Glossary of Terms

A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H - I - J - K - L - M - N - O - P - Q - R - S - T - U - V - W - X - Y - Z

Please note, once you've read the glossary definition, click the underlined word to close this window

~ A ~

Active Describes relation of subject and object and the action expressed by the verb. In an active clause or sentence the grammatical subject is typically in the role of agent, in relation to the verb, and the object is in the role of affected participant.

Affix A type of bound morpheme that can be added to a word to create a new word. An affix may be added to the front (prefix), end (suffix), or middle (infix) of a word, and may effect a change in word class.

Alliteration The repetition of the initial consonant in two or more words. e.g. Mick mutilated mice in his madness. The term may also be applied to similar sounding consonants e.g. cot/got - known as loose alliteration.

Alveolar = Sound formed by passage of air through the vocal tract when the tongue is pressed on the alveolar ridge (behind the upper teeth).

Apposition = Apposition is a grammatical relationship between two adjacent noun phrases which refer to the same person or thing, but in different ways, e.g. ‘my wife, the woman I love’. The first noun phrase indicates the family relationship between the speaker and the person he is referring to, whereas the second, appositional ,phrase, indicates a different attribute, namely the emotional relationship between the speaker and the person referred to.

Approximants aka Frictionless continuants. Sounds produced by bringing the articulators close together while at the same time leaving enough gap for the air to escape without producing audible friction. Two types in English: glides - [w], [ j ] and liquids - [l] and [r].

Assonance A bit like alliteration for vowel sounds, the stressed vowel is repeated in 2 or more words e.g. lean mean fighting machine.

Auxiliary Refers to a set of verbs, which can occur alongside the main lexical verb, that help to make distinctions in mood, aspect or voice. In English the main ones are 'do', 'be' and 'have'. Also modal auxiliaries, which include 'can', 'may', 'should' .

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~ B ~

Bound Used in classification of morphemes - a bound morpheme is one which cannot occur on its own as a separate word, e.g. affixes: de~, ~tion, etc.

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~ C ~

Clauses Sometimes defined in terms of size: smaller than sentences, but bigger than phrases. In terms of structural features clauses, unlike phrases, normally consist of a subject and a predicate. Similarly, sentences also contain a subject and a predicate, but they can consist of just one clause (simple sentence) or more than one clause (multiple or compound sentence).

Closed class words Words that belong to a class whose membership is fixed or limited. These words are sometimes called grammatical or function words and are used to link open class words in a meaningful way. These words are much fewer in number than open class words and include pronouns, prepositions and articles.


Conceit Started to be used in 16th century to mean a 'popular figure of speech' in Elizabethan poetry - examples of conceit forms are simile, metaphor, hyperbole, oxymoron

Consonants Sounds made by partially or totally obstructing the vocal tract so that audible friction is produced. e.g. the sounds produced by 'sh' and 't' in shut. Also used to describe the graphemes representing such sounds in written language, however note that this does not always work. e.g. 'k' in kick and 'c' in caress are graphologically different, but phonetically the same consonant.

Continuous aspect Sometimes also referred to as progressive aspect. It is constructed by using 'BE' with the '-ING' form of the main verb and is used to express an event in progress at a given time. That is to say the activity happens over a limited period of time and may not be complete.
   I ate a pie yesterday. (pie all eaten up)
   I was eating a pie yesterday. (partially eaten pie)

Count noun Refer to individual countable things. Count nouns can be pluralized, and can occur in the singular with 'a'. Compare with noncount or mass nouns. Eg. tree vs foliage - you can have a tree, but not a foliage; you can have trees but not foliages.

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~ D ~

Deictic = Deictics are words which relate the objects and locations mentioned by a speaker to that speaker’s physical location. They often occur in contrasting pairs, indicating that the objects concerned are close to (proximal ) or remote from (distal ) the speaker. Hence ‘these chairs’ are chairs close to the speaker (proximal), and ‘those chairs’ are chairs further away from the speaker (distal),. ‘Here’ is proximal, ‘there’ is distal. Deixis can apply metaphorically to other things which can be seen as speaker-related (cf. ‘now’ vs. ‘then’).

Deviation Breaking a set of rules or expectations. This course is particularly interested in linguistic deviation.

Dipthongs Vowel sounds in which there is a change in quality. The vocal tract shifts from one vowel position to a second without a consonant or pause in between e.g. 'oy' in boy. Movement between three is a triphthong and so on.

