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Questions

  1. What is the object of Lexicological study?

  2. What language units are studied in Lexicology?

  3. What is a morpheme?

  4. What is a word?

  5. What is a phraseological unit?

  6. What are the functions of the Lexicological units?

1.2 Naming function of lexical units

Naming is the process of matching conceptual categories with language signs. This purely human activity involves at least two participants: the nominator, who gives the name and the referent which is to be given a name. It is next to impossible to establish the moment when the ability to name objects around was born in human beings. What is known are the ways of naming which all people use. Referents can be named with the help of free phrases, sentences and even texts. None of the linguistic units mentioned belong to lexical units and therefore they are not studied in Lexicology. They are the concern of other linguistic sciences.

Lexicology deals with lexical naming units to which lexemes, idioms and their lexico-semantic variants belong. The term lexico-semantic variant is used in reference to polysemantic lexemes or their equivalents.

The process of naming is not simple and moreover it is rather selective. It is selective in the meaning that lexical units chosen as names must be necessary for communication.

The starting point in the process of naming is the referent. The referent is an individual object which is to be named for the needs of communication. But if the name were given just to an individual object, speakers would have needed as many lexemes or other units as there were individual objects of concrete reality, which would have exceeded the ability of human memory.

To make communication possible we need units which denote not individual objects but which can both be applied to an individual object and the class of objects of the same kind. For example, the word room denotes not only one room, but a whole class of objects which may be called rooms as well as any individual room.

The process of giving a name to a referent starts with forming a concept of the object. The concept is a generalized idea of a class of objects, summing up the most essential characteristic features of the given class helping to distinguish it from any other class of objects.

The formation of the concept is determined by the cognitive facilities of man. In this respect the concept of one and the same object is similar for the speakers of different languages. On the one hand, it is possible because people live in the same environment, on the same planet. On the other hand, if the concepts were absolutely different it would have been problematic to translate from one language into another. At the same time there are concepts that are different with different language communities because of the peculiarities of cultural development and prominence ascribed to some objects. For example, the concept corresponding to the Russian word “суп” implies a certain type of food which is half liquid and half solid thus making it necessary to chew it while eating. The concept underlying the English word “soup” corresponds to a certain type of liquid food without solid ingredients. The difference in concepts accounts for different usage of the words. The Russian say “есть суп” while the English say “to drink soup”.

The formation of the concept is influenced by the level of knowledge about the nature and the structure of the given object. Thus, the concept of “star” will be different for the 15th century and 21st century European. The higher is the level of the development of science, the more complex become the concepts.

The formation of concepts is influenced by philosophical, moral, religious and other systems of social practice existing in the society at a given period. In ancient Egypt, for example, the concept of “a domestic cat” would necessarily include the feature of possible incarnations of the Goddess of the Moon.

The concept itself belongs rather to the sphere of mental and ideal and therefore to the domain of Philosophy and Psychology more than to Linguistics or Lexicology. For Lexicology concepts are important as their generalized ideas are fixed and conveyed to people with the help and by linguistic means.

There are three main types of converting concepts into language units. They are: inventing a new sound form, borrowing a new sound form from another language and using the already existing sound form of the given language applying it to a new content.

The cases of inventing a completely new sound form are rather rare. They are almost totally restricted to the sphere of new goods and trade marks. This is how the words nylon and capron appeared.

New sound forms can be borrowed from other languages. As a rule they are borrowed when the corresponding concept has already been formed but laconic and convenient lexeme is found outside the given language. For example, the German word “blitzkrieg” has penetrated into practically all European languages.

The most frequent way of converting concepts into language units is the use of the already existing means in the given language. However, these means cannot be accidental. The content side of the already functioning in the language word should suit a newly formed concept. For example, the idea “the ground under the sea” can be expressed in English in three ways: “the bottom of the sea”, “the floor of the sea” and “the bed of the sea” (or sea-bed). Why is it possible? Are they absolutely identical or is there some difference in them?

