Home Random Page




The term unit means one of the elements into which a whole may be divided or analysed and which possesses the basic properties of this whole. The units of a vocabulary or lexical units are two-facet elements possessing form and meaning. The basic unit forming the bulk of the vocabulary is the word. Other units are morphemes that is parts of words, into which words may be analysed, and set expressions or groups of words into which words may be combined.

Words are the central elements of language system, they face both ways: they are the biggest units of morphology and the smallest of syntax", and what is more, they embody the main structural properties and functions of the language. Words can be separated in an utterance by other such units and can be used in isolation. Unlike words, morphemes cannot be divided into smaller meaningful units and are functioning in speech only as constituent parts of words. Words are thought of as representing integer concept, feeling or action or as having a single referent. The meaning of morphemes is more abstract and more general than that of words and at the same time they are less autonomous.

Set expressions are word groups consisting of two or more words whose combination is integrated so that they are introduced in speech, so to say, ready-made as units with a specialised meaning of the whole that is not understood as a mere sum total of the meanings of the elements.

In the spelling system of the language words are the smallest units of written discourse: they are marked off by solid spelling. The ability of an average speaker to segment any utterance into words is sustained by literacy. Yet it is a capacity only reinforced by education: it is well known that every speaker of any language is always able to break any utterance into words. The famous American linguist E. Sapir testified that even illiterate American Indians were perfectly capable of dictating to him — when asked to do so — texts in their own language “word by word”. The segmentation of a word into morphemes, on the other hand, presents sometimes difficulties even for trained linguists.

Many authors devoted a good deal of space to discussing which of the two: the word or the morpheme is to be regarded as the basic unit. Many American linguists (Ch. Hockett or Z. Harris, for instance) segmented an utterance into morphemes ignoring words. Soviet lexicologists proceed from the assumption that it is the word that is the basic unit, especially as all branches of linguistic knowledge and all levels of language have the word as their focal point. A convincing argumentation and an exhaustive review of literature is offered by A. A. Ufimtseva (1980).

If, however, we look now a little more closely into this problem, we shall see that the boundaries separating these three sets of units are sometimes fluid. Every living vocabulary is constantly changing adapting itself to the functions of communication in the changing world of those who use it. In this process the vocabulary changes not only quantitatively by creating new words from the already available corpus of morphemes and according to existing patterns but also qualitatively. In these qualitative changes new morphemic material and new word-building patterns come into being, and new names sometimes adapt features characteristic of other sets, those of groups of words, for instance.


Although the borderline between various linguistic units is not always sharp and clear, we shall try to define every new term on its first appearance at once simply and unambiguously, if not always very rigorously. The approximate definition of the term word has already been given in the opening page of the book.

The important point to remember about definitions is that they should indicate the most essential characteristic features of the notion expressed by the term under discussion, the features by which this notion is distinguished from other similar notions. For instance, in defining the word one must distinguish it from other linguistic units, such as the phoneme, the morpheme, or the word-group. In contrast with a definition, a description aims at enumerating all the essential features of a notion.

To make things easier we shall begin by a preliminary description, illustrating it with some examples.

The word may be described as the basic unit of language. Uniting meaning and form, it is composed of one or more morphemes, each consisting of one or more spoken sounds or their written representation. Morphemes as we have already said are also meaningful units but they cannot be used independently, they are always parts of words whereas words can be used as a complete utterance (e. g. Listen!). The combinations of morphemes within words are subject to certain linking conditions. When a derivational affix is added a new word is formed, thus, listen and listener are different words. In fulfilling different grammatical functions words may take functional affixes: listen and listened are different forms of the same word. Different forms of the same word can be also built analytically with the help of auxiliaries. E.g.: The world should listen then as I am listening now (Shelley).

When used in sentences together with other words they are syntactically organised. Their freedom of entering into syntactic constructions is limited by many factors, rules and constraints (e. g.: They told me this story but not *They spoke me this story).

The definition of every basic notion is a very hard task: the definition of a word is one of the most difficult in linguistics because the simplest word has many different aspects. It has a sound form because it is a certain arrangement of phonemes; it has its morphological structure, being also a certain arrangement of morphemes; when used in actual speech, it may occur in different word forms, different syntactic functions and signal various meanings. Being the central element of any language system, the word is a sort of focus for the problems of phonology, lexicology, syntax, morphology and also for some other sciences that have to deal with language and speech, such as philosophy and psychology, and probably quite a few other branches of knowledge. All attempts to characterise the word are necessarily specific for each domain of science and are therefore considered one-sided by the representatives of all the other domains and criticised for incompleteness. The variants of definitions were so numerous that some authors (A. Rossetti, D.N. Shmelev) collecting them produced works of impressive scope and bulk.

