The Etymology of English Words. Vocabulary as a system. Professional terminology. Etymological doublets. The main problems of lexicology. The historical circumstances which stimulate the borrowing process. The Object of Lexicology. The structure of word.
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Flowery is applied to speech or a style (cf. with the R. цветистый), flowered means "decorated with a pattern of flowers" (e. g. flowered silk or chintz, cf. with the R. цветастый) and flowering is the same as blossoming (e. g. flowering bushes or shrubs, cf. with the R. цветущий).
Starry means "resembling stars" (e. g. starry eyes) and starred -- "covered or decorated with stars" (e. g. starred skies).
Reddened and shortened both imply the result of an action or process, as in the eyes reddened with weeping or a shortened version of a story (i. e. a story that has been abridged) whereas shortish and reddish point to insufficiency of quality: reddish is not exactly red, but tinged with red, and a shortish man is probably a little taller than a man described as short.
When in a book-review a book is referred to as a splendid read, is read to be regarded as a verb or a noun? What part of speech is room in the sentence: I was to room with another girl called Jessie. If a character in a novel is spoken about as one who had to be satisfied with the role of a has-been, what is this odd-looking has-been, a verb or a noun? One must admit that it has quite a verbal appearance, but why, then, is it preceded by the article?
Why is the word if used in the plural form in the popular proverb: If ifs and ans were pots and pans? (an = if, dial., arch.)
This type of questions naturally arise when one deals with words produced by conversion, one of the most productive ways of modern English word-building.
Conversion is sometimes referred to as an affixless way of word-building or even affixless derivation. Saying that, however, is saying very little because there are other types of word-building in which new words are also formed without affixes (most compounds, contracted words, sound-imitation words, etc.).
Conversion consists in making a new word from some existing word by changing the category of a part of speech, the morphemic shape of the original word remaining unchanged. The new word has a meaning which differs from that of the original one though it can more or less be easily associated with it. It has also a new paradigm peculiar to its new category as a part of speech.
The question of conversion has, for a long time, been a controversial one in several aspects. The very essence of this process has been treated by a number of scholars (e. g. H. Sweet), not as a word-building act, but as a mere functional change. From this point of view the word hand in Hand me that book is not a verb, but a noun used in a verbal syntactical function, that is, hand (me) and hands (in She has small hands) are not two different words but one. Hence, the сазе cannot be treated as one of word-formation for no new word appears.
According to this functional approach, conversion may be regarded as a specific feature of the English categories of parts of speech, which are supposed to be able to break through the rigid borderlines dividing one category from another thus enriching the process of communication not by the creation of new words but through the sheer flexibility of the syntactic structures.
Nowadays this theory finds increasingly fewer supporters, and conversion is universally accepted as one of the major ways of enriching English vocabulary with new words. One of the major arguments for this approach to conversion is the semantic change that regularly accompanies each instance of conversion. Normally, a word changes its syntactic function without any shift in lexical meaning. E. g. both in yellow leaves and in The leaves were turning yellow the adjective denotes colour. Yet, in The leaves yellowed the converted unit no longer denotes colour, but the process of changing colour, so that there is an essential change in meaning.
The change of meaning is even more obvious in such pairs as hand > to hand, face > to face, to go > a go, to make > a make, etc.
The other argument is the regularity and completeness with which converted units develop a paradigm of their new category of part of speech. As soon as it has crossed the category borderline, the new word automatically acquires all the properties of the new category, so that if it has entered the verb category, it is now regularly used in all the forms of tense and it also develops the forms of the participle and the gerund. Such regularity can hardly be regarded as indicating a mere functional change which might be expected to bear more occasional characteristics. The completeness of the paradigms in new conversion formations seems to be a decisive argument proving that here we are dealing with new words and not with mere functional variants. The data of the more reputable modern English dictionaries confirm this point of view: they all present converted pairs as homonyms, i. e. as two words, thus supporting the thesis that conversion is a word-building process.
Conversion is not only a highly productive but also a particularly English way of word-building. Its immense productivity is considerably encouraged by certain features of the English language in its modern stage of development. The analytical structure of Modern English greatly facilitates processes of making words of one category of parts of speech from words of another. So does the simplicity of paradigms of English parts of speech. A great number of one-syllable words is another factor in favour of conversion, for such words are naturally more mobile and flexible than polysyllables.
Conversion is a convenient and "easy" way of enriching the vocabulary with new words. It is certainly an advantage to have two (or more) words where there was one, all of them fixed on the same structural and semantic base.
The high productivity of conversion finds its reflection in speech where numerous occasional cases of conversion can be found, which are not registered by dictionaries and which occur momentarily, through the immediate need of the situation. "If anybody oranges me again tonight, I'll knock his face off, says the annoyed hero of a story by O'Henry when a shop-assistant offers him oranges (for the tenth time in one night) instead of peaches for which he is looking ("Little Speck in Garnered Fruit"). One is not likely to find the verb to orange in any dictionary, but in this situation it answers the need for brevity, expressiveness and humour.
