Though vocabulary is one component of language. It tends to overshadow everything. Words often have a mystical significance. 'Word' stands for language itself. Words have a magical power over us. We name our babies after a long search for high sounding names. We like pompous words. F.W.Frisby says "The large number of words in the English language, the wealth of synonyms, the large number of sentence patterns in common use present a bewildering problem to the untrained mind." The Oxford English Dictionary contains half a million words, though many of them are technical and professional words, not useful to the second language learner.
SELECTION AND GRADING OF VOCABULARY
The following principles were kept in view in selecting and grading the words. These are the same principles for the selection and grading of structures. Though all this background work has been done already for the benefit of learners, it is good for them to know the basis of the syllabus which they are learning.
Frequency: The words which are most frequently used in speech and writing are the best words for the pupils to acquire first.
Structural value: Words which help in forming sentences by linking content words should be taught early on the course. It is known that for every 100 words counted there are 95 structural words that is their importance.
Universality in respect of geographic area: A word in the final list must be useful in that particular area. E.g. Sager, Fort are very useful in Hyderabad; Shikara in Kashmir.
Subject Range: If a word can be used in many subject areas and contexts, it is to be preferred to a word with a limited range. E.g. the words go; get and makes are used in numerous contexts.
Productivity: if a word helps us in making more words out of it or related to it, it is said to be productive and useful. E.g. Large, enlarge, larger, largest.
Teach ability: Words which are easily demonstrable and teachable should have a high priority with the teacher.
Simplicity: Words which are simple appear before those which are difficult in pronunciation, spelling and meaning.
For grading the vocabulary of 3000 words the same principles as above may be followed in dividing them class wise over 6 or 7 years. Words which are useful and teachable, simple and concrete should be learned first. Difficult, abstract and high sounding words may be postponed to a later stage. In grading structural words, their various meanings in context have to be taken, the simpler meanings first, the more difficult ones later.
E.g. In, on should come before over, above, under
On - on the table
NATURE OF WORDS AND WORD GROUPS
The student should acquire a thorough mastery of the 2000-3000 words, for purposes of the four skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing. We spent our lives enlarging our knowledge of words and sharing it with others. Words are not for display like medals and prizes, but are for use, to serve certain purposes in life. Memorizing the dictionary of knowing the rules of grammar by heart is not mastery. The dictionary gives meanings, grammar details with categories and their sub divisions. What the student needs is a grammar of words and their use in context, and then he will not make mistakes.
Words are difficult to master for various reasons.
Some words belong to two or more parts of speech.
E.g.: 'since 'is a preposition, a conjunction and also an adverb in different contexts.
Some words have two or more meanings and stretches of meaning.
E.g.: 'Think' has about 8 meanings each of which has a different equivalent in the student's mother tongue. A few simple words have meanings up to and over 100.
The different meanings have to be taught as new words. Spreading them over a period of time.
E.g.: 'carry' will you carry this bag for me?
The sound did not carry that far.
The amount is carried forward.
Our troops carried the day.
Some words enter into two or more sentence patterns each occupying its own particular place in the sentence
E.g.: 'wish' as a verb
Wish for something
Wish to do something
Wish somebody to do something
Wish that something would happen
Some words may have several inflected forms and derivatives. Many of them being irregular in form and meaning.
E.g.: Think-thoughtful. Thoughtfully, thoughtlessly, unthinkingly, wake- awake- awakening
Each word may become part of a group or a collocation, the meaning of which is different from that of the individual words. Some of them may each have two or more meanings.
E.g.: at last, give up, let alone, carry on, all at once, throw away, how do you do; take off
Idioms behave in the same way and have to be learnt separately
E.g.: at sixes and sevens, make both ends meet.
Each word may be a component of a compound word the meaning of which cannot be deduced from the units
E.g.: Blackboard, walking stick
No two words in English have exactly the same meaning.
There are very few perfect synonyms
Many are loose synonyms
E.g.: right and correct; right hand but not correct hand leave, depart; hit, strike; begin
There are no exact equivalents always between two languages, say English and Telungu.
