THE ENGLISH LEXICON:
FROM WORDS TO PHRASEOLOGY
unit 4
MARIA TERESA PRAT
TWO PARTS
PART 1. Brainstorming on
lexis
PART 2. The English lexicon:
general features
SOME OLD AND NEW
CONCEPTS AND TERMS
WORD/WORD FORM/ LEXEME
GRAMMATICAL OR FUNCTIONAL WORD /
LEXICAL WORD
VOCABULARY/LEXIS/ THE LEXICON
ENTRY/HEADWORD/LEMMA
LEXICOLOGY/LEXICOGRAPHY
PHRASEOLOGY (from proverbs, quotations and
slogans to a wide range of multi-word lexical
patterns)
(LEXICAL) SEMANTICS is the scientific study of
(WORD) meaning
LEXIS IS DYNAMIC
LEXIS IS RENEWED IN THREE MAIN WAYS:
1
The creation of completely new words (COINAGE)
e.g. computing terms such as Google
2
The borrowing of words from other languages (LOANWORDS)
e.g. anglicisms in Italian
3
WORD FORMATION PROCESSES internal to the language (DERIVATIONAL
MORPHOLOGY) , e.g. prefixes, suffixes, compounding, semantic shift.
e.g.
Moral, amoral, immoral, morality
-
-
LEXIS IS THE LEVEL OF LANGUAGE MOST RAPIDLY AND DEEPLY
AFFECTED BY SOCIAL, HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL CHANGE
MEANING IS COMPLEX
THE RELATIONSHIP
BETWEEN
“THINGS” AND “WORDS”
OBSERVING THE RELATIONSHIP
BETWEEN “THINGS” AND “WORDS”
1.
MIAGOLARE
TO MEW/TO MIAOW
2.
CHICCHIRICHI
COCK-A-DOODLE-DO
1.
ACQUA
WATER/WASSER/EAU/….
SOME WORDS IMITATE NATURAL
SOUNDS (ONOMATOPOEIC) BUT MOST
WORDS HAVE AN ARBITRARY
CONNECTION WITH “THINGS”
DEFINING WORD MEANING
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE IS ..
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
…a famous English playwright of the 16th century
… the greatest playwright of all times
….the author of Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet and many other tragedies
and comedies
…the father of the British theatre
… a writer of the Modern English period
…my favourite dramatist
etc.
WORDS REFER TO, OR DENOTE, ENTITIES IN THE WORLD,
BUT THIS RELATIONSHIP (REFERENCE) CAN BE
EXPRESSED IN DIFFERENT WAYS
Defining the adjective “honest”
A person who is honest does not tell lies, cheat people or
violate the law
A person who is honest always tells the truth, respects other
people, obeys the law and pays taxes
Someone who is honest can always be trusted
Someone who is honest does not hide things from you
Someone who is honest can be trusted with valuables and
money
etc. etc.
THE MEANING OF WORDS CAN BE CULTURALLY
CONDITIONED
Defining the noun “bird”
A bird is…


An animal with the body covered in/with feathers, with two wings and
a beak, which is able to fly. Female birds lay eggs
An animal with feathers, two legs and two wings, which is able to fly.
BUT WHAT ABOUT PENGUINS AND OSTRICHS?
We conceive a general image, a mental
PROTOTYPE based on our experience and
containing the most distinctive
characteristics of the class. Some members
are less central than others.
“BUTTERFLY”



