, neologisms. The elements of lexical system are characterized by their combinatorial and contrastive properties determining their syntagmatic and paradigmatic relationships.

Syntagmatic combinatorial relations define the meaning of the word when it is used in combination with other words in the flow of speech. E.g., compare the meaning of the verb “to get” in the sentences:

He got a letter.

He got tired.

He got to London.

He could not get the piano through the door.

Paradigmatic contrastive relations exist between words belonging to one subgroup of vocabulary items (e.g., verbs of motion, of sense perception, sets of synonyms, etc.) that can occur in the same context and be contrasted to one another. Paradigmatic relations are observed in the system of language.

E.g. to go a mile




The lexical system is not homogeneous. Its central part is formed by lexical units possessing all the distinctive features of words. Phrasal verbs, complex prepositions, some compounds, phraseological units, etc. function as lexical items of the vocabulary of the language.

Distinction is made between General Lexicology and Special Lexicology.

G e n e r a l Lexicology is a part of General Linguistics. It is concerned with the general study of vocabulary, irrespective of the specific features of any particular language. S p e c i a l Lexicology devotes its attention to the description of the characteristic peculiarities in the vocabulary of a given language. Thus, Special Lexicology is the Lexicology of a particular language (e.g. English or Ukrainian).

Vocabulary studies include such aspects of research as etymology, semasiology and onomasiology.

Etymology is the branch of linguistics which studies the origin or derivation of words. In many cases the etymology of a word reveals itself in comparative historical studies.

Semasiology is the branch of linguistics whose subject-matter is the study of word meaning. The term “semantics” is used to denote the lexical meaning of words or phrases.

Onomasiology is the study of the principles of the signification of things and notions by lexical and lexico-phraseological means of a given language. It is especially important in studying dialects where one and the same object finds its different where one and the same object finds its different signification in different regions of the country. There are two different approaches in linguistic science to the study of language material, namely, the synchronic or descriptive and diachronic or historical. Consequently, there are two types of Lexicology: Historical Lexicology and Descriptive Lexicology.

H i s t o r i c a l Lexicology discusses the origin of various words, their change and development, the linguistic and extra linguistic forces modifying their structure, meaning and usage.

D e s c r I p t I v e Lexicology deals with the vocabulary of a given language at a given stage of its development. It studies the functions of words and their specific structure.

Closely connected with Historical Lexicology is C o n t r a s t i v e and C o m p a r a t i v e Lexicology. This relatively new branch of study provides a theoretical basis on which the vocabularies of different language can be compared and described. Of primary importance in this respect is the comparison of the foreign language with the mother tongue.

It is of interest to note that Lexicology as a special discipline is not officially distinguished in Western European or American linguistics. In our country problems of vocabulary have enjoyed a great importance. Most useful treatments of theory and method in Lexicology will be found in linguistic research made by A.A. Ufimtzeva, I.V. Arnold, N.N. Amosova, R.S. Ginzburg, and other scholars.

The t h e o r e t i c a l value of Lexicology becomes obvious if we realize 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. Lexicology came into being to meet the demands of many different branches of applied linguistics, namely of lexicography, literary criticism, standartization of terminology.

The language learner will find the Course of modern English Lexicology of great p r a c t i c a l importance. It helps to stimulate a systematic approach to the facts of vocabulary and an organized 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.

A good knowledge of the system of word-formation helps 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.

Lexicology also imparts the necessary skills of using different kinds of dictionaries and reference books, and prepare for future independent work on increasing and improving one's vocabulary.

2. The connection of Lexicology with other branches of linguistics

The word is studies in several branches of linguistics and not is 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.

The importance of the connection between Lexicology and P h o n e t i c s can be explained if we remember that a word is an association of a given group of sounds with a given meaning. Numerous examples show that in actual speech certain words acquire a different meaning because they are pronounced differently. Thus, discrimination between words may be based upon stress. E.g., `import, v. Stress also distinguishes compounds from homonymous word-groups: `blackbird : : `black `bird.

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 of semantic changes.

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/.

The points of contact between Lexicology and G r a m m a r are numerous and varied. Interactions between them are evident both in the sphere of morphology and in syntax.

Morphological indicators often help to differentiate the meanings of the words. E.g., plural forms can serve to form special lexical meanings: advice (counsel), advices (information); damage (injury), damages (compensation). The suffix “re” - can make verbs with the aspective sense of repetition: remake, reorganize. Causative meaning can find expression in derivatives with the prefix “en”: encome, enfree, endear.

Syntactic position of a word does not only change its function but its lexical meaning as well. An adjective and a nominal element of the same group can more or less naturally exchange places, e.g., library school - school library.

The grammatical form and function of the word affect its lexical meaning. E.g. “He is going to write a new book” - the verb expresses an action in the nearest future; “The house is gone” - the verb denotes absence.

S t y l i s t i c s, 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 others. The expressive elements of a language cannot be studied outside of their relations to other styles, which are emotionally neutral.

