Имя материала: Лексикология английского языка

Автор: Антрушина Галина Борисовна

Chapter 1 which word should we choose, formal or informal?


Just as there is formal and informal dress, so there is formal and informal speech. One is not supposed to turn up at a ministerial reception or at a scientific symposium wearing a pair of brightly coloured pyjamas. (Jeans are scarcely suitable for such occasions either, though this may be a matter of opinion.) Consequently, the social context in which the communication is taking place determines both the mode of dress and the modes of speech. When placed in different situations, people instinctively choose different kinds of words and structures to express their thoughts. The suitability or unsuitability of a word for each particular situation depends on its stylistic characteristics or, in other words, on the functional style it represents.

The term functional style is generally accepted in modern linguistics. Professor I, V. Arnold defines it as "a system of expressive means peculiar to a specific sphere of communication". [23]

By the sphere of communication we mean the circumstances attending the process of speech in each particular case: professional communication, a lecture, an informal talk, a formal letter, an intimate letter, a speech in court, etc.

All these circumstances or situations can be roughly classified into two types: formal (a lecture, a speech in court, an official letter, professional communication) and informal (an informal talk, an intimate letter).

Accordingly, functional styles are classified into two groups, with further subdivisions depending on different situations.


Informal Style


Informal vocabulary is used in one's immediate circle: family, relatives or friends. One uses informal words when at home or when feeling at home.

Informal style is relaxed, free-and-easy, familiar and unpretentious. But it should be pointed out that the informal talk of well-educated people considerably differs from that of the illiterate or the semi-educated; the choice of words with adults is different from the vocabulary of teenagers; people living in the provinces use certain regional words and expressions. Consequently, the choice of words is determined in each particular case not only by an informal (or formal) situation, but also by the speaker's educational and cultural background, age group, and his occupational and regional characteristics.

Informal words and word-groups are traditionally divided into three types: colloquial, slang and dialect words and word-groups.


Colloquial Words


Among other informal words, colloquialisms are the least exclusive: they are used by everybody, and their sphere of communication is comparatively wide, at least of literary colloquial words. These are informal words that are used in everyday conversational speech both by cultivated and uneducated people of all age groups. The sphere of communication of literary colloquial words also includes the printed page, which shows that the term "colloquial" is somewhat inaccurate.

Vast use of informal words is one of the prominent features of 20th century English and American literature. It is quite natural that informal words appear in dialogues in which they realistically reflect the speech of modern people:


"You're at some sort of technical college?" she said to Leo, not looking at him ... .

"Yes. I hate it though. I'm not good enough at maths. There's a chap there just down from Cambridge who puts us through it. I can't keep up. Were you good at maths?"

"Not bad. But I imagine school maths are different."

"Well, yes, they are. I can't cope with this stuff at all, it's the whole way of thinking that's beyond me... I think I'm going to chuck it and take a. job."

(From The Time of the Angels by I. Murdoch)

However, in modern fiction informal words are not restricted to conversation in their use, but frequently appear in descriptive passages as well. In this way the narrative is endowed with conversational features. The author creates an intimate, warm, informal atmosphere, meeting his reader, as it were, on the level of a friendly talk, especially when the narrative verges upon non-personal direct speech.

"Fred Hardy was a bad lot. Pretty women, chemin de fer, and an unlucky knack for backing the wrong horse had landed him in the bankruptcy court by the time he was twenty-five ...

...If he thought of his past it was with complacency; he had had a good time, he had enjoyed his ups and downs', and now, with good health and a clear conscience, he was prepared to settle down as a country gentleman, damn it, bring up the kids as kids should be brought up; and when the old buffer who sat for his Constituency pegged out, by George, go into Parliament himself."