Butterflies live only one day
She is a butterfly when she dances
WORDS DENOTE OBJECTS AND
CONCEPTS , BUT MAY HAVE
EMOTIONAL OR STYLISTIC
CONNOTATIONS
DIFFERENT TYPES OF LEXEME
1. The computer is an electronic machine which is used for storing, organizing and finding
different types of information
SOME WORDS HAVE ONLY ONE REFERENT OR MEANING
(MONOREFERENTIAL)
2a A violent storm broke out
2b It was only a storm in a tea cup
2c His speech provoked a storm of criticism
SOME WORDS HAVE SEVERAL RELATED MEANINGS (POLYSEMOUS)
3a. I was walking along the bank of the river Cam
3b. I used to work at the Royal Bank of Scotland
3c The nearest bank is in Gower street
SOME WORDS HAVE DIFFERENT UNRELATED MEANINGS ( HOMONYMS)
THE NATURE OF LEXEMES AFFECTS THE
ORGANISATION OF LEMMAS IN DICTIONARIES
Semantic links between words
1
Freedom and liberty
(NEAR)-SYNONYMY
2.
Black or white; fast or slow; brother or sister;
married or single
ANTONYMY (or COMPLEMENTARITY)
3. flowers, roses, daffodils, violets, tulips, daisies
HYPERONYMY (SUPERORDINATES) and
HYPONYMY ( SUBORDINATES)
4. To cook, roast, simmer, fry, bake, boil, barbecue…
SEMANTIC FIELD
Discuss the following examples
1. I would like to win a post-graduate scholarship to do
research (not * to make research)
2. How do you do?
3. The ups and downs of life ( not * the downs and ups)
4. The early bird catches the worm ( not * the early cat catches
the mouse)
5. Torrential/heavy rain in Bangladesh ( not * strong rain)
6. He has spilled the beans ( not * spilled the peas)
“WORDS KEEP COMPANY WITH OTHER WORDS”
AND TEND TO CO-OCCUR IN PREFERRED OR
FIXED COLLOCATIONS.
To sum up, lexis …







is dynamic
refers to the external world
refers to mental concepts
has emotional and stylistic connotations
has one or several referents and meanings
relates to other words in the language
may co-occur with other words in fixed or
semi-fixed patterns.
WHAT DOES KNOWING A
WORD MEAN?
Part II
THE ENGLISH
LEXICON
How many words are there in
English?
It is not easy to count them and
there area different ways of doing
it :
1. Dictionaries
2. Electronic corpora
3. Speakers’ competence
S. JOHNSON’S DICTIONARY
(1755), about 42,000 entries
LEXICO’GRAPHER. n.s.
[? lixicographe, French.] A
writer of dictionories; a
harmless drudge, that
busies himself in tracing
the original, and detailing
the signification of words.
Commentators and
lexicographers acquainted with
the Syriac language, have given
these hints in their writings on
scripture. Watt’s Improvement
of the Mind.
THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY ON
HISTORICAL PRINCIPLES, OED
The 20 volume 1989 edition
OED Features




The project started in the second half of the
19th century
It covers English since the 14th century
The second print edition in 20 volumes + 4
additions has 616,500 headwords and derived
words and phrases
A CdROM and an online version, which is
regularly updated, are also available ( but
not in our library!)
OED: a selection from the entry for
“spaghetti”


[It., pl. of spaghetto thin string, twine.]
1. a. A variety of pasta made in long thin strings. Occas., a
dish of spaghetti.
1888 MRS. BEETON Bk. Househ. Managem. §2952 Maccheroni, or Spaghetti, a smaller kind of
macaroni,..generally follows the soup.

2. An Italian: usu. contemptuous. slang.
1931 ‘D. STIFF’ Milk & Honey Route iii. 38 Italian hobos are equally rare. They are the
‘wops’ or ‘spaghettis’.


