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Stylistic Stratification of English Words

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Lecture II

In different situations we use different kinds of words to express our thoughts. There are formal and informal situations, and acordingly, formal and informal words and styles. An example of a formal situation is a lecture, a speech in court, a formal letter, professional communication. An example of an informal situation is a friendly talk, an intimate letter. So, all words are divided into two main groups: 1) words of the formal style and 2) words of the informal style. Besides, one more group is constituted by basic vocabulary units, which do not belong to any of the above-mentioned groups.

I. Words of the informal style include colloquial words, slang and dialect words.

1. Colloquial words. Colloquial words are subdivided into a) literary b) familiar and c) low colloquial words.

a. Literary colloquiallisms are used in everyday conversational speech both by cultivated and uneducated people: kid (for “child”), pal, chum (for “friend”), hi, hello, zip (for “zip fastener”), exam, fridge, flu.

b. Familiar colloquial words are used mostly by the young and the semi-educated: doc (doctor), ta-ta (good-bye), shut up, beat it (go away).

c. The low colloquial group is formed by obscene, vulgar, swear words used mostly in the speech of uncultivated people.

Colloquial words should not be used under formal circamstances, in compositions and reports.

2. Slang words.

All or most slang words are metaphores rooted in a joke: nuts (for “heads”), mugs (for “faces”), flippers (ласты) (for “hands”), etc.

Slang is mainly used by the young and uneducated and helps the speakers dissosiate themselves from others. In the course of time slang words either disappear or become neutral lexical units (slang is colourful, humourous and catching and may be accepted by all the groups of speakers).

3. Dialect words.

A dialect is a variety of a language which prevails in a district: there are, for instance, Lancashire, Dorsetshire, Yorkshire, Norfolk dialects in Britain, Nothern, Midland and Southern dialects in the USA.

Dialectal words can be transferred into the common stock (or the basic vocabulary): many frequent words of common use are dialectal in origin, such as girl, one, raid, glamour, car, tram.

In works of fiction dialect words are used to render the speech of the characters, to create a realistic effect.

II. Words of the formal style fall into two main groups: learned (книжные) words and professional words (terms).

1. Learned words. Learned words include several subdivisions of words: literary, or refined words, poetic words, words used in scientific prose and officialese (штамп, канцеляризм).



a) literary or refined words, that often sound foreign: solitude (уединение), felicity (счастье), cordial (=hearty; сердечный).

b) poetic words (poetic diction), which have a high-flown, archaic colouring: Alas!, realm [relm] (царство), wroth [rəuθ] (разгневанный), morn (for “morning”), eve (for “evening”), welkin (небосвод).

c) words that are used in scientific prose: comprise, compile, experimental.

d) officialese: assist (for “help”), proceed (for “go on”), sufficient (for “enough”), inquire (for “ask”), approximately (for “about”).

2. Archaic and obsolete [‘obsəli:t] words stand close to “learned” words, esp. poetic words. They are words which are partially or fully out of circulation and can be found in books only: damsel (for “girl”), yon (там), foe (враг), aught (что-нибудь), chop-house (харчевня, трактир) – lexical archaisms, thou (ты), thy (твой, твое), speaketh (for “you speak”) – grammatical archaisms. Some linguists use the terms “obsolete” and “archaic” as synonyms. Others believe that obsolete words are words which have completely fallen out of use, while archaisms are words which are rare in present usage. Anyway, the boderline between “obsolete” and “archaic” is uncertain. Besides, words very rarely drop out of use forever, the majority of them are found at the periphery of the lexicon and their fate is unpredictable.

Words which denote objects and phenomena of the past, which no longer exist, are known as historisms: goblet (кубок), lute (лютня), vizor (забрало), cataphract (кольчуга), childe (чайлд, молодой дворянин).

3. Professional terminology.

Every field of modern activity has its specialized vocabulary. There are special terminologies for different sciences, arts and trades. Thus, allegation, barrister, lawsuit, plaintiff are all technical terms of law; bilingual, interdental, descending stepping scale are terms of phonetics.

Terms, as a general rule, are monosemantic and have no synonyms. There seems to be no impenetrable wall between terminology and the general language system. Exchange between terminological systems and the common vocabulary is quite normal. For example, many names of diseases, or medical terms, a number of economical, commercial, political, or legal terms are in common usage now: measles, diarrhea, on-line buying, impeachment.

III. Basic Vocabulary

These words are stylistically neutral and are used by all people both in formal and informal situations, in oral and written communication: head, bread, summer, mother, go, stand, etc. Their meanings are broad, general, they are devoid of connotations. Such words are marked by stability. They denote objects and phenomena of everyday importance and constitute the beginner’s vocabulary.

The basic vocabulary and the stylistically marked (formal and informal) vocabulary are interrelated: many basic words have formal and informal counterparts. For example, the neutral words child, baby correspond to the informal words kid, brat and to the formal words infant, babe; the verb kill has a poetic synonym slay and numerous equivalents in slang: waste, get, fix.

The following table sums up the description of the stylistic strata of the English vocabulary:

 

Stylistically-neutral words Stylistically-marked words
Informal Formal
Basic vocabulary I. Colloquial words a. literary b. familiar c. low II. Slang words III. Dialect words I. Learned words a. literary b. poetic diction c.words of scientific prose d. officialese II. Archaic and obsolete words III. Professional terminology

 

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