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Chapter 1. The word as the basic unit of language

Chapter 2. The meaning of the word

2.1 Grammatical meaning of the word

2.2 Lexical meaning of the word

2.2.1 Parf-of-Speech Meaning

2.2.2 Denotational and Connotational meaning of the word

2.2.3 Emotive Charge

2.2.4 Stylistic Reference

2.2.5 Emotive Charge and Stylistic Reference

Chapter 3. Word meaning and motivation

Chapter 4. Word meaning and meaning in morphemes





word language meaning speech

The word is one of the fundamental units of language. It is a dialectal unity of form and content. Its content or meaning is not identical to notion, but it may reflect human notion and is considered as the form of their existence. So the definition of a word is one of the most difficult in linguistics, because the simplest word has many different aspects: a sound form, its morphological structure, it may occur in different word-forms and have various meanings.

E. Sapir takes into consideration the syntactic and semantic aspects when he calls the word “one of the smallest completely satisfying bits of isolated “meaning”, into which the sentence resolves itself.” Sapir also points out one more, very important characteristic of the word, its indivisibility: “It cannot be cut into without a disturbance of meaning, one or two other or both of the several parts remaining as a helpless waif on our hands.”

A unit which most people would think of as ‘one word’ may carry a number of meanings, by association with certain contexts. Thus pipe can be any tubular object, a musical instrument or a piece of apparatus for smoking; a hand can be on a clock or watch as well as at the end of the arm. Most of the time, we are able to distinguish the intended meaning by the usual process of mental adjustment to context and register.

Word meaning is not homogeneous, but it is made up of various components, which are described as types of meaning. There are 2 types of meaning to be found in words and word forms:

1)  the grammatical meaning;

2)  the lexical meaning.

As the world’s global language, English has played a very important role in bringing people from different countries closer and closer, thus yielding great mutual understanding. The author argues that the mastering of the grammatical features of English words together with that of their semantic structures helps to make the communication in English successful. The study on English words in terms of grammar and semantics is, therefore, hoped to be of great value to teachers and learners of English as well as translators into and out of English. In this essay, English words are discussed in terms of their meaning, which poses several problems for the teachers, learners and translators.



Chapter 1. The word as the basic unit of language


The word may be described as the basic unit of language. Uniting meaning and form, it is composed of one or more morphemes, each consisting of one or more spoken sounds or their written representation. The combinations of morphemes within words are subject to certain linking conditions. When a derivational suffix is added a new word is formed, thus, “listen” and “listener” are different words.

When used in sentences together with other words they are syntactically organized. But if we look at the language “speech”, it becomes apparent that words are not neatly segmented as they are by spaces in graphological realization. The pauses in speech do not consistently correspond with word-endings; many languages, including English, do not make it clear to a foreign listener where the utterance is divided into words.

The definition of a word is one of the most difficult in linguistics because the simplest word has many aspects. The variants of definitions were so numerous that some authors collecting them produced works of impressive scope and bulk.

A few examples will suffice to show that any definition is conditioned by the aims and interests of its author.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), one of the great English philosophers, revealed a materialistic approach to the problem of nomination when he wrote that words are not mere sounds but names of matter. Three centuries later the great Russian physiologist I.P. Pavlov (1849-1936) examined the word in connection with his studies of the second signal system, and defined it as a universal signal that can be substitute any other signal from the environment in evoking a response in a human organism. One of the latest developments of science and engineering is machine translation. It also deals with words and requires a rigorous definition for them. It runs as follows: a word is a sequence of graphemes which can occur between spaces, or the representation of such a sequence on morphemic level.

Within the scope of linguistics the word has been defined syntactically, semantically, phonologically and by combining various approaches.

According to John Lyons “One of the characteristics of the word is that it tends to be internally stable (in terms of the order of the component morphemes), but positionally mobile (permutable with other words in the same sentence)”.

A purely semantic treatment will be found in Stephen Ulmann’s explanation: with him connected discourse, if analyzed from the semantic point of view, “will fall into a certain number of meaningful segments which are ultimately compose of meaningful units. These meaningful units are called words.”

The semantic-phonological approach may be illustrated by A.H. Gardiner’s definition: “A word is an articulate sound-symbol in its aspect of denoting something which is spoken about.”

The eminent French linguist A. Meillet combines the semantic, phonological and grammatical criteria and gives the following definition of the word: “A word is defined by the association of a particular meaning with a particular group of sounds capable of a particular grammatical employment.”

This formula can be accepted with some modifications adding that a word is the smallest significant unit of a given language capable of functioning alone and characterized by positional mobility within a sentence, morphological uninterruptability and semantic integrity. All these criteria are necessary because they permit us to create basis for the oppositions between the word and the phrase, the word and the phoneme, and the word and the morpheme: their common feature is that they are all units of the language, their difference lies in the fact that the phoneme is not significant, and a morpheme cannot be used as a complete utterance.

The weak point of all the above definitions is that they do not establish the relationship between language and thought, which is formulated if we treat the word as a dialectical unity of form and content, in which the form is the spoken or written expression which calls up specific meaning, whereas the content is the meaning rendering the emotion or the concept in the mind of the speaker which he intends to convey to the listener.

 Still, the main point can be summarized: “The word is the fundamental unit of language. It is a dialectal unity of form and content.”

Its content or meaning is not identical to notion, but it may reflect human notions, and in this sense may be considered as the form of their existence. Concepts fixed in the meaning of words are formed as generalized and approximately correct reflections of reality, therefore in signifying them words reflect reality in their content.


Chapter 2. The meaning of the word


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