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English Vocabulary

Updated on August 20, 2011

Lexico-Symantic System

It has been claimed by different authors that, in contrast to grammar, the vocabulary of a language is not systematic but chaotic. In the light of recent investigations in linguistic theory,
however, we are now in a position to bring some order into the “chaos”. We call vocabulary systematic because the sum total of all words in it may be considered as a structured set of
interdependent and interrelated elements.

The term “system” as applied to vocabulary should not be taken rigidly. The vocabulary system cannot be completely and exactly characterized by deterministic functions; that is for the present state of science it is not possible to specify the system’s entire future by its status at some one instant of its operation. In other words, the vocabulary is a probabilistic system, or rather a set of interrelated probabilistic systems. An approximation is always made possible by leaving some things out of account. But we have to remember that the rules of language are mostly analogies. Where different analogies are in conflict, one may appear as a constraint on the working of another. The following simple example illustrates this point: the regular, that is statistically predominant, pattern for adjective stems is to form abstract nouns by means of the suffix –ness: shortness, narrowness, shallowness. All the antonyms of the above mentioned words, however, follow a different pattern: they have a dental suffix: length, width, depth. This second analogy becomesa constraint on the working of the first. Moreover, the relationship of the adjective big with the rest of the system is even more unpredictable, as it is mostly correlated with the noun size. The semantic correlation then is as follows:

Short/shortness=narrow/narrowness=shallow/shallowness= long/length = wide/width=deep/depth=big/size.
At this point it will be helpful to remember that it is precisely the most frequent words that show irregular or suppletive derivation and inflection.
Having in view all these restrictions, we, nevertheless regard vocabulary as a lexico-semantic system because all its elements are in some relations of equivalence and contrast which hold
between them, and are grouped into sets according to various features of equivalence.
So, lexico-semantic system is a combination of interdependent elements. A change in one part of the system brings a change into another one. (reed - read).

The volume of the vocabulary. The basic word-stock

Nowadays in English vocabulary there are more then 500 000 words.There is passive vocabulary and active vocabulary.
The basic word-stock implies our practical vocabulary. The words in it are neutral and frequent. The basic word-stock includes root words, derivatives and compounds. The basic wordstock includes different parts of speech, native and borrowed words.
The basic word-stock is a good building material for phrases: to go mad, to go on strike, to go one’s way, to go out of fashion; to make a date, to make friends, to make a long story short, to make a scene. The words from the basic word-stock are usually pollysemantic.


Archaisms are words which are no longer used in everyday speech, which have been ousted by their synonyms.

Archaisms remain in the language, but they are used as stylistic devices to express solemnity. Most of these words are lexical archaisms and they are stylistic synonyms of words which ousted
them from the neutral style. Some of them are: steed /horse/, slay /kill/, behold /see/, perchance /perhaps/, woe /sorrow/ etc.
Sometimes a lexical archaism begins a new life, getting a new meaning, then the old meaning becomes a semantic archaism, e.g. fair in the meaning “beautiful” is a semantic archaism, but in the meaning “blond” it belongs to the neutral style.

Sometimes the root of the word remains and the affix is changed, then the old affix is considered to be a morphemic archaism, e.g. beauteous / ous was substituted by ful/, bepaint /be was dropped/, darksome / some was dropped, oft / en was added/etc.


At the present moment English is developing very swiftly and there is so called “neology blowup”. R. Berchfield who worked at compiling a four-volume supplement to NED says that averagely 800 neologisms appear every year in Modern English. It has also become a language-giver recently, especially with the development of computerization. New words, as a rule, appear in speech of an individual person who wants to express his idea in some original way. This person is called “originator”. New lexical units are primarily used by university teachers, newspaper
reporters, by those who are connected with mass media.
Neologisms can develop in three main ways: a lexical unit existing in the language can change its meaning to denote a new object or phenomenon. In such cases we have semantic neologisms, e.g. the word “umbrella”.

