General considerations of stylistic classification of the English vocabulary

Neutral, common literary and colloquial vocabulary. The stock of words forming the neutral stratum. Special literary vocabulary Terms. The stylistic effect of the medical terminology used by Cronin in novel "The Citadel". Special colloquial vocabulary.

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General considerations of stylistic classification of the English vocabulary

The word-stock of any given language can be roughly divided into three uneven groups, differing from each other by the sphere of their possible use.

The biggest division is made up of neutral words, possessing no stylistic connotation and suitable for any communicative situations; two smaller ones are literary and colloquial strata respectively.

In order to get a more or less clear idea of the word-stock of any language, it must be presented as a system, the elements of which are interconnected, interrelated, and yet independent. Some linguists, who clearly see the systematic character of language as a whole, deny, however, the possibility of systematically classifying the vocabulary. They say that the word-stock of any language is so large and so heterogeneous that it is impossible to formalize it and, therefore, present it in any system. The words of a language are thought of as a chaotic body whether viewed from their origin and development or from their present state.

Indeed, coinage of new lexical units, the development of meaning, the differentiation of words according to their stylistic evaluation and their spheres of usage, the correlation between meaning and concept and other problems connected with vocabulary are so multifarious and varied that it is difficult to grasp the systematic character of the word-stock of a language, though it coexist with the systems of other level-phonetics, morphology, and syntax.

To deny the systematic character of the word-stock of a language amounts to denying the systematic character of language as a whole, words being elements in the general system of language. The word-stock of a language may be represented as a definite system in which different aspects of words may be singled out as interdependent. A special branch of linguistic science, lexicology, has done much to classify vocabulary. A glance at the contents of any book on lexicology coil suffices to ascertain the outline of the system of the word-stock of the given language.

For our purpose, i.e. for linguistic stylistics, a special type of classification, stylistic classification, is most important.

In accordance with the already mentioned division of language into literary and colloquial, we may represent the whole of the word-stock of the English language as being divided into three main layers: the literary layer, the neutral layer, and the colloquial layer. The literary and the colloquial layers contain number of subgroups each of which has a property it shares with all the subgroups within the layer. This common property, which unites the different groups of words within the layer, may be called its aspect. The aspect of the literary layer is its markedly bookish character. It is this that makes the layer more or less stable. The aspect of the colloquial layer of words is its lively spoken character. It is this that makes it unstable, fleeting.

The aspect of the neutral layer is its universal character. That means it is unrestricted in its use. It can be employed in all styles of language and in all spheres of human activity. It is this that makes the layer the most stable of all.

The literary layer of words consists of groups accepted as legitimate members of the English vocabulary they have no local or dialectal character.

The colloquial layer of words as qualified in most English or American dictionaries is not infrequently limited to a definite language community or confined to a special locality where it circulates.

The literary vocabulary consist of the following groups of words: 1. common literary: 2. terms and learned words; 3. poetic words; 4. archaic words; 5. barbarisms and foreign words; 6. literary coinages including nonce-words.

The colloquial vocabulary falls into the following groups: 1. common colloquial words; 2. Slang; 3. Jargons; 4. professional words; 5. dialectal words; 6. vulgar word; 7. colloquial coinages.

Neutral, common literary, and common colloquial vocabulary

Neutral words, which form the bulk of the English vocabulary, are used in both literary and colloquial language. Neutral words are the main source of synonymy and polysemy. It is the neutral stock of words that is so prolific in the production of new meanings.

The wealth of the neutral stratum of words is often overlooked. This is due to their inconspicuous character. But their faculty for assuming new meanings and generating new stylistic variants is often quite amazing. This generative power of the neutral words in the English language is multiplied by the very nature of the language itself. It has been estimated that most neutral English words are of monosyllabic character, as, in the process of development from Old English to Modern English, most of the parts of speech lost their distinguish suffixes. This phenomenon has led to the development of conversion, as the most productive means of word-building. Word compounding is not so productive as conversion or word shift in the part of speech in the first case and by the addition of an affix in the second. Unlike all other groups, the neutral group of words cannot be considered as having a special stylistic coloring.

