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Consider your answers to the following.

1.In what way can one analyse a word a) socially, b) linguistically?

2. What are the structural aspects of the word?

3. What is the external structure of the word irresistible? What is the internal structure of this word?

4. What is understood by formal unity of a word? Why is it not quite correct to say that a word is indivisible?

5. Explain why the word blackboard can be considered a unity and why the combination of words a black board doesn't possess such a unity.

6. What is understood by the semantic unity of a word? Which of the following possesses semantic unity — a bluebell (R. колокольчик) or a blue bell (R. синий бубенчик).

7. Give a brief account of the main characteristics of a word.

8. What are the main problems of lexicology?

9. What are the main differences between studying words syntagmatically and paradigmatically?


Which Word Should We Choose, Formal or Informal?

Just as there is formal and informal dress, so there is formal and informal speech. One is not supposed to turn up at a ministerial reception or at a scientific symposium wearing a pair of brightly coloured pyjamas. (Jeans are scarcely suitable for such occasions either, though this may be a matter of opinion.) Consequently, the social context in which the communication is taking place determines both the mode of dress and the modes of speech. When placed in different situations, people instinctively choose different kinds of words and structures to express their thoughts. The suitability or unsuitability of a word for each particular situation depends on its stylistic characteristics or, in other words, on the functional style it represents.

The term functional style is generally accepted in modern linguistics. Professor I. V. Arnold defines it as "a system of expressive means peculiar to a specific sphere of communication". [23]

By the sphere of communication we mean the circumstances attending the process of speech in each particular case: professional communication, a lecture, an informal talk, a formal letter, an intimate letter, a speech in court, etc.

All these circumstances or situations can be roughly classified into two types: formal (a lecture, a speech in court, an official letter, professional communication) and informal (an informal talk, an intimate letter).

Accordingly, functional styles are classified into two groups, with further subdivisions depending on different situations.

Informal Style

Informal vocabulary is used in one's immediate circle: family, relatives or friends. One uses informal words when at home or when feeling at home.

Informal style is relaxed, free-and-easy, familiar and unpretentious. But it should be pointed out that the informal talk of well-educated people considerably differs from that of the illiterate or the semi-educated; the choice of words with adults is different from the vocabulary of teenagers; people living in the provinces use certain regional words and expressions. Consequently, the choice of words is determined in each particular case not only by an informal (or formal) situation, but also by the speaker's educational and cultural background, age group, and his occupational and regional characteristics.

Informal words and word-groups are traditionally divided into three types: colloquial, slang and dialect words and word-groups.

Colloquial Words

Among other informal words, colloquialisms are the least exclusive: they are used by everybody, and their sphere of communication is comparatively wide, at least of literary colloquial words. These are informal words that are used in everyday conversational speech both by cultivated and uneducated people of all age groups. The sphere of communication of literary colloquial words also includes the printed page, which shows that the term "colloquial" is somewhat inaccurate.

Vast use of informal words is one of the prominent features of 20th century English and American literature. It is quite natural that

informal words appear in dialogues in which they realistically reflect the speech of modern people:

"You're at some sort of technical college?" she said to Leo, not looking at him ... .

"Yes. I hate it though. I'm not good enough at maths. There's a chap there just down from Cambridge who puts us through it. I can't keep up. Were you good at maths?"

"Not bad. But I imagine school maths are different."

"Well, yes, they are. I can't cope with this stuff at all, it's the whole way of thinking that's beyond me... I think I'm going to chuck it and take a job."

(From The Time of the Angels by I. Murdoch)

However, in modern fiction informal words are not restricted to conversation in their use, but frequently appear in descriptive passages as well. In this way the narrative is endowed with conversational features. The author creates an intimate, warm, informal atmosphere, meeting his reader, as it were, on the level of a friendly talk, especially when the narrative verges upon non-personal direct speech.

"Fred Hardy was a bad lot. Pretty women, chemin de fer, and an unlucky knack for backing the wrong horse had landed him in the bankruptcy court by the time he was twenty-five ...

...If he thought of his past it was with complacency; he had had a good time, he had enjoyed his ups and downs; and now, with good health and a clear conscience, he was prepared to settle down as a country gentleman, damn it, bring up the kids as kids should be brought up; and when the old buffer who sat for his Constituency pegged out, by George, go into Parliament himself."

(From Rain and Other Short Stories by W. S. Maugham)

Here are some more examples of literary colloquial words. Pal and chum are colloquial equivalents of friend; girl, when used colloquially, denotes a woman of any age; bite and snack stand for meal; hi, hello are informal greetings, and so long a form of parting; start, go on, finish and be through are also literary colloquialisms; to have a crush on somebody is a colloquial equivalent of to be in love. A bit (of) and a lot (of) also belong to this group.

A considerable number of shortenings are found among words of this type. E. g. pram, exam, fridge, flu, prop, zip, movie.

Verbs with post-positional adverbs are also numerous among colloquialisms: put up, put over, make up, make out, do away, turn up, turn in, etc.

Literary colloquial words are to be distinguished from familiar colloquial and low colloquial.

The borderline between the literary and familiar colloquial is not always clearly marked. Yet the circle of speakers using familiar colloquial is more limited: these words are used mostly by the young and the semi-educated. This vocabulary group closely verges on slang and has something of its coarse flavour.

