Special Literary Vocabulary


Иностранные языки, филология и лингвистика

A term unlike other words directs the mind to the essential quality of the thing phenomenon or action as seen by the scientist in the light of his own conceptualization. With the increase of general education and the expansion of technique to satisfy the evergrowing needs and desires of mankind many words that were once terms have gradually lost their quality as terms and have passed into the common literary or even neutral vocabulary. Such words as 'radio' 'television' and the like have long been incommon use and their terminological...



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Основы теории изучаемого языка                                                                         Стилистика английского языка

                                                                Лекция 4

                                                                                            Special literary Vocabulary

Lectures 4

Special Literary Vocabulary


Terms are the words which denote objects, processes, phenomena of science, humanities, technique.  One of the most characteristic features of a term is its direct relevance to the system or set of terms used in a particular science, discipline or art, i.e. to its nomenclature.

When a term is used our mind immediately associates it with a certain nomenclature. A term is directly connected with the concept it denotes. A term, unlike other words, directs the mind to the essential quality of the thing, phenomenon or action as seen by the scientist in the light of his own conceptualization.

Terms are mostly and predominantly used in special works dealing with the notions of some branch of science. Therefore it may be said that they belong to the style of language of science. But their use is not confined to this style. They may as well appear in other styles—in newspaper style, in publicistic and practically in all other existing styles of language. But their function in this case changes. They do not always fulfill their basic function, that of bearing exact reference to a given concept. When used in the belles-lettres style, for instance, a term may acquire a stylistic function and consequently become a (sporadical)

There is an interesting process going on in the development of any language. With the increase of general education and the expansion of technique to satisfy the ever-growing needs and desires of mankind, many words that were once terms have gradually lost their quality as terms and have passed into the common literary or even neutral vocabulary. This process may be called "determinization". Such words as 'radio', 'television' and the like have long been in-common use and their terminological character is no longer evident.

SD. This happens when a term is used in such a way that two meanings are materialized simultaneously.

The function of terms, if encountered in other styles, is either to indicate the technical peculiarities of the subject dealt with, or to make some reference to the occupation of a character whose language would naturally contain special words and expressions.

"There was a long conversation—a long wait. His father came back to say it was doubtful whether they could make the loan. Eight per cent, then being secured for money, was a small rate of interest

t, considering its need. For ten per cent Mr. Kuzel might make a call-loan. Frank went back to his employer, whose commercial choler rose at the report." (Theodore Dreiser, "The Financier")

Such terms as 'loan', 'rate of interest', and the phrase 'to secure for money' are widely known financial terms which to the majority of the English and American reading public need no explanation. The terms used here do not bear any special meaning. Moreover, if they are not understood they may to some extent be neglected. It will suffice if the reader has a general idea, vague though it may be, of the actual meaning of the terms used. The main task of the writer in this passage is not to explain the process of business negotiations, but to create the environment of a business atmosphere.

In this example the terms retain their ordinary meaning though their function in the text is not exactly terminological. It is more nearly stylistic, inasmuch as here the terms serve the purpose of characterizing the commercial spirit of the hero of the novel. However, they are not 'SDs because they fail to meet the main requirement of an SD.

The following is an example where a term is used as an SD.

"What a fool Rawdon Crawley has been," Clump replied, "to go and marry a governess. There was something about the girl too."

"Green eyes, fair skin, pretty figure, famous frontal development" Squill remarked. (W. M. Thackeray)

The combination 'frontal development' is terminological in character (used sometimes in anatomy). But being preceded by the word 'famous' used in the sense indicated by the Shorter Oxford Dictionary as "a strong expression of approval (chiefly colloquial); excellent, capital" the whole expression assumes a specific stylistic function due to the fact that 'frontal development' is used both in its terminological aspect and in its logical meaning 'the breast of a woman'.

Poetic and Highly Literary Words

The very secret of a truely poetic quality of a word does not lie in conventionality of usage. On the contrary, a poeticism through constant repetition gradually becomes hackneyed. Like anything that lacks freshness it fails to evoke a genuinely aesthetic effect and eventually call forth protest on the part of those who are sensitive to real beauty.

