Glossary of terms used throughout this site


Definition of accent
From The Free Dictionary

An accent is a particular style of pronunciation peculiar to a country or region within a country, or to a social class, or to a sector of immigrants. Different accents may be marked by differences in pitch, tone, stress, intonation, etc. Accent is closely linked to the idea of dialect, although accent specifically refers to differences in pronunciation only, while dialect is a wider concept also incorporating differences in grammar and vocabulary.

Affix (Prefix and Suffix)

Definition of affix
From The Free Dictionary

An affix is anything added to, or attached to, a stem word to form a new word. It usually has the effect of changing the meaning of the word, and often changes the part of speech (e.g. it may change a verb to a noun, an adjective to an adverb, etc).

An affix added to the start of a word is called a prefix (e.g. com-, con-, de-, ex-, inter-, pre-, pro-, re-, sub-, un-, etc). An affix added to the end of a word is called a suffix (e.g. -al, -ence, -er, -ment, -ness, -ship, -tion, -ate, -ed, -ize, -able, -ful, -ous, -ive, -ly, -y, etc). These are both very common in English. Technically, it also possible to have an infix (added in the middle of a stem), an interfix (in between two stems) and a circumfix (added on either side of a stem), but these are extremely rare in English.


Definition of anglicism
From The Free Dictionary

Not to be confused with the religious denomination Anglicanism, an anglicism is a word or phrase borrowed from English into another language. They are often considered by purists to be inferior and undesirable additions, and have not been officially accepted into the language as loanwords. They may be direct loans, complete with original English spellings, like the French words le weekend and le software, or phonetic transcriptions like the Spanish words el líder (leader) and el fútbol (football), or the Japanese nekutai (neck-tie) and biiru (beer). The extensive use of anglicisms in other languages have led to the use of terms such as Franglais, Spanglish, Russlish, Japlish, Chinglish, etc, to indicate the partial blending of two languages.

Compound (Portmanteau) Words

Definition of compound word
From The Free Dictionary

Compound words are combinations of complete existing words to create a new word with a single meanings (e.g. skinhead, breakfast, earthquake, scarecrow, pickpocket).

Portmanteau words are blends of parts, syllables or sounds from two or more distinct words, with combined meanings (e.g. blog = web + log; brunch = breakfast + lunch; motel = motor + hotel; etc). This is often achieved by combining the first syllable or letters of one word with the final syllable of another. The phrase portmanteau word itself was coined by Humpty Dumpty in a story by the master of portmanteau words, Lewis Carroll.

More technically, a compound word is a lexeme that consists of more than one stem, and a portmanteau word is defined as a single morph which represents two or more morphemes.


Definition of creole
From The Free Dictionary

A creole language is a stable language that originated from a pidgin language, but has since been “nativized” (i.e. taught to, and acquired by, children). Its vocabulary is based on that of a parent language, although usually with significant pronunciation, meaning and grammar differences.

Today, there are over 60 English-based creoles, mainly formed in British colonies during the 17-19th Century, spoken by up to 200 million people. Sometimes, they can be all but impenetrable to native English speakers, and it begs the question of whether such creoles should be included within the English speaking world.


Definition of dialect
From The Free Dictionary

A dialect is a variety or version of a language spoken in a particular geographical area. Different dialects are distinguished from each other by their vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation (whereas a distinction made only in terms of pronunciation is usually called an accent). A dialect of a language is distinguishable, but still understandable, to speakers of another dialect of that language.

Anywhere between 13 and 42 identifiable dialects (depending on the study consulted) have historically grown up within relatively small area of Britain (e.g. Cockney, Geordie, Scouse, Scottish, Welsh, Black Country, Cornish, etc) and persisted to this day despite the ease and frequency of intercommunication in the modern world, although the claims of different dialects between one valley in Yorkshire and the next are probably exaggerated. Because English has spread throughout the whole world, there are also many international dialects including American English, Australian English, New Zealand English, South African English, Caribbean English, South Asian English, Singapore English, etc.

There is no universally accepted criterion for distinguishing a dialect from a language, and some dialects (e.g. Cajun, Gullah, Lowland Scots, or Lallans, etc) can almost lay claim to be separate languages.