3. Complex roadways forming a multi-level junction, esp. on a
motorway. colloq
1966 Guardian 4 June 14/2 Details of one of the biggest pieces of
motorway spaghetti so far designed in Britain were published...
MERRIAM-WEBSTER’S :
the American counterpart to OED
The Webster’s
It covers American English since the
18th century
Its 1963 edition contains c. 114,000 word
families (a headword accompanied by
its inflected and derived forms)
It is regularly updated. There are several
print editions and an online edition,
which is freely available
OTHER TYPES OF DICTIONARY
in SIZE (college dictionaries, desk dictionaries,
pocket dictionaries)
in ADDRESSEES for EFL learners (from 60,000 to
80,000 entries), or for native speakers
in CONTENTS ( general or specialised, varieties of
English)
in NUMBER OF LANGUAGES ( monolingual,
bilingual, multilingual)
In FORMAT ( paper, CD-ROM, online)
THE COLLINS COBUILD Learner’s Dictionary
Monolingual general Learners’
Dictionaries usually contain:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.
13.
Spelling variants
IPA phonetic transcription
Grammatical and syntactic
information
Information on frequency
Definitions of various senses
Examples of usage
Sense relations, e.g. antonymy
Register labels (e.g formal, slang)
Frequent lexical collocations
Usage notes
Typical learner errors
Use of colours, symbols and
figures
Special sections
ELECTRONIC CORPORA
Corpora are collections of text in
electronic form that are meant to
represent a language, or a register of it.
 Several corpora are available for
English that can be analysed though
specific software in terms of frequency
and use of words in context.
e.g. The British National Corpus (BNC)

WHAT ARE THE MOST FREQUENTLY
USED WORDS IN ENGLISH ?
From” The British National
Corpus, BNC”
11.
12.
13.
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
the
of
and
a
in
to
it
is
to
was
determiner
preposition
conjunction
determiner
preposition
infinitive
pronoun
verb
preposition
verb
14.
15.
16.
17.
18.
19.
20.
I pronoun
for preposition
that conjunction
you pronoun
he pronoun
be verb
with preposition
on
preposition
at
preposition
by
preposition
GRAMMATICAL WORDS ARE
THE MOST FREQUENTLY
USED
FREQUENCY OF LEXICAL
WORDS ( based on the BNC)

The 10 most frequent nouns are: time,
year, people, way, man, day, thing, child,
Mr, government.

The most commonly mentioned animal
is the horse, closely followed by dog
The 10 most frequent adjectives are:
other, good, new, old, great, high, small,
different, large, local.

The most frequently mentioned colours
are black, white, red and green . The
order coincides with the hierarchy of
colours which scholars have observed in
many languages.

The top ten frequency adverbs are:
never, always, often, ever, sometimes,
usually, once, generally, hardly, no
longer


rarer nouns are: fax, ribbon, ant,
colitis, wheat, spelling, holly,
monarch, voltage, morale
Rarer adjectives ; rude, faithful,
ministerial, innovative, controlled,
conceptual, unwilling, civic,
meaningful disturbing
HOW MANY WORDS DO NATIVE
SPEAKERS OF ENGLISH KNOW?
It depends on variables such as age and education and use
(receptive or productive):
According to research
 A two-year old child: very limited vocabulary but growing at
great speed
 An English university student : 20,000 word families
 An adult educated speaker : 50,000 lexemes
CHECK YOUR KNOWLEDGE OF ITALIAN:
“CERULEO” ,“CETACEI” ,“OTITE”
“ILLUMINISMO”
The mixed nature of PDE lexis:
Germanic versus romance words
- a core (c. 40%) of high-frequency Germanic words
usually short and used to refer to common
“things”, actions and concepts (e.g. man, woman,
day, child, bread, to go, to get, phrasal verbs)
and
- a wider component (c. 60%), of less frequent words
of classical or romance origin usually longer and
used in specialised or formal contexts (e.g.
encyclopaedia, tonsillectomy, parliament,
infrastructure)
GERMANIC /ROMANCE NEARSYNONYMS








Discover e.g. Columbus discovered a new continent
Find out e.g. Her parents found out that she had a boyfriend
Continue e.g. The treatment has to be continued for 4 weeks
Go on e.g. We can’t go on like this any longer
Pig / cow = the living animal
Pork/ beef = the meat you eat
regal, royal e.g. royal family, regal powers
Kingly e.g. kingly manner
“GOOD” AND “FALSE FRIENDS”
WITH ITALIAN
Similarity may help at times
e.g. problem, result, company, million,
community
 Similarity may be misleading at other
times,
e.g. actually, eventually, argument,
factory, educated, lecture, library,
magazine, major, agenda