Common literary words are chiefly used in writing and in polished speech. One can always tell a literary word from a colloquial word. The reason for this lies in certain objective features of the literary layer of words. What these objective features are, is difficult to say because so far no objective criteria have been worked out. But one of the undoubtedly is that literary units stand in opposition to colloquial units. This is especially apparent when pairs of synonyms, literary and colloquial, can be formed which stand in contrasting relation. The following synonyms illustrate the relations that exist between the neutral, literary, and colloquial words in the English language.













Get out

Go away


Go on




Boy (girl)

Youth (maiden)


Young girl


Go ahead


Get going



It goes without saying that these synonyms are not only stylistic but ideographic as well, i.e. there is a definite, though slight, semantic difference between the words. But this is almost always the case with synonyms. There are very few absolute synonyms in English just as there are in any language. The main distinction between synonyms remains stylistic. But stylistic difference may be of various kinds: it may lie in the emotional tension connoted in a word, or in the sphere of application, or in the degree of the quality denoted. Colloquial words are always more emotionally colored than literary ones. The neutral stratum of words, as the term itself implies, has no degree of emotiveness, nor have they any distinctions in the sphere of usage.

Both literary and colloquial words have their upper and lower ranges. The lower range of literary words approaches the neutral layer and has a markedly obvious tendency to pass into that layer. The same may be said of the upper range of the colloquial layer: it can very easily pass into the neutral layer. The lines of demarcation between common colloquial and neutral, on the one hand, and common literary and neutral, on the other, are blurred. It is here that the process of interpenetration of the stylistic strata becomes most apparent.

Still the extremes remain antagonistic and therefore are often used to bring about a collision of manners of speech for special stylistic purposes. The difference in the stylistic aspect of words may color the whole of an utterance.

In this example from «Fanny's First Play», the difference between the common literary and common colloquial vocabulary is clearly seen.

«Dora: Oh, I've let it out. Have I? (contemplating Juggins approvingly as he places a chair for her between the table and the sideboard). But he's the right sort: I can see that (button holing him). You won't let it out downstairs, old man, will you?

Juggins: The family can rely on my absolute discretion».

The words in Jugginses answer are on the border - line between common literary and neutral, whereas the words and expressions used by Dora are clearly common colloquial, not bordering on neutral.

The example from «David Copperfield» (Dickens) illustrates the use of literary English words which do not border on neutral:

«My dear Copperfield,» said Mr. Micawber, «this is luxurious. This is a way of life which reminds me of a period when I was myself in a state of celibacy, and Mrs. Micawber had not yet been solicited to plight her faith at the Hymeneal altar». «He means, solicited by him, Mr. Copperfield,» said Mrs. Micawber, archly. «He cannot answer for others».

«My dear,» returned Mr. Micawber with sudden seriousness, «I have no desire to answer for others. I am too well aware that when, in the inscrutable decrees of Fate, you were reserved for me, it is possible you may have been reserved for one destined, after protracted struggle, at length to fall a victim to pecuniary involvements of a complicated nature. I understand your allusion, my love, I regret it, but I can bear it».

«Micawber!» exclaimed Mrs. Micawber, in tears. «Have I deserved this! I, who never have deserted you; who never will deserve you, Micawber!»

«My love,» said Mr. Micawber, much affected, «you will forgive, and our old and tried friend Copperfield will, I am sure, forgive the momentary laceration of a wounded spirit, made sensitive by a recent collision with the Minion of Power-in other words, with a ribald Turncock attached to the waterworks - and will pity, not condemn, its excesses».

There is a certain analogy between the interdependence of common literary words and neutral ones, on the one hand, and common colloquial words and neutral ones, on the other. Both sets can be viewed as being in invariant variant relations.

The neutral vocabulary may be viewed as the invariant of the Standard English vocabulary. The stock of words forming the neutral stratum should in this case be regarded as an abstraction. The words of this stratum are generally deprived of any concrete associations and refer to the concept more or less directly. Synonyms of neutral words, both colloquial and literary, assume a far greater degree of concreteness. They generally present the same notions not abstractly but as a more or less concrete image, that is, in a form perceptible by the senses. This perceptibility by the senses causes subjective evaluations of the notion in question, or a mental image of the concept. Sometimes an impact of a definite kind on the reader or hearer is the aim lying behind the choice of a colloquial or a literary word rather than a neutral one.