Definition of etymology
From The Free Dictionary

The study of the origin and development of the form and meaning of words as part of historical linguistics. As well as looking to establish the original root and source language of a word, etymology follows the history of the word and how its spelling and meaning has changed over time. For languages that are too old for any direct information to be available, the methods of "comparative linguistics" can be used to reconstruct information, by make inferences about their shared parent language and its vocabulary.


Definition of inflection
From The Free Dictionary

An inflection is any alteration made to a word to indicate a grammatical relationship or category (e.g. to show the number and case of a nouns, or number and tense with verbs), usually by the addition of suffixes. Inflections or grammatical endings can mark nouns as being the subject or object of a sentence, indicate plural and possession, etc, or they can mark the person or tense of verbs. The inflection of verbs is known as conjugation; the inflection of nouns, adjectives and pronouns is known as declension. Languages like Latin and German are highly inflectional; modern English is not (although Old English used to be).


Definition of jargon
From The Free Dictionary

Jargon is the specialized vocabulary of a profession, or of some other activity to which a group of people dedicate significant parts of their lives (e.g. hobbies). It can often express a great deal of information in a compact form, but it may also effectively exclude those who are unfamiliar with the particular specialized language of the group. It may involve formal technical terminology, such as in the medical, financial and legal fields, or it may be closer to slang.


Definition of language
From The Free Dictionary

Language is the human system of communication. It is a signalling system using vocal sounds or written characters, although the written aspect of language is secondary and it is essentially a spoken or verbal phenomenon. Human language is fundamentally different from, and much more complex than, that of other animals and uses a set of rules relating symbols or words to particular meanings. Languages are acquired through social interaction in early childhood. The study of language is called linguistics.

There is no universally accepted criterion for distinguishing a dialect from a language, and some dialects (e.g. Lowland Scots, Cajun, Gullah) can almost lay claim to be separate languages.

Lingua Franca

Definition of lingua franca
From The Free Dictionary

A lingua franca, or common language, is often adopted for convenience of communication, particularly in countries where many languages are in force, such as in much of Africa, South-East Asia and in modern groupings such as the European Community. The phrase “lingua franca” itself is Italian for “Frankish language”, and dates back to the original Mediterranean lingua franca during the Renaissance, which was largely Italian, although the phrase plays on the idea that, during the Crusades, the Arabs called all Europeans “Franks”.

Sometimes, the language of the most powerful ethnic group becomes the lingua franca by default, but sometimes a completely non-native language is used in a deliberate attempt to “level the playing field”. Latin was the lingua franca for the whole of the Roman Empire and, in more recent times, Swahili, Arabic, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Hindi and English have served as lingua francas.


Definition of linguistics
From The Free Dictionary

Linguistics is the scientific study of the nature, structure and variation of language and how it changes. This involves the study of language form (grammar, syntax and phonology), language meaning (how meaning is inferred from words and concepts, or semantics) and pragmatics (how language is affected by context).

Loanwords (Borrowings)

Definition of loanword
From The Free Dictionary

Loanwords, also known as borrowings, are words adopted by the speakers of one language from a different source language. Borrowing of words may go in both directions, but the term is slightly misleading in that there is no real intention of giving back or repaying. It usually refers to foreign words which have become generally used and conventionalized in the borrowing language. English has thousands of words which can be considered loanwords, adopted from Latin, Greek, French, Scandinavian, Arabic and many other languages.


Definition of multilingualism
From The Free Dictionary

Multilingualism is the ability to speak multiple languages by an individual or a community. For example, where a country has two or three mother-tongues, bilingualism or trilingualism often develops in its population, which is often enough to allow the country to function as a single entity. An estimated two-thirds of the children of the world grow up in a bilingual (at least) environment, and children before their teens learn second and third languages with an enviable ease and naturalness.


Definition of neologism
From The Free Dictionary

A newly word or expression that enters the language from whatever source, or an existing word that acquires a new meaning or is used in a new sense. They are often created by combining or blending existing words (compound words), by adding prefixes or suffixes (affixes), or by contraction or acronyms from existing words or phrases, but they may also be completely original creations. Opinions differ as to how old a word must be in order to cease to be considered a neologism. The creation of a neologism is usually referred to as “coining” a new word.


Definition of patois
From The Free Dictionary

A patois is any non-standard language. The term is not formally defined in linguistics and can therefore refer to pidgins, creoles and dialects, but in general it is held to refer to an unwritten (i.e. spoken and informal) dialect. The strong creole spoken in Jamaica is offically known as “Patwa”.