A few examples will suffice to show that any definition is conditioned by the aims and interests of its author.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), one of the great English philosophers, revealed a materialistic approach to the problem of nomination when he wrote that words are not mere sounds but names of matter. Three centuries later the great Russian physiologist I.P. Pavlov (1849-1936) examined the word in connection with his studies of the second signal system, and defined it as a universal signal that can substitute any other signal from the environment in evoking a response in a human organism. One of the latest developments of science and engineering is machine translation. It also deals with words and requires a rigorous definition for them. It runs as follows: a word is a sequence of graphemes which can occur between spaces, or the representation of such a sequence on morphemic level.

Within the scope of linguistics the word has been defined syntactically, semantically, phonologically and by combining various approaches.

It has been syntactically defined for instance as “the minimum sentence” by H. Sweet and much later by L. Bloomfield as “a minimum free form”. This last definition, although structural in orientation, may be said to be, to a certain degree, equivalent to Sweet’s, as practically it amounts to the same thing: free forms are later defined as “forms which occur as sentences”.

E. Sapir takes into consideration the syntactic and semantic aspects when he calls the word “one of the smallest completely satisfying bits of isolated ‘meaning’, into which the sentence resolves itself”. Sapir also points out one more, very important characteristic of the word, its indivisibility: “It cannot be cut into without a disturbance of meaning, one or two other or both of the several parts remaining as a helpless waif on our hands”. The essence of indivisibility will be clear from a comparison of the article a and the prefix a- in a lion and alive. A lion is a word-group because we can separate its elements and insert other words between them: a living lion, a dead lion. Alive is a word: it is indivisible, i.e. structurally impermeable: nothing can be inserted between its elements. The morpheme a- is not free, is not a word. The situation becomes more complicated if we cannot be guided by solid spelling.’ “The Oxford English Dictionary", for instance, does not include the reciprocal pronouns each other and one another under separate headings, although they should certainly be analysed as word-units, not as word-groups since they have become indivisible: we now say with each other and with one another instead of the older forms one with another or each with the other.1

Altogether is one word according to its spelling, but how is one to treat all right, which is rather a similar combination?

When discussing the internal cohesion of the word the English linguist John Lyons points out that it should be discussed in terms of two criteria “positional mobility” and “un­interrupt­abili­ty”. To illustrate the first he segments into morphemes the following sentence:

the - boy - s - walk - ed - slow - ly - up - the - hill

The sentence may be regarded as a sequence of ten morphemes, which occur in a particular order relative to one another. There are several possible changes in this order which yield an acceptable English sentence:

slow - ly - the - boy - s - walk - ed - up - the - hill up - the - hill - slow - ly - walk - ed - the - boy - s

Yet under all the permutations certain groups of morphemes behave as ‘blocks’ — they occur always together, and in the same order relative to one another. There is no possibility of the sequence s - the - boy, ly - slow, ed - walk. “One of the characteristics of the word is that it tends to be internally stable (in terms of the order of the component morphemes), but positionally mobile (permutable with other words in the same sentence)”.2

A purely semantic treatment will be found in Stephen Ullmann’s explanation: with him connected discourse, if analysed from the semantic point of view, “will fall into a certain number of meaningful segments which are ultimately composed of meaningful units. These meaningful units are called words."3

The semantic-phonological approach may be illustrated by A.H.Gardiner’s definition: “A word is an articulate sound-symbol in its aspect of denoting something which is spoken about."4

The eminent French linguist A. Meillet (1866-1936) combines the semantic, phonological and grammatical criteria and advances a formula which underlies many subsequent definitions, both abroad and in our country, including the one given in the beginning of this book: “A word is defined by the association of a particular meaning with a

particular group of sounds capable of a particular grammatical employment."1

This definition does not permit us to distinguish words from phrases because not only child, but a pretty child as well are combinations of a particular group of sounds with a particular meaning capable of a particular grammatical employment.

We can, nevertheless, accept this formula with some modifications, adding that a word is the smallest significant unit of a given language capable of functioning alone and characterised by positional mobility within a sentence, morphological uninterruptability and semantic integrity.2 All these criteria are necessary because they permit us to create a basis for the oppositions between the word and the phrase, the word and the phoneme, and the word and the morpheme: their common feature is that they are all units of the language, their difference lies in the fact that the phoneme is not significant, and a morpheme cannot be used as a complete utterance.

Another reason for this supplement is the widespread scepticism concerning the subject. It has even become a debatable point whether a word is a linguistic unit and not an arbitrary segment of speech. This opinion is put forth by S. Potter, who writes that “unlike a phoneme or a syllable, a word is not a linguistic unit at all."3 He calls it a conventional and arbitrary segment of utterance, and finally adopts the already mentioned definition of L. Bloomfield. This position is, however, as we have already mentioned, untenable, and in fact S. Potter himself makes ample use of the word as a unit in his linguistic analysis.

The weak point of all the above definitions is that they do not establish the relationship between language and thought, which is formulated if we treat the word as a dialectical unity of form and content, in which the form is the spoken or written expression which calls up a specific meaning, whereas the content is the meaning rendering the emotion or the concept in the mind of the speaker which he intends to convey to his listener.

