Tema 45- El léxico inglés. Estructura y formación de las palabras. Préstamos

Tema 45- El léxico inglés. Estructura y formación de las palabras. Préstamos

English vocabulary:

The vocabulary of a widely diffused and highly cultivated living language is not a fixed quantity circumscribed by definite limits. English vocabulary contains a nucleus or central mass of many thousand words whose Anglicity is unquestioned, some of them only literary, some of them only colloquial, the great majority at once literary and colloquial. They are the common words of the language. They are linked with other words which pertain to the domain of local dialect, of the slang, of the peculiar technicalities of trades and processes, of the scientific terminology common to all civilized nations, and of the actual languages of other lands and peoples. There is no defining line in any direction: the circle of the English language has a well-defined centre but no discernible circumference.

In addition to the common vocabulary, there is an indefinite number of proper or merely denotative names.

The constituent elements of vocabulary are in a state of slow but incessant dissolution and renovation: old words are ever becoming obsolete and dying out, new words are continually pressing in. There are many words of which it is doubtful whether they are still to be considered as part of the living language. They are alive to some speakers and dead to others, and on the other hand there are many claimants to admission into the recognized vocabulary.

Word- formation:

Words are fragments of linguistic realities which can be studied in terms of their possible constituting elements, or sub-word units.

The part of grammatical studies dealing with the internal structure of words is called morphology. The ultimate meaningful units of a lexical item are called morphemes which cannot be broken down into smaller meaningful parts (structurally atomic) and occur in different environments with no dramatic change of meaning. Morphemes are divided into at least two different subsets:

(i) morphemes which have a lexico-semantic content: {beauty}, {girl}, {-ful}

(ii) morphemes having a grammar or functional content: {-s} and{-ed}.

Not all the morphemes can be identified by segmentation, that is why they are seen as an abstract entity whose phonological and graphic representation is realised by morphs.

From a morphologic perspective, there are:

Free morphs that can stand for their own having meaning, e.g. gas, hill, hospital

Bound morphs that are always attached to one or more morphs to be meaningful, e.g. –er, -dom, -ee

Morphemes and the morphs which represent them can also be classified with respect to their semantic relevance:

Base is a morph that has more importance than others, e.g. un-happy

Affix is the one attached to the base morph. They lack semantic importance, e.g. king-dom

Bauer opines that “a base is any form to which affixes of any kind can be added”. E.g. untouchables

There are two further general subdivisons that are based on the capacity these affixes have to signify grammatical relations:

1. Inflectional morphemes, or the capacity they have to express lexico-semantic meanings. They serve a purely grammatical function, they never create a new word but they create a different form of a word: bushes, eaten, faster, John.s

2. Derivational morphemes which do not change the word category. They are morphemes which change the meaning or the part of speech of a word, morphemes which change the meaning: un- in unaffected re- in reactiviate, pro- in pro-choice and morphemes which change the part of speech: –ment in judgment, argument, -ly in quickly, easil, -ful in hateful

The main process of English word-formation by which a base may be modified are:

1. Affixation:

a) Adding a prefix to the base with or without a change of word-class: author- co-author.

b) Adding a suffix to the base with or without a change of word-class: drive- driver.

2. Conversion: Assigning the base to a different word-class without changing its form. There is zero affixation: drive (n)- drive (v)

3. Compounding: Adding one base to another (tea + pot- teapot)

Apart from these major word-formation processes. English has a number of minor devices: backformations, clippings, blends, reduplication and acronymy, as means of forming new words on the basis of old.


clip_image001clip_image001[1]Prefixes do not generally alter the word-class of the base. Productive prefixes normally have a light stress on their first or only syllable, the main stress of the words coming on the base. e.g.: pre fabricated

1. Negative prefixes:

– UN-: “the opposite of” “not”: unfair, unexpected

– NON-: “not”: non-smoker, non-drip

– IN-: (as for un-): insane

– DIS-: (as for un-): disrespect

– A-: “lacking in”: amoral, asymmetry

IN- is realized as IL- before l: illogical, IM- before bilabials: improper and IR- before r: irrelevant

2. Reversative or privative prefixes:

– UN-: “to reverse action”, “to deprive of”: untie, unhorse

– DE-: “to reverse action”: defrost, deforestation

– DIS-: (as for un-): disconnect, discoloured, discontent

3. Pejorative prefixes:

– MIS-: “wrongly”, “astray”: misinform, misconduct, misleading

– MAL-: “incorrectly, bad(ly)”: maltreat, malfunction, malformed, malodorous

– PSEUDO-: “false” “imitation”: pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-religious