In the diagram, common colloquial vocabulary is represented as overlapping into the Standard English vocabulary and is, therefore, is considered part of it. It borders both on the neutral vocabulary and on the special colloquial vocabulary which, as we shall see later, falls out of Standard English altogether. Just as common literary words lack homogeneity, so do common colloquial words and set expressions. Some of the lexical items belonging to this stratum are close to the non-standard colloquial groups such as jargonisms, professionalisms, etc. They are on the border line between the common colloquial vocabulary and the special colloquial or non-standard vocabulary. Other words approach the neutral bulk of the English vocabulary.

Thus, the words teenager (a young girl or young man) and hippie (hippy) (a young person who leads an unordered and unconventional life) are colloquial words passing into the neutral vocabulary. They are gradually losing their non-standard character and becoming widely recognized. However, they have not lost their colloquial association and, therefore, still remain in the colloquial stratum of the English vocabulary. So are the following words and expressions: take (in as I take it = as I understand); to go for (to be attracted by, like very much, as in «You think she still goes for the guy?»); guy (young man); to be gone on (to be madly in love with); pro (professional, e.g. a professional boxer, tennis - player, etc.).

The spoken language abounds in set expressions which are colloquial in character, e.g. all sorts of things, just a bit, how is life treating you?, so-so, what time do you make it? To hob-nob (to be very friendly with, to drink together), so much the better, to be sick and tired of, to be up to something.

The stylistic function of the different strata of the English vocabulary depends not so much on the inner qualities of each of the groups, as on their interaction when they are opposed to one another. However, the qualities themselves are not unaffected by the function of the words, in as much as these qualities have been acquired in certain environments. It is interesting to note that anything written assumes a greater degree of significance than what is only spoken.

If the spoken takes the place of the written or vice versa, it means that we are faced with a stylistic device.

Certain set expressions have been coined within literary English and their use in ordinary speech will inevitably make the utterance sound bookish. In other words, it will become literary. The following are examples of set expressions which can be considered literary: in accordance with, with regard to, by virtue of, to speak at great length, to lend assistance, to draw a lesson, responsibility rest.

Special literary vocabulary Terms

«All scientists are linguists to some extent. They are responsible for devising a consistent terminology, a skeleton language to talk about their subject matter. Philologists and philosophers of speech are in the peculiar position of having to evolve a special language to talk about language itself.»

This quotation makes clear one of the essential characteristics of a term viz its highly conventional character. A term is generally very easily coined and easily accepted: and new coinages as replace outdated ones.

This sensitivity to alteration is mainly due to the necessity of reflecting in language the cognitive process maintained by scholars analyzing different concepts and phenomena. One of the most characteristic features of a term is its direct relevance to the system or set of terms used in a particular science, discipline or art, i.e. to its nomenclature.

When a term is used, our mind immediately associates it with a certain nomenclature. A term is directly connected with the concept it denotes. A term, unlike other words, directs the mind to the essential quality of the things, phenomenon or action as seen by the scientist in the light of his own conceptualization.

«A word is organically one with its meaning; likewise a term is one with a concept. Conceptualization leaves, as it were, language behind, although the words remain as (scientific or philosophical) terms; linguistically the difference is important in that terms are much more easily substitutable by other terms than are words by other words; it is easier to replace, say the term phonology by phonemics (provided I make it clear what is meant), than to replace everyday words like table and chair by other word.

Terms are mostly and predominantly used in special works dealing with the notions of some branch of science. Therefore, it may be said that they belong to the style. They may as well appear in newspaper style, inpublicistic and practically in all other existing styles of language. But their function in this case changes. They do not always fulfill their basic function that of bearing exact reference to a given concept. When used in the belles - letters style, for instance, a term may acquire a stylistic function and, consequently, become a (sporadically) SD. This happens when a term is used in such a way that two meanings are materialized simultaneously.