(From Rain and Other Short Stories by W. S. Maugham)


Here are some more examples of literary colloquial words. Pal and chum are colloquial equivalents of friend; girl, when used colloquially, denotes a woman of any age; bite and snack stand for meal; hi, hello are informal greetings, and so long a form of parting; start, go on, finish and be through are also literary colloquialisms; to have a crush on somebody is a colloquial equivalent of to be in love. A bit (of) and a lot (of) also belong to this group.

A considerable number of shortenings are found among words of this type. E. g. pram, exam, fridge, flu, prop, zip, movie.

Verbs with post-positional adverbs are also numerous among colloquialisms: put up, put over, make up, make out, do away, turn up, turn in, etc.

Literary colloquial words are to be distinguished from familiar colloquial and low colloquial.

The borderline between the literary and familiar colloquial is not always clearly marked. Yet the circle of speakers using familiar colloquial is more limited:

these words are used mostly by the young and the semi-educated. This vocabulary group closely verges on slang and has something of its coarse flavour.

E. g. doc (for doctor), hi (for how do you do), ta-ta (for good-bye), goings-on (for behaviour, usually with a negative connotation), to kid smb. (for tease, banter), to pick up smb. (for make a quick and easy acquaintance), go on with you (for let me alone), shut up (for keep silent), beat it (for go away).

Low colloquial is defined by G. P. Krapp as uses "characteristic of the speech of persons who may be broadly described as uncultivated". [31] This group is stocked with words of illiterate English which do not present much interest for our purposes.

The problem of functional styles is not one of purely theoretical interest, but represents a particularly important aspect of the language-learning process. Students of English should be taught how to choose stylistically suitable words for each particular speech situation.

So far as colloquialisms are concerned, most students' mistakes originate from the ambiguousness of the term itself. Some students misunderstand the term "colloquial" and accept it as a recommendation for wide usage (obviously mistaking "colloquial" for "conversational"). This misconception may lead to most embarrassing errors unless it is taken care of in the early stages of language study.

As soon as the first words marked "colloquial" appear in the students' functional vocabulary, it should be explained to them that the marker "colloquial" (as, indeed, any other stylistic marker) is not a recommendation for unlimited usage but, on the contrary, a sign of restricted usage. It is most important that the teacher should carefully describe the typical situations to which colloquialisms are restricted and warn the students against using them under formal circumstances or in their compositions and reports.

Literary colloquial words should not only be included in the students' functional and recognition vocabularies, but also presented and drilled in suitable contexts and situations, mainly in dialogues. It is important that students should be trained to associate these words with informal, relaxed situations.




Much has been written on the subject of slang that is contradictory and at the same time very interesting.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines slang as "language of a highly colloquial style, considered as below the level of standard educated speech, and consisting either of new words or of current words employed in some special sense." [33]

This definition is inadequate because it equates slang with colloquial style. The qualification "highly" can hardly serve as the criterion for distinguishing between colloquial style and slang.

Yet, the last line of the definition "current words in some special sense" is important and we shall have to return to this a little later.

Here is another definition of slang by the famous English writer G. K. Chesterton:

"The one stream of poetry which in constantly flowing is slang. Every day some nameless poet weaves some fairy tracery of popular language. ...All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry. ...The world of slang is a kind of topsy-turvydom of poetry, full of blue moons and white elephants, of men losing their heads, and men whose tongues run away with them — a whole chaos of fairy tales." [10]

The first thing that attracts attention in this enthusiastic statement is that the idioms which the author quotes have long since ceased being associated with slang: neither once in a blue moon, nor the white elephant, nor your tongue has run away with you are indicated as slang in modern dictionaries. This is not surprising, for slang words and idioms are short-lived and very soon either disappear or lose their peculiar colouring and become either colloquial or stylistically neutral lexical units.

As to the author's words "all slang is metaphor", it is a true observation, though the second part of the statement "all metaphor is poetry" is difficult to accept, especially if we consider the following examples: mug (for face), saucers, blinkers (for eyes), trap (for mouth, e. g. Keep your trap shut), dogs (for feet), to leg (it) (for to walk).