4. Prefixes of degree or size:

– ARCH-: “highest, worst”: archduke, archenemy

– SUPER-:”above, more than, better”: superman, supermarket, supernatural

– OUT-: “to do sth. faster, longer than etc.”: outrun, outlive

– SUR-: “over and above”: surtax, surface

– SUB-: “lower than, less than”: subhuman, substandard

– OVER-: “too much”: overeat, overdressed overconfident

– UNDER-: “to little”: undercook, underprivileged

– HYPER-: “extremely”: hypercritical, hyperactive

– ULTRA-: “extremely, beyond”: ultra-violet, ultra-modern

– MINI-: “little”: miniskirt

5. Prefixes of attitude:

– CO-: “with, joint”: cooperate, co-pilot

– COUNTER-: “in opposition to”: counteract, counterproductive

– ANTI-: “against”: anti-social, anti-clockwise

– PRO-: “on the other side of”: pro-communist

6. Locative prefixes:

– SUPER-: “over”: superstructure

– SUB-: “beneath, lesser in rank”: subway, sublet, subconscious

– INTER-: “between, among”: international, intermarry, interaction

– TRANS-: “across, from one place to another”: transatlantic

7. Prefixes of time and order:

– FORE-: “before”: foretell, foreknowledge

– PRE-: “before”: pre-war, pre-marital

– POST-: “after”: post-war, post-classical

– EX-: “former”: ex-husband

– RE-: “again, back”: rebuild, resettlement

8. Number prefixes:

– UNI-, MONO-: “one”: unilateral, monotheism.

– BI-, DI-: “two”: bilingual, dipole

– TRI-: “three”: tripartite

– MULTI-, POLY-: “many”: multi-racial, polysyllabic

9. Other prefixes:

– AUTO-: “self”: autobiography

– NEO-: “new, revived”: neo-Gothic

– PAN-: “all, world-wide”: pan-African (including everything or everyone)

– PROTO-: “first, original”: prototype

– SEMI-: “half”: semicircle

– VICE-: “deputy”: vice-president

10. Conversion prefixes:

– BE-: Nouns-participal adjectives: bespectacled, bewigged

Verbs/adj./nouns-transitive verbs: bedazzle, becalm, bewitch

– EN-: Nouns-verbs: enslave

– A-: Verbs- predicative adjectives: afloat

Suffixation: Unlike prefixes, suffixes frequently alter the word-class of the base, e.g: the adjective ‘kind’ by the addition of the suffix ‘–ness’ is changed into and abstract noun: kindness.

1. Noun- Noun suffixes:

A. Occupational:

– -STER, -EER: “person engaged in an occupation or activity”: gangster, engineer

– -ER: varied meanings “inhabitants of X”: teenager, Londoner

B. Diminutive or feminine:

– -LET: “small, unimportant”: booklet, piglet

– -ETTE: “small, compact”: kitchenette, statuette or “imitation of material”: flannelette or female: “usherette.

– -ESS: “female”: waitress

– -Y, -IE: daddy, auntie

C. Status, domain:

– -HOOD: “status”: boyhood

– -SHIP: “status, condition”: friendship, dictatorship

– -DOM: “domain, condition”: kingdom, stardom

– -OCRACY: “system of government”: democracy

– – (E)RY: “behaviour”: slavery, “place of activity or abode”: refinery, nunnery, “collectivity”: machinery