The very first example, which opens the section on conversion in this chapter (the book is a splendid read), though taken from a book-review, is a nonce-word, which may be used by reviewers now and then or in informal verbal communication, but has not yet found its way into the universally acknowledged English vocabulary.
Such examples as these show that conversion is a vital and developing process that penetrates contemporary speech as well. Subconsciously every English speaker realises the immense potentiality of making a word into another part of speech when the need arises.
One should guard against thinking that every case of noun and verb (verb and adjective, adjective and noun, etc.) with the same morphemic shape results from conversion. There are numerous pairs of words (e. g. love, n. -- to love, v.; work, n. -- to work, v.; drink, n. -- to drink, v., etc.) which did, not occur due to conversion but coincided as a result of certain historical processes (dropping of endings, simplification of stems) when before that they had different forms (e. g. O. E. lufu, n. -- lufian, v.). On the other hand, it is quite true that the first cases of conversion (which were registered in the 14th c.) imitated such pairs of words as love, n. -- to love, v. for they were numerous in the vocabulary and were subconsciously accepted by native speakers as one of the typical language patterns.
The two categories of parts of speech especially affected by conversion are nouns and verbs. Verbs made from nouns are the most numerous amongst the words produced by conversion: e. g. to hand, to back, to face, to eye, to mouth, to nose, to dog, to wolf, to monkey, to can, to coal, to stage, to screen, to room, to floor, to blackmail, to blacklist, to honeymoon, and very many others.
Nouns are frequently made from verbs: do (e. g. This is the queerest do I've ever come across. Do -- event, incident), go (e. g. He has still plenty of go at his age. Go -- energy), make, run, find, catch, cut, walk, worry, show, move, etc.
Verbs can also be made from adjectives: to pale, to yellow, to cool, to grey, to rough (e. g. We decided to rough it in the tents as the weather was warm), etc.
Other parts of speech are not entirely unsusceptible to conversion as the following examples show: to down, to out (as in a newspaper heading Diplomatist Outed from Budapest), the ups and downs, the ins and outs, like, n, (as in the like of me and the like of you).
It was mentioned at the beginning of this section that a word made by conversion has a different meaning from that of the word from which it was made though the two meanings can be associated. There are certain regularities in these associations which can be roughly classified. For instance, in the group of verbs made from nouns some of the regular semantic associations are as indicated in the following list:
I. The noun is the name of a tool or implement, the verb denotes an action performed by the tool: to hammer, to nail, to pin, to brush, to comb, to pencil.
II. The noun is the name of an animal, the verb denotes an action or aspect of behaviour considered typical of this animal: to dog, to wolf, to monkey, to ape, to fox, to rat. Yet, to fish does not mean "to behave like a fish" but "to try to catch fish". The same meaning of hunting activities is conveyed by the verb to whale and one of the meanings of to rat; the other is "to turn in former, squeal" (sl.).
The name of a part of the human body -- an ac tion performed by it: to hand, to leg (sl.), to eye, to elbow, to shoulder, to nose, to mouth. However, to face does not imply doing something by or even with one's face but turning it in a certain direction. To back means either "to move backwards" or, in the figurative sense, "to support somebody or something".
The name of a profession or occupation -- an activity typical of it: to nurse, to cook, to maid, to groom.
V. The name of a place -- the process of occupying the place or of putting smth./smb. in it (to room, to house, to place, to table, to cage).
VI. The name of a container -- the act of putting smth. within the container (to can, to bottle, to pocket).
VII. The name of a meal -- the process of taking it (to lunch, to supper).
The suggested groups do not include all the great variety of verbs made from nouns by conversion. They just represent the most obvious cases and illustrate, convincingly enough, the great variety of semantic interrelations within so-called converted pairs and the complex nature of the logical associations which specify them.
In actual fact, these associations are not only complex but sometimes perplexing. It would seem that if you know that the verb formed from the name of an animal denotes behaviour typical of the animal, it would be easy for you to guess the meaning of such a verb provided that you know the meaning of the noun. Yet, it is not always easy. Of course, the meaning of to fox is rather obvious being derived from the associated reputation of that animal for cunning: to fox means "to act cunningly or craftily". But what about to wolf? How is one to know which of the characteristics of the animal was picked by the speaker's subconscious when this verb was produced? Ferocity? Loud and unpleasant howling? The inclination to live in packs? Yet, as the following example shows, to wolf means "to eat greedily, voraciously": Charlie went on wolfing the chocolate. (R. Dahl)
In the same way, from numerous characteristics of the dog, only one was chosen for the verb to dog which is well illustrated by the following example:
And what of Charles? I pity any detective who would have to dog him through those twenty months.
(From The French Lieutenant's Woman by J. Fowles)
(To dog -- to follow or track like a dog, especially with hostile intent.)
The two verbs to ape and to monkey, which might be expected to mean more or less the same, have shared between themselves certain typical features of the same animal:
to ape -- to imitate, mimic (e. g. He had always aped the gentleman in his clothes and manners. -- J. Fowles);
6. How English Words Are Made. Word-Building (continued)
This type of word-building, in which new words are produced by combining two or more stems, is one of the three most productive types in Modern English, the other two are conversion and affixation. Compounds, though certainly fewer in quantity than derived or root words, still represent one of the most typical and specific features of English word-structure.