E. g. doc (for doctor), hi (for how do you do), ta-ta (for good-bye), goings-on (for behaviour, usually with a negative connotation), to kid smb. (for tease, banter), to pick up smb. (for make a quick and easy acquaintance), go on with you (for let me alone), shut up (for keep silent), beat it (for go away).

Low colloquial is defined by G. P. Krapp as uses "characteristic of the speech of persons who may be broadly described as uncultivated". [31] This group is stocked with words of illiterate English which do not present much interest for our purposes.

The problem of functional styles is not one of purely theoretical interest, but represents a particularly important aspect of the language-learning process. Stu-

dents of English should be taught how to choose stylistically suitable words for each particular speech situation.

So far as colloquialisms are concerned, most students' mistakes originate from the ambiguousness of the term itself. Some students misunderstand the term "colloquial" and accept it as a recommendation for wide usage (obviously mistaking "colloquial" for "conversational"). This misconception may lead to most embarrassing errors unless it is taken care of in the early stages of language study.

As soon as the first words marked "colloquial" appear in the students' functional vocabulary, it should be explained to them that the marker "colloquial" (as, indeed, any other stylistic marker) is not a recommendation for unlimited usage but, on the contrary, a sign of restricted usage. It is most important that the teacher should carefully describe the typical situations to which colloquialisms are restricted and warn the students against using them under formal circumstances or in their compositions and reports.

Literary colloquial words should not only be included in the students' functional and recognition vocabularies, but also presented and drilled in suitable contexts and situations, mainly in dialogues. It is important that students should be trained to associate these words with informal, relaxed situations.


Much has been written on the subject of slang that is contradictory and at the same time very interesting.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines slang as "language of a highly colloquial style, considered as below the level of standard educated speech, and consisting either of new words or of current words employed in some special sense." [33]

This definition is inadequate because it equates slang with colloquial style. The qualification "highly" can hardly serve as the criterion for distinguishing between colloquial style and slang.

Yet, the last line of the definition "current words in some special sense" is important and we shall have to return to this a little later.

Here is another definition of slang by the famous English writer G. K. Chesterton:

"The one stream of poetry which in constantly flowing is slang. Every day some nameless poet weaves some fairy tracery of popular language. ...All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry. ...The world of slang is a kind of topsy-turvydom of poetry, full of blue moons and white elephants, of men losing their heads, and men whose tongues run away with them — a whole chaos of fairy tales." [10]

The first thing that attracts attention in this enthusiastic statement is that the idioms which the author quotes have long since ceased being associated with slang: neither once in a blue moon, nor the white elephant, nor your tongue has run away with you are indicated as slang in modern dictionaries. This is not surprising, for slang words and idioms are short-lived and very soon either disappear or lose their peculiar colouring and become either colloquial or stylistically neutral lexical units.

As to the author's words "all slang is metaphor", it is a true observation, though the second part of the statement "all metaphor is poetry" is difficult to accept, especially if we consider the following examples: mug (for face), saucers, blinkers (for eyes), trap (for mouth, e. g. Keep your trap shut), dogs (for feet), to leg (it) (for to walk).

—All these meanings are certainly based on metaphor, yet they strike one as singularly unpoetical.


Henry Bradley writes that "Slang sets things in their proper place with a smile. So, to call a hat 'a lid' and a head 'a nut' is amusing because it puts a hat and a pot-lid in the same class". [17] And, we should add, a head and a nut in the same class too.

"With a smile" is true. Probably "grin" would be a more suitable word. Indeed, a prominent linguist observed that if colloquialisms can be said to be wearing dressing-gowns and slippers, slang is wearing a perpetual foolish grin. The world of slang is inhabited by odd creatures indeed: not by men, but by guys (R. чучела) and blighters or rotters with nuts for heads, mugs for faces, flippers for hands.

All or most slang words are current words whose meanings have been metaphorically shifted. Each slang metaphor is rooted in a joke, but not in a kind or amusing joke. This is the criterion for distinguishing slang from colloquialisms: most slang words are metaphors and jocular, often with a coarse, mocking, cynical colouring.

This is one of the common objections against slang: a person using a lot of slang seems to be sneering and jeering at everything under the sun. This objection is psychological. There are also linguistic ones.

G. H. McKnight notes that "originating as slang expressions often do, in an insensibility to the meaning of legitimate words, the use of slang checks an acquisition of a command over recognised modes of expression ... and must result in atrophy of the faculty of using language". [34]

H. W. Fowler states that "as style is the great antiseptic, so slang is the great corrupting matter, it is perishable, and infects what is round it". [27]

McKnight also notes that "no one capable of good speaking or good writing is likely to be harmed by the occasional employment of slang, provided that he is conscious of the fact..." [34]


Then why do people use slang?

For a number of reasons. To be picturesque, arresting, striking and, above all, different from others. To avoid the tedium of outmoded hackneyed "common" words. To demonstrate one's spiritual independence and daring. To sound "modern" and "up-to-date".

It doesn't mean that all these aims are achieved by using slang. Nor are they put in so many words by those using slang on the conscious level. But these are the main reasons for using slang as explained by modern psychologists and linguists.

The circle of users of slang is more narrow than that of colloquialisms. It is mainly used by the young and uneducated. Yet, slang's colourful and humorous quality makes it catching, so that a considerable part of slang may become accepted by nearly all the groups of speakers.

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