All these meanings are certainly based on metaphor, yet they strike one as singularly unpoetical.

Henry Bradley writes that "Slang sets things in their proper place with a smile. So, to call a hat 'a lid' and a head 'a nut' is amusing because it puts a hat and a pot-lid in the same class". [17] And, we should add, a head and a nut in the same class too.

"With a smile" is true. Probably "grin" would be a more suitable word. Indeed, a prominent linguist observed that if colloquialisms can be said to be wearing dressing-gowns and slippers, slang is wearing a perpetual foolish grin. The world of slang is inhabited by odd creatures indeed: not by men, but by guys (R. чучела) and blighters or rotters with nuts for heads, mugs for faces, flippers for hands.

All or most slang words are current words whose meanings have been metaphorically shifted. Each slang metaphor is rooted in a joke, but not in a kind or amusing joke. This is the criterion for distinguishing slang from colloquialisms: most slang words are metaphors and jocular, often with a coarse, mocking, cynical colouring.

This is one of the common objections against slang: a person using a lot of slang seems to be sneering and jeering at everything under the sun. This objection is psychological. There are also linguistic ones.

G. H. McKnight notes that "originating as slang expressions often do, in an insensibility to the meaning of legitimate words, the use of slang checks an acquisition of a command over recognized modes of expression ... and must result in atrophy of the faculty of using language". [34]

H. W. Fowler states that "as style is the great antiseptic, so slang is the great corrupting matter, it is perishable, and infects what is round it". [27]

McKnight also notes that "no one capable of good speaking or good writing is likely to be harmed by the occasional employment of slang, provided that he is conscious of the fact..." [34]

Then why do people use slang?

For a number of reasons. To be picturesque, arresting, striking and, above all, different from others. To avoid the tedium of outmoded hackneyed "common" words. To demonstrate one's spiritual independence and daring. To sound "modern" and "up-to-date".

It doesn't mean that all these aims are achieved by using slang. Nor are they put in so many words by those using slang on the conscious level. But these are the main reasons for using slang as explained by modern psychologists and linguists.

The circle of users of slang is more narrow than that of colloquialisms. It is mainly used by the young and uneducated. Yet, slang's colourful and humorous quality makes it catching, so that a considerable part of slang may become accepted by nearly all the groups of speakers.


Dialect Words


H. W. Fowler defines a dialect as "a variety of a language which prevails in a district, with local peculiarities of vocabulary, pronunciation and phrase". [19] England is a small country, yet it has many dialects which have their own distinctive features (e. g. the Lancashire, Dorsetshire, Norfolk dialects).

So dialects are regional forms of English. Standard English is defined by the Random House Dictionary as the English language as it is written and spoken by literate people in both formal and informal usage and that is universally current while incorporating regional differences. [54]

Dialectal peculiarities, especially those of vocabulary, are constantly being incorporated into everyday colloquial speech or slang. From these levels they can be transferred into the common stock, i. e. words which are not stylistically marked (see "The Basic Vocabulary", Ch. 2) and a few of them even into formal speech and into the literary language. Car, trolley, tram began as dialect words.

A snobbish attitude to dialect on the part of certain educationalists and scholars has been deplored by a number of prominent linguists. E. Partridge writes:

"The writers would be better employed in rejuvenating the literary (and indeed the normal cultured) language by substituting dialectal freshness, force, pithiness, for standard exhaustion, feebleness, long-windedness than in attempting to rejuvenate it with Gallicisms, Germanicisms, Grecisms and Latinisms." [38]

In the following extract from The Good Companions by J. B. Priestley, the outstanding English writer ingeniously and humorously reproduces his native Yorkshire dialect. The speakers are discussing a football match they have just watched. The author makes use of a number of dialect words and grammatical structures and, also, uses spelling to convey certain phonetic features of "broad Yorkshire".

