Linguistic Library (Mike Green)


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A glossary of linguistic terms, designed for A Level (UK) English Language Students.

Browse the glossary using this index

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S

Semantic field

A group of words that are related because they are from the same area of knowledge or interest, e.g. the semantic field of agriculture includes: farm, farming, tractor, meadow, crop, etc. This is sometimes also called lexical field. Semantic fields can be important in the use of metaphor. A metaphor is a description of a thing from one semantic field (e.g. football) spoken of as if it were from a very different semantic field ('the home side gunned down the opposing side with ease' - the semantic field of war).

Semantics

Semantics is the study of the meanings created by words and phrases (see also pragmatics - the study of the way context can infer or imply extra meanings and so add to their semantic value or content). Writers often play with the semantics of words to entertain or intrigue a reader - examples are when a writer uses irony, simile, metaphor or hyperbole (called figurative language). An important area of semantics is idiomatic language .

Sentence

A sentence is a sequence of words constructed in accordance with the rules of grammar. Such a group has a sense of completeness and clarity of meaning. It will be constructed around at least one noun phrase acting as the subject of a finite verb, i.e. it will contain at least one main clause The rules of grammar mainly concern the order words must take in a sentence, technically called its syntax and, to a lesser extent, the form words must take, called their morphology.

Sentence 1) below shows standard syntax and morphology (i.e. standard grammar):
1). 'The cat sat on the mat.'

Sentence 2) shows non-standard morphology:
2). 'The cat sitted the mat on.'

Sentence 3) shows non-standard syntax:
3). 'The cat on the mat sat.'

A group of words that is a sentence is made obvious to the eye (i.e. in writing) by an opening capital letter and a final full stop, question mark or exclamation mark. It is made obvious to the ear (i.e. in speech) by the use of pauses. It is made obvious to the mind because it makes sense alone.

A sentence may loosely be said to be a coherent group of words that expresses a single complete thought about something (or someone).

A sentence can be one of three main types:

1. A simple sentence is a sentence that contains a single subject and verb, i.e. an independent clause.

2. A compound sentence is a sentence that contains more than one main clause. These clauses must be linked by co-ordinating conjunction or a semicolon.

3. A complex sentence is a sentence that contains a mixture of clause types. A complex sentence must contain (as all sentences) at least one main clause but will also contain a second kind of clause acting as a dependent or subordinate clause. Subordinate clauses often begin with a subordinating conjunction such as however, although, even though, because, etc. There is also a special kind of sentence, often used in speech, called a 'minor sentence'.


A sentence can fulfil one of four functions:

1. It can make a statement. This is called a declarative sentence, e.g. 'I am overweight.' Declaratives usually follow the word order SV (subject first, verb second)

2. It can ask a question. This is called an interrogative sentence, e.g. 'Am I overweight?' and indicated by a question mark. Interrogatives usually follow the word order VS (verb first, subject second)

3. It can demand an action. This is called an imperative sentence, e.g. 'Sit down, please.' indicated by a lack of subject (but 'you' is implied).

4. It can make an exclamation. This is called an exclamatory sentence, e.g. 'What a mess!', indicated by an exclamation mark.


Sociolect

a variety of language used by a particular social group.

Standard English

This is the standard national dialect of English. It is the clearest and most well-known dialect and as such is accepted for use in most textbooks, by teachers, in the media and as the basis for English teaching across the world. Non-standard English includes regional dialects and slang. There are also 'standard forms' of important international English languages such as 'standard American English'.

Structure

The structure of something refers to the form of the complete item - such as a sentence or a text - and the way its individual parts have been put together to create a coherent (interrelated) whole. In a phrase , clause or sentence the individual words are related both by their grammatical structure and their semantic properties in a text, the relationship and connections between its structural parts (e.g. its sentences and paragraphs) is considered using discourse analysis.

Style

Style means the way language and structure are chosen by a writer or speaker to suit a particular context, audience and purpose. Three important aspects of style that could be worthy of comment are its degree of formality or informality, its use of standard or non-standard grammar and its discourse structure. A good writers might also have a distinctive, individual style, which may also be called a ' voice' .

subject

The word 'subject' needs care as it has a particular - and very important - meaning that is quite distinct to grammar and which is different from the meaning you probably usually use. Grammatically speaking, the subject (S) is an element of a clause. It is the word or phrase that the clause tells about - and is usually a noun or noun phrase. In the sentence, 'I gave him a present', 'I' is the grammatical subject and 'gave' is its associated verb in the sentence (in the past tense). In the simple sentence, 'The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog', the subject is 'The quick brown fox'. This is a noun phrase that has as its associated finite verb , 'jumped'.

Most English sentences need a subject but sometimes this can be one of the small words (called pronouns) 'it' or 'there'. This type of subject can be tricky to recognise as proper subjects.

Some typical word orders of simple declarative sentences are: SV (subject-verb), SVO (subject-verb-object), SVC (subject-verb-complement) or SVA (subject-verb-adverbial).

Some types of verb transfer their action from their subject onto something else (the thing receiving the action of the verb is called its object). These are called transitive verbs. In the above sentence, the verb 'gave' is transitive as action transfers to the object, the noun 'a present'.

Verbs are called intransitive if they do not transfer action, but, instead, act to tell what their subject is doing, e.g. 'He is working.', 'It died.' Some verbs can be either transitive or intransitive according to their usage in the sentence, e.g. 'He is singing.' (intransitive) and 'He is singing a song.' (transitive).

A few special verbs (stative verbs) have no sense of direct action but, instead, act to make a statement about their subject's state of being. These verbs are called copular or linking verbs, e.g. He seems ill, She is clever, he was a criminal, it appears dark, etc.. The word that follows a stative verb has no action passing on to it so it cannot be called an object; instead, it is termed a complement.

Confusingly, Some verbs can take two objects:

'I gave Sally a present.' (i.e. 'I gave a present to Sally')

In this type of sentence, the object is 'a present' (= the thing given; this is called the DIRECT OBJECT); but there is a second 'object' - the 'receiver' of the direct object. This is termed the INDIRECT OBJECT. Notice that all sentences of this type can be re-written as shown using the word 'to'.


suffix

An affix (a morpheme ) added to the end of a word to alter its grammatical function , e.g. the noun luck can become an adjective by adding the suffix (or 'adjective marker') -y, as in lucky.

synonym

A word that has a closely similar meaning to another word. English has very few true synonyms (e.g. sofa / couch / settee), but many near synonyms, e.g. house - dwelling - home - abode - pad. The existence of synonyms allows variety of word choice according to style and register. A list of synonyms is available in a thesaurus. 

Compare antonym.


syntax

Syntax is the most important aspect of English grammar . It refers to the way words are put together in a group to create meaning as phrases, clauses or as a sentence. Studying the syntax of a sentence involves investigating the structure and relationships of its words. Standard syntax refers to the syntax of a particular dialect of English called Standard English - this is the syntax you will read in most written texts and hear from teachers in lessons, newsreaders and in any other more formal context. Non-standard syntax is a normal part of much spoken English and is common in regional dialects


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