I. THE MAIN LAYERS OF THE ENGLISH VOCABULARY
The word stock of the English language is divided into three layers: neutral, literary, and colloquial ones.
Neutral words possess no stylistic connotation and are suitable for any communicative situation. Literary words are used in official, scientific, poetic messages, in authorial speech, descriptions, considerations. Colloquial words are employed in non-official everyday communication, informal letters, diaries, certain passages of memoirs, in the types of discourse copying everyday oral communication (in the dialogue of a prose work).
Literary and colloquial words can be further divided into common and special vocabulary.
Common bulk is known to and used by most native speakers in generalized formal or informal communication. Special vocabulary serves particular communicative purposes and is subdivided into subgroups. Literary special vocabulary falls into: a) poetic words; b) archaisms; c) barbarisms; d) terms.
II. LITERARY (elevated) words “have their upper and lower ranges. The lower range of literary words approaches the neutral layer and has an obvious tendency to pass into that layer” (I.R. Galperin). These are slightly bookish words used automatically by cultivated speakers (e.g. prevail, inherent, activity are not used by uneducated speakers). The upper range can be found in words, used in poetry and high prose (e.g. defunct, steed). The lines of demarcation between these ranges as well as between groups of words are blurred.
II. 1. Common literary words (CLW) form a significant layer of the literary stratum. They are chiefly used in writing or in such types of oral communication as public speeches, official negotiations, etc. CLW are either formal, sometimes high-flown synonyms of neutral words (e.g. proceed – continue, respond – answer, parent – father), or popular terms of science (e.g. claustrophobia, ruminant). CLW are mostly loan words, Latin or Greek. The combination of neutral or colloquial words and their common literary counterparts often produces comic effect, e.g.“‘I say, Owl,’ said Christopher Robin, “isn’t this fun? I am on an island! (…) “The flood- level has reached an unprecedented height”. “The who?” “There’s a lot of water about,” explained Owl.
To use CLW instead of their current substitutes in an unsuitable context challenges attention and gives the impression that the writer is a foreigner who has learnt the language only from books.
II. 2. Poetic words are characterized by the highest degree of elevation.
In the 17-19th centuries these words were widely used in poetry to contribute to its emotional appeal. Poeticisms were synonymous with neutral words (e.g. steed meant horse, quoth – said, woe – sorrow). This group of words includes: a) pure poeticisms: e.g. brine, anarch, b) archaic words (e.g. delve – dig, commix – mix, coil – disturbance), c) historical words (e.g. argosy, cask).
Poetic words are unsuitable for plain prose. Nowadays they are not favoured even by poets. In contemporary British and American literature these words are sometimes used in combination with neutral ones to achieve ironic effect.
e.g. In fumes like that you’d need a protective mask to check your car oil, let alone sleep. My eyes are watering, and there must be less than a fifty-fifty chance of my surviving the night. I pull the sheets over my head and slip off into a deep and toxic slumber (P.McCarthy). slumber (n. poetic) sleep.
II. 3. Archaic words.
Archaism is an old word which is either completely or practically out of use in present day language. According to the reasons of their disappearance from the language, archaic words can be divided into:
a) historical archaisms, i.e. words whose referent has already disappeared (e.g. vassal, yeoman, etc.);
b) archaic words proper, i.e. words which have been replaced by their synonyms (e.g. brethren – brothers, deem – think).
I.R.Galperin distinguishes three stages in the aging process, according to which three subgroups are singled out:
a) obsolescent words, or old-fashioned words gradually passing out of general use (e.g. wilt, thy, thee, art, thou);
b) obsolete words which are no longer used but can be still recognized (e.g. methinks – it seems to me);
c) archaic words proper, i.e. words which can not be recognized (a losel – a lazy fellow, kine – pl. cow).
Thus, the beginning of the aging process of a word is marked by decrease in its usage.
Archaisms are most frequently found in poetry, fiction, legal and ritual contexts, in dialectal speech. The use of archaic words in fiction, for instance in dialogues of historical novels, seeks to evoke the style of older speech, hence the flavour of the previous centuries. E.g. ‘Prithee, young one, who art thou, and what has ailed thy mother to bedizen thee in this strange fashion? Art thou a Christian child, - ha?’ (N.Hawthorne). However, archaization does not mean complete reproduction of the speech of past epochs; it is effected by the application of separate archaic words. The abundant use of archaisms in contemporary literature seems strange and unsuitable. Even when used to give colour to conversation in historical romances, archaic style is more likely to irritate the reader than to please him. Nevertheless, writers with a strong feel for the language may on occasion deliberately use archaic words to emphasize a certain point or to create a mood. Some archaisms may count as inherently funny words and are used for humorous effect. In poetry archaisms highlight the general colouring of elevation. The colouring may be described as both poetic and solemn. In legal and ritual writing and speech archaisms are used as part of a specific jargon (e.g. heretofore, hereunto, thereof) or formula (e.g. With this ring I thee wed). They produce the colouring of solemnity.