There are at least three aspects of composition that present special interest.
The first is the structural aspect. Compounds are not homogeneous in structure. Traditionally three types are distinguished: neutral, morphological and syntactic.
In neutral compounds the process of compounding is realised without any linking elements, by a mere juxtaposition of two stems, as in blackbird, shop-window, sunflower, bedroom, tallboy, etc. There are three subtypes of neutral compounds depending on the structure of the constituent stems.
The examples above represent the subtype which may be described as simple neutral compounds: they consist of simple affixless stems.
Compounds which have affixes in their structure are called derived or derivational compounds. E. g. absent-mindedness, blue-eyed, golden-haired, broad-shouldered, lady-killer, film-goer, music-lover, honey-mooner, first-nighter, late-comer, newcomer, early-riser, evildoer. The productivity of this type is confirmed by a considerable number of comparatively recent formations, such as teenager, babysitter, strap-hanger, fourseater ("car or boat with four seats"), doubledecker ("a ship or bus with two decks"). Numerous nonce-words are coined on this pattern which is another proof of its high productivity: e. g. luncher-out ("a person who habitually takes his lunch in restaurants and not at home"), goose-flesher ("murder story") or attention getter in the following fragment:
"Dad," I began ... "I'm going to lose my job." That should be an attention getter, I figured.
(From A Five-Colour Buick by P. Anderson Wood)
The third subtype of neutral compounds is called contracted compounds. These words have a shortened (contracted) stem in their structure: TV-set (-program, -show, -canal, etc.), V-day (Victory day), G-man (Government man "FBI agent"), H-bag (handbag), T-shirt, etc.
Morphological compounds are few in number. This type is non-productive. It is represented by words in which two compounding stems are combined by a linking vowel or consonant, e. g. Anglo-Saxon, Franko-Prussian, handiwork, handicraft, craftsmanship, spokesman, statesman (see also p. 115).
In syntactic compounds (the term is arbitrary) we once more find a feature of specifically English word-structure. These words are formed from segments of speech, preserving in their structure numerous traces of syntagmatic relations typical of speech: articles, prepositions, adverbs, as in the nouns lily-of-the-valley, Jack-of-all-trades, good-for-nothing, mother-in-law, sit-at-home. Syntactical relations and grammatical patterns current in present-day English can be clearly traced in the structures of such compound nouns as pick-me-up, know-all, know-nothing, go-between, get-together, whodunit. The last word (meaning "a detective story") was obviously coined from the ungrammatical variant of the word-group who (has) done it.
In this group of compounds, once more, we find a great number of neologisms, and whodunit is one of them. Consider, also, the two following fragments which make rich use of modern city traffic terms.
Randy managed to weave through a maze of oneway-streets, no-left-turns, and no-stopping-zones ...
(From A Five-Colour Buick by P. Anderson Wood)
"... you go down to the Department of Motor Vehicles tomorrow and take your behind-the-wheel test."(Ibid.)
The structure of most compounds is transparent, as it were, and clearly betrays the origin of these words from word-combinations. The fragments below illustrate admirably the very process of coining nonce-words after the productive patterns of composition.
"Is all this really true?" he asked. "Or are you pulling my leg?"
... Charlie looked slowly around at each of the four old faces... They were quite serious. There was no sign of joking or leg-pulling on any of them.
(From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by R. Dahl)
"I have decided that you are up to no good. I am well aware that that is your natural condition. But I prefer you to be up to no good in London. Which is more used to up-to-no-gooders."
(From The French Lieutenant's Woman by J. Fowles)
"What if they capture us?" said Mrs. Bucket. "What if they shoot us?" said Grandma Georgina. "What if my beard were made of green spinach?" cried Mr. Wonka. "Bunkum and tommyrot! You'll never get anywhere if you go about what-iffing like that. ...We want no what-iffers around, right, Charlie?"
(From Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by R. Dahl)
The first of the examples presents the nonce-word leg-pulling coined on the pattern of neutral derivational compounds. The what-iffing and what-iffers of the third extract seem to represent the same type, though there is something about the words clearly resembling syntactic compounds: their what-if-nucleus is one of frequent patterns of living speech. As to the up-to-no-gooders of the second example, it is certainly a combination of syntactic and derivational types, as it is made from a segment of speech which is held together by the -er suffix. A similar formation is represented by the nonce-word breakfast-in-the-bedder ("a person who prefers to have his breakfast in bed").
Another focus of interest is the semantic aspect of compound words, that is, the question of correlations of the separate meanings of the constituent parts and the actual meaning of the compound. Or, to put it in easier terms: can the meaning of a compound word be regarded as the sum of its constituent meanings?
To try and answer this question, let us consider the following groups of examples.
(1) Classroom, bedroom, working-man, evening-gown, dining-room, sleeping-car, reading-room, dancing-hall.
