1998 VocabularyAppliedLinguisticPerspectives

Jump to: navigation, search

Subject Headings: Vocabulary, Lexeme, Morphological Analysis, Natural Language, Lexis, Lexeme, Lexicography, Lexical Item, Word Form, Vocabulary, Polysemy, Grammatical Word.


Cited By



1. What is a word?

Not only every language but every lexeme of a language is an entire world in itself.
(Mel’čuk, 1981, p. 570)

A main aim in this chapter is to introduce some basic terms and concepts in the analysis of vocabulary. The emphasis is on an exploration of what constitutes a word. There is an extensive literature on this topic stretching back over at least twenty years. The area of linguistics which covers the topic is generally known as lexical semantics and is most clearly represented in John Lyons’s two-volume study (Lyons, 1977). In the next three chapters an introduction is given to work which is itself at an introductory stage; but an introduction to this highly developed field is bound to involve some degree of oversimplification. Word-level semantic analysis features in almost all elementary courses in linguistics and it is probable that some readers will be already acquainted with the field.

2 Lexemes and words

One theoretical notion which may help us to resolve some of the above problems is that of the lexeme. A lexeme is the abstract unit which underlies some of the variants we have observed in connection with 'words'. Thus BRING is the lexeme which underlies different grammatical variants: 'bring', 'brought', 'brings', 'bringing' which we can refer to as word-forms (note a lexeme is conventionally represented by upper-case letters and that quotation marks are used for its word-forms). Lexemes are the basic, contrasting units of vocabulary in a language. When we look up words in a dictionary we are looking up lexemes rather than words. That is, 'brought' and 'bringing' will be found under and entry for BRING. The lexeme BRING is an abstraction. It does not actually occur itself in texts. Instead, it realizes different word-forms. Thus, the word-form 'bring' is realized by the lexeme BRING; the lexeme GO realizes the word-form 'went'. In a diction each lexeme merits a separate entry or sub-entry.

The term lexeme also embraces items which consist of more than one word-form. Into the category come lexical items such as multi-word verbs (to catch up on), phrasal verbs (to drop in) and idioms (kick the bucket). Here, KICK THE BUCKET is a lexeme and would appear a such in a single dictionary entry even though it is a three-word form. ...

We can also see that the notion of lexeme helps us to represent the polysemy - or the existence of several meanings - in individual words: that, far (n.). “fair (adj. as in good, acceptable) and fair (adj. as in light in colour, expecially of hair), would have three different lexeme meanings for the same word-form. The same applies to the different meanings of lap … But there are numerous less clear-cut categories. For example, in the case of line (draw a line; rail line; clothes line) is the same surface form realized by one, two, or three separate underlying lexemes? And are the meanings of chair (professional appointment; seat) or paper (newspaper; academic lecture) or dressing (sauce; manure; bandages) specialization of the same basic lexeme or not.

An important question which also arises her concerns our own metalanguage in this book. Should we talk of words or word-forms or lexemes or lexical items? It is clear that the uses of these words word or vocabulary have a general common-sense validity and are serviceable when there is no real need to be precise. They will continue to be used for general reference. The terms lexeme and the word-forms of a lexeme are valuable theoretical concepts and will be used when theoretical distinctions are necessary. Lexical item(s) (or sometimes vocabulary items or simply items) is a useful and fairly neutral hold-all term which captures and, to some extend, helps to overcome instability in the term word, especially when it become limited by orthography.

3 Grammatical and lexical words

One distinction which the above discussion clearly necessitates is that between grammatical words and lexical words. The former comprises a small and finite class of words which includes pronouns (I, you, me), articles (the, a), auxiliary verbs (must, could, shall), prepositions (in, on, with, by) and conjunctions (and, but). “Grammatical words like this are also variously known as 'functional words', 'functors', 'empty words'. Lexical words, on the other hand - which are also variously known as 'full words' or 'content words' - include nouns (man, cat), adjectives (large, beautiful), verbs (find, wish) and adverbs (brightly, luckily). They carry a higher information content and, as we have seen, are syntactically structure by the grammatical words. Also, while there are a finite number of grammatical words, there is a potentially unlimited number of lexical words. .. But grammatical words remain generally more immutable. This gives some obvious ground, therefore, for linguists to be able to refer to lexical words as an *open class of words while grammatical words constitute a closed class.

Finally, we should note that the term word has occurred again. Here it is used informally but also because lexical 'word' and grammatical 'word' are key terms and are extensively employed in the literature. But they are reproduced here with an awareness of the theoritical importance of the notion of lexeme. In fact, the distinction drawn above between lexemes and word-forms enables an important theoretical point to be made concerning grammatical and lexical 'words': there is a regular co-occurrence between a grammatical words and its lexeme; but lexical words take on many different forms. For example, different lexical word-forms 'sing', 'sang', 'signs', 'singing', 'sung', are realized by a single lexeme SING. But a grammatical word will normally have a single word-form relaized by a lexeme. Thus, the lexemes BY and OF have 'by' and 'of' as their word-forms. This observation is extended in the next section which introduces the notion of morpheme.

