. Lexicology of the English Language

language on separate words. E.g. it is typical of English to form nouns

denoting the agent of the action by adding the suffix -er to a verb stem

(speak- speaker). So when the French word beggar was borrowed into

English the final syllable ar was pronounced in the same way as the

English -er and Englishmen formed the verb to beg by dropping the end of

the noun. Other examples of back formation are : to accreditate (from

accreditation), to bach (from bachelor), to collocate (from collocation),

to enthuse (from enthusiasm), to compute (from computer), to emote (from

emotion) to reminisce ( from reminiscence) , to televise (from television)


As we can notice in cases of back formation the part-of-speech meaning

of the primary word is changed, verbs are formed from nouns.


The meaning of a word can change in the course of time. Changes of

lexical meanings can be proved by comparing contexts of different times.

Transfer of the meaning is called lexico-semantic word-building. In such

cases the outer aspect of a word does not change.

The causes of semantic changes can be extra-linguistic and linguistic,

e.g. the change of the lexical meaning of the noun pen was due to extra-

linguistic causes. Primarily pen comes back to the Latin word penna (a

feather of a bird). As people wrote with goose pens the name was

transferred to steel pens which were later on used for writing. Still later

any instrument for writing was called a pen.

On the other hand causes can be linguistic, e.g. the conflict of synonyms

when a perfect synonym of a native word is borrowed from some other

language one of them may specialize in its meaning, e.g. the noun tide in

Old English was polisemantic and denoted time, season, hour. When the

French words time, season, hour were borrowed into English they

ousted the word tide in these meanings. It was specialized and now means

regular rise and fall of the sea caused by attraction of the moon. The

meaning of a word can also change due to ellipsis, e.g. the word-group a

train of carriages had the meaning of a row of carriages, later on of

carriages was dropped and the noun train changed its meaning, it is used

now in the function and with the meaning of the whole word-group.

Semantic changes have been classified by different scientists. The most

complete classification was suggested by a German scientist Herman Paul in

his work Prinzipien des Sprachgeschichte. It is based on the logical

principle. He distiguishes two main ways where the semantic change is

gradual ( specialization and generalization), two momentary conscious

semantic changes (metaphor and metonymy) and also secondary ways: gradual

(elevation and degradation), momentary (hyperbole and litote).


It is a gradual process when a word passes from a general sphere to some

special sphere of communication, e.g. case has a general meaning

circumstances in which a person or a thing is. It is specialized in its

meaning when used in law (a law suit), in grammar (a form in the paradigm

of a noun), in medicine (a patient, an illness). The difference between

these meanings is revealed in the context.

The meaning of a word can specialize when it remains in the general

usage. It happens in the case of the conflict between two absolute synonyms

when one of them must specialize in its meaning to remain in the language,

e.g. the native word meat had the meaning food, this meaning is

preserved in the compound sweetmeats. The meaning edible flesh was

formed when the word food, its absolute synonym, won in the conflict of

absolute synonyms (both words are native). The English verb starve was

specialized in its meaning after the Scandinavian verb die was borrowed

into English. Die became the general verb with this meaning because in

English there were the noun death and the adjective dead. Starve got

the meaning to die of hunger .

The third way of specialization is the formation of Proper names from

common nouns, it is often used in toponimics, e.g. the City - the business

part of London, Oxford - university town in England, the Tower -originally

a fortress and palace, later -a prison, now - a museum.

The fourth way of specialization is ellipsis. In such cases primaraly we

have a word-group of the type attribute + noun, which is used constantly

in a definite situation. Due to it the attribute can be dropped and the

noun can get the meaning of the whole word-group, e.g. room originally

meant space, this meaning is retained in the adjective roomy and word

combinations: no room for, to take room, to take no room. The

meaning of the word room was specialized because it was often used in

the combinations: dining room, sleeping room which meant space for

dining , space for sleeping.


It is a process contrary to specializaton, in such cases the meaning of a

word becomes more general in the course of time.

The transfer from a concrete meaning to an abstract one is most frequent,

e.g. ready (a derivative from the verb ridan - ride) meant prepared

for a ride, now its meaning is prepared for anything. Journey was

borrowed from French with the meaning one day trip, now it means a trip

of any duration.

All auxiliary verbs are cases of generalization of their lexical meaning

because they developed a grammatical meaning : have, be, do, shall

, will when used as auxiliary verbs are devoid of their lexical meaning

which they have when used as notional verbs or modal verbs, e.g. cf. I

have several books by this writer and I have read some books by this

author. In the first sentence the verb have has the meaning possess,

in the second sentence it has no lexical meaning, its grammatical meaning

is to form Present Perfect.