Summing up our review of different definitions, we come to the conclusion that they are bound to be strongly dependent upon the line of approach, the aim the scholar has in view. For a comprehensive word theory, therefore, a description seems more appropriate than a definition.

The problem of creating a word theory based upon the materialistic understanding of the relationship between word and thought on the one hand, and language and society, on the other, has been one of the most discussed for many years. The efforts of many eminent scholars such as V.V. Vinogradov, A. I. Smirnitsky, O.S. Akhmanova, M.D. Stepanova, A.A. Ufimtseva — to name but a few, resulted in throwing lighton this problem and achieved a clear presentation of the word as a basic unit of the language. The main points may now be summarised.

The word is the fundamental unit of language. It is a dialectical unity of form and content. Its content or meaning is not identical to notion, but it may reflect human notions, and in this sense may be considered as the form of their existence. Concepts fixed in the meaning of words are formed as generalised and approximately correct reflections of reality, therefore in signifying them words reflect reality in their content.

The acoustic aspect of the word serves to name objects of reality, not to reflect them. In this sense the word may be regarded as a sign. This sign, however, is not arbitrary but motivated by the whole process of its development.


In the previous paragraphs we emphasised the complexity of word meaning and mentioned its possible segmentation into denotative and connotative meaning. In this paragraph we shall analyse these in greater detail. In most cases the denotative meaning is essentially cognitive: it conceptualises and classifies our experience and names for the listener some objects spoken about. Fulfilling the significative and the communicative functions of the word it is present in every word and may be regarded as the central factor in the functioning of language.

The expressive function of the language with its orientation towards the speaker’s feelings, and the pragmatic function dealing with the effect of words upon listeners are rendered in connotations. Unlike the denotative meaning, connotations are optional.

The description of the denotative meaning or meanings is the duty of lexicographers in unilingual explanatory dictionaries. The task is a difficult one because there is no clear-cut demarcation line between the semantic features, strictly necessary for each definition, and those that are optional. A glance at the definitions given in several dictionaries will suffice to show how much they differ in solving the problem. A cat, for example, is defined by Hornby as “a small fur-covered animal often kept as a pet in the house”. Longman in his dictionary goes into greater detail: a cat is “a small animal with soft fur and sharp teeth and claws, often kept as a pet, or in buildings to catch mice”. The Chambers Dictionary gives a scientific definition — “a cat is a carnivore of the genus Felix, esp. the domesticated kind”.

The examples given above bring us to one more difficult problem. Namely, whether in analysing a meaning we should be guided by all that science knows about the referent, or whether a linguist has to formulate the simplest possible concept as used by every speaker. If so, what are the features necessary and sufficient to characterise the referent? The question was raised by many prominent scientists, the great Russian philologist A. A. Potebnya among them. A. A. Potebnya distinguished the “proximate” word meaning with the bare minimum of characteristic features as used by every speaker in everyday life, and the “distant” word meaning corresponding to what specialists know about the referent. The latter type we could have called ‘special’ or ‘terminological’ meaning. A. A. Potebnya maintained that linguistics is concerned only with the first type. The problem is by no means simple, especially for lexicographers, as is readily seen from the above lexicographic treatment of the word cat.

The demarcation line between the two types is becoming more fluid; with the development of culture the gap between the elementary notions of a layman and the more and more exact concepts of a specialist narrows in some spheres and widens in others. The concepts themselves are constantly changing. The speakers’ ideolects vary due to different life experience, education and other extra-linguistic factors.

The bias of studies depends upon their ultimate goals.

If lexicology is needed as the basis for language teaching in engineering colleges, we have to concentrate on terminological semantics, if on the other hand it is the theory necessary for teaching English at school, the meaning with the minimum semantic components is of primary importance. So we shall have to concentrate on this in spite of all its fuzziness.

Now, if the denotative meaning exists by virtue of what the word refers to, connotation is the pragmatic communicative value the word receives by virtue of where, when, how, by whom, for what purpose and in what contexts it is or may be used. Four main types of connotations are described below. They are stylistic, emotional, evaluative and expressive or intensifying.

The orientation toward the subject-matter, characteristic, as we have seen, of the denotative meaning, is substituted here by pragmatic orientation toward speaker and listener; it is not so much what is spoken about as the attitude to it that matters.

When associations at work concern the situation in which the word is uttered, the social circumstances (formal, familiar, etc.), the social relationships between the interlocutors (polite, rough), the type and purpose of communication (learned, poetic, official, etc.), the connotation is stylistic.

An effective method of revealing connotations is the analysis of synonymic groups, where the identity of denotation meanings makes it possible to separate the connotational overtones. A classical example for showing stylistic connotations is the noun horse and its synonyms. The word horse is stylistically neutral, its synonym steed is poetic, nag is a word of slang and gee-gee is baby language.

An emotional or affective connotation is acquired by the word as a result of its frequent use in contexts corresponding to emotional situations or because the referent conceptualised and named in the denotative meaning is associated with emotions. For example, the verb beseech means 'to ask eagerly and also anxiously'. E. g.: He besought a favour of the judge (Longman).

