Interrelation of Lexical and Structural Meaning in Word-Groups

The lexical and structural components of meaning in word-groups are interdependent and inseparable. The inseparability of these two semantic components in word-groups can, perhaps, be best illustrated by the semantic analysis of individual word-groups in which the norms of conventional collocability of words seem to be deliberately overstepped. For instance, in the word-group all the sun longwe observe a departure from the norm of lexical valency represented by such word-groups as all the day long, all the night long, all the week long,and a few others. The structural pattern of these word-groups in ordinary usage and the word-group all the sun longis identical. The generalised meaning of the pattern may be described as a unit of time. Replacing day, night, weekby another noun the sunwe do not find any change in the structural meaning of the pattern. The group all the sun longfunctions semantically as a unit of time. The noun sun,however, included in the group continues to carry the semantic value or, to be more exact, the lexical meaning that it has in word-groups of other structural patterns (cf. the sun rays, African sun,etc.).


As both structure and meaning are parts of the word-group as a linguistic unit, the interdependence of these two facets is naturally the subject matter of lexicological analysis.

7. Syntactic Structure (Formula) and Pattern of Word-Groups

In connection with the problem under discussion the term syntactic (or syntagmatic) structure requires some clarification. We know that word-groups may be generally described through the pattern of arrangement of the constituent members. The term syntactic structure (formula) properly speaking implies the description of the order and arrangement of member-words as parts of speech. We may, for instance, describe the word-group as made up of an Adjective and a Noun (clever man, red flower,etc.), a Verb a Noun (take books, build houses,etc.), or a Noun, a Preposition and a Noun (a touch of colour, a matter of importance,etc.). The syntactic structure (formula) of the nominal groups clever manand red flowermay be represented as A + N, that of the verbal groups take booksand build housesas V + N, and so on.

These formulas can be used to describe all the possible structures of English word-groups. We can say, e.g., that the verbal groups comprise the following structural formulas: V+N (to build houses),V+prp+N (to rely on somebody),V+N+prp+N (to hold something against somebody),V+N+V(inf.) (to make somebody work),V+ V(inf.) (to get to know),and so on.

Motivation in Word-Groups

Word-groups like words may also be analysed from the point of view of their motivation. Word-groups may be described as lexically motivated if the combined lexical meaning of the groups is deducible from the meaning of their components. The nominal groups, e.g. red flower, heavy weightand the verbal group, e.g. takelessons, are from this point of view motivated, whereas structurally identical word-groups red tapeofficial bureaucratic methods, heavy father serious or solemn part in a theatrical play, and take placeoccur are lexically non-motivated. In these groups the constituents do not possess, at least synchronically, the denotational meaning found in the same words outside these groups or, to be more exact, do not possess any individual lexical meaning of their own, as the word-groups under discussion seem to represent single indivisible semantic entities. Word-groups are said to be structurally motivated if the meaning of the pattern is deducible from the order and arrangement of the member-words of the group. Red flower,e.g., is motivated as the meaning of the pattern quality substance can be deduced from the order and arrangement of the words redand flower,whereas the seemingly identical pattern red tapecannot be interpreted as quality substance.

The degree of motivation may be different. Between the extremes of complete motivation and lack of motivation there are innumerable intermediate cases. For example, the degree of lexical motivation in the nominal group black marketis higher than in black death, but lower than in black dress,though none of the groups can be considered as completely non-motivated.

It follows from the above discussion that word-groups may be also classified into motivated and non-motivated units. Non-motivated word-groups are habitually described as phraseological units or idioms.


It has been repeatedly pointed out that word-groups viewed as functionally and semantically inseparable units are traditionally regarded as the subject matter of phraseology.

American and English dictionaries of unconventional English, slang and idioms and other highly valuable reference-books contain a wealth of proverbs, sayings, various lexical units of all kinds, but as a rule do not seek to lay down a reliable criterion to distinguish between variable word-groups and phraseological units.

Free Word-groups Versus Set-phrases. Phraseological Units, Idioms, Word-equivalents

Attempts have been made to approach the problem of phraseology in different ways. Up till now, however, there is a certain divergence of opinion as to the essential feature of phraseological units as distinguished from other word-groups and the nature of phrases that can be properly termed phraseological units.

However, the existing terms, e.g. set-phrases, idioms, word-equivalents, reflect to a certain extent the main debatable issues of phraseology which centre on the divergent views concerning the nature and essential features of phraseological units as distinguished from the so-called free word-groups. The term set-phrase implies that the basic criterion of differentiation is stability of the lexical components and grammatical structure of word-groups. The term idioms generally implies that the essential feature of the linguistic units under consideration is idiomaticity or lack cf motivation. This term habitually used by English and American linguists is very often treated as synonymous with the term phraseological unit universally accepted in our country. The term word-equivalent stresses not only the semantic but also the functional inseparability of certain word-groups and their aptness to function in speech as single words.

Criteria of Stability and Lack of Motivation (Idiomaticity)

Phraseological units are habitually defined as non-motivated word-groups that cannot be freely made up in speech but are reproduced as ready-made units. This definition proceeds from the assumption that the essential features of phraseological units are stability of the lexical components and lack of motivation. It is consequently assumed that unlike components of free word-groups which may vary according to the needs of communication, member-words of phraseological units are always reproduced as single unchangeable collocations.

Thus, for example, the constituent redin the free word-group red flowermay, if necessary, be substituted for by any other adjective denoting colour (blue, white,etc.), without essentially changing the denotational meaning of the word-group under discussion (a flower of a certain colour). In the phraseological unit red tape(bureaucratic methods) no such substitution is possible, as a change of the adjective would involve a complete change in the meaning of the whole group. A blue (black, white,etc.) tapewould mean a tape of a certain colour. It follows that the phraseological unit red tapeis semantically non - motivated, i.e. its meaning cannot be deduced from the meaning of its components and that it exists as a ready-made linguistic unit which does not allow of any variability of its lexical components.


Taking into account mainly the degree of idiomaticity phraseological units may be classified into three big groups: phraseological fusions, phraseological unities and phraseological collocations.

Phraseological fusions are completely non-motivated word -groups, such as redtape - bureaucratic methods; heavy father -serious or solemn part in a theatrical play; kick the bucket - die; and the like. The meaning of the components has no connections whatsoever, at least synchronically, with the meaning of the whole group. Idiomaticity is, as a rule, combined with complete stability of the lexical components and the grammatical structure of the fusion.

Phraseological unities are partially non-motivated as their meaning can usually be perceived through the metaphoric meaning of the whole phraseological unit. For example, to show ones teeth, to wash ones dirty linen in publicif interpreted as semantically motivated through the combined lexical meaning of the component words would naturally lead one to understand these in their literal meaning. The metaphoric meaning of the whole unit, however, readily suggests take a threatening tone or show an intention to injure for show ones teethand discuss or make public ones quarrels for wash ones dirty linen in public.Phraseological unities are as a rule marked by a comparatively high degree of stability of the lexical components.

Phraseological collocations are motivated but they are made up of words possessing specific lexical valency which accounts for a certain degree of stability in such word - groups. In phraseological collocations variability of member - words is strictly limited. For instance, bear a grudge may be changed into bear malice,but not into bear a fancy or liking.Wecan say take a liking (fancy) but not take hatred (disgust).These habitual collocations tend to become kind of clichéswhere the meaning of member - words is to some extent dominated by the meaning of the whole group. Due to this phraseological collocations are felt as possessing a certain degree of semantic inseparability.

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