Lexicology is closely connected with s o c i o l i n g u i s t i c s. It is the branch of linguistics, dealing with relations between the way the language works and develops, on the one hand, and the facts of social life, on the other hand. Language is the reality of thought, and thought develops with the development of society. Every new phenomenon in human society finds a reflection in vocabulary, e.g., computer, cyclotron, psycholinguistics. In contrast with Phonology, Morphology and Syntax, Lexicology is essentially a sociolinguistic science. The lexicologist should always take into account correlations between purely linguistic facts and the underlying social facts which brought them into life.

3. Characteristics of the word as the basic unit of the language

Words are the central elements of language system. They face both ways: they are the biggest units of morphology and the smallest units of syntax. Words can be separated in an utterance by other such units and can be used in isolation. Uniting meaning and form, a word 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 they can not be used independently, they are always parts of words whereas words can be used as a complete utterance (e.g., Listen!). Unlike words, morphemes cannot be divided into smaller meaningful words.

The definition of a word is one of the most difficult in linguistics because the simplest word has many different aspects. It has a sound form and morphological structure; when used in actual speech, it may occur in different word-forms, different syntactic functions and signal various meanings. Being the central element of any language system, the word is a sort of focus for the problems of Phonology, Lexicology, Syntax, Morphology and also for some other sciences that have to deal with language and speech, such as philosophy and psychology. All attempts to characterize the word are necessarily specific for each domain of science and are therefore considered one-sided by the representatives of all the other domains.

The word has been defined semantically, syntactically, phonologically and by combining various approaches.

Many eminent scholars of the former USSR, such as V.V. Vinogradov, A.I. Smirnitsky, O.S.Akhmanova, M.D. Stepanova, A.A. Ufimtseva, greatly contributed to creating a word theory based upon the materialistic understanding of the relationship between word and thought, on the one hand, and language and society, on the other. The main points may be summarized in the following definition.

A w o r d is the smallest unit of a given language capable of functioning alone and characterized by p o s i t i o n a l m o b i l i t y within a sentence, m o r p h o l o g i c a l u n i n t e r r u p t a b i l i t y and s e m a n t i c i n t e g r i t y. All these criteria are necessary because they create a basis for the oppositions between the word and the phrase, the word and the phoneme and the morpheme; their common feature is that they are all units of the language, their difference lies in the fact that the phoneme is not significant, and a morpheme cannot be used as a complete utterance.

4. Motivation as a language universal. Correlation of phonetic, morphological and semantic types of motivation in the lexical units of English and Ukrainian

The term m o t i v a t i o n is used to denote the relationship existing between the phonemic or morphemic composition and structural pattern of the word, on the one hand, and its meaning, on the other. There are three main types of motivation: phonetical motivation, morphological motivation and semantic motivation.

1. When there is a certain similarity between the sound that make up words and their meaning, the motivation is p h o n e t i c a l. All phonetically motivated words have their sounding structure somewhat similar to the sounds which they convey. Due to this, some of these English, Ukrainian and other languages' words thus motivated sound almost or quite alike. For example: to cade - кудкудакати, cock-a-doodle-doo - кукуріку, bang - бух/бухнути, bark - гав/гавкати, buzz - дзижчати, chirp/chirrup - цвірінькати, cuckoo - кукукати/ кукувати, crack - трісь/ тріщати, gagle - ґелґотати, hey! - гей!, hiss - шипіти/сичати, hoop - 'гукати (сигналити), howl - вити, smack (one's lips) цмокати, moo - мукати, mewl - нявкати, baa / bar/ бе-е, бекати (вівці), etc. Here the sounds of a word are imitative of sounds in nature because what is referred to is a sound.

These are naturally far from all the words whose notional meaning in the contrasted languages is based on sound imitation. Nevertheless, their number in comparison to other types of motivated words is not large, constituting in English about 1.08 % and in Ukrainian only about 0.8 %.

It is also suggested that sounds themselves may be emotionally expressive which accounts for the phonetical motivation in certain words. Initial / f / and / p /, e.g., are felt as expressing scorn, disapproval or disgust: pooh! fie! fiddle-sticks, etc. The sound-cluster / i? / is imitative of sound or swift movement: ring, sing, swing, fling, etc.

2. The main criterion in morphological motivation is the relationship between morphemes. Hence, all one-morpheme words are morphologically non-motivated. Morphological motivation is “relative”, i.e. the degree of motivation may be different. The word “endless”, e.g., is completely motivated as both the lexical meaning of the component morphemes and the meaning of the pattern are perfectly transparent. The word “cranberry” is only partially motivated because of the absence of the lexical meaning in the morpheme “cran-”. The words “matter”, “repeat” are non-motivated because the connection between the structure of the lexical unit and its meaning is completely conventional.

The morphological motivation in the contrasted languages remains the major one. It is characteristic of numerous notional words, in which it is clearly indicated by the affixal morphemes. For example, by suffixes: doer one who does smth; flyer one who flies; detainee one who is detained; examinee one who is examined; changable that which is subjected to change/can be changed; movable smth. that can be moved, etc. A similar function may be performed by some prefixal morphemes in both contrasted languages. Cf: asleep the one who is in the state of sleeping; bedew to cover with dew; overturn to turn smth. over; ex-president the one who was president, etc.

