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Г.Б. Антрушина, О.В, Афанасьева, Н.Н. Морозова

What Is a Word? What Is Lexicology?

What's is a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet... (W. Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Sc. 2)

These famous lines reflect one of the fundamental problems of linguistic research: what is in a name, in a word? Is there any direct connection between a word and the object it represents? Could a rose have been called by "any other name" as Juliet says? These and similar questions are answered by lexicological research. Lexicology, a branch of linguistics, is the study of words. For some people studying words may seem uninteresting. But if studied properly, it may well prove just as exciting and novel as unearthing the mysteries of Outer Space. It is significant that many scholars have attempted to define the word as a linguistic phenomenon. Yet none of the definitions can be considered totally satisfactory in all aspects. It is equally surprising that, despite all the achievements of modern science, certain essential aspects of the nature of the word still escape us. Nor do we fully understand the phenomenon called "language", of which the word is a fundamental unit. We do not know much about the origin of language and, consequently, of the origin of words. It is true that there are several hypotheses, some of them no less fantastic than the theory of the divine origin of language. We know nothing — or almost nothing — about the mechanism by which a speaker's mental process is converted into sound groups called "words", nor about the reverse process whereby a listener's brain converts the acoustic phenomena into concepts and ideas, thus establishing a two-way process of communication. We know very little about the nature of relations between the word and the referent (i. e. object, phenomenon, quality, action, etc. denoted by the word). If we assume that there is a direct relation between the word and the referent — which seems logical — it gives rise to another question: how should we explain the fact that the same referent is designated by quite different sound groups in different languages. We do know by now — though with vague uncertainty — that there is nothing accidental about the vocabulary of the language;1 that each word is a small unit within a vast, efficient and perfectly balanced system. But we do not know why it possesses these qualities, nor do we know much about the processes by which it has acquired them. The list of unknowns could be extended, but it is probably high time to look at the brighter side and register some of the things we do know about the nature of the word. First, we do know that the word is a unit of speech which, as such, serves the purposes of human communication. Thus, the word can be defined as a unit of communication. Secondly, the word can be perceived as the total of the sounds which comprise it. Third, the word, viewed structurally, possesses several characteristics. The modern approach to word studies is based on distinguishing between the external and the internal structures of the word.

1 By the vocabulary of a language is understood the total sum of its words. Another term for the same is the stock of words.

By external structure of the word we mean its morphological structure. For example, in the word post-impressionists the following morphemes can be distinguished: the prefixes post-, im-, the root press, the noun-forming suffixes -ion, -ist, and the grammatical suffix of plurality -s. All these morphemes constitute the external structure of the word post-impressionists. The external structure of words, and also typical word-formation patterns, are studied in the section on word-building (see Ch. 5, 6). The internal structure of the word, or its meaning, is nowadays commonly referred to as the word's semantic structure. This is certainly the word's main aspect. Words can...
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