Evaluative connotation expresses approval of disapproval.

Making use of the same procedure of comparing elements of a synonymic group, one compares the words magic, witchcraft and sorcery, all originally denoting art and power of controlling events by occult supernatural means, we see that all three words are now used mostly figuratively, and also that magic as compared to its synonyms will have glamorous attractive connotations, while the other two, on the contrary, have rather sinister associations.

It is not claimed that these four types of connotations: stylistic, emotional, evaluative and intensifying form an ideal and complete classification. Many other variants have been proposed, but the one suggested here is convenient for practical analysis and well supported by facts. It certainly is not ideal. There is some difficulty for instance in separating the binary good/bad evaluation from connotations of the so-called bias words involving ideological viewpoints. Bias words are especially characteristic of the newspaper vocabulary reflecting different ideologies and political trends in describing political life. Some authors think these connotations should be taken separately.

The term bias words is based on the meaning of the noun bias ‘an inclination for or against someone or something, a prejudice’, e. g. a newspaper with a strong conservative bias.

The following rather lengthy example is justified, because it gives a more or less complete picture of the phenomenon. E. Waugh in his novel “Scoop” satirises the unfairness of the Press. A special correspondent is sent by a London newspaper to report on a war in a fictitious African country Ishmalia. He asks his editor for briefing:

Can you tell me who is fighting whom in Ishmalia?”

“I think it is the Patriots and the Traitors.”

“Yes, but which is which?”

“Oh, I don’t know that. That’s Policy, you see [...] You should have asked Lord Copper.”

“I gather it’s between the Reds and the Blacks.”

“Yes, but it’s not quite so easy as that. You see they are all Negroes. And the Fascists won’t be called black because of their racial pride. So they are called White after the White Russians. And the Bolshevists want to be called black because of their racial pride.” (Waugh)

The example shows that connotations are not stable and vary considerably according to the ideology, culture and experience of the individual. Even apart of this satirical presentation we learn from Barn-hart’s dictionary that the word black meaning ‘a negro’, which used to be impolite and derogatory, is now upgraded by civil rights movement through the use of such slogans as “Black is Beautiful” or “Black Power”.

A linguistic proof of an existing unpleasant connotation is the appearance of euphemisms. Thus backward students are now called under-achievers. Countries with a low standard of living were first called undeveloped, but euphemisms quickly lose their polite character and the unpleasant connotations are revived, and then they are replaced by new euphemisms such as less developed and then as developing countries.

A fourth type of connotation that should be mentioned is the intensifying connotation (also expressive, emphatic). Thus magnificent, gorgeous, splendid, superb are all used colloquially as terms of exaggeration.

We often come across words that have two or three types of connotations at once, for example the word beastly as in beastly weather or beastly cold is emotional, colloquial, expresses censure and intensity.

Sometimes emotion or evaluation is expressed in the style of the utterance. The speaker may adopt an impolite tone conveying displeasure (e. g. Shut up!). A casual tone may express friendliness î r affection: Sit down, kid [...] There, there just you sit tight (Chris tie). Polysemy is a phenomenon of language not of speech. The sum total of many contexts in which the word is observed to occur permits the lexicographers to record cases of identical meaning and cases that differ in meaning. They are registered by lexicographers and found in dictionaries.

A distinction has to be drawn between the lexical meaning of a word in speech, we shall call it contextual meaning, and the semantic structure of a word in language. Thus the semantic structure of the verb act comprises several variants: ‘do something’, ‘behave’, ‘take a part in a play’, ‘pretend’. If one examines this word in the following aphorism: Some men have acted courage who had it not; but no man can act wit (Halifax), one sees it in a definite context that particularises it and makes possible only one meaning ‘pretend’. This contextual meaning has a connotation of irony. The unusual grammatical meaning of transitivity (act is as a rule intransitive) and the lexical meaning of objects to this verb make a slight difference in the lexical meaning.

As a rule the contextual meaning represents only one of the possible variants of the word but this one variant may render a complicated notion or emotion analyzable into several semes. In this case we deal not with the semantic structure of the word but with the semantic structure of one of its meanings. Polysemy does not interfere with the communicative function of the language because the situation and context cancel all the unwanted meanings.

Sometimes, as, for instance in puns, the ambiguity is intended, the words are purposefully used so as to emphasise their different meanings. Consider the replica of lady Constance, whose son, Arthur Plantagenet is betrayed by treacherous allies:

LYMOGES (Duke of Austria): Lady Constance, peace!
CONSTANCE: War! war! no peace! peace is to me a war (Shakespeare).

In the time of Shakespeare peace as an interjection meant ‘Silence!’ But lady Constance takes up the main meaning — the antonym of war.

