Language in use  
English Language & Linguistics

English Language



Vocabulary and Linguistic Terms

Certain concepts are fundamental to the study of language and specialist linguistic terms can act both as short-hand and as a means of precisely expressing ideas. While they should not be used for their own sake, correct use of appropriate terminology in essays and in discussions can clarify complex debates.

accent - pronunciation features which signal a regional form of speech
active - 1. active vocabulary is vocabulary actually used, while passive vocabulary is vocabulary understood.
2. The active and passive voice are syntactic forms describing the relationship between subject and object. The dog bit the man is active; the man was bitten by the dog is passive.
adjective - a word which describes or qualifies a noun. In the phrase "black horses" black is the adjective
adverb - a word which describes or qualifies a verb. In the sentence "black horses run quickly" quickly is an adverb
affix - part of a word added to the beginning or end of another word to make a more complex word. In the word "unhappiness" un-is a prefix, -ness is a suffix and both of these are affixes.
alliteration - repetition of consonants eg "big bouncing boy" used in advertising for increased impact, making a phrase memorable
alphabet - a set of symbols called letters in a generally phonetic writing system. The number of letters is usually 20-30 (English has 26) but can be as few as 11 (Rotokas) and as many as 74 (Khmer).
archaism - an old word or phrase no longer in common use.
association - additional meanings of a word - pub is associated with beer and/or gin and/or darts
assonance - repetition of vowel sounds for effect
auxiliary verb - verb used alongside a main verb eg I drink / I am drinking, where "am" is the auxiliary and "drink" is the main verb.
clause - a unit of syntax larger than a word and smaller than a sentence
comparative - a form of expression in which items are compared, eg "this is bigger than that" where "bigger" is the comparative form of "big". "-er" is a comparative suffix.
conjunction - a word which connects words or constructions eg "man and woman", where "and" is a conjunction
connotation - a personal additional meaning which we bring to a word or phrase.
descriptive - a systematic analysis of language in use based on what is actually used rather than what "should" be used. See prescriptive.
determiner - a word which accompanies a noun, expressing number or quantity eg a, an, some, the.
dialect - a language variety whose syntax and vocabulary identify the location of its speakers.
discourse - continuous speech, especially with more than one speaker.
domain - the social area from which language comes eg newspaper language, the language of the church.
figurative - an expressive and non-literal use of language.
genderlect - that variety of language characterised by being spoken by either a male or a female. The differences between male and female speech or writing.
head word - the main element of a phrase
ideograph - a symbol which represents a concept.
idiolect - an individual's unique speech variety
Indo-European - an early source language from which originated most modern European languages
infinitive - basic or non-finite form of a verb
inflection/inflexion - a suffix which marks a case or tense eg the final "s" in "horses" or the "-ly" in quickly. Inflected languages have complex endings describing position, possession, relationship etc
intensifier - a word which adds force or emphasis, typically to an adjective eg very big, extremely dangerous.
- describing a verb which does not take a direct object (eg "she's going")
IPA - International Phonetic Alphabet, the standard phonetic script.
Kurgans - nomadic civilisation centred around the river Volga, the most likely original speakers of Indo-European
letter - symbol used in an alphabet
metalanguage - a language used for describing and talking about language
metaphor - a figurative device describing something as not literally true eg "he had haystack hair"
metonomy - a literary device where a part is used to describe a whole eg "a sail" meaning a ship.
modal - a verb which shows a speaker's attitude or mood eg we may go, we can swim
mode - the medium of communication eg speech, writing, television
a change in the form of a word, particularly premodifier (usually an adjective or adjectival phrase which precedes a noun: "three quite small children ...") and post-modifier (an adjective or adjectival phrase which follows a noun: "... with flowing red hair"
morpheme - the smallest contrastive unit of grammar eg man, de-, -tion, -s.
non-fluency features - speech features such as hesitation, stuttering, fillers which show speech is spontaneous
noun - a word class which describes a thing or a name of a thing.
onomatopoeia - words which sound like the things they describe eg bang, smash, plop
orthography - traditional spelling, the study of letters in spelling
paradox -
an appparent contradiction which contains a truth. Sometimes used for effect in rhetoric.
passive - The active and passive voice are syntactic forms describing the relationship between subject and object. "The dog bit the man" is active; "the man was bitten by the dog" is passive.
passive voice is also used to disguise the "actor", for example "bottles were thrown" rather than "youths threw bottles."
phoneme - the smallest unit in the sound system of a language
phrase - a grammatical unit smaller than a clause
pictograph - a picture used as a symbol in writing
pragmatics -
the study of the factors that decide our choice of language in social interaction and the social rules that affect that choice
prefix - part of a word added to the beginning of another word to make a more complex word. In the word "unhappiness" un-is a prefix, -ness is a suffix and both of these are affixes.
pre-modifier - a word which precedes and describes a noun
preposition - a word which describes the position of another word, especially a noun eg on the table, round the bend. typically prepositions are used where inflections would be used in inflected languages
prescriptive - an analysis of language based on rules of what ought to be uttered. These rules are often based on Latin grammars. Prescription seeks to uphold certain standards of speech and writing and is at odds with the descriptive study of language.
pronoun -
a word which stands in place of a noun eg he, me, its
Proto-Indo-European - a hypothetical ancestor to the Indo-European language.
psycholinguistics -
the study of the relationship between language and the psychological processes such as memory and attention

qualifier -
a word which describes another eg black horse. Similar to pre-modifier and adjective.
received pronunciation - the prestige accent of UK English which has a social but no regional base
register - a socially defined variety of English eg teachers' or doctors' language
rhetoric - the language variety of public or persuasive speaking and writing.
rhyme - matching syllables, especially at the end of lines of poetry
Sanskrit - ancient religious Indian language, Indo-European in origin
self-monitoring - the process of checking one's own speech and revising it in the light of what one has heard.
semantics - the study of linguistic meaning
sentence - independent grammatical structure larger than a clause
- a short decorative line at the beginning or end of the stroke of a letter. This has serifs - this is sans serif (without serifs)
sign - "in symbols there is always a likeness but in signs there need be no likeness."In other words a sign is arbitrary - a symbol is not.
sociolinguistics - the study of the relationship between language and society
Standard English - the generally accepted formal grammar of English. Not to be confused with Received Pronunciation (RP), which is an elite form of accent.
suffix - part of a word added to the end of another word to make a more complex word. In the word "unhappiness" un-is a prefix, -ness is a suffix and both of these are affixes.
stylistics - the study of systematic variation in lnguage use characteristic of individuals or groups
- a contrasting adjective. Eg the adjective big, the comparative adjective bigger, the superlative biggest.
syntax, (adj syntactic) -
the methodical system of sentence structure and word combinations in relation to each other
tenor - formality
transitive - a verb which takes a direct object
typography - the study of printed letter forms
verb - a word class which expresses an action or event eg to run, walk, dream
virtuous error - syntactic errors made by young children in which the non-standard utterance reveals some understanding, though incomplete, of standard syntax eg I runned demonstrates an understanding of regular past tense of verbs but an incomplete understanding of irregular varieties
weasel word - this is a word which seems to say one thing but is sufficiently vague as to offer no proof. For example, "Virtually" or "probably" as in "probably the best lager in the world" uses the weasel word to avoid having to prove or disprove its claim. Other examples include "almost", "nearly", but also phrases such as "farm fresh"
word - the smallest unit of grammar which can stand alone.