D. Other:

– -ING: “the substance of which N is composed”: panelling

– -FUL: “the amount which N contains ”: mouthful, spoonful

2. Noun/adjective- Noun/adjective suffixes:

– -ITE: “member of community, faction, type”: Israelite, socialite

– -(I)AN: “pertaining to”: Indonesian, republican

– -ESE: “nationality”: Chinese

– -IST: “member of a party, occupation”: socialist, violinist

– – ISM: “attitude, political movement”: idealism, communism

3. Verb- Noun affixes:

– -ER, -OR: “agentive and instrumental”: driver, actor

– -ANT: “agentive and instrumental”: inhabitant, disinfectant

– -EE: “passive”: employee, payee, trainee

– -ATION: “state, action”: exploration, “institution”: organization

– – MENT: “state, action”: amazement

– -AL: “action”: refusal, dismissal

– -ING: “activity”: driving, “result of activity”: building

– -AGE: “activity, result of activity”: drainage

4. Adjective- Noun suffixes:

– -NESS: “state, quality”: happiness

– -ITY: “state, quality”: sanity

5. Verb suffixes:

– -IFY: “causative meaning”: simplify

– -IZE or –ISE (Br.E.): “causative”: popularize

– -EN: “causative” deafen, “becomes X” sadden

6. Noun- Adjective suffixes:

– -FUL: “having, giving”: useful, helpful

– -LESS: “without”: childless

– -LY: “having the qualities of”: cowardly

– -LIKE: “having the qualities of”: childlike

– -Y: “like”: creamy, “covered with”: hairy

– -ISH: “belonging to”: Turkish, “having the character of”: foolish

– -IAN: “in the tradition of”: Darwinian

7. Some adjective suffixes common in borrowed and neoclassical words:

– -AL (also -IAL,- ICAL): criminal, musical

– -IC: heroic

– -IVE (also -ATIVE,- ITIVE): attractive, sensitive

– -OUS (also -EOUS,- IOUS): virtuous, courteous, vivacious

8. Other adjective suffixes:

– -ABLE, -IBLE: “able, worthy to be V-ed”: readable, forcible

– -ISH: “somewhat”: youngish

– -ED: “having”: balconied

9. Adverb suffixes:

– -LY: “in a … manner”: happily

– -WARD(S): “manner, direction”: backwards

– -WISE: “in the manner of….”: crabwise, “ as far as … is concerned”: weather-wise

Conversion: It is the use of one form which is generally known as belonging to one particular form class as a member of another different class.

1. Verb- Noun:

– “state” (from stative verbs to nouns): doubt, love

– “event, activity” (from dynamic verbs): laugh, walk

– “object of V”: answer, catch

– “subject of V”: bore, cheat

– “instrument of V”: cover, wrap

– “Manner of V-ing”: throw, walk

– “Place of V-ing”: retreat, turn

2. Adjective- Noun: daily (daily newspaper), comic (comic actor), (young) marrieds ( young married people)

3. Noun- Verb:

– “to put in/on N”: bottle, corner

– “to give N, to provide with N”: coat, mask

– “to deprive of N”: peel, skin

– “ to ….with N as instrument”: brake, knife

– “ to be/act as N with respect to…”: nurse, referee

– “ to make/change…into N”: cash, cripple

– “ to send or go by N”: mail, ship, bicycle, motor

4. Adjective- Verb:

– “to make (more) adj.” with transitive verbs: calm, dirty

– “to become adj.” with intransitive verbs: dry, empty

5. Minor categories of conversion:

a) Conversion from closed-system words to nouns:

– This book is a must for the students of aerodynamics

b) Conversion from phrases to nouns:

– Whenever I gamble, my horse is one of the also-rans.

c) Conversion from phrases to adjectives:

– I feel very under-the-weather

d) Conversion from affixes to nouns:

– Patriotism, and any other isms you´ d like to name

Approximate Conversion:

In some cases, conversion is approximate rather than complete. The word may undergo a slight change of pronunciation or spelling.

1. Voicing of final consonant: (noun-verb): advice/s/-advise/s/, thief /f/-thieve /v/, house/s/-house/z/.

2. Shift of stress: When verbs of 2 syllables are converted into nouns, the stress is sometimes shifted from the 2nd to the 1st syllable: conduct, contrast, export, import, permit, produce, record, refuse.

Compounds: This term applies to the process by means of which at least two words (which are usually free bases) are put together to form a new word. It is one of the most productive processes in English word-formation. When the semantic implications of the whole of the compound is included in the semantic implication of the right-hand element, the compound is endocentric. Those ones which lack this type of semantic relationship are called exocentric.

1. Noun Compounds:

E. Subject and verb compounds:

Noun + deverbal noun: sunrise (the sun rises)

Verb+ noun: rattlesnake (the snake rattles)

Verbal noun + noun: dancing girl (the girl dances)

F. Verb and object compounds:

Noun + Verbal noun: sightseeing (X sees sights)

Noun+ agentive or instrumental noun: taxpayer (X pays taxes)

Noun + deverbal noun: bloodtest (X tests blood)

Verb+ noun: call-girl (X calls the girl)

Verbal noun + noun: chewing gum (X chews gum)

G. Verb and adverbial compounds:

Verbal noun + noun: swimming pool (X swims in the pool)

Noun + verbal noun: daydreaming (X dreams during the day)

Noun + agentive noun: baby-sitter (X sits with the baby)

Noun + deverbal noun: homework (X works at home)

Noun + noun: searchlight (X searches with a light)

H. Verbless compounds:

Noun + noun: windmill (the wind (powers) the mill)

Noun + noun: toy factory (the factory (produces) toys)

Noun + noun: bloodstain (the blood (produces) stains)

Noun + noun: door knob (the door (has) a knob)

