The term “lexicology” is composed of two Greek morphemes: lexis denoting “word” and logos denoting “learning”. Thus the literal meaning of the term “lexicology” is “the science of the word”. In modern linguistics lexicology is one of the branches of science dealing with different properties of words and the vocabulary of a language.
The term “word” denotes the basic unit of a language resulting from the association of a particular meaning with a particular group of sounds capable of a particular grammatical employment. The word is a structural and semantic entity within the language system.
The term “vocabulary” is used to denote the system formed by the total sum of all the words that the language possesses.
Distinction is naturally made between General Lexicology and Special Lexicology.
The general study of words and vocabulary, irrespective of the specific features of any particular language, is known as General Lexicology.
Special Lexicology is the lexicology of a particular language (e.g. English, Russian, etc.), i.e. the study and description of its words and vocabulary. Special lexicology may be historical and descriptive.
The evolution of any vocabulary, as well as of its single elements, forms the object of Historical Lexicology. This branch of linguistics deals with the origin of various words, their change and development, and investigates the linguistic and extra-linguistic forces modifying their structure, meaning and usage.
Descriptive Lexicology deals with the vocabulary of a given language at a given stage of its development. It studies the functions of words and their specific structure as a characteristic inherent in the system.
Lexicology has close ties with other branches of linguistics as they also take into account words in one way or another approaching them from different angles.
There is a relationship between lexicology and phonetics since phonetics is also concerned with the study of the word, i.e. with the sound-form of the word. A close connection between lexicology and grammar is conditioned by the manifold ties between the objects of their study. Even isolated words as presented in a dictionary bear a definite relation to the grammatical system of the language because they belong to some part of speech and conform to some lexico-grammatical characteristics of the word class to which they belong. Lexicology is linked with the history of a language since the latter investigates the changes and the development of the vocabulary of a language. There is also a close relationship between lexicology and stylistics. Stylistics studies many problems treated in lexicology. There are the problems of meaning, synonymy, differentiation of vocabulary according to the sphere of communication and some other issues. Lexicology is bound up with sociolinguistics. Sociolinguistics investigates the extra-linguistic or social causes of the changes in the vocabulary of a language.
Two Approaches to Language Study
There are two principal approaches in linguistic science to the study of language material, namely the synchronic (or descriptive) and the diachronic (or historical) approach. The distinction between a synchronic and a diachronic approach is due to Swiss philologist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) who separated the two approaches stating that synchronic linguistics is concerned with systems and diachronic linguistics – with single units.
The term “synchronic” is composed of two Greek morphemes syn meaning “together, with” and chronos which denotes “time”. Thus, with regard to special lexicology the synchronic approach is concerned with the vocabulary of a language as it exists at a given period of time, e.g. at the present time.
The term “diachronic” is composed of the Greek morphemes dia meaning “through” and chronos meaning “time”. Thus, the diachronic approach in terms of special lexicology deals with the changes and the development of vocabulary in the course of time.
The two approaches in lexicology (synchronic and diachronic) should not be contrasted or set one against the other, in fact, they are interconnected and interdependent: every linguistic structure and system exists in a state of a constant development so that the synchronic state of a language system is a result of a long process of linguistic evolution, the result of the historical development of the language.
A good example illustrating both the distinction between the two approaches and their interconnection is furnished by the words to beg and beggar. Synchronically, these words are related as a simple word (to beg) and a derived word (beggar). The noun beggar is derived from the verb to beg by means of the suffix –ar. Diachronically, however, we learn that the noun beggar was borrowed from Old French and the verb to beg appeared in the English language as a result of back derivation, i.e. it was derived from the noun beggar.
Thus, the synchronic approach studies language at a theoretical “point” in time. The diachronic approach refers to Historical Lexicology that studies the development of language or languages over time.
Modern English Lexicology aims at giving a systematic description of the word-stock of Modern English. Modern English Lexicology investigates the problems of word-structure and word-formation in Modern English, the semantic structure of English words, the main principles underlying the classification of vocabulary units into various groupings, the laws governing the replenishment of the vocabulary with new vocabulary units.
Modern English Lexicology studies the relations between various layers of the English vocabulary and the specific laws and regulations that govern its development at the present time. The source and growth of the English vocabulary, the changes it has undergone in its history are also dwelt upon.