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GRAPHICAL ABBREVIATIONS. ACRONYMS
Because of the ever closer connection between the oral and the written forms of the language it is sometimes difficult to differentiate clippings formed in oral speech from graphical abbreviations. The more so as the latter often pass into oral speech and become widely used in conversation.
During World War I and after it the custom became very popular not only in English-speaking countries, but in other parts of the world as well, to call countries, governmental, social, military, industrial and trade organisations and officials not only by their full titles but by initial abbreviations derived from writing. Later the trend became even more pronounced, e. g. the USSR, the U.N., the U.N.O., MP. The tendency today is to omit fullstops between the letters: GPO (General Post Office). Some abbreviations nevertheless appear in both forms: EPA and E.P.A. (Environment Protection Agency). Such words formed from the initial letter or letters of each of the successive parts of a phrasal term have two possible types of orthoepic correlation between written and spoken forms.
1. If the abbreviated written form lends itself to be read as though it were an ordinary English word and sounds like an English word, it will be read like one. The words thus formed are called acronyms
(from Gr acros- ‘end'+onym ‘name’). This way of forming new words is becoming more and more popular in almost all fields of human activity, and especially in political and technical vocabulary: U.N.O., also UNO ['ju:nou] — United Nations Organisation, NATO — the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, SALT—Strategic Arms Limitation Talks. The last example shows that acronyms are often homonymous to ordinary words; sometimes intentionally chosen so as to create certain associations. Thus, for example, the National Organisation for Women is called NOW. Typical of acronymic coinages in technical terminology are JATO, laser, maser and radar. JATO or jato means jet-assisted take-off; laser stands for light amplification by stimulated emission radiation; maser — for micro-wave amplification and stimulated emission radiation; radar — for radio detection and ranging, it denotes a system for ascertaining direction and ranging of aircraft, ships, coasts and other objects by means of electro-magnetic waves which they reflect. Acronyms became so popular that their number justified the publication of special dictionaries, such as D.D. Spencer’s “Computer Acronym Handbook” (1974). We shall mention only one example from computer terminology — the rather ironic GIGO for garbage in, garbage out in reference to unreliable data fed into the computer that produces worthless output.
Acronyms present a special interest because they exemplify the working of the lexical adaptive system. In meeting the needs of communication and fulfilling the laws of information theory requiring a maximum signal in the minimum time the lexical system undergoes modification in its basic structure: namely it forms new elements not by combining existing morphemes and proceeding from sound forms to their graphic representation but the other way round — coining new words from the initial letters of phrasal terms originating in texts.
2. The other subgroup consists of initial abbreviation with the alphabetical reading retained, i.e. pronounced as a series of letters. They also retain correlation with prototypes. The examples are well-known: B.B.C. ['bi:'bi:’si:] — the British Broadcasting Corporation; G.I. ['dзi: ‘ai] — for Government Issue, a widely spread metonymical name for American soldiers on the items of whose uniforms these letters are stamped. The last abbreviation was originally an Americanism but has been firmly established in British English as well. M.P. ['em'pi:] is mostly used as an initial abbreviation for Member of Parliament, also military police, whereas P.M. stands for Prime Minister.
Abbreviations are freely used in colloquial speech as seen from the following extract, in which СР. Snow describes the House of Commons gossip: They were swapping promises to speak for one another: one was bragging how two senior Ministers were “in the bag” to speak for him. Roger was safe, someone said, he'd give a hand. “What has the P.M. got in mind for Roger when we come back?” The familiar colloquial quality of the context is very definitely marked by the set expressions: in the bag, give a hand, get in mind, etc.
Other examples of initial abbreviations with the alphabetical reading retained are: S.O.S. ['es'ou'es]—Save Our Souls, a wireless code-signal of extreme distress, also figuratively, any despairing cry for help; T.V. or TV I'tir'vi:] — television; Y.C.L. ['wai’sir'el] — the Young Communist League.
3. The term abbreviation may be also used for a shortened form of a written word or phrase used in a text in place of the whole for economy of space and effort. Abbreviation is achieved by omission of letters from one or more parts of the whole, as for instance abbr for abbreviation, bldg for building, govt for government, wd for word, doz or dz for dozen, ltd for limited, B.A. for Bachelor of Arts, N.Y. for New York State. Sometimes the part or parts retained show some alteration, thus, oz denotes ounce and Xmas denotes Christmas. Doubling of initial letters shows plural forms as for instance pplp.p. for pages, ll for lines or cc for chapters. These are in fact not separate words but only graphic signs or symbols representing them. Consequently no orthoepic correlation exists in such cases and the unabbreviated word is pronounced: ll [lainz], pp ['peI8Iz].