"'Na Jess!' said the acquaintance, taking an imitation calabash pipe out of his mouth and then winking mysteriously.

'Na Jim!' returned Mr. Oakroyd. This 'Na' which must once have been 'Now', is the recognized salutation in Bruddersford,1 and the fact that it sounds more like a word of caution than a word of greeting is by no means surprising. You have to be careful in Bruddersford.

'Well,' said Jim, falling into step, 'what did you think on 'em?'

'Think on 'em!' Mr. Oakroyd made a number of noises with his tongue to show what he thought of them.

... 'Ah '11 tell tha1 what it is, Jess,' said his companion, pointing the stem of his pipe and becoming broader in his Yorkshire as he grew more philosophical. 'If t' United2 had less brass2 to lake3 wi', they'd lake better football.' His eyes searched the past for a moment, looking for the team that had less money and had played better football.' Tha can remember when t' club had nivver4 set eyes on two thousand pahnds, when t' job lot wor not worth two thahsand pahnds, pavilion and all, and what sort of football did they lake then? We know, don't we? They could gi' thee1 summat5 worth watching then. Nah, it's all nowt,6 like t' ale an' baccy7 they ask so mich8 for — money fair thrawn away, ah calls it. Well, we mun9 'a' wer teas and get ower it. Behave thi-sen,10 Jess!' And he turned away, for that final word of caution was only one of Bruddersford's familiar good-byes.

'Ay,11' replied Mr. Oakroyd dispiritedly. 'So long, Jim!'"


1 tha (thee) — the objective case of thou; 2 brass — money; 3 to lake — to play;

4 nivver — never; 5 summat — something; 6 nowt — nothing; 7 baccy — tobacco;

8 mich — much; 9 тип — must; 10 thi-sen (= thy-self) — yourself; 11 ay(e) — yes.




I. Consider your answers to the following.


1. What determines the choice of stylistically marked words in each particular situation?

2. In what situations are informal words used?

3. What are the main kinds of informal words? Give a brief description of each group.

4. What is the difference between colloquialisms and slang? What are their common features? Illustrate your answer with examples.

5. What are the main features of dialect words?

II. The italicized words and word-groups in the following extracts are informal. Write them out in two columns and explain in each case why you consider the word slang/colloquial. Look up any words yon do not know in your dictionary.


1. Т h e Flower Girl.... Now you are talking! I thought you'd come off it when you saw a chance of getting back a bit of what you chucked at me last night.1 (Confidentially.) You'd had a drop in, hadn't you?


2. Liza. What call would a woman with that strength in her have to die of influenza? What become of her new straw hat that should have come to me? Somebody pinched it; and what I say is, them as pinched it done her in.

Mrs. Eynsfordhill. What does doing her in mean?

Higgins (hastily). Oh, thats the new small talk. To do a person in means to kill them.


3.Higgins. I've picked up a girl. Mrs. Higgins. Does that mean that some girl has picked you up?

Higgins. Not at all. I don't mean a love affair. Mrs. Higgins. What a pity!

(From Pygmalion by B. Shaw)


4. Jасk (urgently): Mrs. Palmer, if I ask you a straight question, will you please give me a straight answer?

Muriel: All right. Fire away. Jack: Is your mother divorced? Muriel: Divorced? Mum? Of course not. Jack (quietly): Thank you. That was what I had already gathered.

Muriel: Mind you, she's often thought of divorcing Dad, but somehow never got round to doing it. Not that she's got a good word to say for him, mind you. She says he was the laziest, pettiest, most selfish chap she's ever come across in all her life. "He'll come to a sticky end," she used to say to me, when I was a little girl. "You mark my words, Mu," she used to say, "if your Dad doesn't end his days in jail my name's not Flossie Gosport."

(From Harlequinade by T. Rattigan)


5. My wife has been kiddin' me about my friends ever since we was married. She says that ... they ain't nobody in the world got a rummier bunch of friends than me. I'll admit that the most of them ain't, well, what you might call hot; they're different somehow than when I first hung around with them. They seem to be lost without a brass rail to rest their dogs on. But of course they are old friends and I can't give them the air.

