English Words

English Words

English Words

English Words


This book aims to arouse curiosity about English words and about the nature of language in general, especially among introductory students who do not intend to specialize in linguistics. It examines words from various backgrounds - including poetry, journalism, advertising. No previous knowledge of linguistics is assumed. The approach to the study of words is descriptive rather than theoretical. It looks at the structure of words, their meaning, spelling and pronunciation, how new words are manufactured or imported, and how the meaning of words change with time. Katamba also investigates how the mind deals with the amazing intellectual feat of retrieving the right word from its mental dictionary during conversation.


This book developed out of a course on English words that I have taught at Lancaster over the last few years. It is intended to arouse curiosity about English words and about language in general, especially among students who are not intending to specialise in linguistics.

Is it not strange that we spend so many of our waking hours talking and yet we know so little about words? Putting words under a microscope and peering at them seems to be a dead boring and absolutely unrewarding subject. Most people know more about sport, cars, computers, gardening, virtually about anything than they know about words. If you are one of them, then read on.

This book was written for you. It is intended to disabuse you of the false impression that investigating words is tedious, dry and totally unenjoyable. English Words takes you on a voyage of discovery during which you find out how words are structured, how they convey meaning, how their spelling relates to pronunciation, how new words are manufactured, how the meaning of words changes as time passes and how words are imported from other languages. Finally, in the concluding chapter we marvel at the ability you and I have to store tens of thousands of words in our minds and to retrieve the right words instantaneously in conversation. All this is exciting stuff.

Traditionally, the student is not offered a single course or course-book that covers all the various topics that I have listed above. My aim in departing from normal practice by covering such a wide range of topics in one book is to provide a synthesis of what linguists and students of neighbouring disciplines such as psychology have found out about words. So, this book gives a panoramic view of words in the English language. I think there is

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