Neutral words, which form the bulk of the English vocabulary, are used in both literary and colloquial language. Neutral words are the main source of synonymy and polysemy. It is the neutral stock of words that is so prolific in the production of new meanings.
Most neutral English words are of monosyllabic character, as, in the process of development from Old English to Modern English, most of the parts of speech lost their distinguishing suffixes. This phenomenon has led to the development of conversion as the most productive means of word-building. Unlike all other groups, the neutral group of words cannot be considered as having a special stylistic colouring, whereas both literary and colloquial words have a definite stylistic colouring.
Common literary words are chiefly used in writing and in polished speech. Literary units stand in opposition to colloquial units. This is especially apparent when pairs of synonyms, literary and colloquial, can be formed which stand in contrasting relation.
Colloquial kid Neutral child Literary infant
Colloquial words are always more emotionally coloured than literary ones.
Both literary and colloquial words have their upper and lower ranges. The lower range of literary words approaches the neutral layer and has a markedly obvious tendency to pass into that layer. The same may be said of the upper range of the colloquial layer: it can very easily pass into the neutral layer. The lines of demarcation between common colloquial and neutral, on the one hand, and common literary and neutral, on the other, are blurred. It is here that the process of inter-penetration of the stylistic strata becomes most apparent.
There is a certain analogy between the interdependence of common literary words and neutral ones, on the one hand, and common colloquial words and neutral ones, on the other. Both sets can be viewed as being in invariant — variant relations. The neutral vocabulary may be viewed as the invariant of the standard English vocabulary. Synonyms of neutral words, both colloquial and literary, assume a far greater degree of concreteness.
Common colloquial vocabulary overlaps into the standard English vocabulary and is therefore considered part of it. It borders both on the neutral vocabulary and on the special colloquial vocabulary. Just as common literary words lack homogeneity so do common colloquial words and set expressions. Some of them are close to the non-standard colloquial groups such as jargon-isms, professionalisms, etc. These are on the border-line between the common colloquial vocabulary and the special colloquial or non-standard vocabulary. Other words approach the neutral bulk of the English vocabulary. Thus, the words teenager and hippie are colloquial words passing into the neutral vocabulary. They are gradually losing their non-standard character and becoming widely recognized. However, they have not lost their colloquial association and therefore still remain in the colloquial stratum of the English vocabulary. The spoken language abounds in set expressions which, are colloquial in character, e. g. all sorts of things, just a bit. The stylistic function of the different strata of the English vocabulary depends on their interaction when they are opposed to one another. Anything written assumes a greater degree of significance than what is only spoken. Certain set expressions have been coined within literary English and their use in ordinary speech will inevitably make the utterance sound bookish. In other words, it will become literary. For example: in accordance with, with regard to, by virtue of, to speak at great length, to lend assistance, to draw a lesson, responsibility rests.