Geoffrey Leech uses the term reflected meaning for what is communicated through associations with another sense of the same word, that is all cases when one meaning of the word forms part of the listener’s response to another meaning. G. Leech illustrates his point by the following example. Hearing in the Church Service the expression The Holy Ghost, he found his reaction conditioned by the everyday unreligious and awesome meaning ‘the shade of a dead person supposed to visit the living’. The case where reflected meaning intrudes due to suggestivity of the expression may be also illustrated by taboo words and euphemisms connected with the physiology of sex.

Consider also the following joke, based on the clash of different meanings of the word expose (‘leave unprotected’, ‘put up for show’, ‘reveal the guilt of’). E. g.: Painting is the art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather and exposing them to the critic.

Or, a similar case: “Why did they hang this picture?” “Perhaps, they could not find the artist.” Contextual meanings include nonce usage. Nonce words are words invented and used for a particular occasion.

The study of means and ways of naming the elements of reality is called onomasiology. As worked out in some recent publications it received the name of Theory of Nomination.1 So if semasiology studies what it is the name points out, onomasiology and the theory of nomination have to show how the objects receive their names and what features are chosen to represent them.

Originally the nucleus of the theory concerned names for objects, and first of all concrete nouns. Later on a discussion began, whether actions, properties, emotions and so on should be included as well. The question was answered affirmatively as there is no substantial difference in the reflection in our mind of things and their properties or different events. Everything that can be named or expressed verbally is considered in the theory of nomination. Vocabulary constitutes the central problem but syntax, morphology and phonology also have their share. The theory of nomination takes into account that the same referent may receive various names according to the information required at the moment by the process of communication, e. g. Walter Scott and the author of Waverley (to use an example known to many generations of linguists). According to the theory of nomination every name has its primary function for which it was created (primary or direct nomination), and an indirect or secondary function corresponding to all types of figurative, extended or special meanings (see p. 53). The aspect of theory of nomination that has no counterpart in semasiology is the study of repeated nomination in the same text, as, for instance, when Ophelia is called by various characters of the tragedy: fair Ophelia, sweet maid, dear maid, nymph, kind sister, rose of May, poor Ophelia, lady, sweet lady, pretty lady, and so on.

To sum up this discussion of the semantic structure of a word, we return to its definition as a structured set of interrelated lexical variants with different denotational and sometimes also connotational meanings. These variants belong to the same set because they are expressed by the same combination of morphemes, although in different contextual conditions. The elements are interrelated due to the existence of some common semantic component. In other words, the word’s semantic structure is an organised whole comprised by recurrent meanings and shades of meaning that a particular sound complex can assume in different contexts, together with emotional, stylistic and other connotations, if any.

Every meaning is thus characterised according to the function, significative or pragmatic effect that it has to fulfil as denotative and connotative meaning referring the word to the extra-linguistic reality and to the speaker, and also with respect to other meanings with which it is contrasted. The hierarchy of lexico-grammatical variants and shades of meaning within the semantic structure of a word is studied with the help of formulas establishing semantic distance between them developed by N. A. Shehtman and other authors.


If we describe a wîrd as an autonomous unit of language in which a particular meaning is associated with a particular sound complex and which is capable of a particular grammatical employment and able to form a sentence by itself (see p. 9), we have the possibility to distinguish it from the other fundamental language unit, namely, the morpheme.

A morpheme is also an association of a given meaning with a given sound pattern. But unlike a word it is not autonomous. Morphemes occur in speech only as constituent parts of words, not independently, although a word may consist of a single morpheme. Nor are they divisible into smaller meaningful units. That is why the morpheme may be defined as the minimum meaningful language unit.

The term morpheme is derived from Gr morphe ‘form’ + -eme. The Greek suffix -erne has been adopted by linguists to denote the smallest significant or distinctive unit. (Cf. phoneme, sememe.) The morpheme is the smallest meaningful unit of form. A form in these cases is a recurring discrete unit of speech.

A form is said to be free if it may stand alone without changing its meaning; if not, it is a bound form, so called because it is always bound to something else. For example, if we compare the words sportive and elegant and their parts, we see that sport, sportive, elegant may occur alone as utterances, whereas eleg-, -ive, -ant are bound forms because they never occur alone. A word is, by L. Bloomfield’s definition, a minimum free form. A morpheme is said to be either bound or free. This statement should bå taken with caution. It means that some morphemes are capable of forming words without adding other morphemes: that is, they are homonymous to free forms.

According to the role they play in constructing words, morphemes are subdivided into roots and affixes. The latter are further subdivided, according to their position, into prefixes, suffixes and infixes, and according to their function and meaning, into derivational and functional .affixes, the latter also called endings or outer formatives.

When a derivational or functional affix is stripped from the word, what remains is a stem (or astern base). The stem expresses the lexical and the part of speech meaning. For the word hearty and for the paradigm heart (sing.) —hearts (pi.)1 the stem may be represented as heart-. This stem is a single morpheme, it contains nothing but the root, so it is a simple stem. It is also a free stem because it is homonymous to the word heart.

