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date: 22 September 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Although words are arguably the most basic of all linguistic units, and the ones which speakers of a language are most likely to be aware of and to talk about, the definition of ‘word’ is fraught with difficulties. Partly, this has to do with the ambiguity of the term itself; ‘word’ can refer to a word form, a word token, a word type, or a lexeme. In addition, the various criteria for identifying words—orthographic, phonological, semantic, syntactic—do not always converge on a unique analysis, thus raising problems for the identification of the words of an utterance. While ‘good examples’ of words are easily found—indicative of a prototype structure of the word category—the need to exhaustively segment each utterance into words also needs to be questioned. The consequences for quantitative linguistic analysis, e.g. of word frequency, are considerable.

Keywords: word form, word token, word type, lexeme, prototype, quantitative analysis, word frequency

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