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The word as the basic unit of the language.

Ranez.Ru > Помощь в учебе абитуриентам и студентам > Студенту > Английский язык > Лексикология >

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The word as the basic unit of the language.
Paradigmatic & syntagmatic relations of words.

Wordthe basic unit of language, directly corresponds to the object of thought (referent) – which is a generalized reverberation of a certain 'slice', 'piece' of objective reality – and by immediately referring to it names the thing meant.

Typology of words:

Morphologically we distinguish between:

  • - monomorphemic w. (root w.);
  • - polymorphemic w. (derivatives, compounds, derivational compounds – q.v.).


  • - monosemantic w. – w., having only one lexical meaning and denoting, accordingly, one concept;
  • - polysemantic w. – words having several meanings, i.e. w. having several meanings, thus denoting a whole set of related concepts grouped according to the national peculiarities of a given language.


  • - categorematic w. (notional w., lexical w., content w.) – q.v.;
  • - syncategorematic w. (form-w., structural, grammatical, syntactic, functional w.) – q.v.;


  • - neutral w.;
  • - elevated (bookish) w.;
  • - colloquial w. (q.v.);
  • - substandard w.


  • - native w. – q.v.;
  • - borrowed w. (borrowings) – q.v.;
  • - hybrids – q.v.;
  • - international w. (interonyms) – q.v.;
  • - dictionary w.
  • - evaluative w.
  • - key-words;
  • - object w.;
  • - occasional w. (nonce-w., ephemeral w.) – w., which can not be considered as permanent members of the word-stock: although they are, as a rule, formed after existing patterns, they are not characterized by general currency but are individual innovations introduced for a special occasion.
  •  –potential w. – a derivatives or a compound which do not actually exist (i.e. have not appeared in text), but which can be produced at any moment in accordance with the productive word-forming patterns of the language (e.g. singable, smokable, etc.).
  • - register sensitive ws. – ws. used in this or that register only.


  1. Root – derivatives
  2. neutral – stylistically marked
  3. native – borrowed
  4. transparent – opaque
  5. full – forms (gram. elements)


Every word has two aspects: the outer aspect (its sound form) and the inner aspect (its meaning) . Sound and meaning do not always constitute a constant unit even in the same language. E.g. the word «temple» may denote «a part of a human head» and «a large church» In such cases we have homonyms. One and the same word in different syntactical relations can develop different meanings, e.g. the verb «treat» in sentences:

  • a) He treated my words as a joke.
  • b) The book treats of poetry.
  • c) They treated me to sweets.
  • d) He treats his son cruelly.

In all these sentences the verb «treat» has different meanings and we can speak about polysemy.

On the other hand, one and the same meaning can be expressed by different sound forms, e.g. «pilot» , and «airman», «horror» and «terror». In such cases we have synonyms.

Both the meaning and the sound can develop in the course of time independently. E.g. the Old English /luvian/ is pronounced /l^v / in Modern English. On the other hand, «board» primariliy means « a piece of wood sawn thin» It has developed the meanings: a table, a board of a ship, a stage, a council etc.

Syntagmatics – linear (simultaneous) relationship of words in speech as distinct from associative (non-simultaneous)  relationship of words in language.

Paradigmatics – 1) associative (non-simultaneous) relationship of words in language as distinct from linear (simultaneous) relationship of words in speech (syntagmatics); relation of units in absentia (e.g. synonymic, antonymic relationships); 2) an approach to language when the elements of its system are regarded as associated units joined by oppositional relationship.


Simple words consist of one root morpheme and an inflexion (in many cases the inflexion is zero), e.g.  «seldom», «chairs», «longer», «asked».

Derived words consist of one root morpheme, one or several affixes and an inlexion, e.g.  «deristricted», «unemployed».

Compound words consist of two or more root morphemes and an inflexion, e.g.  «baby-moons», «wait-and-see (policy)».

