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Word structure in modern English

1 Historical changeability of word-structure

Neither the morphemic nor the derivational structure of the word remains the same but is subject to various changes in the course of time. Changes in the phonetic and semantic structure and in the stress pattern of polymorphic words may bring about a number of changes in the morphemic and derivational structure. For example: The noun husband is a simple monomorphic word in Modern English, whereas in Old English it was a compound word consisting of two bases built on two stems hus–bond–a.

1.1 Introduce to the problems
The semantic characteristics of the word are observed, described and studied on the basis of its typical contexts. On the paradigmatic level, the word is studied in its relationships with other words in the vocabulary system. So, a word may be studied in comparison with other words of similar meaning, of opposite meaning, of different stylistic.

2 The structural aspects of words

By external structure of the word we mean its morphological structure. For example, in the word post-impressionists the following morphemes can be distinguished: the prefixes post-, im-, the root press, the noun-forming suffixes -ion, -ist, and the grammatical suffix of plurality -s. All these morphemes constitute the external structure of the word post-impressionists.
The internal structure of the word, or its meaning, is nowadays commonly referred to as the word's semantic structure. This is certainly the word's main aspect. Words can serve the purposes of human communication solely due to their meanings, and it is most unfortunate when this fact is ignored by some contemporary scholars who, in their obsession with the fetish of structure tend to condemn as irrelevant anything that eludes mathematical analysis.
Another structural aspect of the word is its unity. The formal unity of the word can best be illustrated by comparing a word and a word-group comprising identical constituents. The difference between a blackbird and a black bird is best explained by their relationship with the grammatical system of the language. The word blackbird, which is characterised by unity, possesses a single grammatical framing: blackbird/s. The first constituent black is not subject to any grammatical changes. In the word-group a black bird each constituent can acquire grammatical forms of its own: the blackest birds I've ever seen. Other words can be inserted between the components which is impossible so far as the word is concerned as it would violate its unity: a black night bird.
A further structural feature of the word is its susceptibility to grammatical employment. In speech most words can be used in different grammatical forms in which their interrelations are realised.

2.1 Levels of study the word structure
Semantics is the study of meaning. Modern approaches to this problem are characterised by two different levels of study: syntagmatic and paradigmatic.

2.1.1 Syntagmatic level
On the syntagmatic level, the semantic structure of the word is analysed in its linear relationships with neighbouring words in connected speech. In other words, the semantic characteristics of the word are observed, described and studied on the basis of its typical contexts.

2.1.2 Paradigmatic level
On the paradigmatic level, the word is studied in its relationships with other words in the vocabulary system. So, a word may be studied in comparison with other words of similar meaning (e. g. work, n. — labour, n.; to refuse, v. — to reject v. — to decline, v.), of opposite meaning (e. g. busy, adj. — idle, adj.; to accept, v, — to reject, v.), of different stylistic characteristics (e. g. man, n. — chap, n. — bloke, n. — guy, n.).

3 Basic terms

Morpheme – is the minimal unit of meaning or grammatical function. Morphemes occur in speech only as constituent parts of words, not independently, although a word may consist of single morpheme. Each morpheme possess sound form and meaning.

Sound – form (morph) Meaning

Bound morphemes – which cannot normally stand alone, but which are typically attached to another form, e.g. re-, -ist, -ed, -s, etc. Bound morphemes, we can divide into two categories:

  • a) derivational (used to make words of a different grammatical category from the stem, e.g. N → A fool – foolish, V → N pay – payment; suffixes –ish, -ment, etc. and prefixes such as re-, pre-, ex-, etc.)
  • b) inflectional (these are not used to produce new words, but rather to indicate aspects of the grammatical function of a word, e.g. –s, -ed, -ing, -er (in comparing), -est, etc.)

Free morphemes – which can stand by themselves as single words, e.g. open, door, table, etc. Free morphemes fall into two subgroups :

  • a) lexical morphemes, e.g. boy, man, house, tiger, etc.
  • b) functional morphemes, e. g. and, because, when, near, etc. (Yule, 1993, p. 60-64)

Ex: The boy-’s wild-ness shock -ed the teach -er -s.
Funct.lex.infl.lex.deriv.lex. inf.funct.lex. deriv inf.

Root – morpheme – is the lexical nucleus of the word, it has a very general and abstract lexical meaning.

Morphs – the actual forms used to realize morphemes. Thus, the form cat is a single morph realizing a lexical morpheme. The form cats consists of two morphs, realizing a lexical morpheme and an inflectional morpheme (plural). Just as we noted that there were allophones of a particular phoneme, then we recognize allomorphs of a particular morpheme. (Yule, 1993, p. 63-64)

Word – is the principal and basic unit of the language system, the largest on the morphologic and the smallest on the syntactic plane of linguistic analysis. Words that consist of a root and a affix are called derived words.
Words can be classified into

  • a) monomorphic (or root-words consist of only one root morpheme, e.g. small, dog, make, give, etc.)
  • b) polymorphic – all polymorphic words fall into two subgroups: derived words (one root-morpheme and derivational affix, e.g. acceptable, outdo, etc) and compound words (according to the number of root morphemes they have, e.g. black-board, eye-ball, pen-holder, etc.)

When speaking about the structure of words also should be mentioned.