A stem may also be defined as the part of the word that remains unchanged throughout its paradigm. The stem of the paradigm hearty heartier — (the) heartiest is hearty-. It is a free stem, but as it consists of a root morpheme and an affix, it is not simple but derived. Thus, a stem containing one or more affixes is a derived stem. If after deducing the affix the remaining stem is not homonymous to a separate word of the same root, we call it abound stem. Thus, in the word cordial ‘proceeding as if from the heart’, the adjective-forming suffix can be separated on the analogy with such words as bronchial, radial, social. The remaining stem, however, cannot form a separate word by itself, it is bound. In cordially and cordiality, on the other hand, the derived stems are free.

Bound stems are especially characteristic of loan words. The point may be illustrated by the following French borrowings: arrogance, charity, courage, coward, distort, involve, notion, legible and tolerable, to give but a few.2 After the affixes of these words are taken away the remaining elements are: arrog-, char-, cour-, cow-, -tort, -volve, not-, leg-, toler-, which do not coincide with any semantically related independent words.

Roots are main morphemic vehicles of a given idea in a given language at a given stage of its development. A root may be also regarded as the ultimate constituent element which remains after the removal of all functional and derivational affixes and does not admit any further analysis. It is the common element of words within a word-family. Thus, -heart- is the common root of the following series of words: heart, hearten, dishearten, heartily, heartless, hearty, heartiness, sweetheart, heart-broken, kind-hearted, whole-heartedly, etc. In some of these, as, for example, in hearten, there is only one root; in others the root -heart is combined with some other root, thus forming a compound like sweetheart.

The root word heart is unsegmentable, it is non-motivated morphologically. The morphemic structure of all the other words in this word-family is obvious — they are segmentable as consisting of at least two distinct morphemes. They may be further subdivided into: 1) those formed by affixation or affixational derivatives consisting of a root morpheme and one or more affixes: hearten, dishearten, heartily, heartless, hearty, heartiness; 2) compounds, in which two, or very rarely more, stems simple or derived are combined into a lexical unit: sweetheart, heart-shaped, heart-broken or3) derivational compounds where words of a phrase are joined together by composition and affixation: kind-hearted. This last process is also called phrasal derivation ((kind heart) + -ed)).

There exist word-families with several tmsegmentable members, the derived elements being formed by conversion or clipping. The word-family with the noun father as its centre contains alongside affixational derivatives fatherhood, fatherless, fatherly a verb father ‘to adopt’ or ‘to originate’ formed by conversion.

We shall now present the different types of morphemes starting with the root.

It will at once be noticed that the root in English is very often homonymous with the word. This fact is of fundamental importance as it is one of the most specific features of the English language arising from its general grammatical system on the one hand, and from its phonemic system on the other. The influence of the analytical structure of the language is obvious. The second point, however, calls for some explanation. Actually the usual phonemic shape most favoured in English is one single stressed syllable: bear, find, jump, land, man, sing, etc. This does not give much space for a second morpheme to add classifying lexico-grammatical meaning to the lexical meaning already present in the root-stem, so the lexico-grammatical meaning must be signalled by distribution.

In the phrases a morning’s drive, a morning’s ride, a morning’s walk the words drive, ride and walk receive the lexico-grammatical meaning of a noun not due to the structure of their stems, but because they are preceded by a genitive.

An English word does not necessarily contain formatives indicating to what part of speech it belongs. This holds true even with respect to inflectable parts of speech, i.e. nouns, verbs, adjectives. Not all roots are free forms, but productive roots, i.e. roots capable of producing new words, usually are. The semantic realisation of an English word is therefore very specific. Its dependence on context is further enhanced by the widespread occurrence of homonymy both among root morphemes and affixes. Note how many words in the following statement might be ambiguous if taken in isolation: A change of work is as good as a rest.

The above treatment of the root is purely synchronic, as we have taken into consideration only the facts of present-day English. But the same problem of the morpheme serving as the main signal of a given lexical meaning is studied in etymology. Thus, when approached historically or diachronically the word heart will be classified as Common Germanic. One will look for cognates, i.e. words descended from a common ancestor. The cognates of heart are the Latin cor, whence cordial ‘hearty’, ‘sincere’, and so cordially and cordiality, also the Greek kardia, whence English cardiac condition. The cognates outside the English vocabulary are the Russian cepäöå, the German Herz, the Spanish corazon and other words.

To emphasise the difference between the synchronic and the diachronic treatment, we shall call the common element of cognate words in different languages not their root but their radical element. These two types of approach, synchronic and diachronic, give rise to two different principles of arranging morphologically related words into groups. In the first case series of words with a common root morpheme in which derivatives are opposable to their unsuffixed and unprefixed bases, are combined, ñf. heart, hearty, etc. The second grouping results in families of historically cognate words, ñf. heart, cor (Lat), Herz (Germ), etc.

Unlike roots, affixes are always bound forms. The difference between suffixes and prefixes, it will be remembered, is not confined to their respective position, suffixes being “fixed after” and prefixes “fixed before” the stem. It also concerns their function and meaning.