The function of terms, if encountered in other styles, is either to indicate the technical peculiarities of the subject dealt with, or to make some reference to the occupation of a character whose language would naturally contain special words and expressions.

In this connection it is interesting to analyze the stylistic effect of the medical terminology used by A.J. Cronin in his novel «The Citadel». The frequent use of medical terms in the novel is explained by its subject matter the life of a physician and finds it natural to use medical terminology.

The piling up of difficult and special terms hinders the readers understanding of the text if he is not a specialist even when the writer strives to explain them. Moreover, such an accumulation of special terminology often suggests that the author is displaying his erudition. Maxim Gorki said that terms must not be overused. It has been pointed out that those who are learning use far more complicated terms than those who have already learned.

There is an interesting process going on in the development of any language. With the increase of general education and the expansion of technique to satisfy the ever-growing needs and desires of mankind, many words that were once termshave gradually lost their quality as terms and have passed into the common literary or even neutral vocabulary. This process may be called «determinization». Such words as «radio», «television» and the like have long been in common use and their terminological character is no longer evident.

Brain Foster in his book «The Changing English Language» writes: «…science is one of the most powerful influences molding in the English language into fresh shapes at the present time. Scientific writing is not highly esteemed for its elegance one recalls the tale of the scientist who alluded to a certain domain of enquiry as a virgin field pregnant with possibilities but scientific jargon and modes of thought inevitably come to the fore in a society which equates civilization with chromium plated bath taps. Nor does the process date from yesterday, for we have long been talking of people being `galvanized' into activity or going full steam ahead, but nowadays this tendency to prefer technical imagery is even increasing, so that science can truly be said to have sparked off a chain reaction in the linguistic sphere».

This quotation clearly shows how easily terms and terminological combinations become determinized. We hardly notice sometimes the terminological origin of the words we use.

But such determinized words may, by the force of a stylistic device, become re-established in their terminological function, thus, assuming a twofold application, which is the feature required of a stylistic device.

But when terms are used in their normal function as terms in a work of belles-lettres, they are or ought to be easily understood from the context so that the desired effect in depicting the situation will be secured.

Here is an example of a moderate use of special terminology bordering on common literary vocabulary.

«There was a long conversation along wait. His father came back to say it was doubtful whether they could make the loan. Eight percent, then being secured for money, was a small rate of interest, considering its need. For ten percent Mr. Kuzel might make a call-loan. Frank went back to his employer, whose commercial choler rose at the report» (Theodore Dreiser, «The Financier»).

Such terms as `loan', `rate of interest', and the phrase `to secure for money' are widely known financial terms which to the majority of the English and American reading public need no explanation. The terms used here do not understood they may to some extent be neglected. It will suffice if the reader has a general idea, vague though it may be, of the actual meaning of the terms used. The main task of the co - writer in this passage is not to explain the process of business negotiations, but to create the environment of a business atmosphere.

In this example the terms retain their ordinary meaning though their function in the text is not exactly terminological. It is more nearly stylistic, inasmuch as here the terms serve the purpose of characterizing the commercial spirit of the hero of the novel. However, they are not SDs because they fail to meet the main requirement of a SD.

The following is an example where a term is used as a SD.

«What a fool Fawd on Crawley has been,» Clump replied, «to go and marry a governess. There was something about the girl too.»

«Green eyes, fair skin, pretty figure, famous frontal development,» Squill remarked. (W.M. Thackeray).

The combination `frontal development' is terminological in character (used sometimes in anatomy). But being preceded by the word `famous' used in the sense indicated by the Shorter Oxford Dictionary as `a strong expression of approval (chiefly colloquial), excellent, capital» the whole expression assumes a specific stylistic function due to the fact that `frontal development' is used both in its terminological aspect and in its logical meaning `the breast of a woman'.

Another example of the same kind terms becoming SDs:

«I should like,» said young Jolyon, «to lecture on it: property and qualities of a forsyte. This little animal disturbed by the ridicule of his own sort, is unaffected in his motions by the laughter of strange creatures (you and I). Hereditarily disposed to myopia, he recognizes only the persons and habitats of his own species, among which he passes an existence of competitive tranquility». (Galsworthy).