Similarly in Ukrainian: оповідач той, хто оповідає/розповідає; писар той, хто пише; співець той, хто співає; ношений якого (що) носили; смажений якого (що) смажили; читаючий який читає, носач той, що має великого носа; митець той, хто творить якийсь вид мистецтва (швидко чи дуже якісно/майстерно) малює, будує, співає, танцює; злітати підніматися вище попереднього місця перебування; переказати (щось) розповісти вдруге вже раз сказане чи написане; передісторія історія, що була перед цією/відомою історією; вчетверте те, що повторюється четвертий раз; поверх (чогось) - щось понад чимось чи додатково до чогось, etc.

Morphologically motivated words in the contrasted languages naturally constitute the largest part of their motivated lexicons: 88,5 % in English and 91.8 % in Ukrainian.

3. Semantic motivation of lexical units is based on the co-existence of direct and figurative meaning of the same word within the same synchronous system. E.g., “mouth” denotes a part of a human face and can be metaphorically applied to any opening: the mouth of a river, the mouth of a furnace. This is expressed by many semantically motivated words and word-groups in both contrasted languages. Cf. foot of a mountain підніжжя гори, hand/ hands of a watch стрілка/стрілки (схожі на руки) годинника, to keep house вести домашнє господарство, an ancient house стародавній рід (династія); the house of Tudor династія Тюдорів; the first/second house перший/другий сеанс (у кінотеатрі); bed of roses легке/розкішне життя; bed of a river русло річки; bed of honour поле бою; arm рука, but: secular arm світська влада; the arm of the law сила закону; the arm of the sea вузька затока; the arms of a coat рукава (піджака, пальта); the arms of a tree великі гілляки дерева; the arms of a chair бильця (крісла), a coat of arms герб, etc.

Many similar examples of semantic motivation of words are also observed in Ukrainian: легка/важка рука (легко/ дошкульно б'є), легкий/ важкий на руку, липкі руки/липкий на руку (злодій); купатися в розкошах, купатися в славі/купатися в промінні південного сонця, братися за справу (діло), etc. Their meanings are very transparent and mostly need no further explanation.

Some words denoting in the contrasted languages popular names of flowers, trees, birds, and animals have a transparent etymological motivation as well. Thus, in English and Ukrainian bluet (flower) is васильок, bluebell is дзвоник, blue-bottle is васильок which is blue (синій), blackbird is чорний дрізд, blackcock is тетерук, black berry means ожина, horse-tail/cat's tail means хвощ, redwood means секвоя, umbrella-tree means американська магнолія, violet means фіалка. More similar examples may also be found in English and Ukrainian: жовтець (yellow gold), чорниця (bilberry), чорнобривці (French marigold), чорногуз (чорне гузно), чорнослив (smocked prunes), соняшник (sunflower), куцохвостий (заєць), круторогі (воли), серпокрилець (стриж).

A brilliant example of etymological semantic motivation present in Ukrainian and Byelorussian (or Polish) names of months. Cf. січень (сніг січе), лютий (мороз лютує), березень (береза сік пускає), квітень (перші квіти - проліски з'являються і зацвітають), липень (липа зацвітає), серпень (серпами жали і жнуть збіжжя). Semantical1у motivated lexical units constitute in English about 10 % and in Ukrainian about 7.4 % of their total motivated lexicons.

Compound words are either morphologically or semantically motivated in the contrasted languages. Their motivation is morphological if the meaning of the whole is based on the direct meaning of the components (e.g., headache is pain in the head, air-crew is a crew of an aircraft; after-effect effect that occurs after some action; to blackboard to write on a black board.), and semantic if the combination of components is used figuratively (headache - anything or anyone very annoying, good-neighbourhood being near good neighbours, classroom (room for classes or for schoolchildren), drawbridge, halfpenny, landowner, mine thrower (thrower of mines), note-book (book for notes), self-defense, a schoolboy, Zululand (land of the Zulus), etc. Or in Ukrainian: вільнодумець (думає про волю), добродійник (робить добро), домовласник (володіє домом), електродояр, кожум'яка (мне шкуру тварин), кораблеводіння, користолюбство (любить корисливість), лизогуб (облизує губи), лісовоз, маслоробня, марнотратство (витрата чогось без користі, марно), etc.

Generally, however, a great many words in English, Ukrainian and in other languages have no clear motivation, i. e. their etymology remains obscure, far from explicable at present. It has been lost in the course of semantic development of these words. As a result, one can not say why the "sun" is named the sun and the "head" or the "heart" has been named this way and not otherwise. Because of the obscure etymology most words and some collocations/idiomatic expressions remain non-motivated in the contrasted languages. In other words, their motivation is impossible to identify nowadays on the basis of their componential meanings.

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