English loans in Italian and other
European languages
From a “borrowing language” English has become a
“donor language”. Why?
In present-day Italian there are many different types
of anglicisms and people have different attitudes to
this phenomenon. What is happening in other
languages?
Comment on the following anglicisms in Italian. Do
they have an Italian counterpart?
film, mission, management, welfare, governance,
briefing, week-end, pub, scannerizzare
/”scannare”, mouse, computer, talk-show, report,
devolution, boom, impeachment, ghostwriter
Variation in English
1. USER-RELATED VARIATION
e.g. geographical area (GB, USA etc), age,
education
2. USE-RELATED VARIATION, or REGISTER
MODEL
2.1. what is talked about (FIELD or TOPIC)
2.2. the MEDIUM used ( e.g. spoken /written,
electronic language)
2.3. the relationship between speakers/writers ,
e.g. formal, informal (PERSONAL TENOR)
Some lexical differences between
BrE and AmE
1. He lives in a lovely apartment in New York
AmE /flat BrE
2. The autumn term will start in September
Br.E / fall AmE
3. Where can I find a gas station?
AmE /petrol (BrE)
4. 11/9/2001
Br E / 9/11/2001 AmE
Register variation
1.1 Tonsillectomy is needed
1.2. Doctor “ I have to remove/to take your tonsils out
2.1 Influenza A/H1N1 broke out in Mexico last year
2.2. Swine flu broke out in Mexico last year
3.1 These are my children
3.2 These are my kids
3.3. This is my offspring
CORE / BASIC VOCABULARY
Choose the most neutral and general lexeme
to refer to someone “who has very little fat
on his/her body”and, with the help of
dictionaries, identify the differences in
meaning:
emaciated, skinny, slender, lean, slim, thin
WORD FORMATION PROCESSES
1. COMPOUNDING, or COMPOUNDS
two or more free lexemes join to form a new meaning e.g. schoolday,
day school ( not a boarding school)
2. AFFIXATION
one or more bound derivational lexemes are added to a free morpheme either at the
beginning or at the end e.g. e-mail, childish, childhood
3. CONVERSION OR ZERO DERIVATION
a change of word class without a change in form e.g. ground (noun)/ to ground (verb)
4. ACRONYM OR INITIALISM
the initial letters of a complex expression e.g. AIDS = Acquired Immuno Deficiency
Syndrome
5. CLIPPING
cutting the beginning and/or the end of a lexeme e.g. Flu/ influenza
6. BLENDING or BLENDS
the merging of two long words into one e.g. glocal = global+local
7.
SEMANTIC CHANGE or SHIFT
the change of meaning of existing lexemes
“to zap” from “moving quickly” to “ keeping changing TV programmes with a remote
control”
SOME OBSERVATIONS ON
COMPOUNDS
1. a ‘blackbird / a ‘black ‘bird
un merlo / un uccello nero
compounds versus noun phrases
2. Bedroom / paperback / African-American
endocentric, exocentric , copulative compounds
3. mother-in-law, forget-me-not, state-of –the art, sell-by-date
multi-word compounds
4 green tea, a checklist, user-friendly
different ways of writing compounds: two words, one
word, with a hyphen
5. green card, user-friendly, handout ( v and n)
nouns, adjectives, verbs
Observe the differences between
English and Italian compounds
1. Green tea
Tè verde
2. Trademark
Marchio di fabbrica
3. Zero tolerance
Tolleranza zero
4. Coffee break
Pausa caffè
SOME PREFIXES AND SUFFIXES
Unhappy, incomplete
Immorality, non-morality
Maltreat, miscalculate
Pro-Obama, antiwar
Postmodern, recycle
Bilingual, polyglot
Multitask, multifunctional…