A new lexical unit can develop in the language to denote an object or phenomenon which already has some lexical unit to denote it. In such cases we have transnomination, e.g. the word “slum” was first substituted by the word “ghetto” then by the word group “inner town”. A new lexical unit can be introduced to denote a new object or phenomenon. In this case we have “a proper neologism”, many of them are cases of new terminology.
Here we can point out several semantic groups when we analyze the group of neologisms connected with computerization, and here we can mention words used:
1) to denote different types of computers: PC, supercomputer, multi-user, neurocomputer /analogue of a human brain/;
2) to denote parts of computers: hardware, software, monitor, screen, data, vapourware / experimental samples of computers for exhibition, not for production/;
3) to denote computer languages: BASIC, Algol FORTRAN etc;
4) to denote notions connected with work on computer: computerman, computerization, computerize, to troubleshoot, to blitz out /to ruin data in computer’s memory/.

There are also different types of activities performed with the help of computers, many of them are formed with the help of morpheme “tele”: telework, to telecommute /to work at home having a computer which is connected with the enterprise for which one works/. There are also such words as telebanking, telemarketing, teleshopping /when you can perform different operations with the help of your computer without leaving your home, all operations are registered by the computer at your bank/, videobank /computerized telephone which registers all information which is received in your absence/.
In the sphere of linguistics we have such neologisms as: machine translation, interlingual /an artificial language for machine translation into several languages/ and some others.
In the sphere of biometrics we have computerized machines which can recognize characteristic features of people seeking entrance: finger-print scanner /finger prints/, biometric eyescanner
/ blood-vessel arrangements in eyes/, voice verification /voice patterns/. These are types of biometric locks.

In the sphere of medicine computers are also used and we have the following neologism: telemonitory unit /a telemonitory system for treating patience at a distance/.
In the modern English society there is a tendency to social stratification, as a result there are neologisms in this sphere as well, e.g.: belonger. To this group we can also refer abbreviations of the type yuppi /young urban professional people/, such as muppi, gruppi, rumpie, bluppie etc.
People belonging to the lowest layer of the society are called survivers, a little bit more prosperous are called sustainers, and those who try to prosper in life and imitate those, they want to belong to, are called emulaters. Those who have prospered but are not belongers are called achievers. All these layers of society are called VAL / Value and Lifestyle/. The rich belong to jet set that is those who can afford to travel by jet planes all over the world enjoying their life. Sometimes they are called jet plane travellers.

The word-group “welfare mother” was formed to denote a non-working single mother living on benefit.

The higher society has neologism in their speech, such as: dial-a-meal, dial-a-taxi.
In the language of teen-agers there are such words as: Drugs! /OK/; task /home composition/, brunch, etc.
With the development of the professional jargons a lot of words ending in “speak” appeared in English, e.g. artspeak, sportspeak, medspeak, education-speak, video-speak, cable-speak etc.
There are different semantic groups of neologisms belonging to everyday life:
1) food e.g. starter /instead of “hors d’oevres”/, microbiotics /raw vegetables, crude rice/, longlife milk, clingfilm, microwave stove, consumer electronics, fridge-freezer, hamburgers /beef-, cheese-, fish-, veg-/.
2) clothing e.g. catsuit /one piece clingning suit/, slimster, string /minuscule bikini/, hipsters /trousers or skirt with the belt on hips/,completenik /a long sweater for trousers/, swetnik /a long jacket/, pants-skirt bloomers /lady’s sports trousers/.
3) footwear e.g. winklepickers /shoes with long pointed toes/, thongs /open sandals/, backsters /beech sandals with thick soles/.
4) bags e.g. bumbag / a small bag worn on waist/, sling bag /a bag with a long belt/, maitre /a small bag for cosmetics/.
There are also such words as: dangledolly /a dolly-talisman dangling in the car before the wind screen/, boot-sale /selling from the boot of the car/, touch-tone /a telephone with press button/.
Neologisms can be also classified according to the ways they are formed. They are subdivided into: phonological neologisms, borrowings, semantic neologisms and syntactical neologisms. Syntactical neologisms are divided into morphological /word-building/ and phraseological /forming wordgroups/.

Phonological neologisms are formed by combining unique sounds, they are called artificial, e.g. rah-rah /a short skirt which is worn by girls during parades/, yeck/yuck which are interjections to express repulsion produced the adjective yucky/yecky. These are strong neologisms.