They are mostly archaic or very rarely used highly literary words which aim at producing an elevated effect.

Poetical tradition has kept alive such archaic words and forms as yclept (p. p. of the old verb clipian—to call, name); quoth (p. t. of owed-an — to speak); eftsoons (eftsona,— again, soon after), which are used even by modern ballad-mongers.

Archaic, Obsolescent and Obsolete Words

The word-stock of a language is in an increasing state of change. Words change their meaning and sometimes drop out of the language altogether. New words spring up and replace the old ones. Some words stay in the language a very long time and do not lose their faculty of gaining new meanings and becoming richer and richer polysemantically. Other words live but a short time and are like bubbles on the surface of water — they disappear leaving no trace of their existence.

In registering these processes the role of dictionaries can hardly be over-estimated. Dictionaries serve to retain this or that word in a language either as a relic of ancient times, where it lived and circulated, or as a still living unit of the system, though it may have lost some of its meanings. They may also preserve certain nonce-creations which were never intended for general use.

In every period in the development of a literary language one can find words which will show more or less apparent changes in their meaning or usage, from full vigour, through a moribund state, to death, i. e. complete disappearance of the unit from the language.

We shall distinguish three stages in the aging process of words:

The beginning of the aging process when the word becomes rarely used. Such words are called obsolescent, i.e. they are in the stage of gradually passing out of general use. To this category first of all belong morphological forms .belonging to the earlier stages in the development of the language. In the English language these are the pronouns thou and its forms thee, thy and thine; the corresponding verbal ending -est and the verb-forms art, wilt (thou makest, thou wilt); the ending -(e)th instead of -(e)s (he maketh) and the pronoun ye.

The second group of archaic words are those that have already gone completely out of use but are still recognized by the English-speaking community: e. g. methinks (=it seems to me); nay (=no). These words are called obsolete.

The third group, which may be called archaic proper, are words which are no longer recognizable in modern English, words that were in use in Old English and which have either dropped out of the language entirely or have changed in their appearance so much that they have become unrecognizable, e. g. troth (faith); a losel (=a worthless, lazy fellow).

 The border lines between the groups are not distinct. In fact they interpenetrate. It is specially difficult to distinguish between obsolete and obsolescent words. But the difference is important when we come to deal with the stylistic aspect of an utterance in which the given word serves a certain stylistic purpose. Obsolete and obsolescent words have separate functions.

There is still another class of words which is erroneously classed as archaic, viz. historical words. By-gone periods in the life of any society are marked by historical events, and by institutions, customs, material objects, etc. which are no longer in use, for example: Thane, yeoman, goblet, baldric, mace. Words of this type never disappear from the language. They are historical terms and remain as terms referring to definite stages in the development of society and cannot therefore be dispensed with, though the things and phenomena to which they refer have long -passed into oblivion. Historical words have no synonyms, whereas archaic words have been replaced by modern synonyms.


Archaic words are primarily and predominantly used in the creation of a realistic background to historical novels. It must be pointed out, however, that the use of historical words (terms) in a passage written in scientific style, say, in an essay on the history of the Danish invasion, will bear no stylistic function at all. But the same terms when used in historical novels assume a different stylistic value. They carry, as it ' were, a special volume of information adding to the logical aspect of the communication.

Besides the function just mentioned, archaic words and phrases have other functions found in other styles. They are, first of all, frequently to be found in the style of official documents. In business letters, in legal language, in all kinds of statutes, in diplomatic documents and in all kinds of legal documents one can find obsolescent words which would long ago have become obsolete if it were not for the preserving power of the special use within the above-mentioned spheres of communication. It is the same with archaic and obsolete words in poetry. As has already been pointed out, they are employed in the poetic style as special terms and hence prevented from dropping completely out of the language.

Among the obsolescent elements of the English vocabulary preserved within the style of official documents, the following may be mentioned: -aforesaid, hereby, therewith, hereinafter named.