Direct speech One of the commonest methods of the representation of speech in writing, especially fiction. Represents the actual words a person says/said without any modification.

Discourse A body of language comprising of a number of related sentences. Some people only apply the term to spoken language while others include written texts.

Domain Scope or field of influence

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~ E ~

Echo In conversation people sometimes ‘echo’ (part of) what someone else has said in order to check it or query it. So, if A says ‘I need a cup of tea.’ And B responds with ‘A cup of tea?’ we will understand the echo question as a contextually relevant checking or querying of the content of the echo question. For example, if there was lots of background noise when A was speaking, the question could be a check that B heard A correctly. Or if it is known that A does not like tea it could be interpreted as an indication of surprise by B.

Elegant Variation Also known as expolitio or exergasia. The repetition of the same thought using different words, used for emphasis or to avoid plainness. Duplication of identical ideas utilising alternative lexical expression in order to highlight or elaborate text. Usually more elegantly than that, though.

Ellegard norm Normal frequency of various word classes in written English according to Ellegard (1978), using the Brown corpus of American English.

Elliptical sentence Ellipsis - from the Greek 'leaving out'. a.k.a. reduced or contracted constructions. A sentence that has part of the grammatical structure omitted, but is still readily understood.
eg. 'Pie?' in the right situation and context could be understood to mean, 'Would you like some pie?'

Enactment Where language reflects the meaning it expresses. i.e. form mirrors content. This could be achieved by variations in phonetic, rhythmic and clause structures. For example, onomatopoeia or sound symbolism could be seen as a type of enactment.

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~ F ~

Finite Finite verb forms express contrasts in tense, number and person e.g. Tense: She plays the piano. She played the piano
Number & person: 1 piano. 2 pianos. She plays. They play
A finite clause is a clause involving a finite verb phrase.
Compare nonfinite

Focaliser Used in the study of perspective or point of view. To do with the ways in which the story is focussed : physical perception (close, distant, panoramic); cognitive orientation (knowledge of the world described); emotive orientation (subjective/objective). Often the narrator is the focaliser. An omniscient narrator is usually provides an external, objective view. First person narrators often provide internal focalization; their, typically subjective, view of events.

Foregrounding A psychological effect whereby one part of a text becomes more prominent, sometimes created by deviation from the linguistic norm and sometimes by the repetition of linguistic patterns.

Fricatives In phonetics a type of consonant created by turbulence caused by narrowing (but not closure) of the vocal tract while air is passed through it.

Functional conversion A change of word class without the presence of an affix e.g. I am writing a book (noun) / I want to book (verb) a seat.

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~ G ~

Gradable adjective An adjective that can be modified to indicate a level of the feature it describes e.g. tall, taller, tallest, rather tall extremely tall etc.

Graphology The study of the distinctive units (graphemes) that make up written language i.e. letters punctuation etc. It is analogous to phonology, the study of sound units in language. Not to be confused with the study of handwriting to determine personality, which is also called graphology.

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~ H ~

Head word In grammar, the word in a phrase ( verb phrase, noun phrase etc) which is grammatically and lexically most important. Other words in the phrase relate to, or modify the head word.

Hyperbole From Greek 'exceed'. Exaggeration or overstatement often used for emphasis.

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~ I ~

Intertextuality Relations between one text (written or spoken) and another. The author making reference to an older text in order to evoke its meaning, or perhaps parody it. Note that potentially the reader may come across the texts in a different order, potentially creating a different effect than that intended by the author.

Intransitive predicators

Intransitive verbs Verbs that can be used without a direct object. Verbs like come and go and die do not need objects. Contrast verbs like 'make' and 'catch', which are transitive. Some verbs can function both intransitively and transitively, eg. reading.

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~ J ~

~ K ~

~ L ~

Lexis From the Greek for word and used to refer to vocabulary or lexicon. A single word is termed a lexeme or a lexical item, however note the grammatical variations of a word are not different lexemes i.e. cry, cries crying are all forms of the same lexeme. Words of similar context and meaning may be grouped into lexical sets.

Linking predicators

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~ M ~

Mass noun Opposed to count noun. Also called noncount nouns. Refers to an undifferentiated mass or notion, such as 'information'. Mass nouns can stand alone in the singular, do not allow plurals, do not occur with 'a' or 'an'.

Medium The precise method and/or materials used to convey discourse. For example: written language may use the medium of books, email, graffiti etc; spoken language may use the medium of the telephone, or public announcement etc.