PREFIXES ARE USUALLY CLASSMAINTAINING AND AFFECT
MEANING IN MANY WAYS ( e.g.
opposite, pejorative, attitude, time).
THEY CANBE MORE OR LESS
PRODUCTIVE
Trainer, reader (nouns)
Trainee, absentee
Formation, pollution
Socialism, liberalism
Kindness, happiness
Reliable, eligible (adjectives)
Faithful, beautiful
Useless, careless
Specialize/se, advertise (verbs)
Honestly, carefully (adverbs)
…..
SUFFIXES FORM NOUNS,
ADJECTIVES, VERBS AND
ADVERBS, AND ARE
USUALLY CLASSCHANGING. THEY CANBE
MORE OR LESS
PRODUCTIVE
SOME OLD AND NEW AFFIXES
Ecology, Psychology, morphology, biology…
Europhile, Europhobe, Eurocrats…
MANY PREFIXES AND SUFFIXES ARE OF CLASSICAL
ORIGIN (NEO-CLASSICAL AFFIXES)
Cartergate, Camillagate, Katrinagate, Sexgate
-GATE from the Watergate scandal involving the American president R.
Nixon in the 1970s
SOME NEW SUFFIXES ARE LINKED TO RECENT TRENDS AND
EVENTS
CONVERSION, OR ZERO
DERIVATION
Bottle (noun) /to bottle (verb)
To download (verb) / download (noun)
Dry (adjective) to dry (verb)
Round: adjective, preposition, adverb, noun, verb
VERY COMMON PROCESS IN PDE BECAUSE
OF THE REDUCTION OF MORPHOLOGICAL
PHENOMENA
READ AND RECOGNIZE THE FOLLOWING
ACRONYMS OR INITIALISMS
IT
Information Technology
WWW
World Wide Web
BBC
British Broadcasting Corporation
IRA
Irish Republican Army
VIP
Very Important Person
RAM
Random Access Memory
NATO
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
ACRONYMS ARE READ AS WORDS. IN INITIALISMS EACH LETTER IS READ
INDEPENDENTLY
PHRASEOLOGICAL
PHENOMENA
According to the linguist John Sinclair, there are two
different principles in language
- the OPEN-CHOICE PRINCIPLE refers to
predictable grammatical rules
e.g. John loves Mary
the IDIOM PRINCIPLE refers to fixed or semifixed expressions that are made of more than one
word but constitute a semantic unit
e.g. I’m dead tired (stanco morto)
He was dead drunk ( ubriaco fradicio)
but not *I am dead intelligent
Types of “prefabricated language”
SOCIAL ROUTINES ( OR PRAGMATIC IDIOMS)
e.g. I’m looking forward to hearing from you, Can I help you?
DISCOURSE ORGANISERS
e.g. in other words, to sum up, for example, e.g.( exempli gratia), .i.e (id est)
IDIOMS
e.g. to beat about the bush, too many coooks spoil the broth
BINOMIALS
e.g. to and fro, pros and cons, bed and breakfast, bag and baggage
PROVERBS
e.g A friend in need is a friend indeed, Garbage in. garbage out
SIMILE
e.g. As ugly as sin, as happy as a lark,
SLOGANS AND FAMOUS QUOTATIONS
e.g Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your
country ( J. F. Kennedy)
Yes, we can (B. Obama)
From more transparent to opaque
idiomatic expressions
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
to see the light at the end of the tunnel
to give someone the green light
white wine
white lie
it’s not cricket
to go Dutch
LEXICAL COLLOCATIONS: A PERVASIVE FEATURE
OF ENGLISH AND A MAJOR DIFFICULTY FOR
LEARNERS
Fammi un favore!
Do me a favour
Fammi una torta
Make me a cake
Un edificio umido
A damp building
Un clima molto caldo e
umido
A hot and humid climate
Occhi umidi
Moist eyes
(see concordances p. 215-217)
From fixed (“frozen”) to restricted
lexical collocations
1. He shrugged his shoulders
He nodded his head (i.e. up and down)
He shook his head ( i.e. from side to side)
He shook his finger
(* he shrugged his finger)
2. He is growing a beard
He is growing vegetables
