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the most important structural and semantic unit of language, serving to name objects, actions, and attributes. Structurally, the word consists of morphemes, sometimes of only one morpheme: tam, “there”; vchera, “yesterday.” The word differs from the morpheme in that it is independent and freely reproduced in speech. The word is the building block of the sentence, but unlike the sentence, the word does not express a message.
The basic type of word, the content word (dom, “house”: khleb, “bread”; khodit’, “go”; bol’shoi, “big”) is structural in nature. It has its own stress and also has phonic boundary signals. Pauses may exist between words but not within a word. Words are impenetrable; that is, one word may not exist within the structure of another. Semantically, words are idiomatic owing to the arbitrariness of the connection between their meaning and phonic substance. Words also have an autonomous nominative function: they refer independently to objects and phenomena. This function is connected with their repeatability in speech, their isolability, and their ability to constitute a minimal sentence.
Combining both lexical and grammatical meanings, the word belongs to a specific part of speech and expresses any of the grammatical meanings in the system of a given language. For example, Russian adjectives express gender, number, and case. In inflected languages, the word represents the aggregate of all its grammatical forms: such forms as khozhu (“I go”), khodish’ (“you go”), and khodil (“he went”) constitute a single verb, khodit’ (“to go”). The results of cognitive activity are consolidated in words. Without words, ideas and concepts may not be expressed, transmitted, or even formed.
The meaning of a word is the generalized reflection of the object it signifies. In speech, a word may designate either an entire class of objects (Sobaka—zhivotnoe, “The dog is an animal”) or a single representative of that class (Eto ch’ia sobaka? “Whose dog is this?”). A word’s meaning reflects a dialectical correlation between the general and specific and between what is fixed and changeable. The stability of a word’s meaning permits mutual comprehension. On the other hand, shifts in the concrete meaning of a word make it possible to use the word for naming new objects, and the shifts are an aspect of literary creativity. The tendency toward polysemy is connected with this flexibility.
The speaker’s attitude toward the object being named constitutes the emotional aspects of the word’s meaning: this aspect expresses feelings and the speaker’s subjective opinion (gorodok, “small town”; gorodishko, “wretched little town”). Words form a system based on grammatical features (parts of speech), derivational connections (families of words), and semantic relationships.
These attributes of content words are not, however, typical of all words in all languages.
In addition to simple content words, there are other types of words. Words with a phonetic marker may be unstressed (conjunctions, as in pered domom, “in front of the house”) and multistressed (compounds such as póslevoénnyi, “postwar”). Words with a morphological marker may be derived (khodok, “walker”) and compound (lunokhod, “lunar self-propelled vehicle”). The meaning of compound words of this type is often determined by the meaning of the constituent parts. Conjunctions, which have neither phonetic independence nor an autonomous nominative function, have both semantic and grammatical markers. The different structural types of linguistic units—the morpheme, conjunction, simple content word, derived or compound word, and word group—are connected by transitional elements and often shift from one category to another.
Since different types of words exist, when one seeks to define what the word is one encounters complex problems concerning the word’s separability and identity. The formal and semantic definability of a word decreases in speech; its stress and phonetic separability may be lost, as in French. A word’s grammatical form may be composed of separable elements that make it outwardly resemble a word group (analytic forms such as budu chitat’, “I will read”; chital by, “I would read”). Some forms of content words cannot constitute utterances independently. Changes in the meaning of a word in speech impede the word’s identification—the determination as to whether certain usages belong to a single word or whether they are homonyms.
The difficulties of determining common criteria for the word in all languages have led linguists to reconsider their views of the word as a structural and semantic linguistic unit. Some scholars define the word in a strictly formal way as the section of a spoken chain between pauses or of a text between spaces. Other scholars reject the word as a linguistic concept, taking as a unit for analysis the smallest meaningful unit of language —the morpheme, or moneme, in A. Martinet’s terminology. Still other scholars take as a unit for analysis the autonomous syntactic formation—C. Bally’s syntactic molecule, which unites a number of content words and conjunctions.
However, attempts to replace the word with another unit of language have not been successful. The scientific value of the concept of the word is that it unites features that are distributed among different aspects of linguistic analysis: phonic, semantic, and grammatical. The word is also a basic element of language for its speakers, for whom it has psychological reality. Although people speak in sentences, they remember and know language first and foremost through words, since words are the means by which human knowledge and experience are fixed in memory and are transmitted in speech.
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Smirnitskii, A. I. Leksikologiia angliiskogo iazyka. Moscow, 1956.
Akhmanova, O. S. Ocherki po obshchei i russkoi leksikologii. Moscow, 1957.
Kuznetsov, P. S. “Vvedenie k ob”ektivnomu opredeleniiu granits slova v potoke rechi.” In Semanticheskie i fonologicheskie problemy prikladnoi lingvistiki. Moscow, 1968.
Budagov.R. A. Istoriia slow istorii obshchestva. Moscow, 1971.
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Ufimtseva, A. A. Tipy slovesnykh znakov. Moscow, 1974.
Weinreich, U. “Lexicology.” Current Trends in Linguistics, vol. 1. The Hague, 1963.
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V. G. GAK
in algebra and mathematical logic, an expression—that is, an arbitrary finite (possibly empty) sequence of letters, or symbols, that make up the alphabet of a given logico-mathematical calculus. Sometimes the term “word” is used in a narrower sense as a synonym for the term “formula”—that is, an expression composed (possibly in accordance with special rules of formation) of only some of the letters in a given alphabet. This restriction in meaning, however, is not significant, since it can be easily circumvented by considering, besides the basic alphabet from whose letters the word is constructed, a larger alphabet that includes the basic alphabet and contains the necessary auxiliary symbols. An alternative method of circumvention is to introduce at the very beginning in the definition of “word” a rule of construction other than the simple concatenation, or juxtaposition, of letters.
The size of a word is usually the same as the width of the computer's data bus so it is possible to read or write a word in a single operation. An instruction is usually one or more words long and a word can be used to hold a whole number of characters. These days, this nearly always means a whole number of bytes (eight bits), most often 32 or 64 bits. In the past when six bit character sets were used, a word might be a multiple of six bits, e.g. 24 bits (four characters) in the ICL 1900 series.
word(1) See Microsoft Word.
(2) The computer's internal storage unit. Word "size" refers to the amount of data a processor's internal data registers can hold and process at one time. Business computers generally have word sizes of 32 or 64 bits. Computers embedded in appliances and consumer products typically have word sizes of 8, 16 or 32 bits. See bit and byte.
Given the same clock rate, the larger the word and the faster the computer calculates and compares. However, the speed increase depends on the size of the data being calculated. Adding a 16-bit number will not be faster in a computer with 32-bit registers than one with 16 bits, but a 24-bit number will be faster. The 16-bit computer requires additional steps to deal with the 24 bits (16 bits first, then the remaining 8), whereas all 24 bits of the number can fit in the 32-bit register. See MHz.
In the x86 PC (Intel, AMD, etc.), although the architecture has long supported 32-bit registers, its native word size stems back to its 16-bit origins, and a "single" word is 16 bits. A "double" word is 32 bits.
Many Word Sizes
Since the advent of computers starting in the 1940s, machines have been designed with a variety of word sizes, including 10, 12, 20, 24, 36, 48 and 60 bits.
|A 36-Bit Computer|
|These are 36-bit PDP computers from Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). In 1971, they were used to send the first email over the Internet (see email for more detail). Both machines barely totaled 500K of memory. (Image courtesy of Dan Murphy, www.opost.com/dlm)|