Here is an extract from Iris Murdoch describing a summer evening:
"... A bat had noiselessly appropriated the space between, a flittering weaving almost substanceless fragment of the invading dark. ... A collared dove groaned once in the final light. A pink rose reclining upon the big box hedge glimmered with contained electric luminosity. A blackbird, trying to metamorphose itself into a nightingale, began a long passionate complicated song." (From The Sacred and Profane Love Machine by I. Murdoch)
This piece of modern prose is rich in literary words which underline its stern and reserved beauty. One might even say that it is the selection of words which makes the description what it is: serious, devoid of cheap sentimentality and yet charged with grave forebodings and tense expectation.
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What role do learned words play in the language-learning and language-teaching process? Should they be taught? Should they be included in the students' functional and recognition vocabularies?
As far as passive recognition is concerned, the answer is clear: without knowing some learned words, it is even impossible to read fiction (not to mention scientific articles) or to listen to lectures delivered in the foreign language.
It is also true that some of these words should be carefully selected and "activised" to become part of the students' functional vocabulary.
However, for teaching purposes, they should be chosen with care and introduced into the students' speech in moderation, for, as we have seen, the excessive use of learned words may lead to absurdities.