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методология / haritonchik / лексикология !!!!!!!!11111111 / 4 / 2. Lexical units their properties and specific features

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2. Lexical units: their properties and specific features

What kind of units does the vocabulary of a language embrace? To answer the question we have to view general problems of the systemic structure of the language. It is accepted that a language system comprises several types of units, the total of which form sub-systems within the language usually described as language levels. These units are roughly as follows (by Emile Benveniste):

-sentences which make up the communicative, or syntactic level,

-words, which constitute the lexical level, or subsystem,

-morphemes, which form the morphological level, or subsystem,

- phonemes, which are the constituents of the phonological level, or subsystem [].

It is natural to state on the basis of the etymology of the term lexicology (lexicology (Gk) – lexicos ‘having to do with words’, logos ‘science) that the major concern of lexicology is the subsystem of words.

But the lexicographic experience shows a another answer. A developed branch of applied linguistics – lexicography (the aim- to register and systemically represent the vocabulary of a language), does not restrict its object to words only. Dictionaries contain morphemes, e.g. word-building suffixes and prefixes. We use dictionaries of phrasal verbs, of proverbs, of phraseological units. The vocabulary contains morphemes and certain types of word combinations and sentences. The need to account for the lexicographers’ decision to embrace various types of linguistic units leads us to the need of a closer view of linguistic units.

The main properties- form and meaning. All of the mentioned linguistic units possess formal properties and all except of phonemes are characterized by meaning. Thus we can make the first rule to set the borderlines of the lexicon: lexical units are multi-faceted linguistic units, which are characterized at least by 2 features: meaning and form. This leads to the phonemes being ousted out of the vocabulary as they don’t bear any signifiсation but fulfill only a differentiating function.

Another possible approach to delimit the lexicon is based on the communicative role and performance of linguistic units in communication. When we view words and morphemes from this angle it becomes obvious that their function in communication is to serve as ready-made units, and thus they perform a very significant function as elements of language without which no communication is possible. They are prerequisites of communication which is a process of generating utterances in order to express one’s thoughts, attitudes or emotions. Communication is a creative process based on a system of rules which dictate how we can operate with ready-made language units. The results of the process are an unbounded scope of utterances. The majority of utterances are novel, and though they are perfectly comprehensible it is extremely unlikely that people have ever heard or seen them before, as they are produced by the speakers under the impact of an infinite number of communication situations.

The distinction drawn on the basis of the produced versus reproduced character of linguistic units forms another basis on which border lines between the lexicon and syntax can be defined. Each of them embraces a different type of language phenomena pertaining to the form and organization of sentences. Lexical units are reproduced ready-made linguistic units which possess both form and meaning. According to this definition one should classify not only words but morphemes as well as units belonging to the lexical system of the language.

At the same time we see the existence of fixed expressions: greetings, sayings which are sentences in structure but are reproduced in speech alongside set expressions which are word-combinations in form. According to the two rules in order to delimit the vocabulary we cannot limit the lexicon to words and morphemes only. On the basis of the two criteria chosen and discussed above the lexicon of a language must necessarily include words, morphemes, ready-made word combinations and utterances, thus becoming a system of various types of lexical units. Being a reproducible set of lexical units the lexicon of a language must be, first, a limited system, and second, an open system able to easily receive new items which appear in the course of communication. The dynamic character of the vocabulary with its dialectic interrelationship of stability, permanence and constant change is one of the striking properties of the lexicon which enables the speakers cover all their cognitive and communicative needs.

The total vocabulary of English is immense and runs about to approximately half a million items. None of us knows more than a fairly limited number of these and uses even less. One cannot but agree with R.Quirk (an eminent British scholar) that the greater personal knowledge of vocabulary is the better we are able to enjoy our environment and describe our experience.

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