(From Short Stories by R. Lardner)


III. a. Read the following extract.


A young man, Freddie by name, had invited a pretty young girl April to a riverside picnic. April could not come and sent her little sister to keep Freddie company.

It was naturally with something of a pang that Freddie tied the boat up at their destination. ... The only living thing for miles around appeared to be an elderly horse which was taking a snack on the river-bank. In other words, if only April had been there and the kid hadn't, they would have been alone together with no human eye to intrude upon their sacred solitude. They could have read Tennyson to each other till they were blue in the face, and not a squawk from a soul.

... Still, as the row had given him a nice appetite, he soon dismissed these wistful yearnings and started unpacking the luncheon-basket. And at the end of about twenty minutes he felt that it would not be amiss to chat with his little guest.

"Had enough?" he asked.

"No," said the kid. "But there isn't any more."

"You seem to tuck away your food all right."

"The girls at school used to call me Teresa the Tapeworm," said the kid with a touch of pride.

It suddenly struck Freddie as a little odd that with July only half over this child should be at large. The summer holidays, as he remembered it, always used to start round about the first of August.

"Why aren't you at school now?"

"I was bunked last month."

"Really?" said Freddie, interested. "They gave you the push, did they? What for?"

"Shooting pigs."

"Shooting pigs?"

"With a bow and arrow. One pig, that is to say. Percival. He belonged to Miss Maitland, the headmistress. Do you ever pretend to be people in books?"

"Never. And don't stray from the point at issue. I want to get to the bottom of this thing about the pig."

"I'm not straying from the point at issue. I was playing William Tell."

"The old apple-knocker, you mean?"

"The man who shot an apple off his son's head. I tried to get one of the girls to put the apple on her head, but she wouldn't, so I went down to the pigsty and put it on Percival's. And the silly goop shook it off and started to eat it just as I was shooting, which spoiled my aim and I got him on the left ear. He was

rather vexed about it. So was Miss Maitland. Especially as I was supposed to be in disgrace at the time, because I had set the dormitory on fire the night before."

"Freddie blinked a bit."

"You set the dormitory on fire?"


"Any special reason, or just a passing whim?"

"I was playing Florence Nightingale."

"Florence Nightingale?"

"The Lady with the Lamp. I dropped the lamp."

"Tell me," said Freddie. "This Miss Maitland of yours. What colour is her hair?"


"I thought as much."

(From Young Men in Spats by P. G. Wodehouse)


b. Write out the informal words and word-groups which occur in the above passage and explain why you think the author uses so many of them.


IV. Read the following jokes. Write out the informal words and word-groups and say whether they are colloquial, slang or dialect.


1. A Yankee passenger in an English train was beguiling his fellow passengers with tall stories1 and remarked: "We can start with a twenty-story apartment house this month, and have if finished by next."

This was too much for the burly Yorkshireman, who sat next to him. "Man, that's nowt", he said. "I've seen 'em in Yorkshire when I've been going to work just laying the foundation stone and when I've been coming home at neet they've been putting the folk out for back rent."

2. A driver and his family had gathered bluebells, primrose roots, budding twigs and so on from a country lane. Just before they piled into the car to move off Father approached a farmer who was standing nearby and asked: "Can we take this road to Sheffield?" The farmer eyed the car and its contents sourly, then: "Aye, you mun as well, you've takken nigh everything else around here."


V. Make up a dialogue using colloquial words from your lists and from the extracts given in the chapter.


a. In the first dialogue, two undergraduates are discussing why one of them has been expelled from his college. (Don't forget that young people use both literary and familiar colloquial words.)

b. In the second dialogue, the parents of the dismissed student are wondering what to do with him. (Older people, as you remember, are apt to be less informal in their choice of words.)


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