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English Language & Linguistics

English Language



Word Structure and Meaning

The way in which a word is constructed, the elements of which it is made, is an important building block in our understanding of our language. Although it is often easy to refer to vocabulary, which is a word and its meaning, it is also important to consider the construction of a word, its morphemes, affixes and inflexions.


The green sports car is an example of a deconstructed sentence.
The word "disappeared" from that sentence is deconstructed here.


Lexis is linguistics terminology for words - their choice and appropriateness in a text.

Comment on the choice of lexis in the following extracts from speeches by George W Bush:

“No you’re not going to see me stay put... I am not going to forsake my responsibilities. You may not see me put as much- I mean, un-put as much” —11/8/91bush with silly face

“They misunderestimated me.” — Nov. 2000

“We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile.’’

“It was just inebriating what Midland was all about then.” — reflecting in 1994 about growing up in Midland, Texas

“Well, I think if you say you’re going to do something and don’t do it, that’s trustworthiness.” — in a CNN online chat, Aug. 2000

“Ann and I will carry out this equivocal message to the world: Markets must be open.” — at the swearing-in ceremony for Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman, March 2, 2001


New Words are known as neologisms. Read some examples here.

Read about language change here.

Read about words which are difficult to translate here.

Read about words in other languages which have no equivalent in English - such as words for "expressing disappointment when things turn out better than expected" or "a person who has a creative idea which only makes things worse" or "to exchange wives for a few days only". Read a Times article about these words here and visit The Meaning of Tingo website.

Browse the 86,000 most frequently used English words in the beautifully designed Wordcount website.

Access the British National Corpus - a 100 million word collection of samples of written and spoken language from a wide range of sources, designed to represent a wide cross-section of current British English, both spoken and written.

Neologisms are not too hard to create: just join two or more word parts together to create an entirely new word. If it has a useful or surprising meaning it might even catch on!

Here are a few a created in the last few minutes:

volvocracy - government by people who drive Volvos
pestiary - directory of unpleasant people and animals (cf bestiary)
abombination - terrorist explosion
dripod - waterproof cover for mp3 player
trypod - competition to win an iPod
skypod - wireless enabled iPod
commissionary - obsessive salesman
red pencilitis - students fear of having their work marked


How to create new words

The Macmillan English Dictionary features Words of the Year and gives examples of typical ways to create new words:

Prefixing: deshopping, "to buy something intending to use it once, then return it for a refund"

Suffixing: Whovian, "a fan of the British sci-fi series Doctor Who"

Changing the part of speech - eg making a noun or an adjective into a verb: supersize "to provide an outsize version"

Compounding: gripesite "a web-site that makes consumers aware of deficient goods or services"

Borrowing from another language: wiki "a website where users can collectively add or modify text" [from Hawaiian for "quick"]

Acronyms: ICE "In Case of Emergency contact number stored in the address book of a mobile pohone"

Truncation: fanfic "new stories featuring characters and settings from a movie, book or TV show, written by fans, not the original author"

Portamanteau (combining the start of one word with the end of another): spim [spam + im] "unwanted adverts sent via instytant messaging"

Metaphor: zombie "a PC infected by a virus that makes it send out spam without the user's knowledge"

Metonym: 9/11, 7/7 "terrorist bombing"

Onomatopoeia and sound symbolism: sneezle words that sound like or remind one of the thing they describe"

English has many words that have been lost from daily vocabulary, though they live on in dictionaries and sometimes deserve to be revived.

The Wonder of Whiffling by Adam Jacot de Boinod (author of The Meaning of Tingo) is a tour of English around the globe to discover words you’ve always wished existed but never knew, such as fornale, to spend one’s money before it has been earned; cagg, a solemn vow or resolution not to get drunk for a certain time; and petrichor, the pleasant smell that accompanies the first rain after a dry spell.




Sentence Structure

Lexical Freenet

Wordcount website

British National Corpus