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NEUTRAL, COMMON LITERARY AND COMMON COLLOQUIAL VOCABULARY

 

Ntral words, which form the bulk of the English vocabulary, are used in both literary and colloquial language. Neutral words are the main source of synonymy and polysemy. It is the neutral stock of words that is so prolific in the production of new meanings.

The wealth of the neutral stratum of words is often overlooked. This is due to their inconspicuous character. But their faculty for assuming new meanings and generating new stylistic variants is often quite amazing. This generative power of the neutral words in the English language is multiplied by the very nature of the language itself. It has been estimated that most neutral English words are of monosyllabic character, as, in the process of development from Old English to Modern English, most of the parts of speech lost their distinguishing suffixes. This phenomenon has led to the development of conversion as

the most productive means of word-building. Word compounding is not so productive as conversion or word derivation, where a new word is formed because of a shift in the part of speech in the first case and by the addition of an affix in the second. Unlike all other groups, the neutral

group of words cannot be considered as having a special stylistic colouring, whereas both literary and colloquial words have a definite stylistic colouring.

Common literary words are chiefly used in writing and in polished speech. One can always tell literary words from a colloquial word. The reason for this lies in certain objective features of the literary layer of words. What these objective features are, is difficult to say because as yet no objective criteria have been worked out. But one of them undoubtedly is that literary units stand in opposition to colloquial units. This is especially apparent when pairs of synonyms, literary and colloquial, can be formed which stand in contrasting relation.

The following synonyms illustrate the relations that exist between the neutral, literary and colloquial words in the English language.

Colloquial Neutral Literary  
kid child infant  
daddy father parent
chap fellow associate
get out go away retire
go on continue proceed
teenager boy (girl) youth (maiden)  
flapper young girl maiden  
go ahead get going make a move begin start     commence  

It goes without saying that these synonyms are not only stylistic but ideographic as well, i. e. there is a definite, though slight, semantic difference between the words. But this is almost always the case with synonyms. There are very few absolute synonyms in English just as there are in any language. The main distinction between synonyms remains stylistic. But stylistic difference may be of various kinds: it may lie in the emotional tension connoted in a word, or in the sphere of application, or in the degree of the quality denoted. Colloquial words are always more emotionally coloured than literary ones. The neutral stratum of words, as the term itself implies, has no degree of emotiveness, nor have they any distinctions in the sphere of usage.



Both literary and colloquial words have their upper and lower ranges. The lower range of literary words approaches the neutral layer and has a markedly obvious tendency to pass into that layer. The same m be said of the upper range of the colloquial layer: it can very easily pass into the neutral layer. The lines of demarcation between common colloquial and neutral, on the one hand, and common literary and neutral, on the other, are blurred. It is here that the process of interpenetration of the stylistic strata becomes most apparent.

 


Still the extremes remain antagonistic and therefore are often used to bring about a collision of manners of speech for special stylistic purposes. The difference in the stylistic aspect of words may colour the whole of an utterance.

In this example from "Fanny's First Play" (Shaw), the difference between the common literary and common colloquial vocabulary is clearly seen.

"DORA: Oh, I've let it out. Have I? (contemplating Juggins approvingly as he places a chair for her between the table and the sideboard). But he's the right sort: I can see that (buttonholing him). You won't let it out downstairs, old man, will you?

JUGGINS: The family can rely on my absolute discretion."

The words in Juggins's answer are on the border-line between common literary and neutral, whereas the words and expressions used by Dora are clearly common colloquial, not bordering on neutral.

This example from "David Copperfield" (Dickens) illustrates the use of literary English words which do not border on neutral:

"My dear Copperfield," said Mr., Micawber, "this is luxurious. This is a way of life which reminds me of a period when I was myself in. a state of celibacy, and Mrs. Micawber had not yet been solicited to plight her faith at the Hymeneal altar."

