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§ 6. Interrelation of Lexical and Structural Meaning in Word-Groups

The lexical and structural components of meaning in word-groups are interdependent and inseparable. The inseparability of these two semantic components in word-groups can, perhaps, be best illustrated by the semantic analysis of individual word-groups in which the norms of conventional collocability of words seem to be deliberately overstepped. For instance, in the word-group all the sun longwe observe a departure from the norm of lexical valency represented by such word-groups as all the day long, all the night long, all the week long,and a few others. The structural pattern of these word-groups in ordinary usage and the word-group all the sun longis identical. The generalised meaning of the pattern may be described as ‘a unit of time’. Replacing day, night, weekby another noun the sunwe do not find any change in the structural meaning of the pattern. The group all the sun longfunctions semantically as a unit of time. The noun sun,however, included in the group continues to carry the semantic value or, to be more exact, the lexical meaning that it has in word-groups of other structural patterns (cf. the sun rays, African sun,etc.). This is also true of the word-group a grief agomade up by analogy with the patterns a week ago, a year ago,etc. It follows that the meaning of the word-group is derived from the combined lexical meanings of its constituents and is inseparable from the meaning of the pattern of their arrangement. Comparing two nominal phrases a factory hand — ‘a factory worker’ and a hand bag — ‘a bag carried in the hand’ we see that though the word handmakes part of both its lexical meaning and the role it plays

1See ‘Semasiology’, §§ 15, 16, p. p. 24, 25.

in the structure of word-groups is different which accounts for the difference in the lexical and structural meaning of the word-groups under discussion.

It is often argued that the meaning of word-groups is also dependent on some extra-linguistic factors, i.e. on the situation in which word-groups are habitually used by native speakers. For example, the meaning of the nominal group wrong numberis linguistically defined by the combined lexical meaning of the component words and the structural meaning of the pattern. Proceeding from the linguistic meaning this group can denote any number that is wrong. Actually, however, it is habitually used by English speakers in answering telephone calls and, as a rule, denotes the wrong telephone number.


As both structure and meaning are parts of the word-group as a linguistic unit, the interdependence of these two facets is naturally the subject matter of lexicological analysis.

§ 7. Syntactic Structure (Formula) and Pattern of Word-Groups

In connection with the problem under discussion the term syntactic (or syntagmatic) structure requires some clarification. We know that word-groups may be generally described through the pattern of arrangement of the constituent members. The term syntactic structure (formula) properly speaking implies the description of the order and arrangement of member-words as parts of speech. We may, for instance, describe the word-group as made up of an Adjective and a Noun (clever man, red flower,etc.), a Verba Noun (take books, build houses,etc.), or a Noun, a Preposition and a Noun (a touch of colour, a matter of importance,etc.). The syntactic structure (formula) of the nominal groups clever manand red flowermay be represented as A + N, that of the verbal groups take booksand build housesas V + N, and so on.

These formulas can be used to describe all the possible structures of English word-groups. We can say, e.g., that the verbal groups comprise the following structural formulas: V+N (to build houses),V+prp+N (to rely on somebody),V+N+prp+N (to hold something against somebody),V+N+V(inf.) (to make somebody work),V+ V(inf.) (to get to know),and so on.

The structure of word-groups may be also described in relation to the head-word, e.g. the structure of the same verbal groups (to build houses, to rely on somebody)is represented as to build+ N, to rely+ on+ N. In this case it is usual to speak of the patterns of word-groups but not of formulas. The term pattern implies that we are speaking of the structure of the word-group in which a given word is used as its head.

The interdependence of the pattern and meaning of head-words can be easily perceived by comparing word-groups of different patterns in which the same head-word is used. For example, in verbal groups the head-

word mean is semantically different in the patterns mean+iV (mean something) and mean+ V(inf.) (mean to do something). Three patterns with the verb get as the head-word represent three different meanings of this verb, e.g. get+N (get a letter, information, money,etc.), get+ +to +N (get to Moscow, to the Institute,etc.), get+N+V(inf.) (get somebody to come, to do the work,etc.). This is also true of adjectival word-groups, e.g. clever+N (clever man) and clever+at+N (clever at arithmetic), keen+N (keen sight, hearing), keen+on+N (keen on sports, tennis).Notional member-words in such patterns are habitually represented in conventional symbols whereas prepositions and other form-words are given in their usual graphic form. This is accounted for by the fact that individual form-words may modify or change the meaning of the word with which it is combined, as in, e.g., anxious+for+ N (anxious for news), anxious+about+N (anxious about his health). Broadly speaking we may conclude that as a rule the difference in the meaning of the head-word is conditioned by a difference in the pattern of the word-group in which this word is used.

