Modes of Modern English Vocabulary Development

Modes of Modern English Vocabulary Development

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Creation refers to the formation of new words by using the existing materials, namely roots, affixes and other elements. In modern times, this is the most important way of vocabulary expansion. There is a variety of means to produce words. The most productive are affixation, composition and conversion. Let's focus on one of them: composition.

According to the research, words produced through composition constitute 28% to 30% of all the new words. It is also called compounding which is a way to join two words to make a new special meaning. The result is called "compound." When a word which is needed does not exist, all one has to do is choose a free words and hyphenate them. That's how a compound is created. This is the common practice of journalists. This is probably accounts for the high productivity of compounds.

Noun compounds occur in several fields. There are new words relating to science and technology like biological clock, lunar module; Changes in politics and economy supply such words as hot line, Watergate and siege economics; Identity crisis, encounter group and fast food are the reflection of social life.

Referring to the Adjective compounds, three patterns play an important role in the formation of new words: ⑴、n.+ v.-ing: law-abiding; ⑵、n. + a.: bitter-sweet; ⑶、n. + v.-ed: hard-won.

Verb compounds are not as common as the other two classes. The limited number of verbs are created either through conversion or backformation. Words like blue-print, cold-shoulder are directly converted from their noun compounds, while back-formed verb compounds are formed mainly by dropping the suffixes:-er, -ion, etc.. For example, mass-produce is from mass production, and ghost-write is from ghost-writer.

What we talked about so far is restricted to two-stem compounds. There are many compounds which contain more than two stems. In mass media we may often come across expressions like a middle-of-the-road politician, ahead-of-schedule general election.

 semantic change

Broadly speaking, semantic change refers to the alteration of the meaning of existing words, as well as the addition of new meaning to established words. Many people consider that Shakespeare's plays are particularly difficult to understand. Because many words used in his time had different senses from what they have now in contemporary dictionaries. Take Hamlet for example. "fond" designates "foolish" as in "I'll wipe away all trivial fond records." Examples like these are numerous.

Extension has played an important part in semantic change. Extension of meaning, also known as generalization, is a process in which a word achieves a more general meaning.

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A good example is the word thing. Thing used to mean " a political or judicial assembly" in Anglo-Saxon times, but now it is generalized to such an extent that they can refer to any object or event, and almost become a word of all work.

Narrowing of meaning is another important factor in semantic change. It is also called specialization which is the opposite of widening meaning. It is a process in which a word of wider meaning achieves a more restricted sense. Deer is a typical example. Now deer refers to a particular kind of animal, but in Shakespeare's word "rats and mice and such small deer", deer obviously means "animal" in general. Likewise, wife is a particular kind of women. However, we can note a more general meaning in midwife、and housewife.

Of course, there are other modes of semantic change such as elevation, degradation and transfer. But extension and specialization are by far the most common.

 Borrowing

Borrowing is a way of adding new vocabulary items to a language. Speakers of a language often have contact with speakers of other language. If a speaker of one of these languages does not have a readily available word for something in the world and a speaker of the other language does, the first speaker often borrows the word from the second speaker.

Borrowing has played a vital role in the development of vocabulary, particularly in earlier times. During the early period of Modern English, Europe experienced a new upsurge of learning ancient Greek and Roman classics. This is known in history as the Renaissance. When translators and scholars were making these great literary works available in English, they borrowed heavily from the Latin vocabulary and enormous numbers of Latin words became part of English language. From the 1500's through the 1700's, it is estimated that over ten thousand new words entered the English language. And a large part of them are still in use today. Therefore, those words borrowing from Latin contributed to the decidedly Latinate flavour of Modern English.

Though still at work now, borrowing can hardly compare with what it did in the past. But the components of borrowing show a difference. English speaker have borrowed words from several contact countries. The kind of contact British have with other countries can be judged from the particular items that are borrowed. For example, English has borrowed numerous words from French having to do with clothing, cosmetics, and luxury goods, like perfume, rouge, and deluxe. From German have come words associated with food like hamburger and delicatessen.

Today borrowings are also assimilated to different degrees. Sometimes a borrowing is pronounced in a foreign way for a while, but it is usually soon treated according to sound system of English if it occurs frequently. Words such as garage, salon are not pronounced according to the phonological rules of the source language.

Finally, we should pay attention to an opposite process of development. For example, old words have been out of use. Let's take the epic Beowulf for examples. There were more than 37 words used to express prince. Now most of them are no longer in use. This is because we do not have the same need for the words as our forefathers did in their time.

We probably all agree whenever new words are created or borrowed, or meaning of words are changed, it is in response to some need of man. As time passes, changes keep taking in society and our daily life, and new concepts、ideas and new things emerge continuously. Man has come to know more and more about the world around. All this is reflected in language and then promote the vocabulary development. Therefore, we can conclude that vocabulary development has never ceased since language came into being and will continue in the future.
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