Definition of pidgin
From The Free Dictionary

A pidgin (sometimes called a contact language) is a simplified language that develops as a means of communication between two or more groups that do not have a language in common. Many pidgins developed in territories that once belonged to European colonial nations, such as in parts of the Caribbean and West Africa, including as a result of the slave trade. A pidgin is not the native language of any country or community, but must be learned as a second language. However, some pidgin languages may be common to several countries, such as in West Africa. Once a pidgin becomes generally accepted and institutionalized it is usually categorized as a creole.


Definition of semantics
From The Free Dictionary

Semantics is the study of meaning, and how meaning is inferred from words and contexts. It focuses on the relation between words, phrases, signs and symbols. Through its study of changes in meaning and form, it forms a large part of the study of linguistics.


Definition of slang
From The Free Dictionary

Slang is the non-standard use of words in a language, often of a playful or informal character. It may, or may not, involve the creation of new words, or the importation of words from another language. Slang terms are often particular to a certain subculture (e.g. skate-boarders, surfers, musicians, drug users, etc), and often deal with taboo subjects such as sex, drunkenness, bodily functions and illicit activities. Examples include Cockney rhyming slang (e.g. half-inch meaning pinch or steal, boat-race meaning face, trouble-and-strife meaning wife, apples-and-pears meaning stairs, etc) and the more recent Internet and cell-phone slangs (e.g. noob, flamer, warez, etc, as well as acronyms like lol, ttfn, btw, omg, and contractions like plz, thx, etc).

Standard English

Definition of Standard English
From The Free Dictionary

Standard English is whatever form of the English language is accepted (at any point in time, and in any particular country) as the national norm, encompassing grammar, vocabulary and spelling. It is a variety or dialect of English with no local or geographical base, which, by virtue of historical accident, has become the leading form of the language. Although there is nothing inherently superior about Standard English, it is the most widely understood and the most widely disseminated variety of the language, and is generally accepted as having the highest prestige, and is the variety predominantly used by the powerful and influential.

There is no such thing as a World Standard English, although British English and American English are the two most obvious contenders. The standard pronunciation or accent of British English became known during the 20th century as Received Pronunciation (also Queen’s English, BBC English or Public School English), and standard American pronunciation is known as General or Mid-West American, but pronunciation is not an essential features of Standard English, and it may be spoken in variety of accents.


Definition of synonym
From The Free Dictionary

A synonym is a word which is taken to have the same meaning as one or more other words (e.g. student and pupil, buy and purchase, etc). The meanings may be identical or just similar, and sometimes words may have almost identical meanings but carry different connotations or social associations. Many synonyms arose though parallel usage (e.g. Norman French and Anglo-Saxon words that were used in the early medieval period by different segments of English society). A thesaurus is a list or dictionary of synonyms.

The opposite of synonym is antonym (words with opposite meanings, e.g. short and tall). A homonym is a word that sounds, or is spelled, the same as another word, but has a different meaning. An eponym is a word derived from the name of a person.

Vocabulary (Lexicon)

Definition of vocabulary
From The Free Dictionary

Vocabulary is the collective set of words in a language or, in some cases, the set of words in a language that a person is familiar with and can use in practice.

Lexicon has a similar meaning, but usually refers to a written listing in the form of a dictionary, as well as the assumed word list that speakers possess mentally. Lexicon is also sometimes used to mean the sum total of words, idioms and word parts like affixes.


Definition of word
From The Free Dictionary

A word is the smallest free form in a language, i.e. the smallest thing that can be spoken or written in isolation and still have meaning. A word is often, but not always, made up of a root or stem to which affixes (prefixes and suffixes) are attached. In writing, words are usually separate by spaces.

The smallest unit of meaning is actually called a morpheme, but not all morphemes can stand on their own (some are “bound” and can only be used in conjunction with other morphemes). A morpheme is in turn composed of phonemes (the smallest linguistically distinctive units of sound in spoken language) or of graphemes (the smallest units of written language). Technically, then, a word is morphological form which is internally stable, can stand on its own, and which in principle can be moved to a new position in a sentence.

Another related term is lexeme, which is a unit of lexical meaning, regardless of inflections or multiple words, which corresponds to the possible set of forms taken by a single word (e.g. move is the lexeme undelying words like moves, moved, moving, etc).