§ 8. Polysemantic and Monosemantic Patterns

If the structure of word-groups is different, we have ample grounds to infer that the difference in the syntactic (or syntagmatic) structure is indicative of a difference in the meaning of the head-word of word-groups.

So we assume that verbal groups represented by different structural formulas, e.g. V+N and V+V(inf.) are as a rule semantically different because of the difference in the grammatical component of meaning. This is also true of different patterns of word-groups, e.g. get+N and get+V(inf.).

It should be pointed out,’ however, that although difference in the pattern signals as a rule difference in the meaning of the head-word, identity of pattern cannot be regarded as a reliable criterion for identity of meaning.1 Thus structurally identical patterns, e.g. heavy+N, may be representative of different meanings of the adjective heavy which is perceived in the word-groups heavy rain (snow, storm), cf. heavy smoker (drinker), heavy weight (table), etc. all of which have the same pattern — heavy+N. Structurally simple patterns are as a rule polysemantic, i.e. representative of several meanings of a polysemantic head-word, whereas structurally complex patterns are monosemantic and condition just one meaning of the head-member. The simplest verbal structure V+N and the corresponding pattern are as a rule polysemantic (compare, e.g. take+N(take tea, coffee); take the bus, the tram, take measures, precautions,etc.), whereas a more complex pattern, e.g. take+to+N is monosemantic (e.g. take to sports, to somebody).

§ 9. Motivation in Word-Groups

Word-groups like words may also be analysed from the point of view of their motivation.2 Word-groups may be described as lexically motivated if the combined lexical mean-

1 See 'Semasiology', §§ 41-45, p. 48-53,

2 See 'Semasiology', § 17, p. 25.


ing of the groups is deducible from the meaning of their components. The nominal groups, e.g. red flower, heavy weightand the verbal group, e.g. takelessons, are from this point of view motivated, whereas structurally identical word-groups red tape — ‘official bureaucratic methods’, heavy father — ’serious or solemn part in a theatrical play’, and take place — ‘occur’ are lexically non-motivated. In these groups the constituents do not possess, at least synchronically, the denotational meaning found in the same words outside these groups or, to be more exact, do not possess any individual lexical meaning of their own, as the word-groups under discussion seem to represent single indivisible semantic entities. Word-groups are said to be structurally motivated if the meaning of the pattern is deducible from the order and arrangement of the member-words of the group. Red flower,e.g., is motivated as the meaning of the pattern qualitysubstance can be deduced from the order and arrangement of the words redand flower,whereas the seemingly identical pattern red tapecannot be interpreted as qualitysubstance.

The degree of motivation may be different. Between the extremes of complete motivation and lack of motivation there are innumerable intermediate cases. For example, the degree of lexical motivation in the nominal group black marketis higher than in black death, “but lower than in black dress,though none of the groups can be considered as completely non-motivated. This is also true of other word-groups, e.g. oldman and old boyboth of which may be regarded as lexically and structurally motivated though the degree of motivation in old manis noticeably higher. It is of interest to note that completely motivated word-groups are, as a rule, correlated with certain structural types of compound words. Verbal groups having the structure V+N, e.g. to read books, to love music,etc., are habitually correlated with the compounds of the pattern N+(V+er) (book-reader, music-lover);adjectival groups such as A + +prp+N (e.g. rich in oil, shy before girls)are correlated with the compounds of the pattern N+A, e.g. oil-rich, girl-shy.

It should also be noted that seemingly identical word-groups are sometimes found to be motivated or non-motivated depending on their semantic interpretation. Thus apple sauce,e.g., is lexically and structurally motivated when it means ‘a sauce made of apples’ but when used to denote ‘nonsense’ it is clearly non-motivated. In such cases we may even speak of homonymy of word-groups and not of polysemy.

