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Lexical Units - Lexicology

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Introduction. Lexical Units

The term lexicology comes from the Greek lexis (meaning word, lexicon) + logos (meaning discourse about words/teaching);




Lexicology is one of the most important branches of linguistics. It studies the vocabulary of a language, the word and its substitutes. It also studies variants of vocabulary which are restricted in usage either geographically (dialects and regional variants of the language), socially (hyper-correct, educated, colloquial or slangy variants), professionally (international words), stylistically or occasionally (the vocabulary of formal/informal language). Lexicology is closely related to other linguistic disciplines, i.e. phonetics (phonology), morphology, syntax and stylistics. Any word may be studied from all these linguistic aspects.

For e.g. WORD - lexicology is interested:

- in its etymology O.E. word 'speech, talk, utterance, word,' from P.Gmc. wurdan

- in its homonymy as a noun or verb – statement, discussion, order, to articulate, to give voice, to formulate

- in some phrases in which it appears – a man of word, to have a word with smb.

- in its compounds – password, wordplay (clever or funny use of words), word-perfect –adj. - to say all the words of sth. such as a speech in a play without making any mistakes (a word-perfect exam)

- in its affixes – wordy ( using more words than are necessary, especially long or formal words), wordless – without words or without speaking; wordlessly – adv.

Lexical Units – structure and classification

The basic linguistic unit with which lexicology operates is the word. According to dictionaries, a word is “an element of human speech to which a meaning is attached, which is apt to be used grammatically and which can be understood by a human collectivity constituted in a historical community”.

  • Phonetically, a word is expressed by one or more phonemes which are phonetical minimal units. (minimal unit = the smallest part).
  • e.g. the word a [ə] contains only one phoneme while the word book has 3 phonemes (b,u,k)
  • Lexically, or semantically, a word is expressed by one or more lexemes/semantemes (=the minimal unit of meaning).

e.g. the word house is expressed by one semanteme

the word classroom is made up of two semantemes (class&room)

  • Grammatically, a word is expressed by one or more morphemes (= the minimal grammatical unit).

e.g. -in the word house there is only one morpheme

-in houses there are two morphemes: house+s (s= plural ending of the noun or 3rd person singular ending of the verb): He has two houses; It houses many people.

Those elements that can stand by themselves as words are called FREE MORPHEMES (bookshelf); those that can’t stand alone, but need the support of other morphemes, are called BOUND MORPHEMES (room-rooms; quick-quickly; thinkable) .

The structure of the word contains: roots, stems, affixes.

The root (or the base) is that part of a word that remains when the inflectional and derivational affixes have been removed. (all endings, formatives)

! Derivational affixes are prefixes +suffixes; inflectional affixes refer to case, number, gender, tense, person, mood, voice. Affixes which change the meaning of a word are derivational.

E.g. in boundlessness – the root is bound; misplace (mis+placeroot); childish (childroot+ish)

The stem (or theme) is the linguistic form used as a base for a new word. Sometimes the root and the stem may coincide.

e.g. careless = the stem is the same as the root – “care”

- carelessness - the root = care; the root/the stem = careless; ness = suffix

Linguists are not always consistent in their usage of the terms root, base and stem. This is the most widely accepted terminology for analyzing word-structure, but you may find different accounts in some linguistics books.

Classification of words:

1. According to their form, words can be:

- simple (which cannot be decomposed into parts of speech – car, man etc)

- compound – blackboard, forget-me-nots

2. According to meaning or lexical value, words can be divided into:

a. words carrying a full lexical value: i.e. having a meaning of their own. They denote objects, actions or qualities: e.g. table, to talk, to see, white, interesting

b. determinatives, carrying incomplete lexical values or expressing spatial or temporal relations (prepositions, conjunctions, articles etc): e.g. on, for, since, after, although.

3. Words can be classified according to:

- what they denote e.g. - nouns denote notions (table, door)

- adjectives denote qualities (charming, ugly)

- verbs denote actions or states (to run, to be)

- prepositions denote relations (to, at, for)

- various notional spheres e.g. – size – magnitude – dimension – volume – largeness – greatness – amplitude

- various spheres of human activities – words connected with arts, business, teaching, medicine etc

Words - are used in a direct meaning (head = cap) or figurative meaning (head = sef, capetenie)

- they may be – concrete (window, tree)

- abstract (significance, idea)



- monosemantic – carrying one meaning only e.g. guitar, football

- polysemantic – carrying several meanings –a basic one and a secondary one

e.g. sound = speech sound; intelligent, healthy etc.