*He is growing his children by himself
(He is bringing up his children)
- Sketchengine, http://sketchengine.co.uk
YOU CAN REGISTER FOR A FREE 30-DAY
TRIAL PERIOD
- Mark Davis’s web site http://corpus.byu.edu
(Brigham Young University, USA)
FREE
CORPORA AVAILABLE ON
THE WEB
A lexical collocation is…
…when two lexemes belonging to two
different word classes tend to co-occur for
reasons other than grammatical ones
e.g. to take up/start/pursue a career
* to make career
Some major open questions
1. Eskimos have many words to refer to
different types of snow. What does it
mean?
2. Is there a strict link between the character of
a language and the spirit of a nation
( W. von Humboldt 1767-1835)?
3. Does a language determine its speakers’
world view (Sapir and Whorf’s cultural
relativism, 20th century)?
WORDS REFLECT CHANGE IN
SOCIETY
HI-FI, TRANSISTOR, VIEDOTAPE
(in the 1950s)
GREEN / GLOBAL WARMING /CHAIRPERSON
(in the 1970s)
WEBSITE/ WORLD WIDE WEB
(in the 1990s)
SUBPRIME (LOAN)
(2008)
The language of war
in the 20th century
WAR-RELATED EXPRESSIONS
Genocide
Nuclear weapons (nuke)
Ethnic cleansing
Bloody Tuesday / Nine Eleven/September Eleven
Ground Zero
WEAPONS: b-52, Patriot Missiles, Tomahawk Missiles
EUPHEMISTIC and BUREAUCRATIC EXPRESSIONS
Collateral damage
(Civilian casualties)
Body bags
(The bodies of the dead soldiers in the Vietnam war)
Friendly fire
(Shots fired accidentally)
KIA
(Killed in Action)
MIA
(Missed in Action)
WIA
(Wounded in Action)
Computing: a rapidly developing
terminology
1. program, window, menu, mouse, address, disk, bug, spam
WORDS BORROWED FROM GENERAL LANGUAGE
AND ACQUIRING A SPECIALISED MEANING
2. floppy disk, hard disk, blog (from web+log), modem ( from
modulator+demodulator), download, search engine, to
google
WORD FORMATION PROCESSES
3. CD-ROM (Compact Disk Read Only Memory), FAQ (
Frequently Asked Questions)
ACRONYMS AND ABBREVIATIONS
Political correctness:
some taboo areas
1. Negro (nigger), black, Afro-American, African-American
2. Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms
3. Chairman, chairwoman, chairperson, chair
4. Lawyer, lady lawyer, woman lawyer, my lawyer Ms Brown
5. Husband and wife, accompanying person, spouse, partner
6. Disabled, handicapped, differently able
TO BE POLITICALLY CORRECT MEANS TO REFER TO
DIFFERENT ETHNIC AND SOCIAL GROUPS IN AN
ACCEPTED WAY. THE MOST SENSITIVE AREAS ARE RACE,
GENDER, RELIGION, HUMAN BODY AND DEATH. THE
DEBATE STARTED IN THE USA IN THE 1970Ss AND PEOPLE
HAVE DIFFERENT REACTIONS TO IT.
The future of English lexis
PDE lexis will accept considerable
geographical variation (e.g. AmE , BrE,
Indian English)
but
will be shared by global communities of
scientists, professional people and
Internet Users (English as a Lingua
Franca)
Activity 1
1. What is a lexical collocation? Give some examples for
English and show why lexical collocations are difficult for
foreign learners
A lexical collocation is when two lexemes that belong to two
different word classes tend to co-occur for reasons other
than grammatical ones. They are difficult for foreign
learners because they may be different from what they
instinctively do in their mother tongue.
e.g. fare un favore = to do a favour, fare una torta = to make
a cake, fare un errore= to make a mistake
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THE ENGLISH LEXICON: FROM WORDS TO …