Compound-derived words consist of two or more root morphemes, one or more affixes and an inflexion, e.g. «middle-of-the-roaders», «job-hopper».


When speaking about the structure of words stems also should be mentioned. The stem is the part of the word which remains unchanged throughout the paradigm of the word, e.g.  the stem «hop» can be found in the words: «hop», «hops»,  «hopped», «hopping».  The stem  «hippie»  can be found in the words: «hippie», «hippies», «hippie’s», «hippies’».  The stem «job-hop»  can be found in the words : «job-hop», «job-hops», «job-hopped», «job-hopping».

So stems, the same as words, can be simple, derived, compound and compound-derived. Stems have not only the lexical meaning but also grammatical (part-of-speech) meaning, they can be noun stems («girl» in the adjective «girlish»), adjective stems («girlish» in the noun «girlishness»), verb stems  («expell» in the noun «expellee»)  etc. They differ from words by the absence of inflexions   in their  structure, they can be used only in the structure of words.

Sometimes it is rather difficult to distinguish between simple and derived words, especially in the cases of phonetic borrowings from other languages and of native words with blocked (unique) root morphemes, e.g. «perestroika», «cranberry», «absence»  etc.
Plato’s work: words are names or labels for things.

Aristotle: the smallest significant unit of speech.

Modern linguists:

Ranez.Ru: The word as the basic unit of the language. 
Paradigmatic & syntagmatic relations of words.

Referential approach (psychological)

The model is the result of attempts to find relations between words and things.

C.Ogden and I.Richards (this triangle):

Ranez.Ru: The word as the basic unit of the language. 
Paradigmatic & syntagmatic relations of words.

Is represented by Meaning: an animal kept as a pet

Name:”dog” is named by Referent: a real dog

  • Symbol- word
  • Referent- thing
  • Reference- meaning

We’re able to use a word when this triangle is formed in our brain, when we know what object (concept) this word denotes.

Выготский: “a word is a microcosm of human conscienceness”

Words are different.

H. Sweet distinguished between full words (words with an independent meaning and form words which are grammatical elements. (the same Aristotel)

Tree       if
Sing       if
Blue       of
Gently    and

The words in 1-st column

Second- has no independent meaning proper. They are of structural function (they contribute to the meaning of the whole phrase when they are used in conjunction with other words)/ This division is not strict enough. Sometimes form words can receive full semantic status even if they are used in complete isolation.

Sometimes it’s easy to understand the meaning of a words and it’s parts.

S. Ullman distinguishes between transparent and opaque words.

Ranez.Ru: The word as the basic unit of the language. 
Paradigmatic & syntagmatic relations of words.

T. words are always motivated.

O. words are conventional words.

This distinguish goes back to the Greeks.

Motivation is the relationship existing between the phonemes or morphemic composition ans structural pattern of a word on the one hand and it’s meaning oh the other hand.

3 types of M.:

  • 1.phonetical
  • 2.morphological
  • 3.semantic

When there us a certain similarity between the sounds of a word and the sounds referred to by the meaning of a word – phonetical.


Звукоподражательные слова (onomatopoeic):

  • Bang
  • Whistle
  • Ding-dong …etc.

Morphological- it’s possible to guess the meaning of a word from it’s parts.
(in newly coined words)

Semantic motivation is based on the coexistence of direct and figurative meaning of the same word.

Foot- a lower part of smth; part of a body

The foot of the mountain.

Each word has a hard core of meaning, which stable, but can’t be modified by the context within certain limits.

2 types of context:

  • linguistic (verbal)
  • extralinguistic

L. the environment in which the word occurs as for the extra L. It consists of the entire cultural background against which we said this or that event.
 -> The meaning of a word can change depending on the environment.

Instead of the term “word» some linguists prefer the terms “lexical unit”, “lexical item” or “lexeme” . “Word” causes much confusion because it’s used orthographically, grammatically and lexically.

No agreement between the scholars in terminology.


Прислала Алена Жильцова



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