Учебное пособие по курсу лексикологии современного английского языка предназначено для студентов старших курсов факультета иностранных языков педагогического вуза

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V.M.Shirokikh, L.P.Koudrevatykh


Theoretical materials for seminars

В.М. Широких, Л.П. Кудреватых

Теоретические материалы

по лексикологии современного

английского языка

Глазов 2004

Широких В.М., Кудреватых Л.П. Теоретические материалы по лексикологии современного английского языка. - Глазов, 2004.

Рецензент: доцент каф. ром.-герм, филологии В.Н. Ивонина (ГГПИ)

Учебное пособие по курсу лексикологии современного английского языка предназначено для студентов старших курсов факультета иностранных языков педагогического вуза. Оно может быть использовано в процессе под­готовки к семинарским занятиям, при написании курсовых и дипломных ра­бот по лингвистике.

© В.М. Широких, 2004 © Л.П. Кудреватых, 2004



  1. Lexicology as a science.

  2. Two approaches to language study.

  3. Connection of lexicology with other sciences.

  4. Theoretical and practical value of lexicology.

Lexicology as a Science

The term consists of Greek morphemes:

lexis logos

(word, phrase) (learning).

Lexicology studies words and phrases, i.e. vocabulary of a language.

Vocabulary consists of:

words - basic units of a given language which are the result of the asso­ciation of a given meaning with a given group of sounds;

set-expressions = phraseological units - traditional stable phrases like «to rain cats and dogs», «as hungry as a wolf».

Lexicology investigates the problems of words, word-structure, word-formation in the language, the meaning of the words, the main principles of classification of the words, the laws governing the enlarging (replenishment) of the vocabulary.

Kinds of lexicology:

general - deals with the general study of words irrespective of the spe­cific features of any particular language;

special - studies the characteristic features of the vocabulary of a given language;

historical - studies the origin, change and development of the words;

descriptive - studies the vocabulary of a given language at a given stage of its development.

Two Approaches to Language Study

Synchronic (syn = together, chronos = time).

The synchronic approach is concerned with the vocabulary of a language at a given period of time.

Diachronic (dia = through, chronos = time).

The diachronic approach deals with the changes and the development of the vocabulary in the course of time.

Synchronic approach deals with special descriptive lexicology, diachronic approach deals with special historic lexicology.


The two approaches should not be contrasted: they are interconnected and interdependent.

Language is the reality of thought, and thought develops together with the development of society, therefore language and its vocabulary must be studied in the light of social history. Every new phenomenon in human society and in human activity in general finds a reflection in vocabulary.

E.g.: nylon (technology), sputnik (science), perestroika (social and politi-cal life).

A word, through its meaning rendering some notion, is a generalized reflection of reality.

Connection of Lexicology with Other Sciences

Lexicology is connected with other sciences which also study words, though, from different sides:

general linguistics ,

the history of the language (etymology of words) ,

phonetics (acoustic level of the words) ,

grammar (morphemes as parts of words and grammatical rules of their combining) ,

stylistics (words as stylistic devices).

Theoretical and Practical Value of Lexicology

The theoretical value consists in stimulating a systematic approach to the facts of vocabulary; in linguistic training of philologists and teachers.

The practical value of lexicology is also very great for future teachers as it improves the knowledge of the vocabulary and helps users of the language master the speaking skills.

by Henry Sweet

The Real Difficulty Is in the Vocabulary

The fact that the languages commonly learnt by Europeans belong mostly to the same Aryan stock, and have besides a large vocabulary in common of borrowed Latin, French, and greek words, is apt to blind them to a recognition of the fact that the real intrinsic difficulty of learning a foreign language lies in that of having to master its vocabulary. (…)

We can master enough of the grammar of any language for reading purposes within a definite period – generally less than six months – but we cannot do the same with the vocabulary unless it is already partially familiar to us in the way that the vocabulary of Italian is to all English speakers. (…)

It is evident that every language in its colloquial form must be adapted to the average capacity of its speakers. Although each language is constructed to a great extent by the philosophers and poets of the race, it cannot in the form of it which serves for ordinary intercourse go beyond the capacity of the average mind. Learning a language, therefore, is not in any way analogous to learning mathematics or metaphysics: it does not imply any attempt to enter into higher regions of thought – to commune with a higher mind. On the contrary, as the greater part of all existing languages was evolved by people in a rudimentary state of civilization, it implies the very reverse. Hence, it is often a positive obstacle to learning a language to be rigorously logical and minutely analytical. (…)

(pp. 64-68)


  1. Some basic assumptions.

  2. Words of native origin.

  3. Borrowings in the English language.

  4. Assimilation of borrowings.

Some Basic Assumptions

The most characteristic feature of English is its mixed character. While it is wrong to speak of the mixed character of the language as a whole, the com-posite nature of the English vocabulary cannot be denied.