A specific type of abbreviations having no parallel in Russian is represented by Latin abbreviations which sometimes are not read as Latin words but substituted by their English equivalents. A few of the most important cases are listed below: ad lib (Lat ad libitum) — at pleasure’, a.m. (Lat ante meridiem) — in the morning’, cf. (Lat conferre)
— compare; cp. (Lat comparare) — compare’, e.g. (Lat exempli gratia)
— for example; ib(id) (Lat ibidem) — in the same place; i.e. (Lat id est)
— that is; loc.cit. (Lat locus citato) — in the passage cited; ob. (Lat obiit) —he (she) died; q.v. (Lat quod vide) — which see; p.m. (Lat post meridiem) — in the afternoon; viz (Lat videlicet) — namely, sometimes read viz. Actual letters are also read in the following cases: a.m. ['ei'em], e.g., i.e., q.v., p.m.
An interesting feature of present-day English is the use of initial abbreviations for famous persons’ names and surnames. Thus, George Bernard Shaw is often alluded to as G.B.S. ['dзi:'bi:'es], Herbert George Wells as H.G. The usage is clear from the following example: “Oh, yes ... where was I?” “With H.G.’s Martians,” I told him (Wyndham).
Journalistic abbreviations are often occasioned by a desire to economise head-line space, as seen from the following example “CND Calls Lobby to Stop MLF” ("Daily Worker"). This means that a mass lobby of Parliament against the NATO multilateral nuclear force (MLF) is being called by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).
These regular developments are in some cases combined with occasional jocular or accidental distortions. The National Economic Development Council is facetiously termed Neddy. Elementary education is colloquially referred to as the three R’s — reading, (w)riting and ‘rithmetic. Some kind of witty folk etymology is at play when the abbreviation C.B. for construction battalions in the navy is respelt into sea bees. The two well-known Americanisms jeep and okay may be mentioned in this connection. Jeep meaning ‘a small military motor vehicle’ comes from g.p. ['dзi:'pi:] (the initials of general purpose). Okay, OK may be an illiterate misinterpretation of the initials in all correct. Various other historic anecdotes have been also offered by way of explanation of the latter.
It must be emphasised that initial abbreviation, no less than other types of shortening, retains the valency, i.e. the combining possibilities of the prototypes. The difference in distribution is conditioned only by a change of meaning (lexical or more rarely lexico-grammatical). Abbreviations receive the plural and Possessive case inflections: G.I.’s, M.P.’s, P.O.W.’s (from prisoner of war), also the verb paradigm: okays, okayed, okaying. E. g. A hotel’s no life for you... Why don’t you come and P.G. with me? (A. Wilson) Here P.G. is an abbreviation for paying guest. Like all nouns they can be used attributively: BBC television, TV program, UN vote.
A specifically English word pattern almost absent in the Russian language must be described in connection with initial abbreviations in which the first element is a letter and the second a complete word. The examples are: A-bomb for atomic bomb, V-sign — a sign made by holding the hand up with the first two fingers spread with the palm facing forward in the shape of a V used for expressing victory or the hope for it. A like sign made with the back of the hand facing forward expressed dislike and is considered very rude. The example is interesting, because it shows the connection between the lexical system and paralinguistic means of communication, that is gestures, mimics and prosodic means (from para ‘beyond’).
There is no uniformity in semantic relationships between the elements: Z-bar is a metallic bar with a cross section shaped like the letter Z, while Z-hour is an abbreviation of zero-hour meaning ‘the time set for the beginning of the attack’, U is standing for upper classes in such combinations as U-pronunciation, U-language. Cf.: U-boat ‘a submarine’. Non-U is its opposite. So Non-U speakers are those whose speech habits show that they do not belong to the upper classes.
It will have been noted that all kinds of shortening are very productive in present-day English. They are especially numerous in colloquial speech, both familiar colloquial and professional slang. They display great combining activity and form bases for further word-formation and inflection.
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