The Object of Lexicology

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THE OBJECT OF LEXICOLOGY

Lexicology (from Gr lexis ‘word’ and logos ‘learning’) is the part of linguistics dealing with the vocabulary of the language and the properties of words as the main units of language. The term v o c a b u l a-r y is used to denote the system formed by the sum total of all the words and word equivalents that the language possesses. The term word denotes the basic unit of a given language resulting from the association of a particular meaning with a particular group of sounds capable of a particular grammatical employment. A word therefore is simultaneously a semantic, grammatical and phonological unit. Thus, in the word boy the group of sounds [bOI] is associated with the meaning ‘a male child up to the age of 17 or 18’ (also with some other meanings, but this is the most frequent) and with a definite grammatical employment, i.e. it is a noun and thus has a plural form — boys, it is a personal noun and has the Genitive form boy’s (e. g. the boy’s mother), it may be used in certain syntactic functions. The term word will be discussed at length in chapter 2.

The general study of words and vocabulary, irrespective of the specific features of any particular language, is known as general lexicology. Linguistic phenomena and properties common to all languages are generally referred to as language universals. Special lexicology devotes its attention to the description of the characteristic peculiarities in the vocabulary of a given language. This book constitutes an introduction into the study of the present-day English word and vocabulary. It is therefore a book on special lexicology. It goes without saying that every special lexicology is based on the principles of general lexicology, and the latter forms a part of general linguistics. Much material that holds good for any language is therefore also included, especially with reference to principles, concepts and terms. The illustrative examples are everywhere drawn from the English language as spoken in Great Britain. A great deal has been written in recent years to provide a theoretical basis on which the vocabularies of different languages can be compared and described. This relatively new branch of study is called contrastive lexicology. Most obviously, we shall be particularly concerned with comparing English and Russian words. The evolution of any vocabulary, as well as of its single elements, forms the object of historical lexicology or etymology. This branch of linguistics discusses the origin of various words, their change and development, and investigates the linguistic and extra-linguistic forces modifying their structure, meaning and usage. In the past historical treatment was always combined with the comparative method. Historical lexicology has been criticised for its atomistic approach, i.e. for treating every word as an individual and isolated unit. This drawback is, however, not intrinsic to the science itself. Historical study of words is not necessarily atomistic. In the light of recent investigations it becomes clear that there is no reason why historical lexicology cannot survey the evolution of a vocabulary as an adaptive system, showing its change and development in the course of time. Descriptive lexicology deals with the vocabulary of a given language at a given stage of its development. It studies the functions of words and their specific structure as a characteristic inherent in the system. The descriptive lexicology of the English language deals with the English word in its morphological and semantical structures, investigating the interdependence between these two aspects. These structures are identified and distinguished by contrasting the nature and arrangement of their elements. It will, for instance, contrast the word boy with its derivatives: boyhood, boyish, boyishly, etc. It will describe its semantic structure comprising alongside with its most frequent meaning, such variants as ‘a son of any...
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