Lexicology also operates with word groups or word combinations (structures that are intermediate between words and sentences) e.g. to take a walk, in no way

The word groups are - complex parts of speech and phrases

a. complex part of speech may be: - complex verbs (to give up, to broadcast)

- complex adverbs (now and then, one by one)

- complex prepositions (because of, instead of)

- complex conjunctions (as if, so that)

b. phrases can be classified into:

- phrases used in a direct meaning (to have fun, in other words)

- phrases expressing figurative meaning (to give somebody a lesson; as large as life (=simile); a thousand thanks (=hyperbole))

- phraseological fusions or idioms (to a hair)

- phraseological unities (as fresh as a daisy (= simile); diamond cut diamond)

- phrases connected to human activities (trades, medicine, rivers etc):

e.g. to swallow the pill (a inghiti hapul), on thin ice (in primejdie, la strimtoare)

- monosemantic phrases: e.g. in full blast (in plin avint, in toi)

- polysemantic phrases: e.g. to be in abeyance (a astepta, a nu aparea, a nu avea stapin, a fi abrogat provizoriu)

Phrases may be stable when no change of the component element is possible – e.g. in the proverb No news is good news – not one word can be changed in point of form (i.e. of case, tense etc) or replaced by a synonym.

On the contrary, an unstable phrase is liable to change of form or (partial) replacement. Thus, in “to play a trick on somebody” – the verb can be used in various tenses and the order of the words can be changed (to play somebody a trick): e.g. I played a trick on him.

- at the same time we have synonyms for to play: to put a trick on somebody; to serve somebody a trick

The meaning of the word can be defined only in the context in which it appears when it is taken into consideration.

The Context (of Latin origin – contextus = “texture”; figuratively: “union”, “connection”, “structure”).

The notion of context may be interpreted in at least two ways:

1.in a limited linguistic sense – i.e. the immediate (left-right) linguistic environment in which a word appears – this environment being called the co-text. For example, the word front, taken in isolation, could be anything: a noun – the front of the house; a verb – to front sth.; an adjective – the front light of a car; an adverb – to sit up front; part of a prepositional substitute – to be in front of sth

or

2. in a broader sense, involving extra-linguistic factors (gestures, concrete situations in which somebody speaks, history, psychology etc) – in this case it is called the context.

Some of the linguists do not make the distinction between co-text and context. According to The Shorter Oxford Dictionary on Historical Principles, contexts are “the parts which immediately precede or follow any particular passage of a text and determine its meaning”. Unlike co-text, context is the entire text to which the item under analysis belongs. If co-text places the word into a morpho-syntactic category, context can place it into its epoch, assign it to its author, ascertain the dialect, register etc. The placing of the word along its synonyms, antonyms, paronyms, homonyms, as well as its meanings in time are given by its context; its morpho-syntactic status and contemporary meanings are given by its co-text.

-The use of certain determinatives gives a certain meaning to the word, singling out from the number of all potential meanings:

e.g. people (with zero article) = oameni, lume

many people = multi oameni

two people = doi oameni, doua persoane

this people = acest popor

that people = acel popor

the people = 1. poporul; 2 . oamenii (aceia, despre care s-a mai vorbit)

my people = 1. poporul meu; 2. ai mei, familia mea

your people = 1. poporul tau; 2. ai tai

The context helps to define the meaning of a polysemantic word:

e.g. the word light

1. antonym of darknessthe light of the day

2. a flame, or something used to produce it – give me a light

3. knowledge or information that helps understanding: “In the light of what she has said, I agree”.

4. in a way in which something appears: We have never seen/considered the matter in this light.

5. enjoyable and not very seriously – a little light reading

6. not weighing much – “as light as a feather”; “the table is a lot lighter than it looks

7. used about foods or drinks that do not have a strong taste: This is light fresh wine.

The context has the same importance in revealing the meaning of phrases:

a) “She was sitting by the window, and so she stood in his light”. (here to stand/be in somebody’s light = to prevent light from reaching somebody)

b) He intended to compete with her, so he stood in her light = hurting somebody’s changes of success, progress, promotion



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