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The neologisms and their word building means in Modern English

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neologism word diachronic

The subject of the investigation in this study is neologisms and their word building means in Modern English. Its aims are to present various ways of word building, analyze top 50 neologisms and to determine the most frequently used word forming types.

The work consists of two main parts. Chapter I gives a description of neologisms: definition, diachronic analysis, cultural acceptance factor. Chapter II deals with manor and major word building types, presents latest top 50 neologisms, analyzed and arranged in table according to their word building type, source and time of appearance, sphere of usage, ability to create new forms, new notion appearance. Both qualitative (semantic, structural, contextual) and quantitative methods of analysis are employed.

The material for the studies was collected in February, 2004, on www.wordspy.

The results of the analysis are supplied with various schemes and tables.


There is no doubt that the English language today is the most widely used language for international communication. Words and expressions are born, live for a short time and then die or find their place in our vocabulary according to the temporary or permanent nature of the fenomena they describe.

Indeed, if no new words were to appear, it would be a sign that the language was moribund; the progress of arts and sciences gives birth to a large majority of new words: each new word that does appear should be severely scrutinized before it becomes generally accepted. So this work does a research into all word – forming means to determine the most productive ways of forming new words that appeared in the eighties, nineties and in the beginning of the XXI century. They are registered on www.wordspy as 50 top neologisms.

We have determined some aims in our investigation:

– to overview neologism diachronically (to present the historical development of the fenomenon);

– to investigate the problem of cultural acceptance, as that is the crucial point in the neologism existance, as stability and suitability, which are determined by the public;

– to give the complete classification of word-building means, both minor and major;

– to present the reasons for high or low productivity of each word-building type given;

– to give the overview of all possible sources, where the information on neologisms can be taken;

– to study the top 50 neologisms (Wordspy) and analyse them using quantative and qualitative analysis, according to their word building type, source and time of appearance, sphere of usage, ability to create new forms, new notion appearance.

The novelty of the investigation lies in analizing the new words that are unstable so far as a group and still making their way in the language.

The paper consists of the introductory part stating the objectives and aims of the investigation. Chapter I considers the notion of neologisms and the development of the fenomenon, also it deals with cultural acceptance factors. The second chapter presents the word building types and the sources of new words and then there is given a many sided description of 50 top neologisms.

In the supplement, we find it necessary to present the exersises (where derivation in neology is the main principle), where students could develop their skills to create new words, which would also widen pupils’ outlook and develop their creational language abilities.

1. Neologism, its definition, development and cultural acceptance

1.1 Introductory information, links with other sciences

No new science is possible without neologisms, new words or new interpretations of old words to describe and explain reality in new ways. How could Aristotle have developed the logic of syllogisms or Newton the theory of dynamics without new vocabularies and definitions? They were neologists, and everybody wanting to contribute new knowledge must be. «To reject neologisms, often despicably, is to reject scientific development. No sign of scientific conservatism is so telling as the rejection of all but the established concepts of a school of thought. Neologisms are, however, relative to the terminological paradigm actually dominating a field of knowledge. It may be a radical renewal to introduce terms from a tradition believed to be outmoded.» (Ingar Roggen, 1996)

There exist various definitions of such a linguistical event, as neologism, and every of them expresses the gist of this notion taking into the consideration one of the numerous aspects of neologism. The most general are:

«Neologism: Neologisms are «words that have appeared in a language in connection with new phenomena, new concepts,… but which have not yet entered into the active vocabularies of a significant portion of the native speakers of the language». (Woodhouse dictionary, 1972, p. 225)

«A neologism is the term used to describe a word that has been made-up or invented by a speaker, which appears in a transcript of spontaneous speech dialogue. It can also be described as a word which does not appear in the dictionary of the primary spoken language, but which is also not a foreign word.» (Internet en.wiktionary) Or:

The common thing in these both definitions is that neologism is not yet registered in dictionaries and in most cases it is a colloquial for the time being.

For instance, the word «nigilist» (nihilist) [<Latin «nihil» (nothing)] was first used in an essay in 1829 (Shanskii 1971, p. 128); and was popularized in Turgenev's Fathers and Sons (1962), through his depiction of the radical doctor of the 1860's, Bazarov.» The reason for introducing the word into the language was that there were many young people of that time believing that nothing had meaning or value. As soon as the word was coined it was accepted by the society and has existed in a number of languages since then.

If we take some sciences in particular, we may see, all of them reflect the essence of the notion, as there is «always something new». For instance, in linguistics, a neologism is a recently-coined word, or the act of inventing a word or phrase. Additionally it can imply the use of old words in a new sense i.e., giving new meanings to existing words or phrases. As it was mentioned above neologisms are especially useful in identifying new inventions, new phenomena, or old ideas which have taken on a new cultural context. The word «neologism» was coined around 1800 and was, at that time, a neologism itself.

In psychology, a neologism is a word invented by a person suffering from psychotic disorders; psychiatrists sometimes use these neologisms, which often have meaning only to the subject, as clues to determine the nature of the subject's disorder. In theology, a neologism is a relatively new doctrine (for example, rationalism). In this sense, a neologist is an innovator in the area of a doctrine or belief system, and is often considered heretical or subversive by the mainstream church.

