One of the characteristic features of the English vocabulary is a large number of shortened words. It is a feature of English to use laconic structures in syntax and in morphology as well as in the lexical system.
As we know, due to the leveling of endings in the Middle English period, the number of short words grew and the demand of rhythm dictated the appearance of more and more such words. That is one of the main reasons why there are so many monosyllabic words in English now.
As for borrowed words, they have undergone the same process of shortening in the course of assimilation as most of native words are monosyllabic. Shortened borrowed words sound more English than their long prototypes. Shortenings have been recorded since 15th century and shortening is more and more productive now.
All shortenings (or contracted or curtailed words) can be divided into two large groups: lexical and spelling shortenings.
1. Clipped words (part of the word is clipped, cut off)
a) aphaeresis is clipping of the first part of the word, dropping the beginning of the word. Sometimes it is a new word and in other cases it is the same word but belongs to another sphere of speech: history – story, telephone – phone, omnibus - bus, motor-car – car, defence – fence, example – sample.
b) syncope – the middle of the word is clipped, shortening by dropping the letter or unstressed syllable in the middle of the word: market – mart, mathematics – maths, spectacles – specs.
Syncope is common in poetry, e.g. e’er, n’er – rhythm dictates the necessity. Syncope is common in proper names: Catherine – Kate; Louise - Lucy.
c) apocope is shortening by dropping the last letter or syllable: permanent wave – perm, zoological garden – zoo, examination – exam, graduate – grad, advertisement – ad, champion – champ, photograph – photo, laboratory – lab, public house – pub, gymnastics – gym.
d) combination of aphaeresis and apocope: influenza – flu, refrigerator – fridge, avant-guard – van, van-guard, professor – fess.
a) alphabetical pronunciation
TUC – Trade Union Congress
BBC – British Broadcasting Corporation
RAF - Royal Air Force
SOS – Save Our Souls
MP – member of the parliament, military police
P.M. – Prime Minister
In initial shortenings we can see the formation of plural and the possessive case: MPs, MP’s. Affixes can be added: ex-POW (prisoner of war).
They are found not only not only among formal words but also among colloquialisms and slang. E.g. g.f. – girlfriend
- Who’s the letter from?
- My g.f.
- Didn’t know you had girlfriends. Nice girl?
- Idiot! It’s from my grandfather!
NATO, UNO, UNESCO (United Nations Economic Scientific and Cultural Organisation),
AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Organisation).
Compound shortened words:
H-bomb, VJ Day (Victory over Japan).
In lexical shortenings we can see the change of the spelling to preserve the pronunciation: library – libe, microphone – mike, bicycle – bike.