Noun + noun: girlfriend (the friend (is) a girl)

Adjective + noun: darkroom (the room (is) dark)

Noun + noun: frogman (the man (is) like a frog)

Noun + noun: snowflake (the flake (consists) of snow)

Noun + noun: ashtray (the tray (is) for ash)

2. Adjective Compounds:

A. Verb and object compounds:

Noun + ing participle: man-eating (X eats men)

B. Verb and adverbial compounds:

Noun + ing participle: ocean-going (X goes across oceans)

Noun + ed participle: heartfelt (X feels it in the heart)

Adjective/adverb + ing participle: hard-working (X works hard)

Adjective/adverb + ed participle: quick-frozen (X is frozen quickly)

C. Verbless compounds:

Noun + adjective: class-conscious (X is conscious with respect to class)

Noun + adjective: grass-green (X is like green grass)

Adjective + adjective: British- American (the British and the American jointly)

3. Verb Compounds:

Noun + verb: sightsee (X sees sights)

Noun + verb: spring-clean (X cleans in the spring)

English counts with several minor devices that are able to form new words on the basis of old. These devices are not inherited from any other language, but provided by the English language itself.

(a) Back-formations:

It is the reverse process of derivation. When we attach a derivational morpheme to a base morpheme what we obtain is a more complex lexical item from a simple one. In back-formations, the simpler element is the resulting form which departs from a more complex one: sightsee (s.o. sees sights), lip-read, baby-sit, sleep-walk (s.o. walks asleep, caretake, house-hunt, house-keep (s.o. keeps the house).

(b) Clipping or Shortening:

This term is applied to the shortening of a word, while still keeping the semantic content and still being a member of the same form class. It involves removing one or more syllables (often the unstressed ones) from a word. It is particularly frequent in informal speech and especially in the speech of children and young people.

a) Syllables may be removed from the beginning of the word: Telephone/phone, omnibus/ bus, aeroplane/ plane

b) Syllables may be removed from the end of the word: advertisement/ ad(vert), photograph/ photo, examination/ exam, publican house/ pub, zoological gardens/zoo, bicycle/bike.

It is very common in Christian names: William/ Will, Bill, Benjamin/Ben, Philip/Phil, some of them have a pet ending in –y or -ie: Victoria/ Vicky. Emilia/Emmy, in place names: The Trocadero/ The Troc, The Pavillion/ The Pav, The Victoria theatre/ The Vic and in medical words: doctor/ doc, veterinarian surgeon/ vet, laboratory/ lab.

c) Syllables may be removed from both ends of the word: influenza/ flu, refrigerator/ fridge, Elizabeth/Liz.

(c) Blends or portmanteau words:

It is the fusion or combination of the parts of two words, usually the beginning of a word and the end of another.

a) Formed by the first part of one word and the last part of the other:

– Smog = smoke + fog

– Brunch = breakfast + lunch

– Motel = motorist + hotel

– Breathalyser = breath + analyser

– Electrocute = electric +execute

– Eurovision = European + television

– Swatch = Swiss + watch

– Chunnel = Channel + tunnel

b) Formed by the beginning of the 2 words:

– Moped: motorized + pedal assisted bicycle

– Interpol = International + police

(d) Reduplicative compounding or alliterative words:

There are compounds in which 2 or more elements are either identical or only slightly different. They are rather informal or familiar.

1. The most common use is found in onomatopoeic words: tick-tock (of clock), ding-dong (door bell), hee-haw (donkey)

2. They can also suggest alternating movements: flip-flops, zig-zag, see-saw.

3. Instability and vacillation: shilly-shally, dilly-dally, helter-skelter

4. To intensify: tip-top

(e) Acronyms:

They are words formed from the initial letters or sounds of a series of words. New acronyms are freely produced, particularly of organizations

a) Acronyms pronounced as sequence of letters:

1. The letters represent full words:

– Y.M.C.A. Young Men´ s Christian Association

– W.C. Water Closet

– B.B.C. British Broadcasting Corporation

– V.I.P. Very Important Person

– U.S.A. United States of America

– M.P. Member of Parliament

– D.I.Y. Do it yourself

2. The letters represent elements in a compound or just parts of a word:

– TV television

– GHQ General Headquarters

b) Acronyms pronounced as words:

– N.A.T.O. North Atlantic Treaty Organization

– U.N.E.S.C.O United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization

– U.N.O. United Nations Organization

– O.P.E.C. Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries

– V.A.T. Value Added Tax

– A.I.D.S. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome

– N.A.S.A. National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Acronyms, however, seem to be in contact with some other word-formation processes:

JANET (Joint Academy Network) acronymy + clipping

UNPROFOR (United Nations Protection Forces) acronymy + blending

(f) Coinage and word manufacture: (Bauer) Creation of words out of the blue.


