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Lecture 8




The previous lectures were dedicated to the separate units of the lexical system (words and phraseological units), whereas the system of the units also makes an object of lexicology.

Though the vocabulary of a language, in contrast to grammar, seems to be chaotic, lexicology tends to study it as patterns of semantic relationships, and of any formal phonological, morphological and contextual means by which they may be rendered. So, lexicology also aims at systematisation.

The term system as used in present-day lexicology denotes not merely the sum total of English words, it denotes the set of elements associated and functioning together according to certain laws. It is coherent homogeneous whole, constituent of interdependent elements of the same order related in certain specific ways.


Since lexicology deals with the vocabulary as sets of elements, it is important to single out the ways these sets are formed. We will call this process grouping: singling out the sets of vocabulary units united according to a certain criterion. There are the following types of semantic grouping to be considered: morphological, lexico-grammatical, thematic, ideographic and non-semantic.


At the morphological level words are divided into four groups ac­cording to their morphological structure, namely the number and type of morphemes which compose them. They are:

1. Root or morpheme words. Their stem contains one free mor­pheme, e. g. dog, hand.

2. Derivatives contain no less than two morphemes of which at least one is bound, e.g. dogged, doggedly, handy, handful; sometimes both are bound: terrier.

3. Compound words consist of not less than two free morphemes, the presence of bound morphemes is possible but not necessary, e. g. dog-cheap 'very cheap'; dog-days 'hottest part of the year'; handball, handbook.

4. Compound derivatives consist of not less than two free morphemes and one bound morpheme referring to the whole combination. The pat­tern is (stem + stem) + suffix, e. g. dog-legged 'crooked or bent like a dog's hind leg', left-handed.

This division is the basic one for lexicology.

Another type of traditional lexicological grouping is known as word-families. The number of groups is certainly much greater, being equal to the number of root morphemes if all the words are grouped according to the root morpheme. For example: dog, doggish, doglike, doggy/doggie, to dog, dogged, doggedly, doggedness, dog-wolf, dog-days, dog-biscuit, dog-cart, etc.; hand, handy, handicraft, handbag, handball, handful, handmade etc.

Similar groupings according to a common suffix or prefix are also possible, if not as often made use of. The greater the combining power of the affix, the more numerous the group is. Groups with such suffixes as -er, -ing, -ish, -less, -ness constitute infinite (open) sets, i.e. are al­most unlimited, because new combinations are constantly created. When the suffix is no longer productive the group may have a diminishing number of elements, as with the adjective-forming suffix -some, e. g. gladsome, gruesome, handsome, lithesome, lonesome, tiresome, trou­blesome, wearisome, wholesome, winsome, etc.

Lexico-grammatical grouping consists in classifying words not in isolation but taking them within actual utterances. Here the first contrast to consider is the con­trast between notional words and form or functional words. Actually the definition of the word as a minimum free form holds good for notion­al words only. It is only notional words that can stand alone and yet have meaning and form a complete utterance. They can name dif­ferent objects of reality, the qualities of these objects and actions or the process in which they take part. In sentences they function syntactically as some primary or secondary members.

Form words, also called functional words, empty words or auxiliaries (the latter term is coined by H. Sweet), are lexical units which are called words, although they do not conform to the definition of the word, because they are used only in combination with notional words or in reference to them. This group comprises auxiliary verbs, prepositions, conjunctions and relative adverbs. Primarily they express grammatical relationships between words. This does not, however, imply that they have no lexical meaning of their own.

The borderline between notional and functional words is not always very clear and does not correspond to that between various parts of speech. Thus, most verbs are notional words, but the auxiliary verbs are clas­sified as form words. It is open to discussion whether link verbs should be treated as form words or not. The situation is very complicated if we consider pronouns. Personal, demonstrative and interrogative pro­nouns, as their syntactical functions testify, are notional words; reflexive pronouns seem to be form words building up such analytical verb forms as warmed myself, but this is open to discussion. As to prop-words (one, those, etc.), some authors think that they should be con­sidered as a separate, third group.

Next type of grouping is subdivisions of parts of speech into lexico-grammatical groups. By a lexico-grammatical group we un­derstand a class of words, which have 1) a common lexico-grammatical meaning, 2) a common paradigm, 3) the same substituting elements and pos­sibly 4) a characteristic set of suffixes rendering the lexico-grammatical meaning. These groups are subsets of the parts of speech, several lexico-grammatical groups constitute one part of speech. Thus, English nouns are subdivided approximately into the following lexico-grammatical groups: personal names, animal names, collective names (for people), collective names (for animals), abstract nouns, material nouns, object nouns, proper names for people, toponymic proper nouns.

If, for instance, we consider a group of nouns having the following characteristics: two number forms, the singular and the plural; two case forms; animate, substituted in the singular by he or she; common, i.e. denoting a notion and not one particular object (as proper names do); able to combine regularly with the indefinite article, some of them characterized by such suffixes as -erl-or, -ist, -ee, -eer and the semi-affix -man, we obtain the so-called personal names: agent, baker, ar­tist, volunteer, visitor, workman.

Lexico-grammatical groups should not be confused with parts of speech. A few more examples will help to grasp the difference. Audience and honesty, for instance, belong to the same part of speech but to different lexico-grammatical groups, because their lexico-grammatical meaning is different: audience is a group of people, and honesty is a qual­ity; they have different paradigms: audience has two forms, singular and plural, honesty is used only in the singular; also honesty is hardly ever used in the Possessive case unless personified. Being a collective noun, the word audience is substituted by they; hon­esty is substituted by it.

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