The function of archaic words and constructions in official documents is terminological in character. They are used here because they help to maintain that exactness of expression so necessary in this style.

Archaic words and particularly archaic forms of words are sometimes used for satirical purposes. This is achieved through what is called Anticlimax (see p. 221). The situation in which the archaism is used is not appropriate to the context. There appears a sort of discrepancy between the words actually used and the ordinary situation which excludes the possibility of such a usage. The low predictability of an archaism when it appears in ordinary speech produces the necessary satirical effect.

Here is an example of such a use of an archaic form. In Shaw's play "How He Lied to Her Husband" a youth of eighteen, speaking of his feelings towards a "female of thirty-seven" expresses himself in a language which is not in conformity with the situation. His words are:

"Perfect love casteth off Tear."

d) Barbarisms and Foreignisms

In the vocabulary of the English language there is a considerable layer of words called barbarisms. These are words of foreign origin which have not entirely been assimilated into the English language.

Most of them have corresponding English synonyms; e. g. chic (=stylish); bon mot (=a clever witty saying); en passant (— in passing); Ы infinitum (= to infinity) and many other words and phrases.

It is very important for purely stylistic purposes to distinguish between barbarisms and foreign words proper. Barbarisms are words which have already become facts of the English language. They are, as it were, part and parcel of the English word-stock, though they remain on the outskirts of the literary vocabulary. Foreign words, though used for certain stylistic purposes, do not belong to the English vocabulary. They are not registered by English dictionaries, except in a kind of addenda which gives the meanings of the foreign words most frequently used in literary English. Barbarisms are generally given in the body of the dictionary.

In printed works foreign words and phrases are generally italicized to indicate their alien nature or their stylistic value. Barbarisms, on the contrary, are not made conspicuous in the text unless they bear a special bad of stylistic information.

There are foreign words in the English vocabulary which fulfil a terminological function. Therefore, though they still retain their foreign appearance, they should not be regarded as barbarisms. Such words as ukase, udarnik, soviet, kolkhoz and the like denote certain concepts which reflect an objective reality not familiar to English-speaking communities. There are no names for them in English and so they have to be explained. New concepts of this type are generally given the names they have in the language of the people whose reality they reflect.

Further, such words as solo, tenor, concerto, blitzkrieg (the blitz), luftwaffe and the like should also be distinguished from barbarisms. They are different not only in their functions but in their nature as well; They are terms. Terminological borrowings have no synonyms; barbarisms, on the contrary, may have almost exact synonyms.

With the passing of time barbarisms have become common English literary words. They no longer raise objections on the part of English purists. The same can be said of the words .scientific, methodical, penetrate, function, figurative, obscure, and many others, which were once barbarisms, but which are now lawful members of the common literary word-stock of the language.

Both foreign words and barbarisms are widely used in various styles of language with various aims, aims which predetermine their typical functions.

One of these functions is to supply local colour. In order to depict local conditions of life,- concrete facts and events, customs and habits, special carets taken to introduce into the passage such language elements as will reflect the environment. In this respect a most conspicuous role is played by the language chosen. In "Vanity Fair" Thackeray takes the reader to a small German town where a boy with a remarkable appetite is made the focus of attention. By introducing several German words into his narrative, the author gives an indirect description of the peculiarities of the German щепи and the environment in general.

"The little .boy, too, we observed, had a famous appetite, and consumed schinken, an&braten, and kartoffeln, and cranberry jam... with a gallantry that did honour to his nation."

The German words are italicized to show their alien nature and at the same time their stylistic function in the passage. These words have not become facts of the English language and need special decoding to be understood by the rank and file English-speaking reader.

Another function of barbarisms and foreign words is to build up the stylistic device of non-personal direct speech or represented speech (see p. 236). The use of a word, or a phrase, or a sentence in the reported speech of a local inhabitant helps to reproduce his actual words, manner of speech and the environment as well. Thus in James Aldridge's "The Sea -Eagle" — "And the Cretans were very willing to feed and hide the Inglisi"—, the last word is intended to reproduce the actual speech of the local people by introducing a word actually spt)ken by them, a word which is very easily understood because of the root.

