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The term lexicology is composed of two Greek morphemes: lexis
meaning word, phrase and logos which denotes learning, a department of
knowledge. Thus, the literal meaning of the term lexicology is the science of
the word.
Lexicology is the part of linguistics dealing with the vocabulary of the
language and characteristic features of words and word-groups.
Basic Notions of Lexicology
The term word denotes the basic structural-semantic unit of a given
language the main function of which is to designate real objects, qualities,
actions and abstract notions.
The word is the basic unit of the language resulting from the association
of a particular meaning with a particular group of sounds capable of a
particular grammatical employment. A word is therefore simultaneously a
semantic, grammatical and phonological unit. It is the smallest language unit
that can stand alone as a complete utterance.
Thus, in the words boy and the groups of sounds constituting
them are associated with the meaning a male child up to the age of 17 or 18
and respectively (also some other
meanings, but these are the most frequent) and with a definite grammatical
employment, i.e. they are nouns and thus may have a plural form boys,
; they are personal nouns and the English noun may have the
Possessive form boys (e.g. the boys father) and the Russian noun may be used
in the Genitive Case expressing the same meaning: , they may
be used in certain syntactic function: in the above example the English noun is
used attributively, while the Russian noun performs the function of an object.
Word-meaning is a component of the word through which a concept
is communicated, thus the word denotes real objects, qualities, actions and
abstract notions. Word-meaning is not homogeneous but is made of various
components that are usually described as types of meaning. The three main
types of meaning are the grammatical, lexical and lexical-grammatical
The term vocabulary is used to denote the system of words and word-
groups that the language possesses.
By word-groups (word-combinations) we understand a group of
words which exists in the language as a ready-made unit, has the unity of
meaning, the unity of syntactic function. For example, the word group as loose
as a goose means clumsy and is used in a sentence as a predicative: He is as
loose as a goose. These units may have a single word synonyms (e.g. to give a
kiss to kiss, to make an offer to offer) and synonyms in the form of a word-
combination (e.g. to take a powder to leave in a hurry, milk and honey
prosperity and abundance).
Branches of Lexicology
Distinction is made between General Lexicology and Special Lexicology.
General Lexicology is a part of General Linguistics. It is concerned with
the general study of words and vocabulary, irrespective of the specific
features of any particular language. Linguistic phenomena and properties
common to all languages are generally referred to as language universals.
Special Lexicology is the lexicology of a particular language (e.g.
English, Russian, Ukrainian etc.), i.e. the study and description of its words
and vocabulary. Every special lexicology is based on the principles worked out
and laid down by General Lexicology, a general study of vocabulary, which
forms a part of General Linguistics.
There are two principal approaches to the study of language material in
linguistic science, namely the synchronic (or descriptive) and the diachronic
(or historical) approach. According to these approaches Special Lexicology
falls into historical and descriptive.
Historical Lexicology or Etymology deals with the origin of various
words, their change and development, and investigates the linguistic and
extra-linguistic forces modifying their structure, meaning and usage.
Historical Lexicology surveys the vocabulary as a system in its evolution (i.e.
in its diachronic aspect), describing its change and development in the course
of time.
The study of the vocabulary of a given language in its synchronic aspect,
i.e. at a given stage of its development, is the subject-matter of Descriptive
Lexicology. It studies the functions of words and their specific structure as a
characteristic inherent in the system. In other words, it deals with the word in
its morphological and semantic structures investigating the interdependence
between these two aspects.
A branch of study called Contrastive Lexicology provides a theoretical
basis on which vocabularies of different languages can be compared and
described. The main concern of Contrastive Lexicology is to identify and
classify the main common (isomorphic) and divergent (allomorphic) lexical
features characteristic of the languages under investigation.
Lexical Semantics is a branch of Lexicology devoted to the study of
word-meaning. It consists of two parts: Semasiology and Onomasiology.
Semasiology (Theory of Meaning) as a branch of Semantics studies
the meaning of words and phrases going from the plane of expression to the
plane of content. The study consists in considering different meanings of the
word, determining interrelations between them, as well as discovering
semantic relations between different words. Semasiology is interested in the
questions: What meanings does the word have?, What does the word
mean? For instance, what meanings does the word star have? It has two
meanings celestial object and celebrity.
Onomasiology (Theory of Nomination) as a branch of Semantics
studies the meaning of words and phrases moving from the plane of content
to the plane of expression. It is concerned with the means and ways of naming
the elements of reality; it shows how the objects receive their names and what
features are chosen to represent them. The study starts from an object or a
notion and consists in analyzing different words correlated with it.
Onomasiology answers the questions: What words or word-groups are used
to denote a certain meaning?, What means is this or that meaning expressed
by? For example, what words are used to denote the meaning of a celestial
object? To denote this meaning the words star, planet, comet, galaxy, etc. are
The difference between these two parts is illustrated by the
Diagram below.