It is a transfer of the meaning on the basis of comparison. Herman Paul

points out that metaphor can be based on different types of similarity:

a) similarity of shape, e.g. head (of a cabbage), bottleneck, teeth (of a

saw, a comb);

b) similarity of position, e.g. foot (of a page, of a mountain), head (of

a procession);

c) similarity of function, behaviour e.g. a whip (an official in the

British Parliament whose duty is to see that members were present at the


d) similarity of colour, e.g. orange, hazel, chestnut etc.

In some cases we have a complex similarity, e.g. the leg of a table has a

similarity to a human leg in its shape, position and function.

Many metaphors are based on parts of a human body, e.g. an eye of a

needle, arms and mouth of a river, head of an army.

A special type of metaphor is when Proper names become common nouns, e.g.

philistine - a mercenary person, vandals - destructive people, a Don Juan -

a lover of many women etc.


It is a transfer of the meaning on the basis of contiguity. There are

different types of metonymy:

a) the material of which an object is made may become the name of the

object , e.g. a glass, boards, iron etc;

b) the name of the place may become the name of the people or of an

object placed there, e.g. the House - members of Parliament, Fleet Street

- bourgeois press, the White House - the Administration of the USA etc;

c) names of musical instruments may become names of musicians, e.g. the

violin, the saxophone;

d) the name of some person may becom a common noun, e.g. boycott was

originally the name of an Irish family who were so much disliked by their

neighbours that they did not mix with them, sandwich was named after Lord

Sandwich who was a gambler. He did not want to interrupt his game and had

his food brought to him while he was playing cards between two slices of

bread not to soil his fingers.

e) names of inventors very often become terms to denote things they

invented, e.g. watt , om, rentgen etc

f) some geographical names can also become common nouns through metonymy,

e.g. holland (linen fabrics), Brussels (a special kind of carpets) , china

(porcelain) , astrachan ( a sheep fur) etc.


It is a transfer of the meaning when it becomes better in the course of

time, e.g. knight originally meant a boy, then a young servant, then

a military servant, then a noble man. Now it is a title of nobility

given to outstanding people; marshal originally meant a horse man now

it is the highest military rank etc.


It is a transfer of the meaning when it becomes worse in the course of

time. It is usually connected with nouns denoting common people, e.g.

villain originally meant working on a villa now it means a scoundrel.


It is a transfer of the meaning when the speaker uses exaggeration,

e.g. to hate(doing something), (not to see somebody) for ages.

Hyperbole is often used to form phraseological units, e.g. to make a

mountain out of a molehill, to split hairs etc.


It is a transfer of the meaning when the speaker expresses affirmative

with the negative or vica versa, e.g. not bad, no coward etc.


The vocabulary of a language is enriched not only by words but also by

phraseological units. Phraseological units are word-groups that cannot be

made in the process of speech, they exist in the language as ready-made

units. They are compiled in special dictionaries. The same as words

phraseological units express a single notion and are used in a sentence as

one part of it. American and British lexicographers call such units

idioms. We can mention such dictionaries as: L.Smith Words and Idioms,

V.Collins A Book of English Idioms etc. In these dictionaries we can find

words, peculiar in their semantics (idiomatic), side by side with word-

groups and sentences. In these dictionaries they are arranged, as a rule,

into different semantic groups.

Phraseological units can be classified according to the ways they are

formed, according to the degree of the motivation of their meaning,

according to their structure and according to their part-of-speech meaning.


A.V. Koonin classified phraseological units according to the way they

are formed. He pointed out primary and secondary ways of forming

phraseological units.

Primary ways of forming phraseological units are those when a unit is

formed on the basis of a free word-group :

a) Most productive in Modern English is the formation of phraseological

units by means of transferring the meaning of terminological word-groups,

e.g. in cosmic technique we can point out the following phrases: launching

pad in its terminological meaning is , in its

transferred meaning - , to link up - c,

in its tranformed meaning it means


b) a large group of phraseological units was formed from free word groups

by transforming their meaning, e.g. granny farm -

, Troyan horse - ,


c) phraseological units can be formed by means of alliteration , e.g. a

sad sack - , culture vulture - ,

, fudge and nudge - .

d) they can be formed by means of expressiveness, especially it is

characteristic for forming interjections, e.g. My aunt!, Hear, hear !


e) they can be formed by means of distorting a word group, e.g. odds and

ends was formed from odd ends,

f) they can be formed by using archaisms, e.g. in brown study means in

gloomy meditation where both components preserve their archaic meanings,

g) they can be formed by using a sentence in a different sphere of life,

e.g. that cock wont fight can be used as a free word-group when it is

used in sports (cock fighting ), it becomes a phraseological unit when it

is used in everyday life, because it is used metaphorically,

h) they can be formed when we use some unreal image, e.g. to have

butterflies in the stomach - , to have green

fingers - - etc.

i) they can be formed by using expressions of writers or polititions in

everyday life, e.g. corridors of power (Snow), American dream (Alby)

locust years (Churchil) , the winds of change (Mc Millan).

