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This book is meant as a textbook in lexicology forming part of the curricula of the Foreign Language faculties in Teachers’ Training Colleges and Universities. It is intended for students, teachers of English, postgraduates and all those who are interested in the English language and its vocabulary.

The main tool throughout the book is the principle of lexical opposition, i.e. the application of N.S. Trubetzkoy’s theory of oppositions to the description of lexical phenomena.

The existence of lexicology as an independent discipline forming part of the curriculum in our Colleges and Universities implies that the majority of Soviet linguists consider words and not morphemes to be the fundamental units of language. Another implication is that I think it possible to show that the vocabulary of every particular language is not a chaos of diversified phenomena but a homogeneous whole, a system constituted by interdependent elements related in certain specific ways.

I have attempted as far as possible to present at least some parts of the material in terms of the theory of sets which in my opinion is a very convenient interpretation for the theory of oppositions. This very modest and elementary introduction of mathematical concepts seems justified for two main reasons: first, because it permits a more general treatment of and a more rigorous approach to mass phenomena, and it is with large masses of data that lexicology has to cope; secondly, there is a pressing need to bridge the gap between the method of presentation in special linguistic magazines and what is offered the student in lectures and textbooks. A traditionally trained linguist is sometimes unable to understand, let alone verify, the relevance of the complicated apparatus introduced into some modern linguistic publications.

On the other hand, it is the linguistic science developed before structuralism and mathematical linguistics, and parallel to them, that forms the basis of our knowledge of lexical phenomena. Much attention is therefore given to the history of linguistic science as it deals with vocabulary.

With the restrictions stated above, I have endeavoured to use standard definitions and accepted terminology, though it was not always easy, there being various different conventions adopted in the existing literature.

The 3rd edition follows the theoretical concepts of the previous books, the main innovation being the stress laid on the features of the vocabulary as an adaptive system ever changing to meet the demands of thought and communication. This adaptive system consists of fuzzy sets, i.e. sets that do not possess sharply defined boundaries. English is growing and changing rapidly: new words, new meanings, new types of lexical units appear incessantly. Bookshelves are bursting with new publications on lexical matters. The size of the manual, however, must not change. To cope with this difficulty I have slightly changed the bias in favour of actual description and reduced the bibliography to naming the authors writing on this or that topic. The student has to become more active and look up these names in catalogues and magazines. The debt of the author of a manual to numerous works of scholarship is heavy whether all the copious notes and references are given or not, so I used footnotes chiefly when quotations seemed appropriate or when it seemed specially important for a student to know about the existence of a book. In this way more space was available for describing the ever changing English vocabulary.

Another departure from the previous patterns lies in a certain additional attention to how the material is perceived by the student: the book is intended to be as clear and memorable as possible.

Lexicology is a science in the making. Its intense growth makes the task of a textbook writer extremely difficult, as many problems are still unsettled and a synthesis of many achievements is a thing of the future. I shall be greatly indebted for all criticism and correction.

My warmest thanks are due to my fellow-philologists who reviewed the two former editions for their valuable advice and suggestions and the interest they have shown in this book, and to all those who helped me with the MS. I would also like to thank Messieurs William Ryan and Colin Right, who went through the MS and suggested improvements in language and style.

I am very grateful to the Department of English Philology of Orenburg Pedagogical Institute and their head prof. N.A. Shekhtman who reviewed this thirdedition.

Leningrad, 1986


A words belonging in Ch. Fries’s classification to Class III, i. e. adjectives and words that can occupy the position of adjectives

a adjective

adv adverb

AmE American English

COD The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English

Engl English

Germ German

Goth Gothic

Gr Greek

Fr French

IC’s immediate constituents

It Italian

Lat Latin

ME Middle English

ModE Modern English

N words belonging in Ch. Fries’s classification to Class I, i. e. nouns and words that can stand in the same position

n noun

NED New English Dictionary (Oxford)

OE Old English

OED The Oxford English Dictionary

OFr Old French

ON Old North

pl plural

prp preposition

Russ Russian

Scand Scandinavian

sing singular

V words belonging in Ch. Fries’s classification to Class

II, i. e. verbs, except the auxiliaries v verb


< 'changed from’ or ‘derived from'

> 'changed to’ or ‘becomes'

: : between forms denotes opposition

/ between forms denotes alternation or allophones

* indicates a reconstructed or hypothetical form

→ denotes transformation

<- denotes that transformation is impossible

II cognate to




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