Chapter HI. LEXICOLOGY OF SEQUENCES
(SYNTAGMATIC LEXICOLOGY) 1
The subject of lexicology is known to be the vocabulary of language,
and separate constituents of the vocabulary — words with their history.
But if this is true, then the very problem of 'syntagmata' in lexicology is
fallacious, and the term 'syntagmatic lexicology', a typical contradiction
On the other hand, since we know that lexicology deals with
paradigmatic relations between words (by comparing vocabulary units
with one another), there are reasons to include in lexicology the in-
terrelations between words arranged syntagmatically. This seems the
more reasonable as the problem 'Word and Context' is admittedly a
For lexicology of sequences the 'word-and-context' problem presents
a number of stylistic problems — especially those connected with co-oc-
currence of words of various stylistic colourings.
Results effected by collisions of stylistically different words in the
text are varied and unpredictable. To find some regularity in them, we
are bound to analyse every case as an individual linguistic event, taking
into account the whole of its cultural and historical background. In the
present chapter, however, we shall discuss only the most general obser-
vations, perhaps even axiomatic ones.
Demonstrating the laws of interaction of co-occurring lexical units,
we must take good care to maintain the purity of our stylistic experi-
ment: the material analysed should be secure from any external influ-
ence of the context. Hence we must take an utterance and, repeating it,
replace every time only one word in a certain position by some other
word. Let us vary the direct object of the sentence We have met this
1. We have met this individual before.
2. We have met this person before.
3. We have met this chap before.
4. We have met this guy before.
It is obvious that the four varieties differ stylistically from one an-
other. The first is so elevated that it is even sarcastic. The second is
official-sounding. Both are higher than neutral. The third has a tinge of
familiarity about it. The fourth is the lowest of all.
It may be stated that a stylistically coloured word imparts its colouring
to the whole of the utterance. The words individual, person, chap, guy
Surrounded by neutral words (We have met this... before) do not lose any
of their stylistic qualities. On the contrary, they dominate their
Surroundings. Examples 1, 2 are superneutral, 3 and 4, sub-neutral.
Unintentional lexical mixtures of all kinds result in stylistic conflicts:
violations of rules produce a ludicrous effect.
Also stylistically important is lexical recurrence (reappearance of the
same word in the text).
V. V. Vinogradov and I.R. Galperin single out a special variety of lexical
recurrence: the so-called 'root repetition', or 'sham tautology'. It consists
in using attributes of the same root with their head-words. The latter
thus gets its primary sense strengthened. I.R. Galperin's examples are:
To live again in the youth of the young; the dodgerest of all the dodges; a
A variety of root repetition is the recurrence of the same noun in
different case forms, or, as regards English (with practically no case forms
in nouns), in varying case-like syntactic positions: They always disliked
their neighbour, their neighbour's noisy company, the very sight of their
neighbour, in fact. The phenomenon is known in stylistics as 'polyptoton'.
The term, as the phenomenon itself, is better known in stylistic
descriptions of inflectional languages.
Lexical repetition, i.e. recurrence of a word for the sake of emphasis,
can be treated as a redundancy of syntactical elements (mostly of homogeneous
parts of the sentence). On the other hand, repetition of a word is co-
occurrence of identical lexical units.
Lexical repetition as a means of emphasis must be further distin-
guished from reappearance of a word at some distance which, however, is
phort enough for this recurrence to be noticeable. Its purpose is not to
imiphasize the idea, but merely to remind one of its importance to the
It is common knowledge that the insistent use of the same word
throughout a text, if it is not done on purpose, betrays the stylistic in-
adequacy of the writer (speaker), who cannot replace it by a synonym (see
further chapter on syntagmatic semasiology) or change the construction
There are practically no rules to diagnose whether the recurrence of a
word is a stylistic fault or an intentional stylistic device. Our judgement
can be facilitated if we have sufficient data concerning the personality of
the writer: he who generally writes good English can hardly be suspected
of stylistic defects when he uses the same word several times in a
paragraph. On the whole, unconscious defects and deliberate effects are
closely interwoven in stylistic matters.