It follows from the above discussion that word-groups may be also classified into motivated and non-motivated units. Non-motivated word-groups are habitually described as phraseological units or idioms.

§ 10. Summary and Conclusions

1. Words put together to form lexical units make up phrases or word-groups. The main factors active in bringing words together are lexical and grammatical valency of the components of word-groups.

2. Lexical valency is the aptness of a word to appear in various collocations. All the words of the language possess a certain norm of lexical valency. Restrictions of lexical valency are to be accounted for by the inner structure of the vocabulary of the English language.

3. Lexical valency of polysemantic words is observed in various collocations in which these words are used. Different meanings of a polysemantic word may be described through its lexical valency.

4. Grammatical valency is the aptness of a word to appear in various grammatical structures. All words possess a certain norm of grammatical valency. Restrictions of grammatical valency are to be accounted for by the grammatical structure of the language. The range of grammatical valency of each individual word is essentially delimited by the part of speech the word belongs to and also by the specific norm of grammatical valency peculiar to individual words of Modern English.

5. The grammatical valency of a polysemantic word may be observed in the different structures in which the word is used. Individual meanings of a polysemantic word may be described through its grammatical valency.

6. Structurally, word-groups may be classified by the criterion of distribution into endocentric and exocentric.

Endocentric word-groups can be classified according to the head-word into nominal, adjectival, verbal and adverbial groups or phrases.

7. Semantically all word-groups may be classified into motivated and non-motivated. Non-motivated word-groups are usually described as phraseological units.


It has been repeatedly pointed out that word-groups viewed as functionally and semantically inseparable units are traditionally regarded as the subject matter of phraseology. It should be noted, however, that no proper scientific investigation of English phraseology has been attempted until quite recently. English and American linguists as a rule confine themselves to collecting various words, word-groups and sentences presenting some interest either from the point of view of origin, style, usage, or some other feature peculiar to them. These units are habitually described as idioms but no attempt has been made to investigate these idioms as a separate class of linguistic units or a specific class of word-groups.

American and English dictionaries of unconventional English, slang and idioms and other highly valuable reference-books contain a wealth of proverbs, sayings, various lexical units of all kinds, but as a rule do not seek to lay down a reliable criterion to distinguish between variable word-groups and phraseological units. Paradoxical as it may seem the first dictionary in which theoretical principles for the selection of English phraseological units were elaborated was published in our country.1

1 It should be recalled that the first attempt to place the study of various word-groups on a scientific basis was made by the outstanding Russian linguist A. A. Shakhmatov in his world-famous book Syntax. Shakhmatov’s work was continued by Academician V. V. Vinogradov whose approach to phraseology is discussed below. Investigation of English phraseology was initiated in our country by prof. A. V. Kunin (A. В. Kyнин. Англо-русский фразеологический словарь. М., 1955). See also A. V. Kunin. English Idioms. 3d ed. M., 1967.

The term itself phraseological units to denote a specific group of phrases was introduced by Soviet linguists and is generally accepted in our country.

§11. Free Word-Groups Versus Set-Phrases. Phraseological Units, Idioms, Word-Equivalents

Attempts have been made to approach the problem of phraseology in different ways. Up till now, however, there is a certain divergence of opinion as to the essential feature of phraseological units as distinguished from other word-groups and the nature of phrases that can be properly termed phraseological units.

The complexity of the problem may be largely accounted for by the fact that the border-line between free or variable word-groups and phraseological units is not clearly defined. The so-called free word-groups are only relatively free as collocability of their member-words is fundamentally delimited by their lexical and grammatical valency which makes at least some of them very close to set-phrases. Phraseological units are comparatively stable and semantically inseparable. Between the extremes of complete motivation and variability of member-words on the one hand and lack of motivation combined with complete stability of the lexical components and grammatical structure on the other hand there are innumerable border-line ca’ses.

• However, the existing terms,1 e.g. set-phrases, idioms, word-equivalents, reflect to a certain extent the main debatable issues of phraseology which centre on the divergent views concerning the nature and essential features of phraseological units as distinguished from the so-called free word-groups. The term set-phrase implies that the basic criterion of differentiation is stability of the lexical components and grammatical structure of word-groups. The term idioms generally implies that the essential feature of the linguistic units under consideration is idiomaticity or lack cf motivation. This term habitually used by English and American linguists is very often treated as synonymous with the term phraseological unit universally accepted in our country.2 The term word-equivalent stresses not only the semantic but also the functional inseparability of certain word-groups and their aptness to function in speech as single words.

