Stylistic classification of the English vocabulary

1. Words of the neutral layer

The word stock of any language may be represented as a definite system in which different aspects of words may be singled out as interdependent.

Words may be grouped together on the basis of their common stylistic reference. Consider, for example, the following groups of words:

inquire – ask, obtain – get, proceed – go, pursue – run after, seek – look for.

Each of these two groups represents a different stylistic layer: the first group contains words of a literary-bookish layer, the second – stylistically neutral words.

Subdivisions within the class of stylistically marked words are numerous. But the main opposition lies between, words of literary sty1istic layer (words of Standard English) and those of non-literary stylistic layer (words of Sub-Standard English).

 Stylistics considers the whole of the word stock of the English language as being divided into 3 main layers: 1) the literary layer; 2) the neutral layer; 3) the colloquial layer.

The neutral layer of words is the largest; words expressing only denotative meaning belong here. There is no connotation in the case, they just signify phenomena. Neutral words, which form the bulk of the English vocabulary, are unrestricted in their use. They are used in both literary and colloquial language. They can be used in all styles and that makes this layer the most stable of all. Neutral words are the main source of synonymy and polysemy.

Words of literary stylistic layer and the colloquial layer bear a kind of connotation, they change the colouring of the whole utterance. As a rule, they have synonyms among neutral words, for example: child – neutral; infant – literary; kid – colloquial.

2. Words of literary layer are characterized by its marked bookish character. Here belong: a) common literary words; b) terms and learned words; c) poetic words; d) archaisms or archaic words; e) barbarisms and foreign words; f) stylistic neologisms;

a) Common literary words are used in writing and polished speech. They are less emotional than colloquial words and are used in public and official speech. If used in private situations they may produce a humorous effect. Here are some examples showing the difference between words belonging to literary and neutral layer:

A great crowd came to see him (neutral).

A vast concourse was assembled to witness him (literary).

The man fell down (neutral). The individual was precipitated (literary).

b) Terms and learned words denote different kinds of notions referring to science, technique and arts. They are believed to be devoid expressiveness, emotional and evaluative connotation. Only stylistic component is present here. They tend to be monosemantic and are used in scientific prose. They may be used in fiction but to perform a specific stylistic role – reveal the profession of the character, contribute to the realistic background, they create a true-to-life atmosphere of the narration, indicate the peculiarities of the subject.

Terms are subdivided-into: 1) popular terms of some special spheres of human knowledge known to the public at large (typhoid, pneumonia); 2) terms used exclusively within a profession (phoneme, micro-linguistics);

c) Poetinisms or poetic words, words used exclusively in poetry and the like. Many of these words are archaic or obsolete, such as whilome (sometimes), aught (anything), ne (no, not), haply (may be); for ay (forever), I ween (I suppose), he kens (he knows); childe (a nobleman’s son).

Poetic words are seldom used in modern English. In ordinary environment they colour the utterance with an air of loftiness, for example: to go – to proceed; sorrow – woe; enemy – foe; kingdom – realm.

d) Archaisms or archaic words are words which show changes in their meaning and usage. There are:

1) Archaisms proper, words which are no longer recognizable in modern English, they either dropped out of use altogether or have changed in their appearance beyond recognition, for example: troth – faith, loser – a lazy fellow;

2) Historical words which denote concepts and phenomena that have gone out of use, for example:  knight, yeoman.

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 the society and cannot disappear 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.

The third group is morphological archaisms. They are archaic forms of still existing words (brethren), the ending – (e)th instead of – (e)s (he maketh; the pronoun «ye»).

Archaic words are mainly used to create a realistic background to historical novels. Besides they are often used in the style of official documents and business letters (wherewith, hereby, aforesaid, etc.)

e) Foreign words and barbarisms (au revoir; ad absurdum, Bundeswehr).

They are both of foreign origin. Barbarisms have already become a part of the language though they remain on the outskirts of the literary vocabulary. They are registered in the dictionary.

Foreign words, though used for certain stylistic purposes, do not belong to the English vocabulary. They are not registered by English dictionaries. 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 special stylistic information.

There are foreign words in the English vocabulary which fulfill a terminological function. They should be distinguished from the barbarisms. Terminological borrowings have no synonyms; barbarisms, on the contrary, have almost exact synonyms. Barbarisms are a historical category. Once they were just foreign words used in literary English to express a concept non-existent in English reality, but gradually they entered the class of words named barbarisms, lost their foreign peculiarities, became more or less naturalized and have merged with the native English stock of words (conscious, retrograde), strenuous.

Both barbarisms and foreign words are widely used in various styles of language with various 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.

Another function being the use of foreign words and barbarisms in the reported speech of a local inhabitant to reproduce his actual words, manner of speech and the environment.

Barbarisms convey the idea of cultural and educational status of the person. They betray the speakers’ desire to sound refined and pretentious.

Stylistic neologisms result from the search of a more fresh and expressive form of utterance which helps to communicate the idea. Most stylistic neologisms are made by affixation and word-compounding according to the productive models for word-building. New words built in this way are immediately perceived because of their unpredictable character, due to which the author conveys the idea straightforwardly (musicdom, gangdom, freckledom, where the suffix is used with the general meaning of collectivity; interrogatee, enrollee, askee; showmanship; supermanship etc.)

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