Methods of Lexicological Analysis

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Methods of Lexicological Analysis




. Methods of Lexicological Analysis 5

.1. Contrastive Analysis 5

.2. Statistical Methods of Analysis 7

.3. Immediate Constituents Analysis 9

.4. Distributional Analysis and Co-occurrence 10

.5. Transformational Analysis 13

.6. Componential Analysis 14

.7. Method of Semantic Differential 16

.8. Contextual Analysis 18






Growing interest in methods of study is one of the most symptomatic features of present-day linguistics.

The research methods used in lexicology have always been closely connected with the general trends in linguistics. The principles of comparative linguistics have played an important role in the development of a scientific approach to historical word study. They have brought an enormous increase in ordered and classified information about the English vocabulary in their proper perspective. The methods applied consisted in observation of speech mostly written collection and classification of data hypotheses and systematic statements. Particular stress was put on the refinement of methods for collecting and classifying facts. The study of vocabulary became scientific.

19th century scientific language study having recognized variety and change in language comparative philology insisted on regarding the descriptive statements as subordinate not worth making for their own sake. Its aim was to reconstruct the fundamental forms and meanings which have not come down to us. With the use of sets of phonetic correspondence philologists explored and proved genetic relationships between words in different languages. They rejected prescriptive trends characteristic of the previous stage. It was realized that the only basis for correctness is the usage of the native speakers of each language. They destroyed the myth of a Golden Age when all the words had their primary "correct" meaning and when the language was in a state of perfection from which it has deteriorated. It became clear from intensive work on the great historical dictionaries that multiple meaning for words is normal not an "exception". Comparative studies showed that save for specific technical terms there are no two words in two languages that cover precisely the same area.

The process of scientific investigation may be subdivided into several stages:




Due to these processes the certain classification of the methods of lexicological analysis has appeared.

Nowadays scientists distinguish:

  Contrastive analysis

  Statistical methods of analysis

  Immediate Constituents analysis

  Distributional analysis and co-occurrence

  Transformational analysis

  Componential analysis

  Method of semantic differential

  Contextual analysis

The detailed description of these methods will be shown further.



I.1. Contrastive Analysis

In fact contrastive analysis grew as the result of the practical demands of language teaching methodology where it was empirically shown that the errors which are made recurrently by foreign language students can be often traced back to the differences in structure between the target language and the language of the learner. This naturally implies the necessity of a detailed comparison of the structure of a native and a target language which has been named contrastive analysis.

It should be borne in mind that though objective reality exists outside human beings and irrespective of the language they speak every language classifies reality in its own way by means of vocabulary units. In English the word foot is used to denote the extremity of the leg. In Ukrainian there is no exact equivalent for foot. The word denotes the whole leg including the foot.

Classification of the real world around us provided by the vocabulary units of our mother tongue is learned and assimilated together with our first language. Because we are used to the way in which our own language structures experience we are often inclined to think of this as the only natural way of handling things whereas in fact it is highly-arbitary.

One example is provided by the words watch and clock. It would seem natural for Ukrainian speakers to have a single word to refer to all devices that tell us what time it is; yet in English they are divided into two semantic classes depending on whether or not they are customarily portable. We also find it natural that kinship terms should reflect the difference between male and female: brother or sister father or mother uncle or aunt yet in English we fail to make this distinction in the case of cousin (the Ukrainian ).

Contrastive analysis also brings to light what can be labelled problem pairs the words that denote two entities in one language and correspond to two different words in another language.

Compare for example in Ukrainian and clock watch in English in Ukrainian and artist painter in English.

Contrastive analysis on the level of the grammatical meaning reveals that correlated words in different languages may differ in the grammatical component of their meaning.

To take a simple instance Ukrainians are liable to say the news are good the money are on the table her hair are black as the words have the grammatical meaning of plurality in the Ukrainian language.

Contrastive analysis brings to light the essence of what is usually described as idiomatic English idiomatic Ukrainian the peculiar way in which every language combines and structures in lexical units various concepts to denote extra-linguistic reality.

For example a typical Ukrainian word-group used to describe the way somebody performs an action or the state in which a person finds himself has the structure that may be represented by the formula adverb followed by a finite form of a verb (or a verb + an adverb) // . In English we can also use structurally similar word-groups and say he smokes a lot he learns slowly (fast). The structure of idiomatic English word-groups however is different. The formula of this word-group can be represented as an adjective + deverbal noun he is a heavy smoker a poor learner The Englishman is a slow starter but there is no stronger finisher" (Galsworthy). Another English word-group used in similar cases has the structure verb to be + adjective + the infinitive (He) is quick to realize (He) is slow-to cool down which is practically non-existent in the Ukrainian language. Commonly used English words of the type (he is) an early-riser a music-lover have no counterparts in the Ukrainian language and as a rule correspond to phrases of the type () pao () .

Last but not least contrastive analysis deals with the meaning and use of situational verbal units words word-groups sentences which are commonly used by native speakers in certain situations.

For instance when we answer a telephone call and hear somebody asking for a person whose name we have never heard the usual answer for the Ukrainian speaker would be (). The Englishman in identical situation is likely to say Wrong number .