Morphological and syntactical neologisms are usually built on patterns existing in the language, therefore they do not belong to the group of strong neologisms.
Among morphological neologisms there are a lot of compound words of different types, such as free-fall  appeared in 1987 with the stock market crash in October 1987 / on the analogy with free-fall of parachutists, which is the period between jumping and opening the chute/. Here also belong: call-and-recall , bioastronomy , rat-out –betrayal in danger, zero-zero /ban of longer and
shorter range weapon/, x-rated /about films terribly vulgar and cruel/, Amerenglish /American English/, tycoonography /a biography of business tycoon/.

There are also abbreviations of different types such as resto, teen /teenager/, dinky /dual income no kids yet/, ARC /AIDSrelated condition, infection with AIDS/, HIV /human immunodeficiency virus/.
Quite a number of neologisms appear on the analogy with lexical units existing in the language, e.g. snowmobile /automobile/, danceaholic /alcoholic/, airtel /hotel/, cheeseburger /hamburger/, autocade /cavalcade/.

There are many neologisms formed by means of affixation, such as: decompress, to disimprove, overhoused, educationalist, slimster, folknik etc. Phraseological neologisms can be subdivided into phraseological units with transferred meanings e.g. to buy into /to become involved/, fudge and dudge /avoidance of definite decisions/, and set non-idiometic expressions, e.g. electronicvirus, Rubic’s cube, acid rain, boot trade etc.

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    • profile image

      Freya 7 years ago

      That's a great Hub, very informational and purposeful, thanks for posting such great vocabulary info with us.

    • SpiritLeo profile image

      SpiritLeo 7 years ago from Europe

      My dear HP friends, thank you very much for your kind words! English vocabulary it is actually the most important thing that help us to share our knowledge here... :)

      Sullen91,Freya Cesare, Cheeky Girl, Neverletitgo, D.A.L., Doug Turner Jr., I do appreciate your visit and comments! :)



    • profile image

      Doug Turner Jr. 7 years ago

      You sure know your stuff and this a hub that is of great interest to me. Linguistics is a field that I'm strongly considering as a major so I will definitely be visiting some of your other thoughts on writing.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      My first visit to your hubs. I am impressed with your well written and informative article. Booked marked for future reference. Thank you for sharing.

    • Neverletitgo profile image

      Abdinasir Aden 7 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

      I love it. This very informative hub. Thanks for sharing.

    • Cheeky Girl profile image

      Cassandra Mantis 7 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

      Some interesting notes on vocabulary and its use. It's a hubbers best friend. Well, that and Google adsense. Heh!

    • Sullen91 profile image

      Sullen91 7 years ago from Mid-Atlantic Region, US

      I don't think there is a single word in any language that is not experiential or defined tautologically.

    • SpiritLeo profile image

      SpiritLeo 7 years ago from Europe

      Thank you Freya! :)

    • Freya Cesare profile image

      Freya Cesare 7 years ago from Borneo Island, Indonesia

      Very informative hub. Good work! Rate it up! :)

    • SpiritLeo profile image

      SpiritLeo 7 years ago from Europe

      It great to read all your nice comments. James, Epigramman and Jyoti K, thank You for your appreciation!

    • JYOTI KOTHARI profile image

      Jyoti Kothari 7 years ago from Jaipur


      Excellent article. English vocabulary is growing and growing with globalization.

      Thanks for sharing, rated up and useful.

      Jyoti Kothari

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 7 years ago

      There are absolutely no words in this english vocabulary to describe the breathless way I feel about your soul searching hubs!

    • James McV Sailor profile image

      James J Mills 7 years ago from Northern California

      As a writer using the English language, the formal understanding of it is interesting and somewhat important, but the technical aspects of any language often get in the way of the creative potential I think. During the past year I have spent most of my time in Mexico, and learning Spanish.... the process of which also lends a different perspective.... 'nuff said - good hub. JM

    • SpiritLeo profile image

      SpiritLeo 8 years ago from Europe

      Gramarye thank you for the nice commment.

      Means a lot!!!

    • gramarye profile image

      gramarye 8 years ago from Adelaide - Australia

      Great hub, informative, well researched and extremely well written. Fascinating subject!