Secondary ways of forming phraseological units are those when a

phraseological unit is formed on the basis of another phraseological unit;

they are:

a) conversion, e.g. to vote with ones feet was converted into vote

with ones f eet;

b) changing the grammar form, e.g. Make hay while the sun shines is

transferred into a verbal phrase - to make hay while the sun shines;

c) analogy, e.g. Curiosity killed the cat was transferred into Care

killed the cat;

d) contrast, e.g. cold surgery - a planned before operation was

formed by contrasting it with acute surgery, thin cat - a poor person

was formed by contrasting it with fat cat;

e) shortening of proverbs or sayings e.g. from the proverb You cant

make a silk purse out of a sows ear by means of clipping the middle of

it the phraseological unit to make a sows ear was formed with the

meaning .

f) borrowing phraseological units from other languages, either as

translation loans, e.g. living space (German), to take the bull by the

horns ( Latin) or by means of phonetic borrowings meche blanche

(French), corpse delite (French), sotto voce (Italian) etc.

Phonetic borrowings among phraseological units refer to the bookish style

and are not used very often.


Phraseological units can be classified according to the degree of

motivation of their meaning. This classification was suggested by acad.

V.V. Vinogradov for Russian phraseological units. He pointed out three

types of phraseological units:

a) fusions where the degree of motivation is very low, we cannot guess

the meaning of the whole from the meanings of its components, they are

highly idiomatic and cannot be translated word for word into other

languages, e.g. on Shanks mare - (on foot), at sixes and sevens - (in a

mess) etc;

b) unities where the meaning of the whole can be guessed from the

meanings of its components, but it is transferred (metaphorical or

metonymical), e.g. to play the first fiddle ( to be a leader in

something), old salt (experienced sailor) etc;

c) collocations where words are combined in their original meaning but

their combinations are different in different languages, e.g. cash and

carry - (self-service shop), in a big way (in great degree) etc.


Prof. A.I. Smirnitsky worked out structural classification of

phraseological units, comparing them with words. He points out one-top

units which he compares with derived words because derived words have only

one root morpheme. He points out two-top units which he compares with

compound words because in compound words we usually have two root


Among one-top units he points out three structural types;

a) units of the type to give up (verb + postposition type), e.g. to

art up, to back up, to drop out, to nose out, to buy into, to sandwich

in etc.;

b) units of the type to be tired . Some of these units remind the

Passive Voice in their structure but they have different prepositons with

them, while in the Passive Voice we can have only prepositions by or

with, e.g. to be tired of, to be interested in, to be surprised at etc.

There are also units in this type which remind free word-groups of the type

to be young, e.g. to be akin to, to be aware of etc. The difference

between them is that the adjective young can be used as an attribute and

as a predicative in a sentence, while the nominal component in such units

can act only as a predicative. In these units the verb is the grammar

centre and the second component is the semantic centre;

c) prepositional- nominal phraseological units. These units are

equivalents of unchangeable words: prepositions, conjunctions, adverbs ,

that is why they have no grammar centre, their semantic centre is the

nominal part, e.g. on the doorstep (quite near), on the nose (exactly), in

the course of, on the stroke of, in time, on the point of etc. In the

course of time such units can become words, e.g. tomorrow, instead etc.

Among two-top units A.I. Smirnitsky points out the following structural


a) attributive-nominal such as: a month of Sundays, grey matter, a

millstone round ones neck and many others. Units of this type are noun

equivalents and can be partly or perfectly idiomatic. In partly idiomatic

units (phrasisms) sometimes the first component is idiomatic, e.g. high

road, in other cases the second component is idiomatic, e.g. first night.

In many cases both components are idiomatic, e.g. red tape, blind alley,

bed of nail, shot in the arm and many others.

b) verb-nominal phraseological units, e.g. to read between the lines , to

speak BBC, to sweep under the carpet etc. The grammar centre of such units

is the verb, the semantic centre in many cases is the nominal component,

e.g. to fall in love. In some units the verb is both the grammar and the

semantic centre, e.g. not to know the ropes. These units can be perfectly

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