Lexical Valency (Collocability)

It is an indisputable fact that words are used in certain lexical contexts, i.e. in combination with other words. The noun question,e.g., is often combined with such adjectives as vital, pressing, urgent, disputable, delicate,etc. This noun is a component of a number of other word-groups, e.g. to raise a question, a question of great importance, a question of the agenda, of the day,and many others. The aptness of a word to appear in various combinations is described as its lexical valency or collocability.

The range of the lexical valency of words is linguistically restricted by the inner structure of the English word-stock. This can be easily observed in the selection of synonyms found in different word-groups. Though the verbs liftand raise,e.g., are usually treated as synonyms, it is only the latter that is collocated with the noun question.The verb takemay be synonymically interpreted as grasp, seize, catch, lay hold of, etc. but it is only takethat is found in collocation with the nouns examination, measures, precautions,etc., only catchin catch smb. nappingand graspin grasp the truth.

There is a certain norm of lexical valency for each word and any departure from this norm is felt as a literary or rather a stylistic device. Such word-groups as for example a cigarette ago, shove a questionand the like are illustrative of the point under discussion. It is because we recognise that shoveand questionare not normally collocable that the junction of them can be effective.

Words habitually collocated in speech tend to constitute a cliché. We observe, for example, that the verb put forwardand the noun questionare habitually collocated and whenever we hear the verb put forwardor see it written on paper it is natural that we should anticipate the word question.So we may conclude that put forward a questionconstitutes a habitual word-group, a kind of cliché. This is also true of a number of other word-groups, e.g. to win (or gain) a victory, keen sight (or hearing).Some linguists hold that most of the English in ordinary use is thoroughly saturated with cliches.1

The lexical valency of correlated words in different languages is not identical. Both the English word flowerand its Russian counterpart , for example, may be combined with a number of other words all of which denote the place where the flowers are grown, e.g. garden flowers, hot-house flowers,etc. (cf. the Russian , , etc.).

Grammatical Valency

Words are used also in grammatical contexts. The minimal grammatical context in which words are used when brought together to form word-groups is usually described as the pattern of the word-group. For instance, the adjective heavydiscussed above can be followed by a noun (e.g. heavy stormor by the infinitive of a verb (e.g. heavy to lift),etc. The aptness of a word to appear in specific grammatical (or rather syntactic) structures is termed grammatical valency.

The grammatical valency of words may be different. To begin with, the range of grammatical valency is delimited by the part of speech the word belongs to. It follows that the grammatical valency of each individual word is dependent on the grammatical structure of the language.

This is not to imply that grammatical valency of words belonging to the same part of speech is necessarily identical. This can be best illustrated by comparing the grammatical valency of any two words belonging to the same part of speech, e.g. of the two synonymous verbs suggestand propose.Both verbs can be followed by a noun (to proposeor suggest a plan, a resolution).It is only propose,however, that can be followed by the infinitive of a verb (to propose to do smth.).The adjectives cleverand intelligentare seen to possess different grammatical valency as clevercan be used in word-groups having the pattern: Adjective-Preposition at+Noun (clever at mathematics),whereas intelligentcan never be found in exactly the same word-group pattern.

Specific linguistic restrictions in the range of grammatical valency of individual words imposed on the lexical units by the inner structure of the language are also observed by comparing the grammatical valency of correlated words in different languages. The English verb influence,for example, can be followed only by a noun (to influence a person, a decision, choice,etc.). The grammatical valency of its Russian counterpart is different. The Russian verb can be combined only with a prepositional group (cf. , , etc.).

It should also be pointed out that the individual meanings of a polysemantic word may be described through its grammatical valency. Thus, different meanings of the adjective keenmay be described in a general way through different structures of the word-groups keen+N,keen sight (hearing,etc.), keen + on + N keen on sports (on tennis, etc.), keen+V(inf.)keen to know (to find out,etc.).

From this point of view word-groups may be regarded as minimal syntactic (or syntagmatic) structures that operate as distinguishing clues for different meanings of a polysemantic word.


