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Проблема определения слова и его основные характеристики

Nobody doubts that word is a basic unit of lexicology, alongside with morphemes and phraseological units. Each word is a small unit within a vast, efficient and well-balanced system. It is immediately understood by every native speaker. A word is a dialectical unity of form and content. The definition of the word is one of the most difficult in linguistics because the simplest word is a multi-aspect unit possessing a sound form (a certain arrangement of phonemes). Besides, it has morphological structure (a certain arrangement of morphemes). When it is used in actual speech, it may occur in different word forms and signal different meanings. The word is a sort of focus for the problems of phonology, lexicology, syntax, morphology and also for some other sciences dealing with the language and speech. Each of these sciences suggests its own definition of the word but in fact none of these definitions can be considered totally satisfactory in all aspects.

If we try to divorce two facets of the word (form and content), the word will lose its identity. The word is further complicated by the existence of variants and word forms. ‘Write - writing - has been writing - wrote - written’ - these are word forms. They are lexically identical but have different grammatical meaning. These forms constitute the word paradigm. Variants appear when slight modifications in the morphemic or phonemic structure of the word are related with any modification in the content or changes in the plane of expression are linked with the change in the plane of content (‘open’ - ‘opened’). Lexical semantic variants appear if we observe the change of meaning without modification of the form: ‘open face - open sound - open window’.

All these considerations show that any attempt to give a definition of the word faces a lot of difficulties. There are a lot of linguistic definitions of the word. It can be defined syntactically (a minimal sentence; a minimal free form which occur in sentences), as a minimal meaningful unit of speech. It can be considered on purely phonetic criterion as a part of the sentence singled out with full stops. Some linguists claim that word is means of nominating any element of extralinguistic reality.

There are some characteristics of the word which scientists mention:

§ its indivisibility showing that words cannot be divided without a disturbance of meaning. It means that you cannot insert anything into the middle of the word without breaking its internal indivisibility. C.f.: ‘to stay alone’ - ‘to stay a quite lone’ - ‘a lone star’.

§ some linguists also prove that words possess ininterruptibility. C.f.: ‘the boy-s slow-ly walk-ed up the hill’

Words in sentences may change their position, but they should behave as blocks. They occur always together, they are positionally mobile, but indivisible. Prof. Smirnitsky singles out grammatical cohesion as the main criterion of the word. He tries to prove that word combinations are different from words because they lack structural cohesion and are divisible, cf.: “a black bird” - “a blackbird”. The latter is characterized by unity and it possesses a single grammatical framing (“blackbirds”). The first component (black) cannot have any grammatical changes. On the contrary, each component of “a black bird” may have its own grammatical framing, e.g. “the blackest birds”. Besides, if we take a word combination, we can insert other words between the components of it - “a black night bird”, but that is impossible with a single word. The word “blackbird” conveys only one concept - the type of the bird. As for the word combination, it conveys the two meanings - the color and the type of the animal.


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