Stem – the part of the word which remains unchanged throughout its paradigm (a set of all the different forms of a word). The stem have not only the lexical meaning but also grammatical meaning, they can be noun stems (girl – in the adjective girlish), adjective stems (girlish – in the noun girlishness), verb stems (expel – in the noun expellee), etc. They differ from words by the absence of inflexions in their structure, they can be used only in the structure of words. There are three types of stems: simple, derived and compound.

A theory based on the notion of word-formation syntagma maintains that word-formation can only treat of composites which are analysable into two constituents:

  • a) determinans – specifies its typical features by which it differs from all other objects of the class. Determinans cannot represent the whole syntagma in that it can stand for it in all positions.
  • b) determinatum – identifies the object to be named with other similar objects. Determinatum represents the whole syntagma in that it can stand for it in all positions.

Determinans is followed by determinatum. Determinant is determining element and determinantum is determined element. For example:
determinatum of washing machine, i.e. machine identifies the object to be named with all other machines. Then, determinans specifies its characteristic feature (the machine used for washing).
head-ache, where the first component is determinant and the second is determinantum -compound derivative
father-hood, where father is determinant and hood is determinantum - a suffixation derivative
un-do, where un is determinant and do is determinantum – prefixal derivate

4 Types of morphemic segmentability

As far as the complexity of the morphemic structure of the word is concerned all English fall into two large classes:
1. class – to first class belong segmentable words, i.e. those allowing of segmentation into morphemes, e.g. agreement, information, fearless, quickly, door-handle, etc.
2. class – to this class belong non-segmentable words, i.e. those not allowing of such segmentation, e.g. house, girl, woman, husband, etc.
The operation of breaking a segmentable word into the constituent morphemes is referred to in present-day linguistic literature as the analysis of word structure on the morphemic level.

4.1 Complete segmentability
It is characteristic of a great many words the morphemic structure of which is transparent enough, as their individual morphemes clearly stand out within the word lending themselves easily to isolation.

4.2 Conditional segmentability
It characterises words whose segmentation into the constituent morphemes is doubtful for semantic reasons.
E.g.: retain, contain, detain or receive, deceive, conceive, perceive the sound-clusters /ri-/, /di-/, /kэn-/ seem, on the one hand, they undoubtedly have nothing in common with the phonetically identical morphemes re-, de- as found in words like rewrite, re-organise, deorganise, decode; neither the sound-clusters /ri-/ or /di-/ nor the /-tern/ or /si:v/ posses any lexical or functional meaning of their own.

4.3 Defective segmentability
It is the property of words whose component morphemes seldom or never recur in other words. One of the component morphemes is a unique morpheme in the sense that it does not, as rule, recur in a different linguistic environment. A unique morpheme is isolated and understood as meaningful because the constituent morphemes display a more less clear denotational meaning. Defective segmenatbilty signals a relatively complex character of the morphological system of the language in questions, reveals the existence of various heterogeneous layers in its vocabulary. There is no doubt that in the nouns streamlet, ringlet, leaflet, etc. the morpheme –let has the denotational meaning of diminutiveness and is combined with the morphemes stream-, ring-, leaf-, etc. each having a clear denotational meaning.

5 Semantic structure of the word. Polysemy

The semantic structure of the word does not present an indivisible unity (that is, actually, why it is referred to as “structure”), nor does it necessarily stand for one concept. It is generally known that most words convey several concepts and thus possess the corresponding number of meanings. A word having several meanings is called polysemantic, and the ability of words to have more than one meaning is described by the term polysemy.

When analysing the semantic structure of a polysemantic word, it is necessary to distinguish between two levels of analysis. On the first level the semantic structure of a word is treated as a system of meanings.

E.g.: The semantic structure of the noun fire could be roughly presented by this scheme:
an instance of destructive burning (e.g. a forest fire)
burning material in a stove or fireplace (a camp fire)
the shooting of guns (to draw fire – vyprovokovať streľbu)
strong feeling, passion, enthusiasm (a speech lacking fire)

5.1 Types of semantic components
The leading semantic component in the structure of a word is usually termed denotative component (indikačná zložka) (also, the term referential component may be used). The denotative component express the conceptual content of a word.
Denotative components
lonely, adj.→→→alone, without company
notorious, adj.→→→widely known
celebrated, adj.→→→widely known
to glare, v.→→→to look
to shiver, v.→→→to tremble

To give a more or less full picture of the meaning of a word, it is necessary to include in the scheme of analysis additional semantic components which are termed connotations or connotative components (významová zložka).

Denotative Cs Connotative Cs
lonely, adj.→→→alone, without company+melancholy, sad
notorious, adj.→→→widely known+for criminal acts or bad traits of character
celebrated, adj. →→→widely known+ for special achievement in science, art, etc.
to glare, v.→→→to look+seadily, lastingly, in anger, rage, etc.
to shiver, v.→→→to tremble+with the cold

6 Semantic classification of phraseological units

Phraseological units can be classified according to the degree of motivation of their meaning. There are three types of phraseological units:

  • a) fusions – where the degree of motivation is very low, we cannot guess the meaning of the whole from the meanings of its components, they are highly idiomatic and cannot be translated word for word into other languages, e.g. at sixes and sevens (means in a mess).
  • b) unities – where the meaning of the whole can be guessed from the meanings of its components, but it is transferred (metaphorical or metonymical), e.g. to play the first fiddle (to be a leader in something), old salt (experienced sailor), etc.
  • c) collocations – where words are combined in their original meaning but their combinations are different in different languages, e.g. cash and carry (self-service shop, in a big way (in great degree), etc.

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