Some special terms:

  1. native words - words of Anglo-Saxon origin brought to the British
    Isles from the continent in the 5th century by the Germanic tribes - the Angles,
    the Saxons and the Jutes;

  2. borrowing - l)the process of adopting words from other languages and
    2) the result of this process. Not only words, but also word-building affixes
    were borrowed into English (-able, -ment, -ity). Some word-groups, too, were
    borrowed in their foreign form (coup-d'etat, vis-a-vis).

In the second meaning the term borrowing is also used to denote transla­tion-loans, or loan-translations (кальки) - words and expressions formed from the language material under the influence of some foreign words and expres­sions, e.g.: mother tongue < L. lingua materna, it goes without saying < Fr. cela va sans dire, wall newspaper < Russ. стенгазета.

3. The term source of borrowing is applied to the language from which a

particular word was taken into English. The term origin of the _word should
be applied to the language the word may be traced to. E.g., the French borrow­
ing table is Latin by origin (L. tabula), the Latin borrowing school came into
Latin from the Greek language (Gr. schole).

Whereas the source of borrowing is as a rule known and can be stated with some certainty, the actual origin of the word may be rather doubtful.

Words of Native Origin

Words of native origin consist for the most part of very ancient elements - Indo-European, Germanic and West Germanic cognates. The bulk of the Old English word-stock has been preserved, although some words have passed out of existence. The Anglo-Saxon stock of words makes 25-30% of the English vocabulary.

Almost all of them belong to very important semantic groups, among them form-words:

  1. auxiliary and modal verbs: shall, will, should, would, must, can, may;

  2. pronouns: I, you, he, my, your, his, who, whose;

  3. prepositions: in, out, on, under;

  4. numerals: one, two, three, four, etc.;

  5. conjunctions: and, but, till, as.
    Notional words of Anglo-Saxon origin:

  6. parts of the body: head, hand, arm, back;

  1. members of the family and closest relatives: father, mother, brother, son,

  2. natural phenomena and planets: snow, rain, wind, frost, sun, moon, star;

  3. animals: horse, cow, sheep, cat;


  1. qualities and properties: old, young, cold, hot, heavy, light, dark, white,

  2. common actions: do, make, go, come, see, hear, eat.

Native words are highly polysemantic, stylistically neutral, enter a num­ber of phraseological units.

Borrowings in the English Language

In its 15 century long history the English language has come in long and close contact with several other languages, mainly Latin, French and Old Norse (or Scandinavian). The great influx of borrowings from these sources can be accounted for by a number of historical causes.

Due to the great influence of the Roman civilization Latin was for a long time used in England as the language of learning and religion, e.g.: absolute < absolutus, algebra < algebra, arm < armare, autumn < autumnus, beast < bes-tia, calculate < calculus, habit < habitum, intelligence < intelligentia, machine < machina, number < numerum, propaganda
comendare, sentence < sentential, square < quadrus.

Old Norse was the language of the conquerors who were on the same level of social and cultural development and who merged rather easily with the local population in the 9th, 10th and the first half of the llth century. Exam­ples of Scandinavian borrowings are: anger < anger, angr (горе, печаль), fel­low < fellawe, felagi (товарищ, компаньон, парень), fit < fitten, fitja (уст­раивать, связывать), fro < fro, fra (от, из), hap < hap, happ (случай, везение, счастье), hit < hitten, hitta (попадать в цель, ударять, поражать), leg < leg, leggr (нога, кость ноги; ствол), low < low, lagr (низкий, невысокий), swain < swayn, sveinn (мальчик, парень, молодой человек), sky < skye, sky (об-

лако, небо), skill < skile, skil (отличие, мастерство, различие, понятие), take < taken, taka (брать, хватать, начинать), they < they (они), want < want(e), vant (недостаток, нужда, недостающий).

French (to be more exact its Norman dialect) was the language of the other conquerors who brought with them a lot of new notions of a higher social system - developed feudalism, it was the language of the upper classes, of official documents and school instruction from the middle of the 11th century to the end of the 14th century: action < accioun, accusation < accusacioun, agreable < agreable, arms < armes, baron < baron, baroun, chamber < chambre, chivalry < chyval(e)rie, crown < coroune, duke < duk, empress < emperesse.


Assimilation of Borrowings

Assimilation - the process of adaptation of foreign words to the norms of the language.

Types of assimilation - phonetic, grammatical, lexical.
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