Let us consider the dictionary definitions. The bottom of the sea implies the ground or bed under the water, the part farthest from the surface of the water. Other definitions of the word “bottom” alone also stress the idea of the lowest and farthest point from the front, from the surface. Thus, the idea of being the farthest point appears to be the most important.

The bed of the sea is defined as the ground foundation of a natural water reservoir, flat base on which something rests, layer of rock, stone as a foundation for a road or railway. The most emphasized feature is the foundation, something on which the rest of the object is built, erected or laid.

The floor of the sea is described as the base of any cavity, the surface on which we go indoors, a layer, a stratum, a horizontal course. The most important idea is that of horizontal support which carries the rest of the object.

Thus, the concept “the ground under the sea” is related to each of the words and to all of them. We can say that the ideas overlap because of a certain similarity. This overlap is called the inner form of the word. The inner form is very important in lexicological respect. It is the first cognitive experience of people. It is the feature that helps to differentiate between the alike but not identical referents or objects, processes and phenomena of the outer world. It also serves as a means of preserving of the motivation of the word. When the already functioning in the language means are used to denote a new concept that means that their content side is going to be influenced in this or that way. This influence is called motivation. The inner form does not allow the new concepts to be mixed up with the already existing and provides a more tangible basis for language learning. The mistakes in word collocability often arise out of improper treatment of the inner form. For example, the Russian “верёвка порвалась” corresponds to the English “the rope broke” but not “the rope tore”. And it is due to the inner form that differentiates between the longwise (tear) separation of the parts of the object and the diametrical (break) one.

In those cases when the concept has just come into being and its name is still new the inner form is quite obvious or transparent. But as the process of naming recedes into the past the inner form tends to become less transparent and finally, in most cases, becomes opaque. The word “television” is widely used nowadays, but not many people will give its “initial” meaning, i.e. “vision of far off things”, or “vision at the distance”.

When the process of nomination is finished and a lexeme comes to be used in the language, its phonetic, morphological or semantic structure reflects most important, salient features. The reflection of these features is called motivation. Motivation registers the concept feature or features believed to be its most distinguishing and for many generations it preserves the reason for the concept to be named in such a way. In this respect the process of naming may be called secondary categorization of concepts by linguistic means.

There are mainly three types of motivation: phonetic, morphological and semantic. Phonetic motivation includes the so-called imitation (onomatopoeic) words: clatter, growl. Morphological motivation is observed in derived words whose meaning can be expressed by a word-combination with a motivating word, i.e. the word that “gave birth” to another one: rethink – to think again, snow-white – as white as snow. Semantic motivation takes place in polysemantic lexemes that include names derived by means of metaphor or metonymy: chicken – meat of a chicken.

In English compound words the motivation is morphological if the meaning of the whole lexeme is based on the literal meaning of the components: eyewash – “a lotion for eyes”. The motivation is semantic if the meaning is metaphoric: eyewash – “something said or done to deceive a person so that he thinks what he sees is good, though in fact it is not”.

The results of motivation can be quite different depending on the approach of study. The same lexemes may have different degree of motivation which is connected with whether they are studied synchronically or diachronically. For example, such place-names as Essex, Norfolk, and Sutton are considered to be non-motivated if analyzed synchronically. However the diachronic analysis shows that their components are East+Saxon, North+Folk and South+Town which stresses that in earlier times they were completely motivated.

Lexemes that consist of one morpheme are said to be non-motivated morphologically, though they can be motivated phonetically (splash) or semantically (mother in Necessity is the mother of invention).

Some lexemes may become demotivated. For example, the lexeme “garlic” in Old English meant “spare leek” which is not found in the modern meaning of the lexeme. Thus, we can say that the item is demotivated. Demotivation can be complete and partial. The lexeme “blackboard” is partially demotivated as blackboards used today are not obligatory black in colour. Others may be remotivated. The pronunciation of the lexeme “forehead” in modern English tends to be close to its spelling pointing out its compound nature.

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