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The main problems of lexicology

The Object of Lexicology

Antrushina G.B. English Lexicology

(pp. 6 – 11)


1. What is lexicology?

2. The structure of the word.

3. The main problems of lexicology.

4. Phraseology.

5. Vocabulary as a system.


What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet…

(W. Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet)

Что в имени твоём? То, что зовём мы розой, -

И под другим названьем сохраняло б

Свой сладкий запах!

(перевод Щепкиной-Куперник)


1. What is lexicology?

These famous lines reflect one of the fundamental problems of linguistic research: what is in a name, in a word? Is there any direct connection between a word and the object it represents? Could a rose have been called by “any other name” as Juliet says?

These and similar questions are answered by lexicological research. Lexicology,a branch of linguistics, is the study of words.

“Lexicology(from Gr lexis ‘word’ and logos ‘learning’) is the part of linguistics dealing with the vocabulary of a language and the properties of words as the main units of language. The term vocabularyis used to denote the system formed by the sum total of all the words that the language possesses.

The term worddenotes the basic unit of a given language resulting from the association of a particular meaning with a particular group of sounds capable of a particular grammatical employment. A word therefore is simultaneously a semantic, grammatical and phonological unit.”

(I. Arnold, Lexicology, p.9)

We do not know much about the origin of language and, consequently, of the origin of words. We know almost nothing about the mechanism by which a speaker’s mental process is converted into sound groups called “words”, nor about the reverse process whereby a listener’s brain converts the acoustic phenomena into concepts and ideas, thus establishing a two-way process of communication.

We know very little about the nature of relations between the word and the referent (i.e. object, phenomenon, quality, action, etc. denoted by the word). If we assume that there is a direct relation between the word and the referent it gives rise to another question: how should we explain the fact that the same referent is designated by quite different sound groups in different languages.

We do knowby now that there is nothing accidental about the vocabulary of the language (the total sum of its words);that each word is a small unit within a vast, efficient and perfectly balanced system.

What do we know about the nature of the word?

First, we know that the word is a unit of speech which serves the purposes of human communication. Thus, the word can be defined as a unit of communication.

Secondly, the word can be perceived as the total of the sounds which comprise it.

Third, the word, viewed structurally, possesses several characteristics.

The structure of the word

The modern approach to word studies is based on distinguishing between the externaland theinternalstructures of the word.

By external structure of the wordwe mean its morphological structure. For example, in the word post-impressionists the following morphemes can be distinguished: the prefixes post-, im-, the root press, the noun-forming suffixes -ion, -ist, and the grammatical suffix of plurality -s. All these morphemes constitute the external structure of the word post-impressionists.

The internal structure of the word,or its meaning,is commonly referred to as the word’s semantic structure.This is the word’s main aspect. Words can serve the purposes of human communication solely due to their meanings.

The area of lexicology specializing in the semantic studies of the word is called semantics.

Another structural aspect of the word is its unity. The word possesses both external (or formal) unity and semantic unity. Formal unity of the word is sometimes interpreted as indivisibility. The example of post-impressionists has already shown that the word is not indivisible. Yet, its component morphemes are permanently linked together in opposition to word-groups, both free and with fixed contexts, whose components possess a certain structural freedom, e.g. bright light, to take for granted.

The formal unity of the word can best be illustrated by comparing a word and a word-group comprising identical constituents. The difference between a blackbird and a black bird is explained by their relationship with the grammatical system of the language. The word blackbird, which is characterized by unity, possesses a single grammatical framing: blackbird/s. The first constituent black is not subject to any grammatical changes. In the word-group a black bird each constituent can acquire grammatical forms of its own: the blackest birds I’ve ever seen. Other words can be inserted between the components: a black night bird.

The same example may be used to illustrate what we mean by semantic unity.

In the word-group a black bird each of the meaningful words conveys a separate concept: bird – a kind of living creature; black – a colour.

The word blackbird conveys only one concept: the type of bird. This is one of the main features of any word: it always conveys one concept, no matter how many component morphemes it may have in its external structure.

A further structural feature of the word is its susceptibilityto grammatical employment. In speech most words can be used in different grammatical forms in which their interrelations are realized.

All that we have said about the word can be summed up as follows.

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

The main problems of lexicology

Two of these have been already underlined. The problem of word-buildingis associated with prevailing morphological word-structures and with processes of making new words. Semanticsis the study of meaning. Modern approaches to this problem are characterized by two different levels of study: syntagmaticand paradigmatic.

On the syntagmatic level,the semantic structure of the word is analysed in its linear relationships with neighbouring words in connected speech. In other words, the semantic characteristics of the word are observed, described and studied on the basis of its typical contexts.

On the paradigmatic level,the word is studied in its relationships with other words in the vocabulary system. So, a word may be studied in comparison with other words of similar meaning. E.g. work n – labour n.Workработа, труд; 1the job that a person does especially in order to earn money. This word has many meanings (in Oxford Dictionary – 14), many synonyms and idioms [`idiemz]: creative workтворческая деятельность; public workобщественные работы;his life`s workдело его жизни; dirty work(difficult, unpleasant) 1 чёрная работа; 2грязное дело, подлость.Nice work!Отлично! Здорово!Saying(поговорка): All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy(мешай дело с бездельем, проживёшь век с весельем) it is not healthy to spend all your time working; you need to relax too.

Labour: “work” и “labour” не взаимозаменимы; labour – 1work, especially physical work: manual labour,a labour campисправительно-трудовой лагерь; 2people who work: a shortage of labour; cheap labour; skilled labour квалифицированные рабочие, Labour Party; labour relations; a labour ofSisyphus; Sisyphean labour[,sisi‘fi:en] сизифов труд; тяжёлый и бесплодный труд – of a task impossible to complete. From the Greek myth in which Sisyphus was punished for the bad things he had done in his life with the never-ending task of rolling a large stone to the top of a hill, from which it always rolled down again.