This group seems to represent compounds whose meanings can really be described as the sum of their constituent meanings. Yet, in the last four words we can distinctly detect a slight shift of meaning. The first component in these words, if taken as a free form, denotes an action or state of whatever or whoever is characterised by the word. Yet, a sleeping-car is not a car that sleeps (cf. a sleeping child), nor is a dancing-hall actually dancing (cf. dancing pairs).
The shift of meaning becomes much more pronounced in the second group of examples.
(2) Blackboard, blackbird, football, lady-killer, pick pocket, good-for-nothing, lazybones, chatterbox.
In these compounds one of the components (or both) has changed its meaning: a blackboard is neither a board nor necessarily black, football is not a ball but a game, a chatterbox not a box but a person, and a lady-killer kills no one but is merely a man who fascinates women. It is clear that in all these compounds the meaning of the whole word cannot be defined as the sum of the constituent meanings. The process of change of meaning in some such words has gone so far that the meaning of one or both constituents is no longer in the least associated with the current meaning of the corresponding free form, and yet the speech community quite calmly accepts such seemingly illogical word groups as a white blackbird, pink bluebells or an entirely confusing statement like: Blackberries are red when they are green.
Yet, despite a certain readjustment in the semantic structure of the word, the meanings of the constituents of the compounds of this second group are still transparent: you can see through them the meaning of the whole complex. Knowing the meanings of the constituents a student of English can get a fairly clear idea of what the whole word means even if he comes across it for the first time. At least, it is clear that a blackbird is some kind of bird and that a good-for-nothing is not meant as a compliment.
(3) In the third group of compounds the process of deducing the meaning of the whole from those of the constituents is impossible. The key to meaning seems to have been irretrievably lost: ladybird is not a bird, but an insect, tallboy not a boy but a piece of furniture, bluestocking, on the contrary, is a person, whereas bluebottle may denote both a flower and an insect but never a bottle.
Similar enigmas are encoded in such words as man-of-war ("warship"), merry-to-round ("carousel"), mother-of-pearl ("irridescent substance forming the inner layer of certain shells"), horse-marine ("a person who is unsuitable for his job or position"), butter-fingers ("clumsy person; one who is apt to drop things"), wall-flower ("a girl who is not invited to dance at a party"), whodunit ("detective story"), straphanger (1. "a passenger who stands in a crowded bus or underground train and holds onto a strap or other support suspended from above"; 2. "a book of light genre, trash; the kind of book one is likely to read when travelling in buses or trains").
The compounds whose meanings do not correspond to the separate meanings of their constituent parts (2nd and 3rd group listed above) are called idiomatic compounds, in contrast to the first group known as non-idiomatic compounds.
The suggested subdivision into three groups is based on the degree of semantic cohesion of the constituent parts, the third group representing the extreme case of cohesion where the constituent meanings blend to produce an entirely new meaning.
The following joke rather vividly shows what happens if an idiomatic compound is misunderstood as non-idiomatic.
Patient: They tell me, doctor, you are a perfect lady-killer.
Doctor: Oh, no, no! I assure you, my dear madam, I make no distinction between the sexes.
In this joke, while the woman patient means to compliment the doctor on his being a handsome and irresistible man, he takes or pretends to take the word lady-killer literally, as a sum of the direct meanings of its constituents.
The structural type of compound words and the word-building type of composition have certain advantages for communication purposes.
Composition is not quite so flexible a way of coining new words as conversion but flexible enough as is convincingly shown by the examples of nonce-words given above. Among compounds are found numerous expressive and colourful words. They are also comparatively laconic, absorbing into one word an idea that otherwise would have required a whole phrase (cf. The hotel was full of week-enders and The hotel was full of people spending the week-end there).
Both the laconic and the expressive value of compounds can be well illustrated by English compound adjectives denoting colours (cf. snow-white -- as white as snow).
In the following extract a family are discussing which colour to paint their new car.
"Hey," Sally yelled, "could you paint it canary yellow, Fred?"
"Turtle green," shouted my mother, quickly getting into the spirit of the thing.
"Mouse grey," Randy suggested.
"Dove white, maybe?" my mother asked.
"Rattlesnake brown," my father said with a deadpan look...
"Forget it, all of you," I announced. "My Buick is going to be peacock blue."
(From A Five-Colour Buick by P. Anderson Wood)
It is obvious that the meaning of all these "multi-coloured" adjectives is based on comparison: the second constituent of the adjective is the name of a colour used in its actual sense and the first is the name of an object (animal, flower, etc.) with which the comparison is drawn. The pattern immensely extends the possibilities of denoting all imaginable shades of each colour, the more so that the pattern is productive and a great number of nonce-words are created after it. You can actually coin an adjective comparing the colour of a defined object with almost anything on earth: the pattern allows for vast creative experiments. This is well shown in the fragment given above. If canary yellow, peacock blue, dove white are quite "normal" in the language and registered by dictionaries, turtle green and rattlesnake brown1 are certainly typical nonce-words, amusing inventions of the author aimed at a humorous effect.
Sometimes it is pointed out, as a disadvantage, that the English language has only one word blue for two different colours denoted in Russian by синий and голубой.