4 Morphemes and morphology

A morpheme is the smallest unit of meaning in a word. The words 'inexpensive' comprises two morphemes in and expensive. Each morpheme has its own meaning. The addition of in to expensive, for example, gives the sense of not. Morphemes can be a single orthographic letter and yet still change meaning. For example, the [math]s[/math] in cats is a morpheme and changes the first morpheme cat from singular to plural. Other examples would be laughed which is made up of two morphemes laugh and ed ; with the addition of ed altering the tense of the first morpheme and thus the time of occurrence of the process it denotes. Or indistinguishable, which has three morphemes; and antidisestablishmentarianism, which consists of six separate morphemes.

Two observations can me made immediately. First, morphemes convey semantico-syntactic information. Secondly, there are two classes of morphemes: morphemes which occur independently as words and are co-terminous with specific word-forms, and morphemes which occur only as part of a word and which could not stand on their own. The first class, which are called free morphemes, would include cat, distinguish, laugh. The second class, which are called bound morphemes, would include un, s, ed, able, anti, and ism. We should note, however, that some morphemes can have the same form but still be different morphemes, for example, the 's' in cats, cat's and laughs or the 'er' in smaller, winner, eraser. These variants are usually termed allomorphs. We should also recognize that like the term lexeme, morpheme is an abstraction. To be strict, morphemes do not actually occur in words. Morphemes are realized by forms which are called morphs.

5 In a word: A summary

... bound affixes [math]s[/math], ible, and in ; but, by comparison, it is arguable whether the grammatical words the operates with an entirely 'freer' lexicality than each of the bound affixes.

It is dangerous to suggest that lexicality is a primary value. The 'value' of grammatical words in discourse relations and in text formation is considerable, although its is not to be examined in detail until Chapter 4. We should also note that certain grammatical words (e.g. because) signal greater lexicality (here of reason) than others (see in particular Section 4.2).

6 Referential meaning

Just as the notion of a word has considerable intuitive validity, so too does the correlation between words and things, especially the notion that words point to or represent things.

In varying degrees most 'content' or lexical words have a referent and it would be extremely difficult for communication in language to take place without reference. A referent is the object, entity, state of affairs, etc. in the external world to which a lexical item refers. Thus, the referent of the word chair is the object chair; the referent of the verb run is the process of location which involves an action of lifting, at times, both feet from the ground and which, therefore, differentiates that process from the action denoted by walk. But it can be seen that the connection between a words and an object or process is not always as unambiguous as this. For example, there are, as we have seen, several words in the language when taken signly have no obvious referents: for example, the, because, might, which. Also, ambiguities in the meaning, can lead to confusion in the actual referent pointed to, or can simultaneously involve more than one referent (see Section 1.1).

7 Lexis and discourse

Polonious: What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet: Words, words, words.
" (Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act II, scene ii)

8 Introduction

In this chapter there is a distinct shift from examining lexical items at the level of the orthographic ‘word’ or in the patterns which occur in fixed expressions towards a consideration of lexis in larger units of language organization. It is also here that greater differentiation than in previous chapters is made between spoken and written discourse. Thus, the operations of lexis will be explored in written discourse across the boundaries of the sentence and in spoken discourse across such boundaries as conversational turns. The terms text and discourse will be used interchangeably in this chapter to refer to these larger organizational units of language, although distinctions between the terms can and have been made (see Stubbs, 1983, pp. 9-11, who also discusses issues in the appropriate collection and analysis of naturally occurring data). We should also note that ‘discourse’ is used with systematic ambiguity to refer to (1) a complete stretch of naturally occurring language — dis-courses, and (2) the theoretical level at which stretches of spoken and written language are analysed — discourse. In the first of these uses, note that ‘discourse’ takes a plural.

The 1980s and 1990s have witnessed considerable progress in the analysis of naturally occurring texts and several books devoted to discourse analysis, pragmatics and text linguistics have been published (e.g. Stubbs, 1983; Brown and Yule, 1983; Leech, 1983b, Levinson, 1983; Cook, 1990; Nunan, 1994; McCarthy and Carter, 1994). It is neverthe-less the case that the role of lexis in discourse has been relatively neglected. This chapter reports on the developments that have taken place

9 Lexis and lexicography

The value of a word must be estimated by its use: It is not enough that a dictionary delights the critic, unless at the same time it instructs the learner.” (Samuel Johnson)

10 Introduction

There has been considerable interest recently in the part played by dictionaries in language development, particularly in the learning of second and foreign languages. This chapter aims to review some of the main developments in EFL and ESL (English as a Foreign Language; English as a Second Language) lexicography. Lexicography is a good example of a domain in which linguistic insights can be directly applied and practical advantages quite readily recognized. But we should not forget that lexicographic practice can also, as Ilson (1985a) demonstrates, be of service to refinements in linguistic description. Most of the innovative work described in this chapter is in the presentation to second-language learners of lexical, lexico-syntactic and idiomatic information; paradoxically, this occurs at a time when greater interest is now centred in such areas as intersentential relations and discourse analysis but this should not diminish its importance. The case study in Chapter 9 is also devoted to lexicography and this chapter should be read in close conjunction with it as well as with Chapter 7 on vocabulary learning and teaching.



 AuthorvolumeDate ValuetitletypejournaltitleUrldoinoteyear
1998 VocabularyAppliedLinguisticPerspectivesRonald CarterVocabulary: Applied Linguistic Perspectives; 2nd editionhttp://www.questiaschool.com/read/1044840961998