Lexicology of the English Language



It is the way of word-building when a word is formed by dropping the final morpheme to form a new word. It is opposite to suffixation, that is why it is called back formation. At first it appeared in the languauge as a result of misunderstanding the structure of a borrowed word . Prof. Yartseva explains this mistake by the influence of the whole system of the language on separate words. E.g. it is typical of English to form nouns denoting the agent of the action by adding the suffix -er to a verb stem (speak- speaker). So when the French word beggar was borrowed into English the final syllable ar was pronounced in the same way as the English -er and Englishmen formed the verb to beg by dropping the end of the noun. Other examples of back formation are : to accreditate (from accreditation), to bach (from bachelor), to collocate (from collocation), to enthuse (from enthusiasm), to compute (from computer), to emote (from emotion) to reminisce ( from reminiscence) , to televise (from television) etc.

As we can notice in cases of back formation the part-of-speech meaning of the primary word is changed, verbs are formed from nouns.


The meaning of a word can change in the course of time. Changes of lexical meanings can be proved by comparing contexts of different times. Transfer of the meaning is called lexico-semantic word-building. In such cases the outer aspect of a word does not change.

The causes of semantic changes can be extra-linguistic and linguistic, e.g. the change of the lexical meaning of the noun pen was due to extra-linguistic causes. Primarily pen comes back to the Latin word penna (a feather of a bird). As people wrote with goose pens the name was transferred to steel pens which were later on used for writing. Still later any instrument for writing was called a pen.

On the other hand causes can be linguistic, e.g. the conflict of synonyms when a perfect synonym of a native word is borrowed from some other language one of them may specialize in its meaning, e.g. the noun tide in Old English was polisemantic and denoted time, season, hour. When the French words time, season, hour were borrowed into English they ousted the word tide in these meanings. It was specialized and now means regular rise and fall of the sea caused by attraction of the moon. The meaning of a word can also change due to ellipsis, e.g. the word-group a train of carriages had the meaning of a row of carriages, later on of carriages was dropped and the noun train changed its meaning, it is used now in the function and with the meaning of the whole word-group.

Semantic changes have been classified by different scientists. The most complete classification was suggested by a German scientist Herman Paul in his work Prinzipien des Sprachgeschichte. It is based on the logical principle. He distiguishes two main ways where the semantic change is gradual ( specialization and generalization), two momentary conscious semantic changes (metaphor and metonymy) and also secondary ways: gradual (elevation and degradation), momentary (hyperbole and litote).


It is a gradual process when a word passes from a general sphere to some special sphere of communication, e.g. case has a general meaning circumstances in which a person or a thing is. It is specialized in its meaning when used in law (a law suit), in grammar (a form in the paradigm of a noun), in medicine (a patient, an illness). The difference between these meanings is revealed in the context.

The meaning of a word can specialize when it remains in the general usage. It happens in the case of the conflict between two absolute synonyms when one of them must specialize in its meaning to remain in the language, e.g. the native word meat had the meaning food, this meaning is preserved in the compound sweetmeats. The meaning edible flesh was formed when the word food, its absolute synonym, won in the conflict of absolute synonyms (both words are native). The English verb starve was specialized in its meaning after the Scandinavian verb die was borrowed into English. Die became the general verb with this meaning because in English there were the noun death and the adjective dead. Starve got the meaning to die of hunger .

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