In this excerpt the twofold application of meanings terminological and stylistic is achieved by the following means; the verb to `lecture (on…)' and the title of the subject' properties and qualities (of a Forsyte)' direct the mind to the domain of science, i.e. they are used in a terminological sense. But when they are followed by a word with nominal meaning (Forsyte) they assume an additional meaning a stylistic one. This dash of incongruous notions arrests the mind forces it to re-evaluate the terminological meaning of the words which aim at supporting the pseudo-biological and medical aspect of the message-this being contained in the words `sort', `creature', little animal', `species', `habitats', `myopia'. This aspect is also backed up by such literary words and word - combinations as `tranquility' and `passes an existence' which are in full accord with the demands of a lecture.

Whenever the terms used in the belles letters style set the reader at odds with the text, we can register a stylistic effect caused either by a specific use of terms in their proper meanings or by simultaneous realization of two meanings.

Special colloquial vocabulary. Jargonisms

Jargon is a set of words the aim of which is to preserve secrecy within a social group. Jargonisms are generally old words with entirely new meanings imposed on them, and because of that absolutely incomprehensible to people outside the group. Grease money; loaf-head; a tiger hunter-a gambler; a lexer- a law student.

There is the jargon of thieves and vagabonds (cant, argot /a:gэu/ арго, - тайный язык); the jargon of jazz people; the jargon of the army as military slang; the jargon of sportsmen; the jargon of hackers, and many others.
Slang and jargon both differ from ordinary language in their vocabularies, but slang, contrary to jargon needs no translation. Jargonisms do not always remain

the possession of a given social group. Some of them migrate into other social strata and sometimes become recognized in the literary language as slang or colloquial words: Kid, fun, humbug.


Professionalisms are the words used in different trades, professions, or within a group of people connected by common interests. They designate some working process, tools or instruments. Professionalisms should not be mixed with jargonisms. Like slang, professionalisms do not aim at secrecy.

Professionalisms are used in emotive prose to depict the natural speech of a character, his or her education, breeding, environment and psychology.

The difference between the terms and professionalisms is that terms belong to the literary layer of words and professionalisms belong to the non-literary layer. Professionalisms remain within a definite community, lined to a definite

occupation: A midder case= (a midwifery case-акушерский чемоданчик)


Conclusion on Chapter 1

tech chem bacterial etnol спец тех

foreignisms (barbarisms) Fr It Germ фр ит.

3. Common colloquial vocabulary infml paзг

This three belong to the Standard English Vocabulary.

4. Special colloquial vocabulary (non-literal) belongs to the non - standard English vocabulary and fall s into subgroups:

Professionalisms naut med Slang sl.

Dialectical words dial


Vulgar derog vulgar offensive taboo

Nonce words fig humor joc.

5. Non - standard colloquial words are unstable. But it is impossible to draw a hard-&-fast line between common literary vocabulary & special literary-bookish vocabulary, because the words tend to shift from one layer to the other. The same is true of the common colloquial vocabulary which penetrates into the neutral layer & is not impervious to intrusion from the non-literary layer.

There are different degrees of bookishness & colloquialness: the words marked fml lit may be found bordering on neutral vocabulary or lying so far from the neutral layer as to be quite incomprehensible to the average reader. The same is true of words marked infml which may either pass into the neutral layer or linger on the fringe of the non-literary layer of the vocabulary.

The notation sl (slang) is mainly used in the English-English dictionaries (in English and American dictionaries) & label the words according to their character & the way they function, in the bilingual dictionaries this label is rarely used, because of its ill-defined & uncertain definition (meaning & understanding of the term).

It is necessary to mention other stylistic notations which are used to identify the emotional meanings of the words rather than usage. These are:

(emotional-intensive), (ironical), (intensive), (jocular), (contemptuous), (vulgar or law), (low colloquial), humor, derog.

The conclusion comes that bilingual as well as explanatory dictionaries should not only give definitions of words but should indicate their usage, emotional meanings & geographical limits.

