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English Lexicology A General Survey of English Vocabulary. Week 1: Feb. 24, 2009 Instructor: LIU Hongyong Course Website: sfs.scnu.edu.cn/tblogs/liuhy. Definition of Lexicology. Lexicology, as a branch of linguistics, is concerned with the study of the vocabulary of a particular language.

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english lexicology a general survey of english vocabulary

English LexicologyA General Survey of English Vocabulary

Week 1: Feb. 24, 2009

Instructor: LIU Hongyong

Course Website: sfs.scnu.edu.cn/tblogs/liuhy

definition of lexicology
Definition of Lexicology
  • Lexicology, as a branch of linguistics, is concerned with the study of the vocabulary of a particular language.

the stock of words

word stock

all the words

English lexicology: the study of the vocabulary of the English language.
  • Chinese lexicology: the study of the vocabulary of the Chinese language.
  • Russian lexicology: the study of the vocabulary of the Russian language.
  • Japanese lexicology : the study of the vocabulary of the Russian language.
english and english vocabulary
English and English Vocabulary
  • English has long been regarded as an international language, a world language, a global language, a lingua franca, or a common language.
  • English is used as the official language in

Britain, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and some Caribbean countries.

english and english vocabulary1
English and English Vocabulary
  • The English vocabulary is one of the largest and richest. The general estimate of the present-day English vocabulary is over one million words.
vocabulary lexis and lexicon
Vocabulary, Lexis, and Lexicon
  • The words ‘vocabulary’, ‘lexis’, and ‘lexicon’ are synonyms. Normally, they can be used interchangeably and refer to the same thing. They all refer to all the words (the stock of words) in a particular language.
vocabulary lexis and lexicon1
Vocabulary, Lexis, and Lexicon

The slight difference among them is that

  • ‘vocabulary’ is a common and colloquial word,
  • ‘lexicon’ is an academic word.
  • ‘lexis’ is an in-between.
vocabulary lexis and lexicon2
Vocabulary, Lexis, and Lexicon

They are in contrast to the word ‘dictionary’. A dictionary is simply a selective recording of the vocabulary (all the words) of a particular language at a specific point in time.


How many words are there in each of the following sentences?

I’m a student, and he is an English teacher.

He is a Chinese music teacher.

He is a Chinese English teacher.

He is an English Chinese music teacher.

The morning star is the evening star.

what constitutes a word
What constitutes a word?
  • The notion of ‘word’ is central in the study of lexicology. What exactly do we mean by the term ‘word’ in lexicology? How many words do you think there are in the following couplet (The Tempest (V.i.88) by Shakespeare)?

Where the bee sucks, there suck I

In a cowslip’s bell I lie.



  • Are “suck” and “sucks” the same word or they are two different words? Are “give”, “gives”, “gave”, and “given” the same word or they are different words?
  • We can solve this question by saying thatsuck and sucks are two different WORD FORMS representing just one LEXEME. Sucking and sucked are other word forms which also stand for the lexeme SUCK.
lexeme and word form
Lexeme and Word form
  • Lexemes are vocabulary items that are listed in the dictionary. A lexeme may have several different realizations, which are called the word forms of the lexeme.

The word-formsare different realizations ofthe lexeme

tall, taller, tallest tall

boy, boys boy

women, woman woman

see, sees, seeing, saw, seen see

  • Apparently, ‘word’ is an ambiguous notion. It can refer to ‘lexeme’ and ‘word form’. ‘word’ is a colloquial and vague term. The more accurate and academic terms should be ‘lexeme’ and ‘word form’. In the study of English vocabulary, we are interested more in lexemes than in word forms.
  • The term lexeme also embraces lexical items such as phrasal verbs (give up) andidioms(kick the bucket). Here, KICK THE BUCKET is a lexeme and would appear as a single dictionary entry.
  • Question: how many words do we have in the following list?

give gives giving gave given

do you know how many words shakespeare knows
Do you know how many words Shakespeare knows?

According to Bauer L. (1998), “the figures that are

usually cited for Shakespeare’s vocabulary, which credit him with knowing (or at least, having used – he probably knew a lot more, and seems to have invented a few!) about 30,000 different words, count word-forms rather than lexemes. If we counted lexemes, the result would be under 20,000.”