II.4. Barbarismsare words of foreign origin which have not entirely been assimilated into the English language. They bear the appearance of a borrowing, e.g. viva voce, a propos, beau monde, etc.
Barbarisms and foreign words are used to supply local colour; to reproduce speech of a local inhabitant.
Barbarisms differ from foreign words:
II. 5. Termsare words denoting objects, processes, phenomena of science, humanities, technique (e.g. vector, palatalization, pachyderms, etc). The denotative meanings of terms are clearly defined. A proper term is monosemantic and has no synonyms. They belong to the scientific style, but may as well appear in other styles. In professional spheres the term performs no expressive or aesthetic function. In non-professional spheres (imaginative prose, newspaper texts, everyday oral speech) popular terms produce different stylistic effects, for instance humorous one: “Here we were, perilously at sea, final extinction a daily possibility, and all xestobium rufo-villosum could think about was sex” (J.Barnes). They can make speech sound “scientific-like”, or create some kind of professional atmosphere.
III. COLLOQUIAL (degraded) wordsare considered to be more emotionally coloured than literary ones. They also have their upper and lowerranges. The words of upper range (common colloquial ones) can easily pass into the neutral layer. This part of the English vocabulary is used by most native speakers in generalized informal communication. Special colloquial words constitute the medial and the lowest ranges, and are characterized by different degree of their stylistic degradation and social acceptance. There are three main approaches to the classification of special colloquial words. Some scholars (H.W. Fowler) maintain that jargon is the most applied term including argot, cant, slang, dialect, etc. Others (V.A. Homyakov) consider slang to bea generic term for such notions as jargonisms, argot, professionalisms and vulgarisms. Still other linguists (I.R.Galperin, Y.M.Skrebnev) tend to distinguish slang from jargon, on the one hand, and from vulgarisms, on the other. This manual acquaints the learner with the third widely accepted point of view.
III. 1. Common colloquial words constitute a part of the Standard English. They have a slight degree of familiarity or informality and mark the message in which they are used as non-official, conversational. These words are not homogeneous: some colloquialisms are close to slang, jargonisms, etc. Other words approach the neutral bulk so much that their degradation remains unobserved in the act of speaking.
a) colloquial words proper, which have no one-word counterparts in the neutral and literary sphere, e.g. molly-coddle – an effeminate man;
b) phonetic variants of neutral words:
· contractions of words, e.g. hippo <hippopotamus, fest < festival;
· contractions of word combinations, e.g. s’long < so long, c’mon < come on, gonna < going;
· contractions of auxiliary and modal verbs, e.g. she’ll, there’s, he’s gone.
Such words are markers of colloquial speech; they are used to save articulatory efforts.
c) words which change in colloquial speech both their grammatical form and their lexico-stylistic meaning by means of:
· affixation, e.g. Scotty < Scot, piggy < pig;
· word composition, e.g. Beatle-mania;
· conversion, e.g. to angel –to support a film, play, music group by giving money, to bag – to take something without permission;
· clipping and affixation, e.g. alkie < alcoholic.
d) words, changing their lexical and lexico-stylistic meaning, without any grammatical changes:
· interjections, which serve emotive and expressive functions in informal conversations, e.g. Good Heavens! My God! Good God!
· words, which have both denotative and connotative meanings but connotative meaning prevails, e.g. guts 1. (inform.) courage and determination; 2. the organs inside your body.
· colloquial meanings of polysemantic words. Their primary meanings put them in the neutral sphere, while their figurative meanings pertain to the colloquial sphere. E.g. the word wallflower means both a sweet-smelling plant and someone at a party who is not asked to dance.
III. 2. Slangis a group of informal, nonstandard words and phrases. They are generally shorter lived than the expressions of ordinary colloquial speech. Slang appears for a number of reasons. It tends to satisfy a variety of emotional and intellectual needs of people:
a) It is used for the pleasure of novelty or being in the fashion;
b) It emphasizes the ridiculous aspects of things, e.g. idiot box < TV set, fender-bender < careless driver;
c) Being alien to pomposity, it helps to reduce solemnity, pain or tragedy, e.g. meat wagon – an ambulance;
d) It eases the way for smoother social contacts by putting the speaker in tune with his companions and including the sense of intimacy;
e) It increases the store of terse and striking words and provides the vocabulary for new shades of meaning.