A suffix is a derivational morpheme following the stem and forming a new derivative in a different part of speech or a different word class, ñf. -en, -y, -less in hearten, hearty, heartless. When both the underlying and the resultant forms belong to the same part of speech, the suffix serves to differentiate between lexico-grammatical classes by rendering some very general lexico-grammatical meaning. For instance, both -ify and -er are verb suffixes, but the first characterises causative verbs, such as horrify, purify, rarefy, simplify, whereas the second is mostly typical of frequentative verbs: flicker, shimmer, twitter and the like.

If we realise that suffixes render the most general semantic component of the word’s lexical meaning by marking the general class of phenomena to which the referent of the word belongs, the reason why suffixes are as a rule semantically fused with the stem stands explained.

A prefix is a derivational morpheme standing before the root and modifying meaning, cf. hearten dishearten. It is only with verbs and statives that a prefix may serve to distinguish one part of speech from another, like in earth n — unearth v, sleep n — asleep (stative).

It is interesting that as a prefix en- may carry the same meaning of being or bringing into a certain state as the suffix -en, ñf. enable, encamp, endanger, endear, enslave and fasten, darken, deepen, lengthen, strengthen.

Preceding a verb stem, some prefixes express the difference between a transitive and an intransitive verb: stay v and outstay (sb) vt. With a few exceptions prefixes modify the stem for time (pre-, post-), place (in-, ad-) or negation (un-, dis-) and remain semantically rather independent of the stem.

An infix is an affix placed within the word, like -n- in stand. The type is not productive.

An affix should not be confused with a combining form. A combining form is also a bound form but it can be distinguished from an affix historically by the fact that it is always borrowed from another language, namely, from Latin or Greek, in which it existed as a free form, i.e. a separate word, or also as a combining form.


Lexicology is primarily concerned with derivational affixes, the other group being the domain of grammarians. The derivational affixes in fact, as well as the whole problem of word-formation, form a boundary area between lexicology and grammar and are therefore studied in both.

Language being a system in which the elements of vocabulary and grammar are closely interrelated, our study of affixes cannot be complete without some discussion of the similarity and difference between derivational and functional morphemes.

The similarity is obvious as they are so often homonymous (for the most important cases of homonymy between derivational and functional affixes see p. 18). Otherwise the two groups are essentially different because they render different types of meaning.

Functional affixes serve to convey grammatical meaning. They build different forms of one and the same word. A word form, or the form of a word, is defined as one of the different aspects a word may take as a result of inflection. Complete sets of all the various forms of a word when considered as inflectional patterns, such as declensions or conjugations, are termed paradigms. A paradigm has been defined in grammar as the system of grammatical forms characteristic of a word, e. g. near, nearer, nearest; son, son’s, sons, sons’ (see1 p. 23).

Derivational affixes serve to supply the stem with components of lexical and lexico-grammatical meaning, and thus form4different words. One and the same lexico-grammatical meaning of the affix is sometimes accompanied by different combinations of various lexical meanings. Thus, the lexico-grammatical meaning supplied by the suffix -y consists in the ability to express the qualitative idea peculiar to adjectives and creates adjectives from noun stems. The lexical meanings of the same suffix are somewhat variegated: ‘full of, as in bushy or cloudy, ‘composed of, as in stony, ‘having the quality of, as in slangy, ‘resembling’, as in baggy, ‘covered with’, as in hairy and some more. This suffix sometimes conveys emotional components of meaning. E.g.: My school reports used to say: “Not amenable to discipline; too fond of organising,” which was only a kind way of saying: “Bossy.” (M. Dickens) Bossy not only means ‘having the quality of a boss’ or ‘behaving like a boss’; it is also a derogatory word.

This fundamental difference in meaning and function of the two groups of affixes results in an interesting relationship: the presence of a derivational affix does not prevent a word from being equivalent to another word, in which this suffix is absent, so that they can be substituted for one another in context. The presence of a functional affix changes the distributional properties of a word so much that it can never be substituted for a simple word without violating grammatical standard. To see this point consider the following familiar quotation from Shakespeare:

Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.

Here no one-morpheme word can be substituted for the words cowards, times or deaths because the absence of a plural mark will make the sentence ungrammatical. The words containing derivational affixes can be substituted by morphologically different words, so that the derivative valiant can be substituted by a root word like brave. In a statement like I wash my hands of the whole affair (Du Maurier) the word affair may be replaced by the derivative business or by the simple word thing because their distributional properties are the same. It is, however, impossible to replace it by a word containing a functional affix (affairs or things), as this would require a change in the rest of the sentence.

The American structuralists B. Bloch and G. Trager formulate this point as follows: “A suffixal derivative is a two-morpheme word which is grammatically equivalent to (can be substituted for) any simple word in all the constructions where it occurs."1

This rule is not to be taken as an absolutely rigid one because the word building potential and productivity of stems depend on several factors. Thus, no further addition of suffixes is possible after -ness, -ity, -dom, -ship and -hood.

