Abstract and Keywords
The lexicon constitutes the basic raw material of natural language. The chapter starts by clarifying the various meanings of the term ‘word’: tokens, types, lemmas, phrasemes, and lexical entries. It goes on to ask whether names are words. Next, it asks whether the lexicon of a language is a finite set. Word frequencies in text can now be computed and compared, using data from large corpora. The distribution of words in any text or collection of texts conforms approximately to Zipf’s prediction of a harmonic progression down the frequency ranks from a few exceptionally frequent words to a large number of very rare words. The chapter goes on to summarize the main European theories of word use and word meaning, including semasiological approaches (Wikins and Roget), necessary and sufficient conditions for definition (Leibniz), prototype theory (Rosch), stereotype theory (Putnam), preference semantics (Wilks), selectional restrictions (Chomsky), generative lexicon theory (Pustejovsky), lexical functional grammar (Bresnan and Kaplan), frame semantics (Fillmore), and the contrast between the ‘idiom principle’ and the ‘open-choice principle’ (Sinclair). The chapter also discusses the views of modern lexicographers such as Sinclair, Kilgarriff, Atkins, and Hanks, who reject the notion that words have meaning, typically in favour of the idea that phraseology is equally important (if not more so) for understanding meaning.
Access to the complete content on Oxford Handbooks Online requires a subscription or purchase. Public users are able to search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter without a subscription.
If you have purchased a print title that contains an access token, please see the token for information about how to register your code.