Slang occupies the middle ground between the standard and informal words accepted by the general public and the special words and expressions known only to comparatively small social subgroups (jargonisms). It can serve as a bridge or a barrier either helping words that have been used by a specific group of people to enter the language of the general public, or preventing them from doing so. Thus American slang has provided such words as mob, cowboy, racketeer, movie etc. for standard or informal speech.
Experts maintain that now in the UK there are at least 90 000 slang words and phrase in common use, 10% of which can be traced to what we eat and drink, e.g. cake hole – mouth, berries – money, jam pies – eyes.
Replacement of worn-out words by new ones makes slang very rich in synonyms. Lexicologists say that there are at least 100 words to express the idea of a pretty girl, e.g. cookie, wren, hot number, sugar, etc.
The linguistic processes forming slang are the same as those by which other words in the language change their form or meaning. They typically result from playing on words, renaming things and actions, inventing new words, misapplying the old ones. Some of these are employment of metaphor (e.g. bag < an unattractive woman, fox < an attractive one), metonymy (e.g. brain < a good student, salt < a sailor), simile (e.g. as daft as a brush < very silly), distortion of sounds in words (e.g. Madchester), clipping and abbreviation (e.g. Manc < a person from Manchester), generalization and specialization. The English word trip is an example of a term that first became specialized to mean an experience someone has being affected by a drug, such as LSD. Then it generalized again to mean any experience that is amusing and very different from normal.
III. 3. Jargon words are emotive and expressive words used by limited groups of people united either professionally (professionalisms) or socially (jargonisms proper).
Professionalisms are formed according to the existing word-building patterns or present existing words in new meanings, e.g. hoofer < tap-dancer, baby of the house - the youngest member of Parliament, sewing machine < machine gun. Covering the field of special professional knowledge which is semantically limited, they offer a vast variety of synonymic choices for naming one and the same professional item, e.g. box, toaster, fuzzbal toast <computer.
Sometimes professionalisms come into popular use. E.g. early aviators used the term bail out for ‘getting out of an airplane that was in trouble’. Today someone can bail out of any kind of troublesome or annoying situation (a bad marriage).
Jargonismsproper are used by definite social groups (age, ethnic, criminal, hobby or special interest group), e.g. junker – drug addict, number three – cocaine.
A peculiar place is occupied by “cant”, a secret lingo of society’s underworld of criminals. The striving for secrecy was perhaps only the primary reason why it appeared. Nowadays, the words suggest a common bond of understanding and a special relationship between those who use them. Such words would not normally work their way into general use, but the exploitation of crime plots by films and television has helped to popularize them. Nearly everyone knows that a hit man is a hired killer and a wise man is a trusted mob insider. Gangs use the word turf for the territory they control, etc.
Cant words are for the most part ordinary English words with transferred meanings. E.g. the phrase No soap means that somebody’s plan didn’t work.
Jargonisms can not be confined to cant words only. In Britain and in the USA almost any social group of people has its own jargon.
III. 4. Vulgar words.This stylistically lowest group consists of words which are considered too offensive for polite usage. There are different degrees of vulgarity in swear-words. A lesser degree is presented by expletives such as bloody, damn, to hell, son of a bitch. Expletives give vent to strong emotions, mainly annoyance, anger, vexation, etc. They have lost most of their shock power nowadays.
A greater degree of vulgarity is observed in obscene words, also known as taboo or four-letter words, e.g. shit. According to V. A. Maltzev,only eight of them, in fact, consist of just four letters; one refers to a part of the body; five pertain to the excretory functions; two deal with sexual matters.
“The history of vulgarisms reflects the history of social ethics. In Middle ages and down into the 16th century indecent words were accepted in oral speech and after Caxton even admitted to the printed page” (V.A.Kukharenko). In the 18-19th centuries the morality forbade the use of such words as seem quite harmless to us, e.g. bloody, cursed, damn, hell of, etc. In the 20th century the Boston Globe kept typing out the full name of the Boston Redevelopment Authority because the editors thought it would be inappropriate to use the acronym BRA in a family newspaper. Nowadays there is very little that is forbidden in the media. Many words once considered taboo are now used nearly everywhere – on TV, on the radio, or in print (e.g. the colloquial expression for “bovine excrement”). Still, there are SOME words which are forbidden.