But this seeming inadequacy is compensated by a large number of adjectives coined on the pattern of comparison such as navy blue, cornflower blue, peacock blue, chicory blue, sapphire blue, china blue, sky-blue, turquoise blue, forget-me-not blue, heliotrope blue, powder-blue. This list can be supplemented by compound adjectives which also denote different shades of blue, but are not built on comparison: dark blue, light blue, pale blue, electric blue, Oxford blue, Cambridge blue.
A further theoretical aspect of composition is the criteria for distinguishing between a compound and a word-combination.
This question has a direct bearing on the specific feature of the structure of most English compounds which has already been mentioned: with the exception
1 R. "цвета гремучей змеи". The father of the family is absolutely against the idea of buying the car, and the choice of this word reflects his mood of resentment. of the rare morphological type, they originate directly from word-combinations and are often homonymous to them: cf. a tall boy -- a tallboy.
In this case the graphic criterion of distinguishing between a word and a word-group seems to be sufficiently convincing, yet in many cases it cannot wholly be relied on. The spelling of many compounds, tallboy among them, can be varied even within the same book. In the case of tallboy the semantic criterion seems more reliable, for the striking difference in the meanings of the word and the word-group certainly points to the highest degree of semantic cohesion in the word: tallboy does not even denote a person, but a piece of furniture, a chest of drawers supported by a low stand.
Moreover, the word-group a tall boy conveys two concepts (1. a young male person; 2. big in size), whereas the word tallboy expresses one concept.
Yet the semantic criterion alone cannot prove anything as phraseological units also convey a single concept and some of them are characterised by a high degree of semantic cohesion (see Ch. 12).
The phonetic criterion for compounds may be treated as that of a single stress. The criterion is convincingly applicable to many compound nouns, yet does not work with compound adjectives:
cf. 'slowcoach, blackbird, 'tallboy,
but: blие-'eyed, 'absent-'minded, 'ill-'mannered.
Still, it is true that the morphological structure of these adjectives and their hyphenated spelling leave no doubt about their status as words and not word-groups.
Morphological and syntactic criteria can also be applied to compound words in order to distinguish them from word-groups.
In the word-group a tall boy each of the constituents is independently open to grammatical changes peculiar to its own category as a part of speech: They were the tallest boys in their form.
Between the constituent parts of the word-group other words can be inserted: a tall handsome boy.
The compound tallboy -- and, in actual fact, any other compound -- is not subject to such changes. The first component is grammatically invariable; the plural form ending is added to the whole unit: tallboys. No word can be inserted between the components, even with the compounds which have a traditional separate graphic form.
All this leads us to the conclusion that, in most cases, only several criteria (semantic, morphological, syntactic, phonetic, graphic) can convincingly classify a lexical unit as either a compound word or a word group.
Consider the following examples.
"... The Great Glass Elevator is shockproof, waterproof, bombproof, bulletproof, and Knidproof1 ..." (From Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by R. Dahl)
Lady Malvern tried to freeze him with a look, but you can't do that sort of thing to Jeeves. He is look-proof.
(From Carry on, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse)
Better sorts of lip-stick are frequently described in advertisements as kissproof. Some building materials may be advertised as fireproof. Certain technical devices are foolproof meaning that they are safe even in a fool's hands.
Knids -- fantastic monsters supposed to inhabit the Cosmos and invented by the author of this book for children.
All these words, with -proof for the second component, stand between compounds and derived words in their characteristics. On the one hand, the second component seems to bear all the features of a stem and preserves certain semantic associations with the free form proof. On the other hand, the meaning of -proof in all the numerous words built on this pattern has become so generalised that it is certainly approaching that of a suffix. The high productivity of the pattern is proved, once more, by the possibility of coining nonce-words after this pattern: look-proof and Knidproof, the second produced from the non-existent stem Knid.
The component -proof, standing thus between a stem and an affix, is regarded by some scholars as a semi-affix.
Another example of semi-affix is -man in a vast group of English nouns denoting people: sportsman, gentleman, nobleman, salesman, seaman, fisherman, countryman, statesman, policeman, chairman, etc.
Semantically, the constituent -man in these words approaches the generalised meaning of such noun-forming suffixes as -er, -or, -ist (e. g. artist), -ite (e. g. hypocrite). It has moved so far in its meaning from the corresponding free form man, that such word-groups as woman policeman or Mrs. Chairman are quite usual. Nor does the statement Lady, you are no gentleman sound eccentric or illogical for the speaker uses the word gentleman in its general sense of a noble upright person, regardless of sex. It must be added though that this is only an occasional usage and that gentleman is normally applied to men.
Other examples of semi-affixes are -land (e. g. Ire land, Scotland, fatherland, wonderland), -like (e. g. ladylike, unladylike, businesslike, unbusiness like, starlike, flowerlike, etc.), -worthy (e. g. seaworthy, trustworthy, praiseworthy).
This comparatively new way of word-building has achieved a high degree of productivity nowadays, especially in American English.
