Introduction

Lexicology of the English Language

INTRODUCTION: SUBJECT MATTER AND MAIN NOTIONS OF LEXICOLOGY

Subject matter of Lexicology

Lexicology is a branch of linguistics dedicated to the linguistic theory and methodology for describing lexical information.

Lexicology studies words and their equivalents, their nature and meaning (semantics), word-formation, relations between words (semantical relations), word groups (such as idioms), the evolution of vocabulary (etymology of words) and the whole lexicon (wordstock of language/vocabulary).

Branches of Lexicology

  • Morphology: analysis and description of the structure of morphemes and other linguistic units
  • Semasiology: the study of the meaning of words (semantics)
  • Etymology: the study of the history of words, their origins and how they change over time
  • Phraseology: the study of set or fixed expressions, such as idioms, phrasal verbs etc.
  • Lexicography: the principles and practices of dictionary making
  • Terminology: the study of terms and their use
  • Computational lexicology: branch of computational linguistics which is concerned with the use of computers in the study of lexicon.

Main notions of Lexicology

  • Vocabulary is the total sum of all words in a language.
  • The word is a main speech unit used for the purposes of human communication. Materially, it is a group of sounds associated with some meaning, and it can have a grammatical function; it is characterised by formal and semantic unity. The form of the word makes its external structure; the meaning of a word makes its internal structure.
  • The main function of the word is nomination— ability to give names to objects of reality.
  • The word is a unity of its content and form. The form of the word makes its external structure; the meaning (content) of a word makes its internal structure.

How to study/analyse words

Syntagmatic study/analysis is the study of the word from the viewpoint of its relationships with neighbouring words in connected speech (in context).

e.g. He is the brightest student in the class.

The words in this sentence are connected with syntagmatic relations: pronoun ‘he’ is connected with the link verb ‘is,’ superlative adjective ‘brightest’ is connected with ‘student’ etc. The word ‘brightest,’ when used in collocation with ‘student,’ acquires a specific meaning ‘clever.’ However, if it is used in a different context, e.g. ‘the brightest star,’ it will have a direct meaning ‘shining strongly’; so syntagmatic relations affect the word meaning.

Paradigmatic study/analysis: the study of the word in its relationships with other words in the vocabulary system; the analysis of paradigms embedded in the text.

e.g. He is the brightest student in the class.

Words in vocabulary enter different paradigms, i.e. sets or patterns of forms all of which contain a particular element, either grammatical or semantical, e.g. set of grammatical forms ‘student-students,’ ‘is-am-are,’ ‘bright-brighter-brightest’ or synonymic or antonymic series, e.g. ‘bright-clever-smart.’ In a context we have to choose only one particular form.

Syntagmatic and paradigmatic interference generally imply “saying the right word at the right time.”

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Also:

Syncronical (descriptive) study: the study of vocabulary units at a given stage of development of the word.

Diachronical/historicalstudy: the study of the origin and development of lexical units.

Another way to investigate vocabulary and lexical structure is by description of semantic (lexical) fields.
The semantic field is a sector of vocabulary with a common concept, e.g. red, blue, yellow, black = colours

The members of the semantic fields are not synonyms but all of them are joined together by some common semantic component

 

 

CHECK YOUR UNDERSTANDING

1) What does lexicology study?

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Words and their equivalents, word-formation, relations between words, word groups, evolution of vocabulary, the whole lexicon

2) What is nomination?

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The ability of a word to give names to objects of reality.

 3) The word is a unity of which two aspects?

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Form and meaning.

 4) What is vocabulary?

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A total sum of all words in a language

 5) The study of the word from the viewpoint of its relationships with neighbouring words in connected speech (in context) is called the … study (analysis)

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… syntagmatic study (analysis)

 6) The study of the word in its relationships with other words in the vocabulary system is called the … study (analysis)

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… paradigmatic study (analysis)

 7) The study of vocabulary units at a given stage of development of the word is called the … study.

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… synchronical/descriptive study

 8) The study of the origin and development of lexical units is called … study

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diachronical/historical study

 9) What is a semantic (lexical) field?

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A sector of vocabulary with a common concept

Optional Reading: LEXICAL STRUCTURE

One way of imposing order on the thousands of lexemes which make up the English vocabulary is to group them into semantic fields (p. 157). But how are these fields structured? How exactly do the lexemes within a field relate to each other? It is obvious from dictionary definitions and thesaurus groupings that some lexemes do ‘belong’ together. How can we define what this ‘belonging together’ consists of?

A well-established model of lexical structure makes us think of lexemes as being related along two intersecting dimensions, as shown in the figure.

On the horizontal dimension, we sense the relationships between lexemes in а sequence. There ‘is a certain mutual expectancy between the main lexemes in the sentence ‘It writhed on the ground in excruciating pain.’ Our linguistic intuition tells us that ‘excruciating’ tends to occur with ‘pain,’ ‘agony,’ and a few other lexemes, and not with ‘joy,’ ‘ignorance,’ and most other nouns in the language. Likewise, ‘writhe’ and ‘agony’ commonly co-occur, as do ‘writhe’ and ‘ground.’

‘Horizontal’ expectancies of this kind are known as collocation, or sectional restrictions. Excruciating we can say, selects’ or collocates with’ pain.

On the vertical dimension, we sense the way in which one lexeme can substitute for another, and relate to it in meaning. If the sentence were ‘My auntie has bought a red automobile’ we can focus on any one of the lexemes, and replace it. We might replace ‘bought ‘ by a lexeme of similar meaning (a synonym), such as ‘purchased,’ or by one of contrasting meaning (an antonym), such as ‘sold.’ We might replace ‘automobile’ by a lexeme of more specific meaning (a hyponym), such as ‘Ford’ or by one of more general meaning (a hypernim), such as ‘vehicle.’ Or, of course, we might replace ‘automobile’ by a lexeme which has nothing to do with it in meaning at all, such as ‘dress’ or ‘pencil.’  The predictable links between lexemes are called sense relations, and they are at the core of any account of lexical structure (p. 164).

SYNTAGMATIC AND PARADIGMATIC

We owe this two-dimensional model of language structure to the Swiss pioneer of modem linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913). As a result of his approach, the relationships on the horizontal dimension are now described as syntagmatic, and those on the vertical dimension as paradigmatic The model is shown here being  applied to the study of semantic relationships; but it can equally be used to investigate intersecting relationships in grammar and phonology (§§16,17).

Fig.1

 

Fig-1-Lexical-structure

 

 

Another way to investigate vocabulary and lexical structure is by description of semantic (lexical) fields. The semantic field is a sector of vocabulary with a common concept. For example, the words blue, red, yellow, black, etc. may be described as making up the semantic field of colours, the words mother, father, brother, cousin, etc. — as members of the semantic field of kinship terms, the words joy, happiness, gaiety, enjoyment, etc. as belonging to the field of pleasurable emotions, and so on.

The members of the semantic fields are not synonyms but all of them are joined together by some common semantic component — the concept of colours or the concept of kinship, etc. This semantic component common to all the members of the field is sometimes called “a common denominator of meaning.” All members of the lexical field semantically interrelate and define each other.

A very large number of lexemes can be grouped together into fields and subfields in a fairly clear-cut way.

 

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