Other words of similar meaning (e.g. to refuse v – to reject v),of opposite meaning (e.g. busy adj – idle adj; to accept v – to reject v),of different stylistic characteristics (e.g. man n – chap n – bloke n – guy n). Manchap(coll.) – парень, малый; a good chap– славный малый; old chap –старина; chap –BrE, informal, becoming old-fashioned – used to talk about a man in a friendly way: He isn`t such a bad chap really. Bloke(coll.) тип, парень: He seemed like a nice bloke. Guy –coll. US – малый; tough guyжелезный малый; wise guyумник; guys(informal, especially US) a group of people of either sex: Come on, you guys!

Consequently, the main problems of paradigmatic studies are synonymy, antonymy, functional styles.


Phraseologyis the branch of lexicology specializing in word-groups which are characterized by stability of structure and transferred meaning, e.g. to take the bull by the horns, to see red, birds of a feather, etc.

Vocabulary as a system

One further important objective of lexicological studies is the study of the vocabulary of a language as a system.The vocabulary can be studied synchronically, that is, at a given stage of its development, or diachronically, that is, in the context of the processes through which it grew, developed and acquired its modern form.


Answer these questions.

1. In what way can one analyse a word a) socially, b) linguistically?

2. What are the structural aspects of the word?

3. What is the external structure of the word irresistible?(неопровержимый)? What is the internal structure of this word?

4. What is understood by formal unity of a word?

5. Explain why the word blackboard can be considered a unity and why the combination of words a black board doesn’t possess such a unity.

6. What is understood by the semantic unity of a word? Which of the following possesses semantic unity – a bluebell (колокольчик) or a blue bell (синий бубенчик).

7. Give a brief account of the main characteristics of a word.

8. What are the main problems of lexicology?

9. What are the main differences between studying words syntagmatically and paradigmatically?




aspectсторона, аспект

assumeдопускать, предполагать

blackbirdчёрный дрозд



con‘vey передавать

designate[‘dezigneit] обозначать

ideaмысль, представление, идея

,indi,vizi‘bility [,indi,vize‘bileti] неделимость – that cannot be divided into separate


lexicologyлексикология(от греческого lexis ‘слово’ и logos ‘учение’) – раздел

языкознания, изучающий слово и словарный состав языка. Словарным

составомлюбого языка называется совокупность всех имеющихся в этом

языке слов и эквивалентов слов. “Слово(Д. Розенталь) – это основная

кратчайшая единица языка, выражающая своим звуковым составом понятие о

предмете, процессе, явлении действительности, их свойствах или отношениях

между ними. В слове сочетаются признаки фонетический(звуковой комплекс),

лексико-семантический(значение) и грамматический(морфологическая

структура и составной элемент или потенциальный минимум предложения).

Слова объединяются и оформляются в речи по законам грамматики.”

Под эквивалентами словпонимаются устойчивые сочетания, которые,

подобно словам, не создаются в речи заново, а вносятся в неё в готовом виде.

morpheme [‘mo:fi:m] морфема – the smallest unit of meaning that a word can be

divided into – от греч. ‘morphẽ’ –форма. Значимая часть слова, далее неделимая.

paradigm[‘pæredaim] парадигма – a set of all the different forms of a word: греч.

пример, образец: падежные формы одного склоняемого слова: стол – стола и

т.д., или личные формы одного глагола


post-impressionist[‘poustim‘preSэnist] постимпрессионист

prefix[‘pri:fiks] префикс = приставка


referent –object, phenomenon, action, etc. denoted by the word – предмет мысли,

отражающий предмет или явление объективной действительности

semantics(the study of) the meanings of words and phrases – семантика (от греч.

sẽmantikos – обозначающий) 1смысловая сторона (значение отдельных

языковых единиц: морфем, слов, словосочетаний а также грамматических

форм); 2раздел языкознания, изучающий значения слов и выражений и

изменения этих значений(syn. семасиология от греч.sẽmasia – обозначение +

logos – понятие, учение)

solely[‘souli] исключительно

susceptibility [se,septi‘biliti] восприимчивость

syntagmatic[,sintægmætik] синтагматический; syntagma[sin‘tægme] греч.

syntagma –a unit of language consisting of sets of words, phrases that are arranged

in order нечто соединённое – по теории Ф.де Соссюра, двучленная структура,

члены которой соотносятся как определяемый и определяющий. Это могут


а)морфемы в производном слове: стол-ик; стол – определяемое, -ик

определяющее; общее значение синтагмы – маленький стол;

б)составныечасти сложного слова, из которых одна определяет другую:

водовоз: водо-воз;

в)компоненты словосочетания: новый учебник и т.д.


Learn these terms:

Synonymy[si‘nonimi] синонимия – the fact of two or more words or expressions having the same meaning: big – large, work – labour – job.

Antonymy[en‘tonimi] антонимия; antonym[‘æntenim] антоним – a word that means the opposite of another word: old – young – new.

Phraseology[,freizi`oledзi] фразеология – раздел лексикологии, изучающий устойчивые в своём составе и структуре, лексически неделимые, целостные по значению словосочетания, воспроизводимые в виде готовой речевой единицы – устойчивые обороты речи: to see redприйти в ярость, бешенство; birds of afeatherдва сапога пара; тёплая компания; одного поля ягода; одним лыком шиты; один другого стоит.

Synchronic[siŋ`kronik] синхронический; synchrony –синхрония – состояние языка на определенном этапе исторического развития.

Diachronic[,daie`kronik] диахронический; diachronyдиахрония –

историческая последовательность развития отдельных языковых явлений и развитие системы языка в целом.


Exercise (p. 11, answers)

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