English vocabulary elements

English vocabulary elements. 2nd edn. By Keith Denning, Brett Kessler, and William R. Leben. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Pp. 336. ISBN 9780195168037. $19.99.

Reviewed by Omaima M. Ayoub, Richard J. Daley College

Based on a course at Stanford University developed by the authors, the goal of this textbook is to expand the vocabulary of college students through a comprehensive yet introductory survey of the historical and structural changes that have affected English lexicon. The text introduces several hundred lexical elements that were directly and indirectly borrowed from Latin and Greek. These elements are thought to facilitate not only the learning of words but also an understanding of how the words fit into the language system. Intended for use in college-level courses on English word structure and vocabulary expansion, this textbook takes an approach that makes it possible for instructors to tailor their classroom work to the students’ needs and interests.

Divided into eleven chapters, this textbook presents the basic principles of word formation and word use and shows the effect they have had on the history of English vocabulary since the sixth century. Ch. 1, ‘The wealth of English’, examines the richness of English lexicon. Ch. 2, ‘The history of English and sources of English vocabulary’, deals with the development of the native Germanic vocabulary and the dynamics that introduced large numbers of lexical borrowings, especially from Latin, Greek, and French.

Ch. 3, ‘Morphology: Analyzing complex words’, introduces the concept of morphemes as well as word-formation processes such as affixation, compounding, clipping, and blending. Although Ch. 3 defines morphs as simplex morphemes whose meanings may vary from word to word, Ch. 4, ‘Allomorphy’, expands this definition and introduces the concept of allomorphs, which are defined as morphs that may change their form from word to word. Ch. 5, ‘Phonetics’, examines the sounds of English and explains how learning about the common features of sounds can help to master allomorphs.

Ch. 6, ‘Regular allomorphy: Numeric elements’, looks at the phonological rules that apply to the pronunciation of word elements that originated in Latin and Greek. This chapter also examines how numeral morphemes often occur with other morphemes from the same source language—for example, Greek penta ‘five’ combines with Greek gon ‘angle’ in pentagon. Ch. 7, ‘Polysemy and semantic change’, defines polysemy as a word form with multiple historically and semantically related meanings, which resulted from semantic changes that added new meanings to a word while maintaining the old meaning(s).

Ch. 8, ‘Usage and variation’, discusses how usage and variation not only involve vocabulary, pronunciation, and spelling but also semantic and contextual factors such as dialect, standards (i.e. formal vs. informal), and speaking versus writing. Ch. 9, ‘Latin and Greek morphology’, introduces aspects of Latin and Greek morphology that cause English morphemes to change shape from word to word.

Ch. 10, ‘The prehistory of English and the other Indo-European languages’, traces the impact of Proto-Indo-European on the phonology and morphology of English. Ch. 11, ‘Later changes: From Latin to French to English’, discusses how changes in Latin since its classical period have affected English vocabulary.

This textbook is intended for an academic audience. Each chapter ends with a list of word elements to study and a large number of exercises that offer practice with the material in the text.