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  • Print publication year: 1999
  • Online publication date: March 2008


Vocabulary is central to both the system and the use of language. Words are what are pronounced and written and organised into sentences and other grammatical combinations, being the fundamental units of meaning. This chapter explains six major etymological or historically derivational classes: creations, shifts, shortenings, composites, blends, and loanwords or borrowings. Shifting may be of shape, grammar, semantics, or pragmatics. English has great freedom of shifting forms from one part of speech to another. Without relying on specific percentages, it seems clear that overwhelmingly the major source for new words in English is their composition from morphemes already present in the language, by compounding and affixation. Change in vocabulary involves fluctuations in the faddishness, voguishness, popularity, or centrality of words. The stylishness of words is difficult to attest objectively, but some words are clearly a mirror of the times in which they are used.
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The Cambridge History of the English Language
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