To sum up contrastive analysis cannot be overestimated as an indispensable stage in preparation of teaching material in selecting lexical items to be extensively practiced and in predicting typical errors. It is also of great value for an efficient teacher who knows that to have a native like command of a foreign language to be able to speak what we call idiomatic English words word-groups and whole sentences must be learned within the lexical grammatical and situational restrictions of the English language.

I.2. Statistical Methods of Analysis

An important and promising trend in modern linguistics which has been making progress during the last few decades is the quantitative study of language phenomena and the application of statistical methods in linguistic analysis.

The first requirement for a successful statistical study is the representativeness of the objects counted for the problem in question its relevance from the linguistic point of view. Statistical approach proved essential in the selection of vocabulary items of a foreign language for teaching purposes.

It is common knowledge that very few people know more than 10% of the words of their mother tongue. It follows that if we do not wish to waste time on committing to memory vocabulary items which are never likely to be useful to the learner we have to select only lexical units that are commonly used by native speakers.

It goes without saying that to be useful in teaching statistics should deal with meanings as well as sound-forms as not all word-meanings are equally frequent.

Besides the number of meanings exceeds by far the number of words. The total number of different meanings recorded and illustrated in Oxford English Dictionary for the first 500 words of the Thorndike Word List is 14 070 for the first thousand it is nearly 25 000. Naturally not all the meanings should be included in the list of the first two thousand most commonly used words. Statistical analysis of meaning frequencies resulted in the compilation of A General Service List of English Words with Semantic Frequencies. The semantic count is a count of the frequency of the occurrence of the various senses of 2 000 most frequent words as found in a study of five million running words. The semantic count is based on the differentiation of the meanings in the OED and the frequencies are expressed as percentage so that the teacher and textbook writer may find it easier to understand and use the list. An example will make the procedure clear.

room (space)

takes less room, not enough room to turn round (in)

make room for (figurative)

room for improvement 12%

come to my room, bedroom, sitting room; drawing room, bathroom 83%

(plural = suite, lodgings)

my room in college

to let rooms 2%

It can be easily observed from the semantic count above that the meaning part of a house (sitting room drawing room ) makes up 83% of all occurrences of the word room and should be included in the list of meanings to be learned by the beginners whereas the meaning suite lodgings is not essential and makes up only 2% of all occurrences of this word.

In Ukrainian:

ʳ ( . ) 41%

. 17%

. (. ) 3%

. (. ) 7%

³ ( ) - 29%

( ) 3%

One more specific feature must however be stressed here. All modern methods aim at being impersonal and objective in the sense that they must lead to generalizations verifiable by all competent persons. In this effort to find verifiable relationships concerning typical contrastive shapes and arrangements of linguistic elements functioning in a system the study of vocabulary has turned away from chance observation and made considerable scientific progress.

Thus statistical analysis is applied in different branches of linguistics including lexicology as a means of verification and as a reliable criterion for the selection of the language data provided qualitative description of lexical items is available.

I.3. Immediate Constituents Analysis

The theory of Immediate Constituents (IC) was originally elaborated as an attempt to determine the ways in which lexical units are relevantly related to one another. It was discovered that combinations of such units are usually structured into hierarchically arranged sets of binary constructions. For example in the word-group a black dress in severe style we do not relate a to black black to dress dress to in. but set up a structure which may be represented as a black dress / in severe style. Thus the fundamental aim of IC analysis is to segment a set of lexical units into two maximally independent sequences or ICs thus revealing the hierarchical structure of this set. Successive segmentation results in Ultimate Constituents (UC) two-facet units that cannot be segmented into smaller units having both sound-form and meaning. The Ultimate Constituents of the word-group analysed above are: a | black | dress | in | severe | style.

It is mainly to discover the derivational structure of words that IC analysis is used in lexicological investigations. For example the verb denationalise has both a prefix de- and a suffix -ise (-ize). To decide whether this word is a prefixal or a suffixal derivative we must apply IC analysis. The binary segmentation of the string of morphemes making up the word shows that *denation or *denational cannot be considered independent sequences as there is no direct link between the prefix de- and nation or national. In fact no such sound-forms function as independent units in modern English. The only possible binary segmentation is de | nationalise therefore we may conclude that the word is a prefixal derivative. There are also numerous cases when identical morphemic structure of different words is insufficient proof of the identical pattern of their derivative structure which can be revealed only by IC analysis. Thus comparing snow-covered and blue-eyed we observe that both words contain two root-morphemes and one derivational morpheme. IC analysis however shows that whereas snow-covered may be treated as a compound consisting of two stems snow + covered blue-eyed is a suffixal derivative as the underlying structure as shown by IC analysis is different (blue+eye)+-ed. In Ukrainian: // /// /// //// // /// ///// //// // /// ////.

It may be inferred from the examples discussed above that ICs represent the word-formation structure while the UCs show the morphemic structure of polymorphic words.

I.4. Distributional Analysis and Co-occurrence

Distributional analysis in its various forms is commonly used nowadays by lexicologists of different schools of thought. By the term distribution we understand the occurrence of a lexical unit relative to other lexical units of the same level (words relative to words / morphemes relative to morphemes). In other words by this term we understand the position which lexical units occupy or may occupy in the text or in the flow of speech. It is readily observed that a certain component of the word-meaning is described when the word is identified distributionally.

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