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date: 28 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

We all know what a word is. Yet describing and defining the word is far from easy. So, what is the source of our intuition? Is the word a universal concept across human languages? Is it a cognitive necessity, enabling us to express our ideas using small recombinable units? Or are our intuitions more superficial, reflecting only the convention of where spaces are placed in writing? This chapter argues that the concept of the word looks vague because it is inherently so, and that our intuition is fooled into seeing greater definition by the twin influences of orthography and the noun as a strong prototype. With only some conventional word classes rendering truly independent units, writing imposes word breaks that don’t always have much psychological reality. The consequence for linguistic theory is significant: a major difference between what the language learner knows and what corpora of texts can capture.

Keywords: defining the word, writing, spaces between words, orthography, noun, vagueness, word prototype, psychological reality, corpora, linguistic theory

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