A derivative is mostly capable of further derivation and is therefore homonymous to a stem. Foolish, for instance, is derived from the stem fool- and is homonymous to the stem foolish- occurring in the words foolishness and foolishly. Inflected words cease to be homonymous to stems. No further derivation is possible from the word form fools, where the stem fool- is followed by the functional affix -s. Inflected words are neither structurally nor functionally equivalent to the morphologically simple words belonging to the same part of speech. Things is different from business functionally, because these two words cannot occur in identical contexts, and structurally, because of the different character of their immediate constituents and different word-forming possibilities. After having devoted special attention to the difference in semantic characteristics of various kinds of morphemes we notice that they are different positionally. A functional affix marks the word boundary, it can only follow the affix of derivation and come last, so that no further derivation is possible for a stem to which a functional affix is added. That is why functional affixes are called by E. Nida the outer formatives as contrasted to the inner formatives which is equivalent to our term derivational affixes.

It might be argued that the outer position of functional affixes is disproved by such examples as the disableds, the unwanteds. It must be noted, however, that in these words -ed is not a functional affix, it receives derivational force so that the disableds is not a form of the verb to disable, but a new word — a collective noun.

A word containing no outer formatives is, so to say, open, because it is homonymous to a stem and further derivational affixes may be added to it. Once we add an outer formative, no further derivation is possible. The form may be regarded as closed.

The semantic, functional and positional difference that has already been stated is supported by statistical properties and difference in valency (combining possibilities). Of the three main types of morphemes, namely roots, derivational affixes and functional affixes (formatives), the roots are by far the most numerous. There are many thousand roots in the English language; the derivational affixes, when listed, do not go beyond a few scores. The list given in “Chambers’s Twentieth Century Dictionary” takes up five pages and a half, comprising all the detailed explanations of their origin and meaning, and even then the actual living suffixes are much fewer. As to the functional affixes there are hardly more than ten of them. Regular English verbs, for instance, have only four forms: play, plays, played, playing, as compared to the German verbs which have as many as sixteen.

The valency of these three groups of morphemes is naturally in inverse proportion to their number. Functional affixes can be appended, with a few exceptions, to any element belonging to the part of speech they serve. The regular correlation of singular and plural forms of nouns can serve to illustrate this point. Thus, heart : : hearts; boy : : boys, etc. The relics of archaic forms, such as child : : children, or foreign plurals like criterion : : criteria are very few in comparison with these.

Derivational affixes do not combine so freely and regularly. The suffix -en occurring in golden and leaden cannot be added to the root steel-. Nevertheless, as they serve to mark certain groups of words, their correlations are never isolated and always contain more than two oppositions, e. g. boy : : boyish, child : : childish, book : : bookish, gold : : golden, lead : : leaden, wood : : wooden. The valency of roots is of a very different order and the oppositions may be sometimes isolated. It is for instance difficult to find another pair with the root heart and the same relationship as in heart : : sweetheart.

Knowing the plural functional suffix -s we know how the countable nouns are inflected. The probability of a mistake is not great.

With derivational affixes the situation is much more intricate. Knowing, for instance, the complete list of affixes of feminisation, i.e. formation of feminine nouns from the stems of masculine ones by adding a characteristic suffix, we shall be able to recognise a new word if we know the root. This knowledge, however, will not enable us to construct words acceptable for English vocabulary, because derivational affixes are attached to their particular stems in a haphazard and unpredictable manner. Why, for instance, is it impossible to call a lady-guest — a guestess on the pattern of host : : hostess? Note also: lion : : lioness, tiger : : tigress, but bear : : she-bear, elephant : : she-elephant, wolf : : she-wolf; very often the correlation is assured by suppletion, therefore we have boar : : sow, buck : : doe, bull : : cow, cock : : hen, ram : : ewe.

Similarly in toponymy: the inhabitant of London is called a Londoner, the inhabitant of Moscow is a Muscovite, of Vienna — a Viennese, of Athens — an Athenian.

On the whole this state of things is more or less common to many languages; but English has stricter constraints in this respect than, for example, Russian; indeed the range of possibilities in English is very narrow. Russian not only possesses a greater number of diminutive affixes but can add many of them to the same stem: ìàëü÷èê, ìàëü÷èøêà, ìàëü÷èøå÷êà, ìàëü÷îíêà, ìàëü÷óãàí, ìàëü÷óãàøêà. Nothing of the kind is possible for the English noun stem boy. With the noun stem girl the diminutive -ie can be added but not -ette, -let, -kin / -kins. The same holds true even if the corresponding noun stems have much in common: a short lecture is a lecturette but a small picture is never called a picturette. The probability that a given stem will combine with a given affix is thus not easily established.

To sum up: derivational and functional morphemes may happen to be identical in sound form, but they are substantially different in meaning, function, valency, statistical characteristics and structural properties.

Date: 2015-01-02; view: 9346

<== previous page | next page ==>
doclecture.net - lectures - 2014-2023 year. Copyright infringement or personal data (0.021 sec.)