Free word groups. Phraseological units (42863)

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Free word groups and phraseological units


A word-group is the largest two-facet lexical unit comprising more than one word but expressing one global concept.

The lexical meaning of the word groups is the combined lexical meaning of the component words. The meaning of the word groups is motivated by the meanings of the component members and is supported by the structural pattern. But it’s not a mere sum total of all these meanings! Polysemantic words are used in word groups only in 1 of their meanings. These meanings of the component words in such word groups are mutually interdependent and inseparable (blind man – «a human being unable to see», blind type – «the copy isn’t readable).

Word groups possess not only the lexical meaning, but also the meaning conveyed mainly by the pattern of arrangement of their constituents. The structural pattern of word groups is the carrier of a certain semantic component not necessarily dependent on the actual lexical meaning of its members (school grammar – «grammar which is taught in school», grammar school – «a type of school»). We have to distinguish between the structural meaning of a given type of word groups as such and the lexical meaning of its constituents.

It is often argued that the meaning of word groups is also dependent on some extra-linguistic factors – on the situation in which word groups are habitually used by native speakers.

Words put together to form lexical units make phrases or word-groups. One must recall that lexicology deals with words, word-forming morphemes and word-groups.

The degree of structural and semantic cohesion of word-groups may vary. Some word-groups, e.g. at least, point of view, by means, to take place, etc. seem to be functionally and semantically inseparable. They are usually described as set phrases, word-equivalents or phraseological units and are studied by the branch of lexicology which is known as phraseology. In other word-groups such as to take lessons, kind to people, a week ago, the component-members seem to possess greater semantic and structural independence. Word-groups of this type are defined as free word-groups or phrases and are studied in syntax.

Before discussing phraseology it is necessary to outline the features common to various word-groups irrespective of the degree of structural and semantic cohesion of the component-words.

There are two factors which are important in uniting words into word-groups:

– the lexical valency of words;

– the grammatical valency of words.


Lexical valency


Words are used in certain lexical contexts, i.e. in combinations with other words. E.g. the noun question is often combined with such adjectives as vital, pressing, urgent, delicate, etc.

The aptness of a word to appear in various combinations is described as its lexical valency. The range of the lexical valency of words is delimited by the inner structure of the English words. Thus, to raise and to lift are synonyms, but only the former is collocated with the noun question. The verbs to take, to catch, to seize, to grasp are synonyms, but they are found in different collocations:

to take – exams, measures, precautions, etc.;

to grasp – the truth, the meaning.

Words habitually collocated in speech tend to form a cliche.

The lexical valency of correlated words in different languages is not identical, because as it was said before, it depends on the inner structure of the vocabulary of the language. Both the English flower and the Russian цветок may be combined with a number of similar words, e.g. garden flowers, hot house flowers (cf. the Russian – садовые цветы, оранжерейные цветы), but in English flower cannot be combined with the word room, while in Russian we say комнатные цветы (in English we say pot-flowers).

Words are also used in grammatical contexts. The minimal grammatical context in which the words are used to form word-groups is usually described as the pattern of the word-group. E.g., the adjective heavy can be followed by a noun (A+N) – heavy food, heavy storm, heavy box, heavy eater. But we cannot say «heavy cheese» or «heavy to lift, to carry», etc.

The aptness of a word to appear in specific grammatical (or rather syntactical) structures is termed grammatical valency.

The grammatical valency of words may be different. The grammatical valency is delimited by the part of speech the word belongs to. E.g., no English adjective can be followed by the finite form of a verb.

Then, the grammatical valency is also delimited by the inner structure of the language. E.g., to suggest, to propose are synonyms. Both can be followed by a noun, but only to propose can be followed by the infinitive of a verb – to propose to do something.

Clever and intelligent have the same grammatical valency, but only clever can be used in word-groups having the pattern A+prep+N – clever at maths.

Structurally word-groups can be considered in different ways. Word-groups may be described as for the order and arrangement of the component-members. E.g., the word-group to read a book can be classified as a verbal-nominal group, to look at smb. – as a verbal-prepositional-nominal group, etc.

By the criterion of distribution all word-groups may be divided into two big classes: according to their head-words and according to their syntactical patterns.

Word-groups may be classified according to their head-words into:

nominal groups – red flower;

adjective groups – kind to people;

verbal groups – to speak well.

The head is not necessarily the component that occurs first.

Word-groups are classified according to their syntactical pattern into predicative and non-predicative groups. Such word-groups as he went, Bob walks that have a syntactic structure similar to that of a sentence are termed as predicative, all others are non-predicative ones.

Non-predicative word-groups are divided into subordinative and coordinative depending on the type of syntactic relations between the components. E.g., a red flower, a man of freedom are subordinative non-predicative word-groups, red and freedom being dependent words, while day and night, do and die are coordinative non-predicative word-groups.

The lexical meaning of a word-group may be defined as the combined lexical meaning of the component members. But it should be pointed out, however, that the term «combined lexical meaning» does not imply that the meaning of the word-group is always a simple additive result of all the lexical meanings of the component words. As a rule, the meanings of the component words are mutually dependent and the meaning of the word-group naturally predominates over the lexical meaning of the components. The interdependence is well seen in word-groups made up of polysemantic words. E.g., in the phrases the blind man, the blind type the word blind has different meanings – unable to see and vague.

So we see that polysemantic words are used in word-groups only in one of their meanings.

The term motivation is used to denote the relationship existing between the phonemic or morphemic composition and structural pattern of the word on the one hand and its meaning on the other.

There are three main types of motivation:

1) phonetical

2) morphological

3) semantic

1. Phonetical motivation is used when there is a certain similarity between the sounds that make up the word. For example: buzz, cuckoo, gigle. The sounds of a word are imitative of sounds in nature, or smth that produces a characteristic sound. This type of motivation is determined by the phonological system of each language.

2. Morphological motivation – the relationship between morphemic structure and meaning. The main criterion in morphological motivation is the relationship between morphemes. One-morphemed words are non-motivated. Ex – means «former» when we talk about humans ex-wife, ex-president. Re – means «again»: rebuild, rewrite. In borowed words motivation is faded: «expect, export, recover (get better)». Morphological motivation is especially obvious in newly coined words, or in the words created in this century. In older words motivation is established etymologically.

The structure-pattern of the word is very important too: «finger-ring» and «ring-finger». Though combined lexical meaning is the same. The difference of meaning can be explained by the arrangement of the components.

Morphological motivation has some irregularities: «smoker» – si not «the one who smokes», it is «a railway car in which passenger may smoke».

The degree of motivation can be different:

«endless» is completely motivated

«cranberry» is partially motivated: morpheme «cran-» has no lexical meaning.

3. Semantic motivation is based on the co-existence of direct and figurative meanings of the same word within the same synchronous system. «Mouth» denotes a part of the human face and at the same time it can be applied to any opening: «the mouth of a river». «Ermine» is not only the anme of a small animal, but also a fur. In their direct meaning «mouth» and «ermine» are not motivated.

In compound words it is morphological motivation when the meaning of the whole word is based on direct meanings of its components and semantic motivation is when combination of components is used figuratively. For example «headache» is «pain in the head» (morphological) and «smth. annoying» (sematic).

When the connection between the meaning of the word and its form is conventional (there is no perceptible reason for the word having this phonemic and morphemic composition) the word is non-motivated (for the present state of language development). Words that seem non-motivated now may have lost their motivation: «earn» is derived from «earnian – to harvest», but now this word is non-motivated.


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