meaning object


Word formation studies all possible ways of the formation of new

words and models according to which new words are built. For example,
nowadays suffixation is a highly productive way of word formation: sainthood,
nationhood; leaflet, booklet; stardom, fandom.
Phraseology studies word-groups with transferred meaning or
phraseological units such as fit as a fiddle ,
, stick and carrot policy , in the
seventh heaven .
Lexicography an applied branch deals with science of compiling
Lexicology has close ties with other branches of linguistics as they also
take into account words in one way or another but approach them from
different angles.
There is a relationship between lexicology and phonetics since
phonetics is also concerned with the study of the word, i.e. with the sound
form of the word.
A close connection between lexicology and grammar is conditioned by
the manifold ties between the objects of their study. Even isolated words as
presented in a dictionary bear a definite relation to the grammatical system of
the language because they belong to some part of speech and conform to some
lexical-grammatical characteristics of the word class to which they belong.
Lexicology is linked with the history of a language since the latter
investigates the changes and the development of the vocabulary of a language.
There is also a close relationship between lexicology and stylistics.
Stylistics studies many problems treated in lexicology. These are the problems
of meaning, synonymy, differentiation of vocabulary according to the sphere
of communication and some other issues.
Lexicology is bound up with sociolinguistics. Sociolinguistics
investigates the extralinguistic or social causes of the changes in the
vocabulary of a language. The word stock of a language directly and
immediately reacts to changes in social life. The intense development of
science and technology, which is a social, i.e. an extralinguistic factor, has
lately given birth to a great number of new words.

On the Methods of Analysis in Lexicology

Lexicology as a branch of Linguistics can investigate its subject-matter

with the help of the following methods of linguistic research.
The method of contrastive analysis. This method consists in the
systemic comparison of the vocabulary of language A with the vocabulary of
language B to reveal the features of sameness and difference in the lexical
meaning and the semantic structure of correlated words in different
languages. The knowledge of common and specific features enables the
translator to make a correct choice of equivalents while translating from one
language to another from the professional but not intuitive standpoint.
For example, the contrastive analysis of the Russian word and its
English equivalent book shows that only in one collocation the English word
book is equivalent to Russian , which is a book on/about birds
The rest of the meanings of the word book correlate with words other
than , cf.
a reference book
to do the books
our order books are full

