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Lexical semantics

Lexical semantics (also known as lexicosemantics), is a subfield of linguistic semantics. The units of analysis in lexical semantics are lexical units which include not only words but also sub-words or sub-units such as affixes and even compound words and phrases. Lexical units make up the catalogue of words in a language, the lexicon. Lexical semantics looks at how the meaning of the lexical units correlates with the structure of the language or syntax. This is referred to as syntax-semantic interface.

The study of lexical semantics looks at:

Lexical units, also referred to as syntactic atoms, can stand alone such as in the case of root words or parts of compound words or they necessarily attach to other units such as prefixes and suffixes do. The former are called free morphemes and the latter bound morphemes. They fall into a narrow range of meanings (semantic fields) and can combine with each other to generate new meanings.

Lexical items contain information about category (lexical and syntactic), form and meaning. The semantics related to these categories then relate to each lexical item in the lexicon. Lexical items can also be semantically classified based on whether their meanings are derived from single lexical units or from their surrounding environment.

Lexical items participate in regular patterns of association with each other. Some relations between lexical items include hyponymy, hypernymy, synonymy and antonymy, as well as homonymy.

Hyponymy and hypernymy refers to a relationship between a general term and the more specific terms that fall under the category of the general term.

For example, the colors red, green, blue and yellow are hyponyms. They fall under the general term of color, which is the hypernym.

Hyponyms and hypernyms can be described by using a taxonomy, as seen in the example.

  • the classification and decomposition of lexical items
  • the differences and similarities in lexical semantic structure cross-linguistically
  • the relationship of lexical meaning to sentence meaning and syntax.
  • primitive event type of the lexical item
  • event composition rules
  • mapping rules to lexical structure
  • Generative Linguistics theory: states the transformation of destroydestruction as the nominal, nom + destroy, combined with phonological rules that produce the output destruction. Views this transformation as independent of the morphology.
  • Lexicalist theory: sees destroy and destruction as having idiosyncratic lexical entries based on their differences in morphology. Argues that each morpheme contributes specific meaning. States that the formation of the complex word destruction is accounted for by a set of Lexical Rules, which are different and independent from syntactic rules.
  • unaccusative verb: __ [VP V NP]
  • unergative verb: NP [VP V]


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