Course of Modern English Lexicology

Modern English Lexicology aims at giving a systematic description of the word-stock of Modern English. Words, their component parts morphemes and various types of word-groups, are subjected to structural and semantic analysis primarily from the synchronic angle. In other words, 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.

It also studies the relations existing between various lexical 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, as the diachronic approach revealing the vocabulary in the making cannot but contribute to the understanding of its workings at the present time.

It has now become a tradition to include in a Course of Lexicology a short section dealing with Lexicography, the science and art of dictionary-compiling, because Lexicography is a practical application of Lexicology so that the dictionary-maker is inevitably guided in his work by the principles laid down by the lexicologist as a result of his investigations. It is common knowledge that in his investigation the lexicologist makes use of various methods. An acquaintance with these methods is an indispensable part of a course of lexicology.

Modern English Lexicology as a subject of study forms part of the Theoretical Course of Modern English and as such is inseparable from its other component parts, i.e. Grammar, Phonetics, Stylistics, on the one hand, and the Course of History of the English Language, on the other.

The language learner will find the Course of Modern English Lexicology of great practical importance. He will obtain much valuable information concerning the English wordstock and the laws and regulations governing the formation and usage of English words and word-groups. Besides, the Course is aimed both at summarising the practical material already familiar to the students from foreign language classes and at helping the students to develop the skills and habits of generalising the linguistic phenomena observed. The knowledge the students gain from the Course of Modern English Lexicology will guide them in all their dealings with the English word-stock and help them apply this information to the solution of practical problems that may face them in class-room teaching.


It is commonly recognised that acquaintance with at least some of the currently used procedures of linguistic investigation is of considerable importance both for language learners and for prospective teachers as it gives them the possibility to observe how linguists obtain answers to certain questions and is of help in the preparation of teaching material. It also helps language learners to become good observers of how language works and this is the only lasting way to become better users of language.

The process of scientific investigation may be subdivided into several stages. Observation is an early and basic, phase of all modern scientific investigation, including linguistic.

The next stage after observation is classification or orderly arrangement of the data obtained through observation. For example, it is observed that in English nouns the suffixal morpheme -er is added to verbal stems (speak + -er, writ(e) + -er, etc.), noun stems (village + -er, London + -er, etc.), and that -er also occurs in non-derived words such as mother, father, etc.

The following stage is usually that of generalisation, i.e. the collection of data and their orderly arrangement must eventually lead to the formulation of< a generalisation or hypothesis, rule, or law.

In our case we can formulate a rule that derived nouns in -er may have either verbal or noun stems. The suffix -er in combination with adjectival or adverbial stems cannot form nouns (cf. (to) dig digger but big bigger).

Any linguistic generalisation is to be followed by the verifing process. Stated, simply, the linguist is required, as are other scientists, to seek verification of the generalisations that are the result of his inquiries. Here too, various procedures of linguistic analysis are commonly applied.

The methods and procedures briefly discussed below are as follows: 1. Contrastive analysis, 2. Statistical methods of analysis. 3. Immediate Constituents analysis, 4 Distributional analysis and co-occurrence, 5. Transformational analysis, 6. Componental analysis, 7. Method of semantic differential.

All methods of linguistic analysis are traditionally subdivided into formalised and non-formalised procedures.

Naturally, the selection of this or that particular procedure largely depends on the goal set before the investigator.

Contrastive Analysis

It is common knowledge that comparison is the basic principle in comparative philology.

Contrastive linguistics attempts to find out similarities and differences in both philogenically related and non-related languages.

In fact contrastive analysis grew as the result of the practical demands of language teaching methodology where it was empirically shown that the errors which are made recurrently by foreign language students can be often traced back to the differences in structure between the target language and the language of the learner. This naturally implies the necessity of a detailed comparison of the structure of a native and a target language which has been named contrastive analysis.

It is common knowledge that one of the major problems in the learning of the second language is the interference caused by the difference between the mother tongue of the learner and the target language.

Linguistic scholars proceed from the assumption that the categories, elements, etc. on the semantic as well as on the syntactic and other levels are valid for both languages, i.e. are adopted from a possibly universal inventory. For example, linking verbs can be found in English, in French, in Russian, etc. Linking verbs having the meaning of change, become are differently represented in each of the languages. In English, e.g., become, come, fall, get, grow, run, turn, wax, in German werden, in French devenir, in Russian .

The task set before the linguist is to find out which semantic and syntactic features characterise 1. the English set of verbs (cf. grow thin, get angry, fall ill, turn traitor, run dry, wax eloquent), 2. the French (Russian, German, etc.) set of verbs, 3. how the two sets compare. Cf., e.g., the English word-groups grow thin, get angry, fall ill and the Russian verbs , , .

Contrastive analysis can be carried out at three linguistic levels: phonology, grammar (morphology and syntax) and lexis (vocabulary). In what follows we shall try to give a brief survey of contrastive analysis mainly at the level of lexis.

Contrastive analysis is applied to reveal the features of sameness and difference in the lexical meaning and the semantic structure of correlated words in different languages.

Contrastive analysis also brings to light what can be labelled problem pairs, i.e. the words that denote two entities in one language and correspond to two different words in another language.

Compare, for example in Russian and clock, watch in English, in Russian and artist, painter in English.

Conversely one Russian word may correspond to a number of English words.

For instance compare a thin book subtle irony slim waist.

Statistical Analysis

An important and promising trend in modern linguistics which has been making progress during the last few decades is the quantitative study of language phenomena and the application of statistical methods in linguistic analysis.

Statistical linguistics is nowadays generally recognised as one of the major branches of linguistics. Statistical inquiries have considerable importance not only because of their precision but also because of their relevance to certain problems of communication engineering and information theory.

Statistical approach proved essential in the selection of vocabulary items of a foreign language for teaching purposes.

It can be easily observed from the semantic count above that themeaning part of a house (sitting room, drawing room,etc.) makes up 83% of all occurrences of the word roomand should be included in the list of meanings to be learned by the beginners, whereas the meaning suite, lodgings is not essential and makes up only 2%of all occurrences of this word.

Thus, statistical analysis is applied in different branches of linguistics including lexicology as a means of verification and as a reliable criterion for the selection of the language data provided qualitative description of lexical items is available.

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