Barbarisms assume the significance of a stylistic device if they display a kind of interaction between different meanings, or functions, or aspects. When a word which we consider a barbarism is used so as to evoke a twofold application we are confronted with an SD.

In the example given above — "She had said 'au revoirV Not goodbye!" the 'au revoir' will be understood by the reader because of its frequent use in some circles of English society. However, it is to be understood literally here, i. e. 'So long' or 'until we see each other again.' The twofold perception secures the desired effect. Set against the English 'Good-bye' which is generally used when, people part for an

indefinite time, the barbarism loses its formal character and re-establishes its etymological meaning. Consequently, here again we see the clearly cut twofold application of the language unit, the indispensable requirement for a stylistic device.

Literary Coinages (Including Nonce-Words)

There is a term in linguistics which by its very nature is ambiguous and that is the term neologism. In dictionaries it is generally defined as * a new word or a new meaning for an established word.! Everything in this definition is vague. How long should words or their meanings be regarded as new? Which words of those that appear as new in the language, say during the life-time of one generation, can be regarded as established? It is suggestive that the latest editions of certain dictionaries avoid the use of the stylistic notation "neologism" apparently because of its ambiguous character. If a word is fixed in a dictionary and provided that the dictionary is reliable, it ceases to be a neologism. If a new meaning is recognized as an element in the semantic structure of a lexical unit, it ceases to be new. However, if we wish to-divide the word-stock of a language into chronological periods, we can conventionally mark off a period which might be called new.

Every period in the development of a language produces an enormous number of new words or new meanings of established words. Most of them do not live long. They are not meant to live long. They are, as it were, coined for use at the moment of speech, and therefore possess a peculiar property —that of temporariness. The given word or meaning holds only in the given context and is meant only To "serve the occasion."

The first type of newly coined words, i. e. those which designate newborn concepts, may be named terminological coinages. The secondtype, I. e. words coined because their creators seek expressive utterance may be named stylisticcoinages.

New words are mainly coined according to the productive models for word-building in the given language. But the new words of the literary-bookish type we are dealing with in this chapter may sometimes be built with the help of affixes and by other means which have gone out of use or which are in the process of dying out. In this case the stylistic effect produced by the means of word-building chosen becomes more apparent, and the stylistic function of the device can be felt more acutely.

Among new coinages of a literary-bookish type must be mentioned a considerable layer of words appearing in the publicistic style, mainly in newspaper articles and magazines and also in the newspaper style— mostly in newspaper headlines. To these belongs the word Blimp — a name coined by Low, the well-known English cartoonist. The name was coined to designate an English colonel famous for his conceit, brutality, 'ultra-conservatism. This word gave birth to a derivative, viz. Blimpish. Other examples are 'backlash' (in 'backlash policy') and its opposite 'frontlash'.

As has been pointed out, word-building by means of affixation is still predominant in coining new words. Examples are: arbiter—'a spacecraft designed to orbit a celestial body'; lander—'a spacecraft designed to land on such a body'; missileer—'a person skilled in missilery or in the launching and control of missiles'; fruitologist and wreckologist which were used in a letter to the editor of The times from a person living in Australia.

There is still another means of word-building in modern English which may be considered voguish at the present time, and that is the blending of two words into one by curtailing the end of the first component or the beginning of the second. Examples are numerous: musicomedy (music+comedy); cinemactress (cinema+actress); avigation (avia-tion+navigation); and the already recognized blends like smog- (smoke+ fog); chortle (chuckle+snort); galumph (triumph+gallop) (both occur in Humpty Dumpty's poem in Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass"). Arockoon (focket+balloon) is 'a rocket designed to be launched from a balloon'. Such words are called blends.

Example of neologism usage.

"Let me say in the beginning that even if I wanted to avoid Texas I could not, for I am wived in Texas, and mother-in-lawed, and uncled, and aunted, and cousined within an inch of my life."


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