Spanish-English Contrasts: A Course in Spanish Linguistics

By M. Stanley Whitley | Go to book overview

Chapter 15
Words and their meanings

15.0 The lexicon. The term LEXICON is used in linguistics for the set of words a speaker knows and for the larger set available to the speech community as a whole. Strictly speaking, the two are not identical; individual speakers may have a personal vocabulary of some sixty thousand words, many of them known passively (receptively) but seldom used actively (expressively), whereas the language of the larger community, as encoded in dictionaries, has several times that number.1

There are several reasons for the difference, as we learn by skimming through a dictionary and comparing its lexical stock with our own. Some words are archaic, appearing only in poetry or older literature (e.g., exir 'salir', maguer 'a pesar de que', remanir 'permanecer'); some are restricted to certain dialects (e.g., English brolly, Spanish choclo); and still others belong to the specialized vocabulary, or ARGOT, of certain fields and subcultures (v. 16.1.3).

Lexicographers pool their experiences to record words that appear in print (words appearing in speech are hard to monitor). Despite their efforts to keep up with the communal lexicon, however, it is impossible to give an exhaustive listing because new words or NEOLOGISMS are constantly arising. Borrowing is one source of neologisms, and though purists may condemn tipiar, sexy, el chip, chequear, and el lonche, languages do not exist in a vacuum; borrowing has always been a simple, direct way of enriching vocabulary in both English and Spanish. At least in Spanish, loanwords are felt to be naturalized once their orthography is adapted and they begin spinning off derivatives: leader → líder liderar liderazgo, stress → estrés estresar estresante, diskette → disquete disquetera, clone → clon clonar clonatión, scanner → escàner escanear, folklore → folclor folclórico. The borrowing may be masked by LOAN TRANSLATION in which each morpheme of the original is converted: luna de miel, videocintas, baloncesto, anticuerpos, retroalimentación, interfaz, and bebé probeta are based on English honeymoon, videotapes, basketball, antibodies, feedback, interface, and test-tube baby; mercadotecnia and miembresía, created to fend off màrketing and membership, could be included in the same category. There is also SEMANTIC BORROWING of a meaning, as in ignorar 'no saber'

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