It is the introduction into a language of specific words, constructions, or morphological elements of another language. A loan word is a word imported by borrowing.

1. The French element:

The English extensive borrowing of words from French started even before the Norman Conquest. There was already a French atmosphere in the English court. From this period are the following words: purse, castle, turn mantle, clerk and false.

In the 12th century and as a result of the Norman conquest of England, French became the language of the law-courts and of the church and schools and English was relegated to the inferior classes. Words that illustrate this are: justice, war, peace, prison, court, crown/ sacrament, saint, grace, mercy, charity, faith.

After the conquest, the dominance of French has permanently affected the English language, especially when we talk about words related to cookery (dessert, ragout), dress(cravat), soldiering (attack, sentinel, campaign, corps, platoon) and also to the literary world (critique, memoir, profile).

Some illustrations of this constant influence in the last centuries are: 18th century: detour, morale, 19th century: prestige, mirage, massage and in the 20th century: garage, camouflage.

We also find 300 Teutonic words which entered English through French: blank, blue, butcher, button, choice, coat, dance, fee and words of Celtic French origin: attach, baggage, bar, branch, brave, car, career, carpenter, carry.

The different evolution from Latin to French contributed to the existence of English variants or doublets such as: warrant/guarantee, warden/guardian, abbreviate/abridge, balsam/balm, debit/debt/due, pauper/poor, predicate/preach, supervise/survey.

It is also remarkable the difference of meaning between borrowed French words in English and the French original words.

English French

Advice avis (opinion)

Annoy ennuyer (to bore)

Assist assister (be present)

Defend defender (to forbid)

Journey journée (day)

Mercy merci (thanks)

Rest rester (to remain)

Apart from French the 2 modern languages to which English is most indebted are Italian and Spanish (also Romance languages).

2. Italy: spereading the ideas of the renaissence was particularly influential in the 16th century and especially with words related to music and art in general: attitude, cicerone, fiasco, influenza, isolate, motto, stanza, umbrella, aria, oboe, opera, piano, prima donna, fresco, colonnade, corridor, replica, studio. However, the number of words taken from Italian through French is even bigger: alarm, alert, apartment, artisan, caprice, caress, carnival, contrast.

3. Spanish borrowings began at the same period (16th c.): armada, Negro, peccadillo, punctilo, renegade, anchovy, armadillo, caste, cigar, guerrilla, embargo, mosquito, sherry, vanilla.

4. It is even more important the stream of words that Spain introduced from America to Europe (English included): cacao, chocolate, banana, potato, barbecue, maize, cannibal, canoe, hurricane, hammock, alligator, sombrero, canyon, ranch, bonanza.

5. From the North American Indians we get: moccasin, raccoon, squaw, toboggan, tomohawk.

6. From Portuguese: binnacle, cobra, madeira, port (wine), pimento, tank.

7. From the various languages of the Balto-slavic group (to Which Russia belongs) English has received: mazurka, mammoth, polka, slave, knout.

8. From Hungarian: coach, vampire.

9. From Russia´ s immediate past: vodka, czar, soviet, intelligentsia.

10. Hebrew words: religion: alleluia, amen, cherub, jubilee, manna, Satan, oriental life: camel, cider, ebony, elephant, cinnamon, sapphire, sodomy.

11. Arabic words came mainly through Spanish and Greek: emir, fakir, harem, sofa, alcohol, algebra, artichoke, zero, magazine, cotton, giraffe, assassin, sugar, mattress and through Persian: divan, magic, caravan, tiger, scarlet, rice, lemon, spinach, chess.

12. From India: pepper, china(ware), orange, candy, curry, sandal, jungle, bangle, bungalow, shampoo.

A remarkable fact is the small number of words derived from China and Japan:

13. China: tea, mandarin, chop (in chopstick)

14. Japan: samurai, kimono, soy (bean), rickshaw.

15. From Other Asiatic countries: junk, bamboo, taboo, tattoo

16. From Other African countries: canary, chimpanzee, gorilla, zebra, tango

17. From Australia: boomerang, kangaroo

18. From Eskimo languages comes the word igloo

As a conclusion, we must say that there is an English disposition to absorb the products of other nations rather than to create them, especially if we compare the English language with German and French which show an organized opposition to the use of foreign words. Otto Jespersen calls the English attitude: a case of linguistic laziness.