Shortenings (or contracted/curtailed words) are produced in two different ways. The first is to make a new word from a syllable (rarer, two) of the original word. The latter may lose its beginning (as in phone made from telephone, fence from defence), its ending (as in hols from holidays, vac from vacation, props from properties, ad from advertisement) or both the beginning and ending (as in flu from influenza, fridge from refrigerator).
The second way of shortening is to make a new word from the initial letters of a word group: U.N.O. ['ju:neu] from the United Nations Organisation, B.B.C. from the British Broadcasting Corporation, M.P. from Member of Parliament. This type is called initial shortenings. They are found not only among formal words, such as the ones above, but also among colloquialisms and slang. So, g. f. is a shortened word made from the compound girl-friend. The word, though, seems to be somewhat ambiguous as the following conversation between two undergraduates clearly shows:
Who's the letter from?
My g. f.
Didn't know you had girl-friends. A nice girl?
Idiot! It's from my grandfather!
It is commonly believed that the preference for shortenings can be explained by their brevity and is due to the ever-increasing tempo of modern life. Yet, in the conversation given above the use of an ambiguous contraction does not in the least contribute to the brevity of the communication: on the contrary, it takes the speakers some time to clarify the misunderstanding. Confusion and ambiguousness are quite natural consequences of the modern overabundance of shortened words, and initial shortenings are often especially enigmatic and misleading.
Both types of shortenings are characteristic of informal speech in general and of uncultivated speech particularly. The history of the American okay seems to be rather typical. Originally this initial shortening was spelt O.K. and was supposed to stand for all correct. The purely oral manner in which sounds were recorded for letters resulted in O.K. whereas it should have been AC. or aysee. Indeed, the ways of words are full of surprises.
Here are some more examples of informal shortenings. Movie (from moving-picture), gent (from gentleman), specs (from spectacles), circs (from circumstances, e. g. under the circs), I. O. Y. (a written acknowledgement of debt, made from I owe you), lib (from liberty, as in May I take the lib of saying something to you?), cert (from certainty, as in This enterprise is a cert if you have a bit of capital), metrop (from metropoly, e. g. Paris is a gay metrop), exhibish (from exhibition), posish (from position).
Undergraduates' informal speech abounds in words of the type: exam, lab, prof, vac, hol, co-ed (a girl student at a coeducational school or college).
Some of the Minor Types of Modern Word-Building. Sound-Imitation (Onomatopoeia1)
Words coined by this interesting type of word-building are made by imitating different kinds of sounds that may be produced by animals, birds, insects, human beings and inanimate objects.
This type of word-formation is now also called echoism (the term was introduced by O. Jespersen).
It is of some interest that sounds produced by the same kind of animal are. frequently represented by quite different sound groups in different languages. For instance, English dogs bark (cf. the R. лаять) or howl (cf. the R. выть). The English cock cries cock-a-doodle-doo (cf. the R. ку-ка-ре-ку). In England ducks quack and frogs croak (cf. the R. крякать said about ducks and квакать said about frogs). It is only English and Russian cats who seem capable of mutual understanding when they meet, for English cats mew or miaow (meow). The same can be said about cows: they moo (but also low).
Some names of animals and especially of birds and insects are also produced by sound-imitation: crow, cuckoo, humming-bird, whip-poor-will, cricket.
The following desperate letter contains a great number of sound-imitation words reproducing sounds made by modern machinery:
The Baltimore & Ohio R. R. Co.,
Why is it that your switch engine has to ding and fizz and spit and pant and grate and grind and puff and bump and chug and hoot and toot and whistle and wheeze and howl and clang and growl and thump and clash and boom and jolt and screech and snarl and snort and slam and throb and soar and rattle and hiss and yell and smoke and shriek all night long when I come home from a hard day at the boiler works and have to keep the dog quiet and the baby quiet so my wife can squawk at me for snoring in my sleep?
(From Language and Humour by G. G. Pocheptsov.)
There is a hypothesis that sound-imitation as a way of word-formation should be viewed as something much wider than just the production of words by the imitation of purely acoustic phenomena. Some scholars suggest that words may imitate through their sound form certain unacoustic features and qualities of inanimate objects, actions and processes or that the meaning of the word can be regarded as the immediate relation of the sound group to the object. If a young chicken or kitten is described as fluffy there seems to be something in the sound of the adjective that conveys the softness and the downy quality of its plumage or its fur. Such verbs as to glance, to glide, to slide, to slip are supposed to convey by their very sound the nature of the smooth, easy movement over a slippery surface. The sound form of the words shimmer, glimmer, glitter seems to reproduce the wavering, tremulous nature of the faint light. The sound of the verbs to rush, to dash, to flash may be said to reflect the brevity, swiftness and energetic nature of their corresponding actions. The word thrill has something in the quality of its sound that very aptly conveys the tremulous, tingling sensation it expresses.
Some scholars have given serious consideration to this theory. However, it has not yet been properly developed.
In reduplication new words are made by doubling a stem, either without any phonetic changes as in bye-bye (coll, for good-bye) or with a variation of the root-vowel or consonant as in ping-pong, chit-chat (this second type is called gradational reduplication). This type of word-building is greatly facilitated in Modern English by the vast number of monosyllables. Stylistically speaking, most words made by reduplication represent informal groups: colloquialisms and slang. E. g. walkie-talkie ("a portable radio"), riff-raff ("the worthless or disreputable element of society"; "the dregs of society"), chi-chi (sl. for chic as in a chi-chi girl).