"He means, solicited by him, Mr. Copperfield," said Mrs. Micawber, archly. "He cannot answer for others."

"My dear," returned Mr. Micawber with sudden seriousness, "I have no desire to answer for others. I am too well aware that when, in the inscrutable decrees of Fate, you were reserved for me, it is possible you may have been reserved for one destined, after a protracted struggle, at length to fall a victim to pecuniary involvements of a complicated nature. I understand your allusion, my love, I regret it, but I can bear it."

"Micawber!" exclaimed Mrs. Micawber, in tears. "Have I deserved this! I, who never have deserted you; who never will desert you, Micawber!"

"My. love," said Mr. Micawber, much affected, "you will forgive, and our old and tried friend Copperfield will, I am sure, forgive the momentary laceration of a wounded spirit, made sensitive by a recent collision with the Minion of Powerin other words, with a ribald Turncock attached to the waterworks and will pity, not condemn, its excesses."

There is a certain analogy between the interdependence of common literary words and neutral ones, on the one hand, and common colloquial words and neutral ones, on the other. Both sets can be viewed as being in invariant variant relations. The neutral vocabulary may be viewed as the invariant of the standard English vocabulary. The stock of words forming the neutral stratum should in this case be regarded as an abstraction. The words of this stratum are generally deprived of any

 

concrete associations and refer to the concept more or less directly. Synonyms of neutral words, both colloquial and literary, assume a far greater degree of concreteness. They generally present the same notions not abstractly but as a more or less concrete image, that is, in a form perceptible by the senses. This perceptibility by the senses causes subjective evaluations of the notion in question, or a mental image of the concept. Sometimes an impact of a definite kind on the reader or hearer is the aim lying behind the choice of a colloquial or a literary word rather than a neutral one.

In the diagram (p. 71), om colloquial vocabular is represented as overlapping into the standard English vocabulary and is therefore to be considered part of it. It borders both on the neutral vocabulary and on the special colloquial vocabulary which, as we shall see later, falls out of standard English altogether. Just as common literary words Tack homogeneity so do common colloquial words and set expressions. Some of the lexical items belonging to this stratum are close to the non-standard colloquial groups such as jargonisms, professionalisms, etc. These are on the border-line between the common colloquial vocabulary and the special colloquial or non-standard vocabulary. Other words approach the neutral bulk of the English vocabulary. Thus, the words teenager (a young girl or young man) and hippie (hippy) (a young person who leads an unordered and unconventional life) are colloquial words passing into the neutral vocabulary. They are gradually losing their non-standard character and becoming widely recognized. However, they have not lost their colloquial association and therefore still remain in the colloquial stratum of the English vocabulary. So also are the following words and expressions: take (in 'as I take it' = as 1 understand); to go for (to be attracted by, like very much, as in "You think she still goes for the guy?"); guy (young man); to be gone on (=to be madly in love with); pro (=a professional, e. g. a professional boxer, tennis-player, etc.).

The spoken language abounds in set expressions which are colloquial in character, e. g. all sorts of things, just a bit, How is life treating you?, so-so, What time do you make it?, to hob-nob (=to be very friendly with, to drink together), so much the better, to be sick and tired of, to be up to something'.

The stylistic function of the different strata of the English vocabulary depends not so much on the inner qualities of each of the groups, as on their interaction when they are opposed to one another. However, the qualities themselves are not unaffected by the function of the words, inasmuch as these qualities have been acquired in certain environments. It is interesting to note that anything written assumes a greater degree of significance than what is only spoken. If the spoken takes the place of the written or vice versa, it means that we are faced with a stylistic device.

Certain set expressions have been coined within literary English and their use in ordinary speech will inevitably make the utterance sound bookish. In other words, it will become literary. The following


are examples of set expressions which can be considered literary: in accordance with, with regard to, by virtue of, to speak at great length, ii to lend assistance, to draw a lesson, responsibility rests.

 


Date: 2015-12-18; view: 2309


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