Academic journal article Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos

Lexical and Non-Lexical Linguistic Variation in the Vocabulary of Old English

Academic journal article Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos

Lexical and Non-Lexical Linguistic Variation in the Vocabulary of Old English

Article excerpt

This paper deals with different theoretical aspects of lexical variation and change. More exactly, I will focus here on the analysis of some of the different ways lexical and non-lexical linguistic variation can interact over long periods of time. My analysis is based on the Functional-Lexematic Model, which conceives the lexicon of a language as a grammar. Its central unit of description is the word, which appears with all its syntactic, morphological, semantic and pragmatic properties. Macrostructurally, predicates are interconnected by cohesive, associative and encyclopaedic functions, forming what has been called the "semantic architecture of the lexicon." I will deal here with three basic concepts of lexical analysis and their applications to the historical vocabulary of English: (1) word-frequency, (2) syntactic variation, and (3) lexical productivity. I will argue that the relative position of an Anglo-Saxon lexeme within the semantic architecture of OE can be calculated in terms of--at least--the following three diffferent types of variation: onomasiological, syntactic and morphological-derivational. Since defining a verb means locating it in semantic space, the resulting hierarchical ordering into lexical domains and subdomains implies a reliable reconstruction of the mental lexicon of the Anglo-Saxons. In doing so, I will try to show how these easily observable variational phenomena can be used in order to compensate for the shortcomings of historical lexicology and semantics.

1. Introduction

In this paper, I am going to analyze some of the different ways lexical and non-lexical types of linguistic variation interact over long periods of time, with special attention to the early history of English. (1) My approach is mainly lexicographic, in that this research is based on day-to-day observation and analysis of the information contained in different types of dictionarie s of the English language, both historical and non-historical, semasiological and onomasiological, bilingual and monolingual, general and specialized.

In fact, the primary source of inspiration for this paper is to be found in my earlier work on the compilation of a formalized grammatical lexicon of Old English (henceforth OE) and Old Norse verbs, organized onomasiologicallyin semantic hierarchies (Diaz Vera 2002). Within this ongoing project, we are trying to apply some of the methodological principles of the so-called Functional-Lexematic Model (hence FLM) Faber and Mairal Uson 1999) to the analysis of the historical lexicon of English. In order to do so, we have adapted some of the basic principles of lexical description formulated by the FLM to the analysis of the lexicon of past states of language. Through the careful observation of the overall functioning of the verbal lexicon of Present-Day English (henceforth PDE), we have been able to formulate a set of theoretical statements whose application to our lexicographic approach to the vocabulary found in Anglo-Saxon texts has proved extremely useful. To put it in Labovian terms, my main interest is in how to use the present to explain the past, so that I will focus on the application of the theoretical findings of the synchronic version of the FLM to the lexical analysis of past states of language.

2. Lexical and non-lexical variation in the FLM, synchronic and diachronic

To start with, I will briefly introduce some of the basic principles of the synchronic version of the FLM, with special attention to its concept of linguistic variation. In the FLM, the lexicon of a language is conceived of as a grammar. Its central unit of description is the word, which appears with all its syntactic, morphological, semantic and pragmatic properties (Faber and Mairal Uson 1999: 57). Macrostructurally, predicates are interconnected by cohesive, associative and encyclopaedic functions, forming what has been called the "semantic architecture of the lexicon" (Faber 1994; Diaz Vera 2002). …

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