In a modern novel an angry father accuses his teenager son of doing nothing but dilly-dallying all over the town.
(dilly-dallying -- wasting time, doing nothing, loitering)
Another example of a word made by reduplication may be found in the following quotation from The Importance of Being Earnest by O. Wilde:
Lady Bracknell. I think it is high time that Mr. Bunbury made up his mind whether he was going to live or to die. This shilly-shallying with the question is absurd. (shilly-shallying -- irresolution, indecision)
The earliest examples of this type of word-building are the verb to beg that was made from the French borrowing beggar, to burgle from burglar, to cobble from cobbler. In all these cases the verb was made from the noun by subtracting what was mistakenly associated with the English suffix -er. The pattern of the type to work -- worker was firmly established in the subconscious of English-speaking people at the time when these formations appeared, and it was taken for granted that any noun denoting profession or occupation is certain to have a corresponding verb of the same root. So, in the case of the verbs to beg, to burgle, to cobble the process was reversed: instead of a noun made from a verb by affixation (as in painter from to paint), a verb was produced from a noun by subtraction. That is why this type of word-building received the name of back-formation or reversion.
Later examples of back-formation are to butle from butler, to baby-sit from baby-sitter, to force-land from forced landing, to blood-transfuse from blood-transfuing sorry for everybody who isn't a girl and who can't come here, I am sure the college you attended when you were a boy couldn't have been so nice.
My room is up in a tower. There are three other girls on the same floor of the tower -- a Senior who wears spectacles and is always asking us please to be a little more quiet, and two Freshmen named Sallie McBride and Julia Rutledge Pendleton. Sallie has red hair and a turn-up nose and is quite friendly; Julia comes from one of the first families in New York and hasn't noticed me yet. They room together and the Senior and I have singles. Usually Freshmen can't get singles; they are very few, but I got one without even asking. I suppose the register didn't think it would be right to ask a properly brought up girl to room with a foundling. You see there are advantages.
7. What Is "Meaning"?
Language is the amber in which a thousand precious and subtle thoughts have been safely embedded and preserved.
(From Word and Phrase by J. Fitzgerald)
The question posed by the title of this chapter is one of those questions which are easier to ask than answer. The linguistic science at present is not able to put forward a definition of meaning which is conclusive.
However, there are certain facts of which we can be reasonably sure, and one of them is that the very function of the word as a unit of communication is made possible by its possessing a meaning. Therefore, among the word's various characteristics, meaning is certainly the most important.
Generally speaking, meaning can be more or less described as a component of the word through which a concept is communicated, in this way endowing the word with the ability of denoting real objects, qualities, actions and abstract notions. The complex and somewhat mysterious relationships between referent (object, etc. denoted by the word), concept and word are traditionally represented by the following triangle :
By the "symbol" here is meant the word; thought or reference is concept. The dotted line suggests that there is no immediate relation between word and referent: it is established only through the concept.
On the other hand, there is a hypothesis that concepts can only find their realisation through words. It seems that thought is dormant till the word wakens it up. It is only when we hear a spoken word or read a printed word that the corresponding concept springs into mind.
The mechanism by which concepts (i. e. mental phenomena) are converted into words (i. e. linguistic phenomena) and the reverse process by which a heard or a printed word is converted into a kind of mental picture are not yet understood or described. Probably that is the reason why the process of communication through words, if one gives it some thought, seems nothing short of a miracle. Isn't it fantastic that the mere vibrations of a speaker's vocal chords should be taken up by a listener's brain and converted into vivid pictures? If magic does exist in the world, then it is truly the magic of human speech; only we are so used to this miracle that we do not realise its almost supernatural qualities.
The branch of linguistics which specialises in the study of meaning is called semantics. As with many terms, the term "semantics" is ambiguous for it can stand, as well, for the expressive aspect of language in general and for the meaning of one particular word in all its varied aspects and nuances (i.e. the semantics of a word = the meaning(s) of a word).
As Mario Pei puts it in The Study of Language, "Semantics is 'language' in its broadest, most inclusive aspect. Sounds, words, grammatical forms, syntactical constructions are the tools of language. Semantics is language's avowed purpose" The meanings of all the utterances of a speech community are said by another leading linguist to include the total experience of that community; arts, science, practical occupations, amusements, personal and family life.
The modern approach to semantics is based on the assumption that the inner form of the word (i. e. its meaning) presents a structure which is called the semantic structure of the word.
Yet, before going deeper into this problem, it is necessary to make a brief survey of another semantic phenomenon which is closely connected with it.
Polysemy. Semantic Structure of the Word
The semantic structure of the word does not present an indissoluble unity (that is, actually, why it is referred to as "structure"), nor does it necessarily stand for one concept. It is generally known that most words convey several concepts and thus possess the corresponding number of meanings. A word having several meanings is called polysemantic, and the ability of words to have more than one meaning is described by the term polysemy.