(30,000—word forms; 20,000—lexeme)

orthographic definition
Orthographic Definition (按拼写定义)

According to the orthographic definition of a word, a word is a sequence of letters bounded on either side by a space or punctuation mark. This definition is based on such activities as counting the number of words in an essay, a telegram, a shopping list, etc.

orthographic definition1
Orthographic Definition (按拼写定义)
  • However, not all languages mark word boundaries, the most prominent of these being Chinese. The orthographic definition cannot be applied to Chinese.
  • An orthographic definition is purely based on the written form of a word. It is not sensitive to distinctions of meaning (e.g. fair) or grammatical function.
  • A word is defined by the association of a given sense with a given group of sounds capable of a given grammatical use. (Antoine Meillet)

Problem: We cannot differentiate a word from a phrase.

A word should be a minimum unit.

  • A word may be defined as a fundamental unit of speech and a minimum free form; with a unity of sound and meaning (both lexical and grammatical meaning), capable of performing a given syntactic function. (taken from our textbook)

Problem: Is a, if, not free or bound? “Free” in what sense?

Morphologically free, but syntactically bound.

the longest english word pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis
The longest English word Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis 肺尘病

Morphological analysis:形态切分


pneumon (as in pneumonia),

ultra ‘extremely’ (as in ultraconservative),

microscopic(micr ‘small’, scop ‘view’, and -ic, which makes it an adjective.)

silic (as in silicon),

coni ( ‘dust’, as in coniology ‘study of the health effects of dust’),

-osis (‘disease’ as in tuberculosis’).

Semantic analysis:语义分析

pneumono-ultra- microscopic-silic-o-volcano-coni-osis


‘lung disease (caused by) microscopic volcanic silicon dust’

(Notice that the meaning ‘caused by’ is not carried by any particular elements in the word, but must be inferred from the other meanings)

words have magic powers
Words have magic powers!

Do you believe?

  • The most obvious example illustrating this statement is the social tradition associated with the use of those very special words, people’s names.
  • In Borneo, for example, the name of a sickly child is traditionally changed, so that the spirits tormenting it will be deceived and leave the child alone. The spirits, apparently, can recognize people only by their names, not through other characteristics.
words have magic powers1
Words have magic powers!
  • In Ancient China, it was a crime to use the name of a reigning emperor. If this occurred in an English-speaking country today where the emperor’s name was Bill, it would be illegal to talk about a bill from the electricity company, a bill before parliament or the bill of a bird.

That is absurd and ridiculous, but it is our tradition!

words have magic powers2
Words have magic powers!

Do you believe?

  • A Zulu woman is not allowed to utter the name of her husband or the names of his parents.
  • The Zulu are the largest South African ethnic group of an estimated 10-11 million people who live mainly in South Africa. Small numbers also live in Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Mozambique. Their language, Zulu, is a Bantu language.
words have magic powers3
Words have magic powers!

Do you believe?

  • It used to be the case in China that a doctor who did not have the appropriate drug for his patient would write the name of the drug on a piece of paper, burn it, and ask the patient to eat the ashes. It was believed that the name of the drug would be just as efficient as the drug itself.

How come the ancient Chinese people had such unbelievable beliefs? Is it just superstition?

words have powers
Do you believe? Even new born babies know this secret.Words have powers!
  • One theory about the origin of these beliefs is that the magic of names is established as children learn language. As soon as small children learn the names for things, they can use those names and the item they name will appear – usually because some kind adult or older brother or sister fetches it.
words have powers1
Words have powers!
  • The link between saying the word and the appearance of the thing is a very strong one. Knowing the word is equivalent to having power over the object.
words have powers2
Words have powers!
  • Example of my neighbor‘s little child, who is only one and a half years old. These days he no longer wets his pants. His mother told me that several days ago he was able to utter “Niao Niao” and “Bu Niao Niao”.
words have magic powers4
Words have magic powers!
  • Innumerable instances can be found where people act as though the name of a thing has power equivalent to that thing.

It may not be utter superstition. There is also wisdom in the idioms. Then how should we treat our culture and tradition?

_梅_ 渴

_饼_ _

The photograph, taken in July 1888 in Brewster, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, shows eight-year-old Helen Keller seated next to her teacher, Anne Sullivan, as they hold hands.

Helen Keller is an inspiration for all generations.