Thus differences in terminology reflect certain differences in the main criteria used to distinguish between free word-groups and a specific type of linguistic units generally known as phraseology. These criteria and the ensuing classification are briefly discussed below.

§ 12. Criteria of Stability and Lack of Motivation (Idiomaticity)

Phraseological units are habitually defined as non-motivated word-groups that cannot be freely made up in speech but are reproduced as ready-made units. This definition proceeds from the assumption that the essential features of

1 Cf., e. g., the interpretation of these terms in the textbooks on lexicology by I. V. Arnold, A. I. Smirnitsky and in A. V. Kunin’s Англо-русский фразеологический словарь. М., 1967.

2 For a different interpretation of the term idiom see: А. И. Смирницкий. Лексикология английского языка. М., 1956,

phraseological units are stability of the lexical components and lack of motivation.1 It is consequently assumed that unlike components of free word-groups which may vary according to the needs of communication, member-words of phraseological units are always reproduced as single unchangeable collocations.

Thus, for example, the constituent redin the free word-group red flowermay, if necessary, be substituted for by any other adjective denoting colour (blue, white,etc.), without essentially changing the denotational meaning of the word-group under discussion (a flower of a certain colour). In the phraseological unit red tape(bureaucratic “methods) no such substitution is possible, as a change of the adjective would involve a complete change in the meaning of the whole group. A blue (black, white,etc.) tapewould mean ‘a tape of a certain colour’. It follows that the phraseological unit red tapeis semantically non-motivated, i.e. its meaning cannot be deduced from the meaning of its components and that it exists as a ready-made linguistic unit which does not allow of any variability of its lexical components.

It is also argued that non-variability of the phraseological unit is not confined to its lexical components. Grammatical structure of phraseological units is to a certain extent also stable. Thus, though the structural formula of the word-groups red flowerand red tapeis identical (A + +N), the noun flower may be used in the plural (red flowers),whereas no such change is possible in the phraseological unit red tape; red tapeswould then denote ‘tapes of red colour’ but not ‘bureaucratic methods’. This is also true of other types of phraseological units, e.g. what will Mrs. Grundysay?, where the verbal component is invariably reproduced in the same grammatical form.

§ 13. Classification

Taking into account mainly the degree of idiomaticity phraseological units may be classified into three big groups: phraseological fusions, phraseological unities and phraseological collocations.2

Phraseological fusions are completely non-motivated word-groups, such as redtape — ‘bureaucratic methods’; heavy father —’serious or solemn part in a theatrical play’; kick the bucket — ‘die’; and the like. The meaning of the components has no connections whatsoever, at least synchronically, with the meaning of the whole group. Idiomaticity is, as a rule, combined with complete stability of the lexical components and the grammatical structure of the fusion.

Phraseological unities are partially non-motivated as their meaning can usually be perceived through the metaphoric meaning of the whole phraseological unit. For example, to show one’s teeth, to wash one’s dirty linen in publicif interpreted as semantically motivated through the combined lexical meaning of the component words would

1 This approach to English phraseology is closely bound up with the research work carried out in the field of Russian phraseology by Academician V. V. Vinogradov. See Русский язык. Грамматическое учение о слове. Учпедгиз. Л., 1947.

2 This classification was suggested by Academician V. V. Vinogradov.

naturally lead one to understand these in their literal meaning. The metaphoric meaning of the whole unit, however, readily suggests ‘take a threatening tone’ or ’show an intention to injure’ for show one’s teethand ‘discuss or make public one’s quarrels’ for wash one’s dirty linen in public.Phraseological unities are as a rule marked by a comparatively high degree of stability of the lexical components.

Phraseological collocations are motivated but they are made up of words possessing specific lexical valency which accounts for a certain degree of stability in such word-groups. In phraseological collocations variability of member-words is strictly limited. For instance, bear a grudgemay be changed into bear malice,but not into bear a fancyor liking. Wecan say take a liking (fancy)but not take hatred (disgust).These habitual collocations tend to become kind of clichés1where the meaning of member-words is to some extent dominated by the meaning of the whole group. Due to this phraseological collocations are felt as possessing a certain degree of semantic inseparability.