But at the same time it should be mentioned that though practically in all the dictionaries the stylistical notations (labels) are presented according to the layers existed in the language, the treatment of the stylistic notations by the authors of the dictionaries differs. There is no single system of labels that would satisfy all the dictionaries & the analyses of the stylistic notations in the six dictionaries confirm it. (Appendix VII)

As it was considered already the LERD gives the styligtical notations (labels) according to the stylistic classification of the word - stock of the English Language. The ERD doesn't give any classification of the labels that are used in it And ER&RED doesn't give any classification of the labels either, All the English-English Dictionaries give the kinds of classifications of stylistical notation according to the author's treatment this stylistical phenomena.

LDELC represents the types of labels used in it in the following groups. (Apendix I)

1. Labels showing region, denoting words which are limited to particular parts of the world.

Here belong labels that denote words borrowed from other languages (barbarisms, foreignisms):.

2. Labels showing special fields or subjects, denoting words that are used in certain fields of activity or certain types of writing,

bibl - used mainly in the Bible

law - legal term-used in contracts, courts of law

lit - used mainly in literature

med - medical term used by doctors, nurses etc.

naut - nautical term - used by sailors

poet - used mainly in poetry

tech - technical term - used by specialists in various fields

As we can see the labels of this group include common literary vocabulary (terms) & special literal vocabulary (Poetical words).

3. Labels showing situations in which words are used, denoting words which would only be suitable in certain types of situation. infml fml sl.

These labels deal with common literary vocabulary & common colloquial vocabulary, & with a particular group of words which is considered to be slang & which is difficult to juxtapose with any layer of the English Language because of the uncertain definition of the term slang, LDELC suggests the following definition: Though we may consider slang as a layer of nonstandard (special colloquial vocabulary - non-literary) close to jargonisms & vulgarisms, professionalisms. Judging by Galperin's point of view this type is typical more of the English Language.

4. Labels showing time, denoting words which are no longer used in modem English (though they will be found in old books) & some of the words beginning to be used less often.

old-fash - no longer common, used mainly by older people

old use - no longer u sed

rare or becoming rare - rarely used, or beginning to be used less often. This group of labels serve special literary vocabulary (mainly archaic)

5. Labels showing attitude

apprec. - shows that the speaker likes or approves of something

derog - derogatory - shows that the speaker dislikes or disapproves of something

euph - euphemistic - a polite or indirect word for something unpleasant or embarrassing

humor - shows a joking or ironic attitude

pomp - shows a foolishy self-important attitude

These labels mainly serve to identify positive or negative connotation of the word, that is why we may suppose that all these labels can be found both in common literary & common colloquial vocabularies, as well as in the group of nonstandard words.

6. Labels showing limitations on use

dial - a word belonging to the local speech of a particular area

nonstandard - a word regarded as incorrect by most educated speakers

taboo - a very offensive word which should always be avoided

tdmk - a trademark, whose use is officially controlled

These labels serve mainly special colloquial vocabulary the label nonstandard differs from the notion that the layer nonstandard has, because both dial and taboo belong to nonstandard, though from the other hand, from the educated point of view of the words with labels taboo & dial. may be regarded as incorrect. The label tdmk may be treated as a special term & thus may belong to common literary vocabulary. As the analyses shows the classification of the labels accepted in this dictionary is not exact and needs more consideration, though the labels themselves are quite suitable to show stytistical characterization & stylistical overtones. The variety of labels used in LDELC we shall consider farther in the third part.

OALED suggests a bit different grouping of the stylistic notations (Appendix II)

1. Currency, labels denoting words which are not used or used by some older speaker s & some words that are found mainly in books written in the first half of thi s century: dated archaic.

2. Region, labels denoting words which restricted to one country or area

Here belongs dial - the label that refers to words & meanings that are restricted to particular regions of the British Isles not including Scotland & Ireland. So this very dictionary uses the label dial mainly as territorial characteristic of British Isles, though still belonging to special colloquial vocabulary.

3. Register, labels denoting words which must be used with particular care because they reflect a special relationship between the speakers or a special occasion or setting (which could vary from an official ceremony to a relaxed meeting between friends).

vocabulary neutral terminology consideration

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