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Basic Vocabulary

These words are stylistically neutral, and, in this respect, opposed to formal and informal words described above. Their stylistic neutrality makes it possible to use them in all kinds of situations, both formal and informal, in verbal and written communication.


Certain of the stylistically marked vocabulary strata are, in a way, exclusive: professional terminology is used mostly by representatives of the professions; dialects are regional; slang is favoured mostly by the young and the uneducated. Not so basic vocabulary. These words are used every day, everywhere and by everybody, regardless of profession, occupation, educational level, age group or geographical location. These are words without which no human communication would be possible as they denote objects and phenomena of everyday importance (e. g. house, bread, summer, winter, child, mother, green, difficult, to go, to stand, etc.).

The basic vocabulary is the central group of the vocabulary, its historical foundation and living core. That is why words of this stratum show a considerably greater stability in comparison with words of the other strata, especially informal.

Basic vocabulary words can be recognised not only by their stylistic neutrality but, also, by entire lack of other connotations (i. e. attendant meanings). Their meanings are broad, general and directly convey the concept, without supplying any additional information.

For instance, the verb to walk means merely "to move from place to place on foot" whereas in the meanings of its synonyms to stride, to stroll, to trot, to stagger and others, some additional information is encoded as they each describe a different manner of walking, a different gait, tempo, purposefulness or lack of purpose and even length of paces (see Ch. 10). Thus, to walk, with its direct broad meaning, is a typical basic vocabulary word, and its synonyms, with their elaborate additional information encoded in their meanings, belong to the periphery of the vocabulary.


The basic vocabulary and the stylistically marked strata of the vocabulary do not exist independently but are closely interrelated. Most stylistically marked words have their neutral counterparts in the basic vocabulary. (Terms are an exception in this respect.) On the other hand, colloquialisms may have their counterparts among learned words, most slang has counterparts both among colloquialisms and learned words. Archaisms, naturally, have their modern equivalents at least in some of the other groups.

The table gives some examples of such synonyms belonging to different stylistic strata.

 

Basic vocabulary Informal Formal
begin start, get started commence
continue go on, get on proceed
end finish, be through, be over terminate
child, baby kid, brat, beam (dial.) infant, babe (poet.)

In teaching a foreign language, the basic vocabulary words comprise the first and absolutely essential part of the students' functional and recognition vocabularies. They constitute the beginner's vocabulary. Yet, to restrict the student to the basic vocabulary would mean to deprive his speech of colour, expressive force and emotive shades, for, if basic vocabulary words are absolutely necessary, they also decidedly lack something: they are not at all the kind of words to tempt a writer or a poet. Actually, if the language had none other but basic vocabulary words, fiction would be hardly readable, and poetry simply non-existent.


The following table sums up the description of the stylistic strata of English vocabulary.

 

 

Stylistically-neutral words Stylistically-marked words
Informal Formal
Basic vocabulary I. Colloquial words I. Learned words
  A. literary, A. literary,
  B. familiar, B. words of scientific prose,
  C. low. C. officialese,
  II. Slang words. D. modes of poetic diction.
  III. Dialect words. II. Archaic and obsolete words.
    III. Professional
    terminology.

Exercises

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