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3. The characteristic features of the English vocabulary.

The volume of the vocabulary and the changes in it.

The vocabulary of Modern English can be characterized as great in volume (contains a lot of words), comprehensive (it can be describe anything, it embrace all spheres of human activity) and heterogeneous (it has words from different languages).

The total vocabulary of English is immense (big, huge). It contains more than 500’000 words and phrases. The individual vocabulary of an educated speaker comprises about 30’000 words and phrases. And an average member of the speech community uses about 4-5’000 words and phrases. The choice of words in the individual vocabulary depends on education, occupation, age, cultural background, sex, etc.

The exact number of English words cannot be stated by several reasons.

The language as a product of human activity changes with the change of the society. It’s inconstant state of evolution.

The language never remains stable. The changes in the vocabulary are due to extralingustic causes and linguistic causes.

As far the extralinguistic causes go they are determined by social nature of the language. They include historical events and changes in the life of society. As well as special, economic, political and cultural ones. This changes are inevitably reflected in the vocabulary of the language spoken by the people.

By linguistic causes we mean different realations between the words in the vocabulary:

  • new words maybe borrowed from other languages (sputnik, perestroika, glasnost)
  • new words maybe formed in the language(zipcode - to zipcode)
  • some words may grow obsolete and drop out of the language(thee, thou – you, your)
  • some words drop out from the language because they are ousted by synonyms borrowed from the other language (fall - autumn)
  • some words may develop their semantic structures and become polysemantic (earth – land àsoil, planet, this world contrast to hell/heaven, all people in the earth).
  • the semantic structures of some words may split and as a result some homonyms may appear.

The role of borrowings, polisemy and homonymy.

Borrowings of words from other languages has always been one of the important ways to enlarge the English vocabulary. 

According to different estimations (подсчеты) 75-65 % of the vocabulary are loans. Thus, only 25-35 % in English are native.

Borrowings bring with them new phonetic, morphemic and stylistic features of the language.

Borrowings also influenced the semantic structures of  the words, the collocability/combinability (сочетаемость), frequency of the words and the derivational ability. Moreover, loan words brought about some changes in synonymic groups mainly enlarging the number of stylistic synonyms.

  • to gather - to assemble

to teach – to instruct – to guide

According to their semantic structure all words in English fall into 2 groups: monosemantic and polysemantic.

Most English words are polysemantic. No matter how many meanings word is have, we use only one meaning in a particular context.

Verbs and nouns in English are characterized by greater number of polysemantic words as adjectives and adverbs.

Polysemy is different of homonymy.

spring (весна) – spring (пружина) – spring (ручеек)

Modern English is characterized by a great number of homonyms.

1). The analytical structure of language

2). A great number of monosyllabic words

  • (для) – four (четыре) – fore (носовая часть корабля)

Some homonyms may appear as a result of disintegration or split of polysemy.It happens when one of the meanings of a polysemantic word loses all the connections with the rest of the semantic structure of the word and status of a separate existence.

  • box (коробка) – box (ложа)

Systematic characteristic of the vocabulary.

Interlinguistic relations  between words into vocabulary may be of two types syntegmatic and paradigmatic.


He got a letter – he got to London – He got at least the piano through the door – he got tired.


synonyms, autonyms, homonyms, etc.--> deal with Lexicology.

According to their meaning, syntactical functions, and morphological characteristic words are traditionally classified into parts of speech.

According to their structure all words fall into 4 groups:

  • root/ simple words
  • derivatives
  • compound words (compounds)
  • compound derivatives

According to their meaning words can be classified:

  • lexico-semantic groups
  • semantic fields
  • thematic groups

14.01.2014; 23:44
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