Two somewhat naive but frequently asked questions may arise in connection with polysemy:
Is polysemy an anomaly or a general rule in English vocabulary?
Is polysemy an advantage or a disadvantage so far as the process of communication is concerned?
Let us deal with both these questions together.
Polysemy is certainly not an anomaly. Most English words are polysemantic. It should be noted that the wealth of expressive resources of a language largely depends on the degree to which polysemy has developed in the language. Sometimes people who are not very well informed in linguistic matters claim that a language is lacking in words if the need arises for the same word to be applied to several different phenomena. In actual fact, it is exactly the opposite: if each word is found to be capable of conveying, let us say, at least two concepts instead of one, the expressive potential of the whole vocabulary increases twofold. Hence, a well-developed polysemy is not a drawback but a great advantage in a language.
On the other hand, it should be pointed out that the number of sound combinations that human speech organs can produce is limited. Therefore at a certain stage of language development the production of new words by morphological means becomes limited, and polysemy becomes increasingly important in providing the means for enriching the vocabulary. From this, it should be clear that the process of enriching the vocabulary does not consist merely in adding new words to it, but, also, in the constant development of polysemy.
The system of meanings of any polysemantic word develops gradually, mostly over the centuries, as more and more new meanings are either added to old ones, or oust some of them (see Ch. 8). So the complicated processes of polysemy development involve both the appearance of new meanings and the loss of old ones. Yet, the general tendency with English vocabulary at the modern stage of its history is to increase the total number of its meanings and in this way to provide for a quantitative and qualitative growth of the language's expressive resources.
When analysing the semantic structure of a polysemantic word, it is necessary to distinguish between two levels of analysis.
On the first level, the semantic structure of a word is treated as a system of meanings. For example, the semantic structure of the noun fire could be roughly presented by this scheme (only the most frequent meanings are given):
The above scheme suggests that meaning I holds a kind of dominance over the other meanings conveying the concept in the most general way whereas meanings II--V are associated with special circumstances, aspects and instances of the same phenomenon.
Meaning I (generally referred to as the main meaning) presents the centre of the semantic structure of the word holding it together. It is mainly through meaning I that meanings II--V (they are called secondary meanings) can be associated with one another, some of them exclusively through meaning I, as, for instance, meanings IV and V.
It would hardly be possible to establish any logical associations between some of the meanings of the noun bar except through the main meaning:1
We give only a fragment of the semantic structure of bar, so as to illustrate the point.
Meanings II and III have no logical links with one another whereas each separately is easily associated with meaning I: meaning II through the traditional barrier dividing a court-room into two parts; meaning III through the counter serving as a kind of barrier between the customers of a pub and the barman.
Yet, it is not in every polysemantic word that such a centre can be found. Some semantic structures are arranged on a different principle. In the following list of meanings of the adjective dull one can hardly hope to find a generalised meaning covering and holding together the rest of the semantic structure.
I. Uninteresting, monotonous, boring; e. g. a dull
book, a dull film.
II. Slow in understanding, stupid; e. g. a dull student.
III. Not clear or bright; e. g. dull weather, a dull day, a dull colour.
IV. Not loud or distinct; e. g. a dull sound. V. Not sharp; e. g. a dull knife.
VI. Not active; e. g. Trade is dull. VII. Seeing badly; e. g. dull eyes (arch.). VIII, Hearing badly; e. g. dull ears (arch.),
Yet, one distinctly feels that there is something that all these seemingly miscellaneous meanings have in common, and that is the implication of deficiency, be it of colour (m. III), wits (m. II), interest (m. I), sharpness (m. V), etc. The implication of insufficient quality, of something lacking, can be clearly distinguished in each separate meaning.
In fact, each meaning definition in the given scheme can be subjected to a transformational operation to prove the point.
I. Uninteresting > deficient in interest or excitement. II. ... Stupid > deficient in intellect.
Not bright > deficient in light or colour.
Not loud > deficient in sound.
V. Not sharp > deficient in sharpness.
VI. Not active > deficient in activity.
VII. Seeing badly > deficient in eyesight.
VIII. Hearing badly > deficient in hearing.
The transformed scheme of the semantic structure of dull clearly shows that the centre holding together the complex semantic structure of this word is not one of the meanings but a certain component that can be easily singled out within each separate meaning.
This brings us to the second level of analysis of the semantic structure of a word. The transformational operation with the meaning definitions of dull reveals something very significant: the semantic structure of the word is "divisible", as it were, not only at the level of different meanings but, also, at a deeper level.
Each separate meaning seems to be subject to structural analysis in which it may be represented as sets of semantic components. In terms of componential analysis, one of the modern methods of semantic research, the meaning of a word is defined as a set of elements of meaning which are not part of the vocabulary of the language itself, but rather theoretical elements, postulated in order to describe the semantic relations between the lexical elements of a given language.
The scheme of the semantic structure of dull shows that the semantic structure of a word is not a mere system of meanings, for each separate meaning is subject to further subdivision and possesses an inner structure of its own.
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