Distribution as the Criterion of Classification

Structurally word-groups may be approached in various ways. We know that word-groups may be described through the order and arrangement of the component members. The word-group to see somethingcan be classified as a verbal nominal group, to see to smthas verbal prepositional nominal, etc.

All word-groups may be also analysed by the criterion of distribution into two big classes. If the word-group has the same linguistic distribution as one of its members, it is described as endocentric, i.e. having one central member functionally equivalent to the whole word-group. The word-groups, e.g., red flower, bravery of all kinds,are distributionally identical with their central components flowerand bravery (cf., e.g., -I saw a red flowerI saw a flower).

If the distribution of the word-group is different from either of its members, it is regarded as exocentric, i.e. as having no such central member, for instance side by sideor grow smallerand others where the component words are not syntactically substitutable for the whole word-group.

In endocentric word-groups the central component that has the same distribution as the whole group is clearly the dominant member or the head to which all other members of the group are subordinated. In the word-group red flower,e.g., the head is the noun flowerand in the word-group kind to peoplethe head is the adjective kind,etc.

It follows that word-groups may be classified according to their headwords into nominal groups or phrases (e.g. red flower),adjectival, groups (e.g. kind to people),verbal groups (e.g. to speak well),etc. The head is not necessarily the component that occurs first in the word-group. In such nominal word-groups as, e.g., very great bravery, bravery in the strugglethe noun braveryis the head whether followed or preceded by other words.

Word-groups are also classified according to their syntactic pattern into predicative and non-predicative groups. Such word-groups as, e.g., John works, he wentthat have a syntactic structure similar to that of a sentence, are classified as predicative, and all others as non-predicative. Non-predicative word-groups may be subdivided according to the type of syntactic relations between the components into subordinative and coordinative. Such word-groups as red flower, a man of wisdomand the like are termed subordinative because the words redand of wisdomare subordinated to flowerand manrespectively and function as their attributes. Such phrases as women and children, day and night, do or dieare classified as coordinative.


As with word-meaning, the meaning of word-groups may be analysed into lexical and grammatical components.

Lexical Meaning

The lexical meaning of the word-group may be defined as the combined lexical meaning of the component words. Thus the lexical meaning of the word-group redflower may be described denotationally as the combined meaning of the words redand flower.It should be pointed out, however, that the term combined lexical meaning is not to imply that the meaning of the word-group is a mere additive result of all the lexical meanings of the component members. As a rule, the meanings of the component words are mutually dependent and the meaning of the word-group naturally predominates over the lexical meaning of its constituents.

Even in word-groups made up of technical terms which are traditionally held to be monosemantic the meaning of the word-group cannot be described as the sum total of the meanings of its components. For example, though the same adjective atomicis a component of a number of terminological word-groups, e.g. atomic weight, atomic warfare,etc., the lexical meaning of the adjective is different and to a certain degree subordinated to the meaning of the noun in each individual word-group and consequently the meaning of the whole group is modified.

Interdependence of the lexical meanings of the constituent members of word-groups can be readily observed in word-groups made up of polysemantic words. For example, in the nominal group blind man (cat, horse)only one meaning of the adjective blind,i.e. unable to see, is combined with the lexical meaning of the noun man (cat, horse)and it is only one of the meanings of the noun man human being that is perceived in combination with the lexical meaning of this adjective. The meaning of the same adjective in blind type (print, handwriting)is different.

As can be seen from the above examples, polysemantic words are used in word-groups only in one of their meanings. These meanings of the component words in such word-groups are mutually interdependent and inseparable.

Structural Meaning

As with polymorphemic words word-groups possess not only the lexical meaning, but also the meaning conveyed mainly by the pattern of arrangement of their constituents. A certain parallel can be drawn between the meaning conveyed by the arrangement of morphemes in words and the structural meaning of word-groups. It will be recalled that two compound words made up of lexically identical stems may be different in meaning because of the difference in the pattern of arrangement of the stems. For example, the meaning of such words as dog-houseand house-dogis different though the lexical meaning of the components is identical. This is also true of word-groups. Such word-groups as school grammarand grammar schoolare semantically different because of the difference in the pattern of arrangement of the component words.

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