The main point in all these defenitions is that the word or meaning is new and the implication is that the word might be adopted by the society and take roots or ignored and shortly forgotten.

1.2 History and the development of neologisms

As a literary concept and term, neologism appeared in the early 18th century, at the time when the neoclassical practices of the French Generation of 1660 began to consolidate, throughout Europe, into a body of normative teaching. The idea that different domains of human experience should be represented in literature by distinct literary styles entailed the notion that each of these styles should operate within distinct vocabulary. Usage, i.e., specific usage of the «best Authors», «the Court», or «the City», determined the limits of this vocabulary, along with other grammatical and stylistic properties. Authors using words and expressions (as well as phrase structures) from outside this universe were said to use neologisms, new expressions. Critics of the time conceived of neologism in literature as analogous to the continuous creation and introduction of new lexical units into language, and they thought of language change in general as a process of decay. Thus neologism was condemned on both aesthetic and linguistic grounds and the term was used pejoratively only. This older meaning of neologism, and the attitude it reflects, is still alive today.

However, as early as the second half of the 18th century, it became obvious that the vocabulary of literary expression should and perhaps could not be fully limited. Thus pejororative neologism was given a meliorative doublet, «neology» which meant the introduction of «approved» or «correct» new words into language. Critical literature has since expended a great deal of effort to define, not very successfully, the limits of «neology», usually concluding that the latter should be above all Horace's licentia sumpta prudenter, restricted to cases of «real need» (i.e., for concepts for which no single word or expression exists in the language) and that new words should be analogous in form to existing words in the language. Since, however, there are an infinite number of concepts an author may wish to represent in his writing, or a speaker, in his speech, and since the lexicon of most natural languages offers a very large number of possible analogies, such puristic recommendations have never succeeded in stemming the influx of new words into language, thence into literature.

The old meaning of neologism is synonymous with «barbarism», «gallicism» (in English), «anglicism» (in French), and even «archaism». It is opposed to «purism».

The modern, neutral meaning of neologism appears early in the 19th century and, still combated by Littrй in French, gains acceptance towards the end of the century. The expansion of the literary experience by the Romanticists, the Realists, and the Naturalists, as well as the emergence of linguistics as an «objective» science has contributed to this development – Victor E. Hanzeli (37).

1.3 Cultural acceptance

We can mark that neologisms tend to occur more often in cultures which are rapidly changing, and also in situations where there is easy and fast propagation of information. They are often created by combining existing words (compound noun and adjective) or by giving words new and unique suffixes or prefixes. Those which are portmanteaus are shortened. Neologisms can also be created through abbreviation or acronym, by intentionally rhyming with existing words, or simply through playing with sounds.

As for the description of neologisms, we can say that, a neologism may be a slang word that has yet to find its way into mainstream conversation, or it may be the creation of a non-native speaker who has made for example a grammatical error. The so-called slip of the tongue may also be seen as neologisms.

Neologisms often become popular by way of mass media, the Internet, or word of mouth – especially, many linguists suspect, by younger people. Virtually every word in a language was, at some time, a neologism, though most of these ceased to be such through time and acceptance.

Neologisms often become accepted parts of the language. Other times, however, they disappear from common usage. Whether or not a neologism continues as part of the language depends on many factors, probably the most important of which is acceptance by the public. Acceptance by linguistic experts and incorporation into dictionaries also plays a part, as does whether the phenomenon described by a neologism remains current, thus continuing to need a descriptor. It is unusual, however, for a word to enter common use if it does not resemble another word or words in an identifiable way. (In some cases however, strange new words succeed because the idea behind them is especially memorable or exciting). When a word or phrase is no longer «new,» it is no longer a neologism. Neologisms may take decades to become «old», though. Opinions differ on exactly how old a word must be to no longer be considered a neologism; cultural acceptance probably plays a more important role than time in this regard.

If we consider the cultural acceptance, we can reckon, that after being coined, neologisms invariably undergo scrutiny by the public and by linguists to determine their suitability to the language. Many are accepted very quickly; others attract opposition. Language experts sometimes object to a neologism on the grounds that a suitable term for the thing described already exists in the language. Non-experts who dislike the neologism sometimes also use this argument, deriding the neologism as «abuse and ignorance of the language.»

Some neologisms, especially those dealing with sensitive subjects, are often objected to on the grounds that they obscure the issue being discussed, and that such a word's novelty often leads a discussion away from the root issue and onto a sidetrack about the meaning of the neologism itself.

Proponents of a neologism see it as being useful, and also helping the language to grow and change; often they perceive these words as being a fun and creative way to play with a language. Also, the semantic precision of most neologisms, along with what is usually a straightforward syntax, often makes them easier to grasp by people who are not native speakers of the language.

The outcome of these debates, when they occur, has a great deal of influence on whether a neologism eventually becomes an accepted part of the language. Linguists may sometimes delay acceptance, for instance by refusing to include the neologism in dictionaries; this can sometimes cause a neologism to die out over time. Nevertheless if the public continues to use the term, it always eventually sheds its status as a neologism and enters the language even over the objections of language experts.

2. Ways of forming words and the analysis of 50 top neologisms

2.1 Classification of word-building means

As the aim of our work is to investigate the problem of neologisms, and ways of their forming, we will overview the word-building means. At first we will tackle the problem of various classifications

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