§ 14. Some Debatable Points

The current definition of phraseological units as highly idiomatic word-groups which cannot be freely made up in speech, but are reproduced as ready-made units has been subject to severe criticism by linguists of different schools of thought. The main objections and debatable points may be briefly outlined as follows:

1. The definition is felt to be inadequate as the concept ready- made units seems to be rather vague. In fact this term can be applied to a variety of heterogeneous linguistic phenomena ranging from word-groups to sentences (e.g. proverbs, sayings) and also quotations from poems, novels or scientific treatises all of which can be described as ready-made units.

2. Frequent discussions have also led to questioning this approach to phraseology from a purely semantic point of view as the criterion of idiomaticity is found to be an inadequate guide in singling out phraseological units from other word-groups. Borderline cases between idiomatic and non-idiomatic word-groups are so numerous and confusing that the final decision seems to depend largely on one’s “feeling of the language". This can be proved by the fact that the same word-groups are treated by some linguists as idiomatic phrases and by others as free word-groups. For example, such word-groups as take the chair — ‘preside at a meeting’, take one’s chance — ‘trust to luck or fortune’, take trouble(to do smth) — ‘to make efforts’ and others are marked in some of the English dictionaries as idioms or phrases, whereas in others they are found as free word-groups illustrating one of the meanings of the verb to takeor the nouns combined with this verb.2

1 See ‘Word-Groups and Phraseological Units’, § 1, p. 64. Here the terms phraseological collocations and habitual collocations are used synonymously.

2 Cf., e.g., The Advanced Learner’s Dictionary by A. Hornby, E. Gatenby, H. Wake- field; The Universal English Dictionary by H. Wyld and A General Service List of English Words with Semantic Frequencies by M. West.

The impracticability of the criterion of idiomaticity is also observed in the traditional classification of phraseological collocations. The extreme cases, i.e. phraseological fusions and collocations are easily differentiated but the borderline units, as for example phraseological fusions and phraseological unities or phraseological collocations and free word-groups, are very often doubtful and rather vaguely outlined. We may argue, e.g., that such word-groups as high treasonor show the white featherare fusions because one finds it impossible to infer the meaning of the whole from the meaning of the individual components. Others may feel these word-groups as metaphorically motivated and refer them to phraseological unities.

The term idiomaticity is also regarded by some linguists as requiring clarification. As a matter of fact this term is habitually used to denote lack of motivation from the point of view of one’s mother tongue. A word-group which defies word by word translation is consequently described as idiomatic. It follows that if idiomaticity is viewed as the main distinguishing feature of phraseological units, the same word-groups in the English language may be classified as idiomatic phraseological units by Russian speakers and as non-idiomatic word-groups by those whose mother tongue contains analogous collocations. Thus, e.g., from the point of view of Russian speakers such word-groups as take tea,take care, etc. are often referred to phraseology as the Russian translation equivalents of these word-groups (пить чай, заботиться) do not contain the habitual translation equivalents of the verb take.French speakers, however, are not likely to find anything idiomatic about these word-groups as there are similar lexical units in the French language (cf. prendre du thé, prendre soin). This approach to idiomaticity may betermed interlingual as it involves a comparison, explicit or implicit of two different languages.

The term idiomaticity is also understood as lack of motivation from the point of view of native speakers. As here we are concerned with the English language, this implies that only those word-groups are to be referred to phraseology which are felt as non-motivated, at least synchronically, by English speakers, e.g. red tape, kick the bucketand the like. This approach to idiomaticity may be termed intralingual. In other words the judgement as to idiomaticity is passed within’ the framework of the language concerned, not from the outside. It is readily observed that classification of factual linguistic material into free wort-groups and phraseological units largely depends upon the particular meaning we attach to the term idiomaticity. It will be recalled, for example, that habitual collocations are word-groups whose component member or members possess specific and limited lexical valency, as a rule essentially different from the lexical valency of related words in the Russian language.1 A number of habitual collocations, e.g. heavy rain, bad mistake, take careand others, may be felt by Russian speakers as peculiarly English and therefore idiomatic, whereas they are not perceived as such by English speakers in whose mother tongue


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