The spilling of water and Anne’s spelling of the word w-a-t-e-r into Helen’s palm made Helen understand the magic power of words.

classification of english words use common literary colloquial slang technical
Classification of English Words:Use: common, literary, colloquial, slang, technical
  • Common words are connected with the ordinary things or activities in everyday life. The core of the common words constitutes the basic word stock.
classification of english words use common literary colloquial slang technical1
Classification of English Words:Use: common, literary, colloquial, slang, technical
  • Literary words are chiefly used in writing. In English most of the literary words are of French, Latin or Greek origin.

endeavour (try) edifice (building)

visualize (foresee) matrimony (marriage)

purchase (buy) locate (find)

Among literary words, two categories are noteworthy: archaic words & poetical words.
  • Archaic words are words no longer in common use, although they existed for special purposes, such as in poetry, legal documents, religious speeches, etc.

behold (see) belike (probably)

perchance (by chance, possibly)

Archaic words are marked arch. (aic) in dictionaries.
  • Archaic words (古语)should not be confused with obsolete words(废词), which are completely out of current use.

chaise, landau, victoria, gig

(horse wagon in the 19th century: )

Among literary words, two categories are noteworthy: archaic words & poetical words.
  • Poetic words are words that are traditionally used only in poetry.

array (dress) the deep (the sea)

stead (horse) morn (morning)

She put on her finest array.


colloquial words
Colloquial Words
  • Colloquial words are used mainly in conversation. They can also be used in informal writing, but definitely inappropriate in formal speech or writing.

Feeling fatigued, Tomretired early. (literary)

Tom felt so dog-tired. He hit the sack early. (colloquial)

John was dismissed for petty thieving. (common)

John was fired for petty thieving. (colloquial)

slang words
Slang Words
  • Slang words are words of vigorous, colorful, or taboo nature, invented for specific uses, or derived from the unconventional use of the standard vocabulary.
slang words1
Slang Words
  • Slang words include those daring and new expressions that have not been accepted by the majority of people as standard English. (buzz ‘telephone call’, nuthouse ‘mental hospital’, spiel ‘persuasive speech’)
slang words2
Slang Words
  • Slang words may die if their novelty has worn off. Some slang words may become colloquial words, and some may even become standard words (mob, fun, bet, coax, job)
technical words
Technical Words
  • Technical words refer to those words used in various special fields. They are also called jargons.
  • Many technical neologisms (new words) created yesterday by specialists are today heard in ordinary conversation, e.g.space walk, moonwalk, radioactivity. When this happens, the technical words become popular words.
Classification of English Words:Notion: function words and content words


Function words

(closed class)

Content words

(open class)









Helping a language

build structures (grammatical meaning)

Helping a language have lexical meanings

flesh & blood

bones & tendons

open class vs closed class
open class vs. closed Class
  • The closed classes contain the so-called ‘grammatical’ or ‘function’ words. They are small classes, with a restricted and largely unchanging membership.
  • The open classes are large classes, and they are constantly added to. The members of the open classes are the ‘content’ words.

The first stanza of the ‘Jabberwocky’ song in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865).

’Twas brilling, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the boro-goves,

And the mome raths out-grabe.

1) identify the grammatical category that each word must or most probably belong to;

2) single out words whose category seems difficult to determine;

3) rewrite this stanza with English words, using your own imagination, and upload it to our course blog.


’Twas raining, and the aging trees

Did weep and wail in the ode:

All sweaty were the chimpanzees,

And the busy rats burrowed .

classification of english words origin native words and loan words
Classification of English Words:Origin: native words and loan words
  • Native words are words brought to Britain in the fifth century by the German tribes: the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes. Words of Anglo-Saxon origin are small in number, but they form the basic word stock of the English language.
  • Words borrowed from other languages are loan (borrowed) words.
loan words
Loan words
  • According to the degree of assimilation, loan words can be divided into denizen and alien.
  • Denizens are words well assimilated into English, in conformity with the English way of pronunciation and spelling; sometimes they can take an English affix.

fault (French by origin)+ the English suffix –less

The English prefix un- +certain (French by origin)

loan words1
Loan words
  • Aliens are borrowed words which have retained their original pronunciation and spelling.

coup d’etat (政变)

genre (题材;流派)

kowtow (磕头)

bazaar (集市)

the basic word stock
The Basic Word Stock

It includes the most frequently used words that are essential to life, and words denoting the most fundamental things of life.

  • National character: they are known to everybody.
  • Stability: they are likely to remain unchanged.
  • Productivity: they are active in forming new words.
  • Ability to form collocation: basic words combine readily with other words to form habitual phrases.
native words vs loan words
Native words vs. loan words
  • Despite large-scale borrowings over the centuries, the major part of words spoken and written by English-speaking people, however, are native words, the nine most frequently used being and, be, have, it, of, the, to, will,andyou. Borrowed words are nevertheless extremely useful in enriching the vocabulary and making the language flexible and resourceful.”