to be in smb's good/bad books /

I can read her like a book
We must stick to/go by the book

I'll take a leaf out of your book
was brought to book for that

The same concerns Russian-English word pairs: closed,
private meeting, secret
ballot, indoors.
Distributional analysis. In Lexicology distributional analysis consists
in the study of all possible environments of this or that lexical unit.
Traditionally environments are formalized in the following way:
N nouns and words that take the position of a noun in the
sentence, mainly pronouns
V verbs (with the specification Vinf, Ving)
A adjectives and possessive pronouns
D determiners: adverbs and articles
e.g. Depending upon the environment the verb to get displays different
get + N (get a letter) means
get + Adj. (get angry) ,
get + Vinf (get to think) .
Distributional analysis also helps to identify contextual meaning of the
word depending on its environment.
For instance, it is well-known that English nouns with the suffix er/-or
(reader, writer, translator) correspond to Russian nouns derived from verbs
with the help of different suffixes (, , ). But
when such nouns are used in the distribution Adj. + N-er they very often have
verbal equivalents in Russian:
Judy was always a slow .
He is a poor swimmer. (), but:
( ).
When such nouns are not modified by adjectives they usually have
verbal nouns as equivalents in Russian:
As a reader he was very
curious. (* ).
He was a swimmer in his (*
youth. ).
Immediate constituents analysis. In Lexicology the aim of immediate
constituents method (IC method) is to segment a word into two maximally
independent meaningful morphemes that are called immediate constituents
thus revealing the hierarchical structure of the word.
e.g. non-governmental non + governmental government + al
govern + ment govern
Oxbridgian Oxbridge + -ian Oxford + Cambridge
Immediate constituents analysis shows the relation of morphemes in
the word, specifies the direction of word-building process, helps to
understand the meaning of new words, especially occasionalisms or
In contrastive investigation this method of analysis reveals considerable
divergence in the morphemic structure of English and Russian words. English
words are made up of free morphemes more often than Russian ones. In
Russian the majority of words are formed with the help of bound morphemes.
IC analysis appears to be also helpful when dealing with the comparison of
morphologically motivated words in the contrasted languages.
Componential analysis. Componential analysis consists in the analysis
of lexical meaning of the word into the smallest semantic units. Such units are
called semes.
For example, the English word father-in-law comprises the following
minimal elements of meaning (semes):
physical object;
human being;
one who has a married child;
in relation to a spouse of his children.
In contrastive study componential analysis helps to show specific
features in the semantic structures of correlated words in the contrasted
languages, it reveals the so-called differential features. The Russian correlated
word to the English word father-in-law is . Its lexical meaning consists
of the following semes:
physical object;
human being;
one who has a married son;
in relation to a wife of his son.
Thus the componential analysis shows that these words are
characterized by a number of common semes (physical object; animate;
human being; man) and have some specific components of meaning (father-
in-law one who has a married child; in relation to a spouse of his children;
one who has a married son; in relation to a wife of his son). These
specific components are referred to as differential semes.
Differential semes cannot be overlooked in the process of translation.
The English word is wider in its meaning than its Russian counterpart and it
can safely be used as an equivalent while translating from Russian into
English. But if we translate from English into Russian the equivalent
will satisfy only some contexts while in others the use of the word will
be required. So the translator will have to specify the meaning of the English
Transformational analysis. Transformational analysis deals with
transformation of a linguistic unit into the unit of a different structure without
any change of meaning. In lexicology we mainly deal with the transformations
of single words into word-combinations of various types.
Transformational analysis is handy in revealing semantic ties between
the components of compound words showing the peculiarities of
morphological motivation of their meaning.
schoolteacher a teacher at school;
sunray the ray of the sun;
steamboat a boat set in motion by steam;
snowball a ball made of snow.
Lexicology is of great practical importance. It helps the language learner
to obtain valuable information concerning the English vocabulary and the
laws governing the formation and usage of English words and word-groups.
Knowledge of Lexicology promotes systemic and successive comprehension of
the peculiarities of foreign language words as compared with the words of the
native tongue, which helps to avoid literal translation and employ the
deliberate language acquisition.

Check yourself issues:

1. What linguistic branch is called Lexicology?
2. What are the basic notions of Lexicology?
3. What does the term word denote?
4. Define the term word-meaning.
5. What main types does the word-meaning consist of?
6. What are the branches of Lexicology?
7. What do Semasiology and Onomasiology study?
8. What is the main concern of Contrastive Lexicology?
9. What does the method of contrastive analysis consist in?
10. What other methods of linguistic research are employed in Lexicology?


Basic Literature:
1. .. = Practical
Course in English Lexicology : . . .
. . / . . . .:
, 2008. 288 .
2. . . /
. . . : , 2007. 528 .
3. . . /
. . . .: , 1971. 336 . . .

Additional Literature:
1. . . : .
- . . . / . , . .: ,
1986. 295 . . .
2. . . / . . .
: ; :
, 2005. 176 . . .
3. . . . =
Modern English Studies. Lexicology: . . .
. . . / . . . .:
, 2009. 224 .
4. . . :
. /
. . . .: -, 2002. 192 . . .
5. .. : . .:
, 2006. 464 .
6. .. : . .:
, 2006. 424 .
7. : - .
. . / . . , . . , . . , . . .
.: , 1979. 269 . . .
8. Ganetska L. V. LEXI-MAKER: Modern English Lexicology in Tables,
Figures and Exercises. : , 2004. 96 .