Metaphor From Greek: carry over. Describing subject 'X' (Tenor) in terms of 'Y' (vehicle) on the basis of some similarity (ground) between X and Y.

Metonymic Metonymy - from greek 'name change' a rhetorical figure or trope by which the name of a referent is replaced by the name of an attribute, or of an entity related in some semantic way.


Morpheme Morphemes are the basic meaning-building-blocks for words. The most simple words have just one morpheme (e.g. 'book').

Because it can stand freely on its own as a word, ‘book’ is an example of a free morpheme. A word like ‘handbook’ consists of two free morphemes, ‘hand’ and ‘book’, combined together to make one word.

The word ‘bookish’ also consists of two morphemes, ‘book’ and ‘-ish’, but ‘-ish’ can’t stand on its own as a word and so is a bound morpheme.

Note that some bound morphemes can standardly have more than one phonemic realisation. So the plural morpheme has 4 possible phonemic realisations in English, /s/ (as in ‘cats’ /kats/), /z/ (as in ‘dogs’ /dogz/), /iz/ (as in ‘horses’ /hosiz) and /en/ as in ‘oxen’ /oksen/). From this we can also see that morphemes, which are the building blocks for words, themselves have phonemes (distinctive sounds) as their building blocks.

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~N ~

Neologism A neologism is a new word invented by the author


Nonce word A neologism that is used once, i.e. not outside its original text

Non-gradable adjective The opposite of a gradable adjective- an adjective that cannot be modified to indicate level e.g. equal, dead.

Normal non-fluency

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~ O ~

Object complements The element of a clause that adds meaning to the object, traditionally associated with completing the action of the verb. An object complement usually follows the direct object. e.g. 'she made me angry', where 'angry' is the complement, or 'She called me a fool', where 'a fool' is the complement.

Onomatopoeia From Greek 'name making' the lexical process of creating words which actually sound like their referent, e.g. zoom, bang, buzz.

Open class words Words that belong to a class that may be modified, compounded etc. to make new words. This type of word is by far the most common in English and includes nouns and verbs amongst others.

Orthography A language's standard system of spelling. Deviation from orthography may be used to create effects such as dialect.

Oxymoron From Greek 'sharp-dull'. The juxtaposition of contradictory expressions for witty or striking effects. None come to mind at the moment.

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~ P ~

Parallelism Repetition of words or a pattern of grammar or sound to create an effect of equivalence or opposition.

Parsing Describing the syntactic structure of a sentence, using elementary units such as morphemes, words, phrases, grammatical categories.
Or comprehending a sentence by analysis of word meaning and order. This operation is carried put at the subconscious level. Computers have also been programmed to carry out parsing with some success.

Passive Contrasting with active voice, the passive voice refers to sentence or clause structures where the subject is the recipient of the action of the verb. The 'thing' doing the action (if specified) is known as the agent. The passive verb is constructed by a form of the auxiliary verb 'be' followed by the '-ed' participle of the verb.
eg. The pie was consumed (agentless passive)
      The pie was consumed by the boy (agentive passive)
Compare with:
      The boy consumed the pie (active)

Persona A persona is the figure in a poem who appears to be speaking. A clear example would be Mr Prufrock in T.S. Eliot's poem 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'. Note that we cannot automatically assume that a more anonymous 'speaking voice' in a poem is the author. A persona in a poem is like a narrator in a novel, but is often not very clearly delineated.

Phonemic Alphabet IPA (International Phonetic alphabet) based primarily on the Latin alphabet, with the addition of Greek, reversed, and new letters. Also includes diacritics to indicate, for instance, long vowels, nasalization, lip rounding, etc. Used for the written notation of spoken language.

Phoneme The smallest sound unit in the sound system of a language that can be segmented from the acoustic flow of speech. Distinctive sounds that make up spoken words.

Phonetic Of or relating to speech sound.

Phonetics The study of speech sounds in language. Commonly divided into the study of; the production of speech sounds (articulatory phonetics), the physical properties and transmission of those sounds (acoustic phonetics), and their perception (auditory phonetics).

Phonology Study of the pattern of speech sounds in a language, the grammatical rules that determine how phonemes may be linked to create meaning in a given language.

Pragmatics Study of the production, understanding and function of language within context. This may be seen as a difference of perspective rather than level of analysis.

Predicator In grammar a verb giving information about the subject of a sentence. The predicator may be transitive(requiring an object), intransitive or linking. The predicator expresses action, process or relationship in a sentence.