E.g.: 'flock' has only one word equivalent in telung. In English we have a herd of cattle, a pride of lions, a bunch of keys.
It follows therefore that a vocabulary of 1000 head words may present 5000 or more ""learning" efforts. Neither a grammar book nor the dictionary helps us here. "There is a vast uncharted territory lying between the respective domains of the dictionary maker and the grammarian", a sort of no man's land which perplexes the learner.
KINDS OF WORDS
There are broadly two kinds of words- content words and structure words or function words.
These are words which refer to (1) things corresponding to nouns, (2) actions corresponding to verbs and (3) qualities corresponding to adjectives. These are the "meat" of language. They have a meaning of their own and reflect our experiences in life. The richer the experiences the more content words one knows.
These are important for making sentences. Each one of them is a learning item in syllabus. The categories are: all prepositions, (like, in, on, under, above, to, from etc) conjunctions and auxiliary verbs (do, did, any, might, will, would, shall, should, can, could) and other connecting words in speech and writing, (articles-a, an, the) personal pronouns (I, you, we, he, them, etc) and relative pronouns (who, which, whom, etc) structural or demonstrative adjectives like this (book) that (boy) some (boys) my (pen) and structural adverbs like, always, even, again.
TYPES OF VOCABULARY
We have so far considered the size of a working vocabulary of 3000 words for the school leaver. We have seen the nature and category of these words. There is another classification of vocabulary. Here we go beyond the prescribed syllabus. There is the vocabulary we use and the vocabulary we understand. The former are active or productive vocabulary and the later passive, receptive, or recognition vocabulary.
Active vocabulary is the number of words which we use in speech and writing, over which we have complete control and mastery. We follow strict economy of words here and use one word with one meaning. So synonyms are unnecessary here. This is also called working vocabulary and varies from person to person. One man's active vocabulary may be another's passive vocabulary and vice versa.
Passive vocabulary: when we listen to words used by others, or when we read books we come across many words whose meaning we recognize, though vaguely; we cannot our self use those words in our speech and writing because we are not sure of their exact meaning. These new words help us to guess the meaning from the context and lead us to get the meaning from the dictionary.
EXPANSION OF VOCABULARY
Our passive vocabulary is always larger than our active vocabulary, as we grow up and our language experience grows, we tend to transfer words from our passive vocabulary to active vocabulary.
We are always adding to our stock of words. The early stages of learning are marked by control of vocabulary while in the later stages there should be greater richness marked by variety and flexibility in the use of words. Vocabulary expansion is comparable to human relations. To start with, we have a few friends who are with us all through life. Our active vocabulary is comparable to this small number of friends. In the second concentric circle we have acquaintances. These are people whom we meet casually in our travels and visits to places. Gradually some of them become our friends. Our passive vocabulary is comparable to these acquaintances. Then there is the third circle, which is the widest, and which contains total strangers. These are words whose meanings we do not know at all, E.g.: words from a book of nuclear physics or one on transcendental philosophy.
The rule about a happy human life is that more and more strangers get into the inner circle of acquaintances and more and more acquaintances become our friends. The more friends we have the happier we are. Vocabulary also expands likewise. As we read books of travel, literature, biography and fiction our word power gradually increases, some times very rapidly indeed.
WORD FORMATION PROCESS
The process how words are formed is quite interesting
Compounding: It is a method of word formation in which a new word is formed by joining together two free forms of morphemes.
Conversion: It is the transfer of a word from one grammatical category to another
Internal loans: It is by borrowing from regional dialects or from the language of specialized groups within the speech community.
Affixation: The process of putting parts of words in the beginning or at the end of a word is called "affixation"
Reduplication: When the part of a word or the whole of it is repeated , it is called reduplication
Suppletion: It is the extreme type of internal change in which the entire base is changed
Zero Modification: The spellings of new form of the word are the same but there is difference in meaning. The process by which this change takes place is known as zero modification.
Enrichment of vocabulary is one of he daily tasks of the learner. The numerous ways in which words may be expanded are listed here. There are many other ways too. A learner should play with words and enrich their stock of vocabulary.