Propositional Content

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~ Q ~

~ R ~


Register Variety of language defined by situation. Formality or apropriatness depending on situation.

Reported clause

Reporting clause Special clause used to report someone's speech, eg. 'He said, She wrote, They shouted. Can sometimes add extra information about the speech.
The accompanying speech or writing is given in the reported clause.

Reporting discourse

Reregistration Register borrowing

Rhyme Repetition of the same phoneme or group of phonemes e.g. soul/coal. Similar but not identical phonemes or groups of phonemes e.g. five/fife may be used to create what is termed half rhyme. It is also possible to create eye rhyme, a visual effect utilising associations formed by repetition of groups of graphemes e.g. the cough/through, this effect tends to be weaker than rhyme using sounds. Of course the two effects may be combined e.g. cough/rough. In English it is most common to rhyme words at the ends of lines in a poem or song. This is called end rhyme. It is also possible to rhyme words in other positions. This is called internal rhyme.

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~ S ~

Schematic knowledge Based on schema theory in cognitive psychology - the idea that we have frequently updated frameworks within the mind, which we use to group and order information. These schemata give us information about how to act and what to expect in different situations. For example it is normal and expected to chat in a café but not in a cinema. Thus we have expectations based upon previous experience and observation, which will colour our interpretation of texts.

Semantic Deviation This describes relations that are logically inconsistent or paradoxical in some way. For example, it is normally assumed that any modifiers of a noun will be semantically compatible: 'The meat pie', or 'the crusty pie', but not 'the irritable pie'. This sort of deviation may prompt the reader to look beyond the dictionary definition of the words in order to interpret the text.

Semantic Fields Theory about the way language is organized. Vocabulary exists in fields within which words interrelate .

Semantics Major branch of linguistics devoted to the study of meaning in language. Includes analysis of words, sentences and relations, such as antonymy and synonymy.

Simile From Latin for Like. Compares X to Y using 'like' or 'as'.
  eg. She swims like a fish.

Sound Symbolism Sound symbolism is what happens when we are able to interpret the sounds in words and phrases as being particularly meaningful. The most obvious example is onomatopoeia.

Speech act An utterance that performs an action, such as an apology, or a complaint. Some may be context dependent, for example saying 'I sentence you to life imprisonment' if you are not a judge and you are not in a courtroom probably won't result in the desire action.

Style Characteristic or distinctive language use, this may vary between genres, roles, authors and so on.

Subject complements The element of a clause that adds meaning to the subject. A subject complement usually follows the subject and verb. The verb is most often a form of 'be', but may be one of several other verbs that are able to link the complement meaning with the subject meaning. These are copular or linking verbs. e.g. 'he is a baker', where 'a baker' is the complement.

Suffix An addition to the end of a word that makes a new word (e.g. -ization). This may effect a change in word class, as when the adjective "happy" becomes the noun "happiness".


Syntax The rules governing the way in which words are combined to form a sentence.

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~ T ~

Tanka = A tanka is a five-line, 31-syllable poem that has historically been the basic form of Japanese poetry. Of all the poetic forms ever written by the Japanese, Tanka is clearly the most rigidly adhered to form in terms of structure. It is constructed by 5 lines or units which must contain an odd number of syllables (e.g. 1,3,5,7), ending in the traditional 7-7 onji pattern. Here's a novel way for you to remember the 31 syllable rule:

     (5) What is a Tanka?
     (7) Five syllables. Then Seven.
     (5) Then Five more. And then?
     (7) Add two "sevens" to finish.
     (7) Quite simple when you know how!

If you'd like to know the history of the tanka (as well as other traditional Japanese poetic forms), click the link to read an article by Ishikawa Takuboku.

Tenor Relationship between participants in situation - roles and status - informal/formal everyday/scientific.

Transitive verbs Verbs which require an object
    eg. I like pies

Transitive predicators


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~ U ~

~ V ~


Voicing Creation of a sound by vibration of the vocal folds in the larynx.

Vowel One of two general categories used to classify speech sounds, the other being consonant. Phonetically they are sounds made with an open vocal tract so that air escapes evenly, without audible friction, over the centre of the tongue. Graphologically, also used to describe the graphemes (in English, 'a', 'e', 'i', 'o', 'u' ) representing such sounds in written language.

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~ W ~

~ X ~

~ Y ~

~ Z ~

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