last changed in 2002

Notation: written in capital letters throughout.

A 'dictionary-word', which may comprise several different inflections; e.g. DOG is the lexeme which covers both dog and dogs. Where there is no inflectional variation (e.g. for prepositions, adverbs and the like) it makes no difference whether you write them as lexemes (e.g. OF) or as simple word-forms (e.g. of).

In general each lexeme belongs to just one word-class (or combination of word-classes - see mixed category), so a lexeme does not necessarily bring together all words which we feel to be closely related - e.g. the verb and noun walk as in (1) belong to different lexemes, WALKv and WALKn.

(1) a We walk everywhere.

b We had a nice walk.

This distinction is forced on us by the need to distinguish verbs and nouns. The links between similar lexemes are shown in the network of the grammar by links such as `nominalization of' which handle `word-formation' rules. The general principle, then, is that we must recognise distinct lexemes whenever two (or more) characteristics co-vary - e.g. if meaning and morphology co-vary.

This general principle allows us to group lexemes into clusters, with a `super-lexeme' and various `sub-lexemes' which inherit most of the super-lexemes characteristics but differ in specific ways. For example, we can recognise a super-lexeme STANDv, which isa verb and has the irregular ed-form and en-form stood; it is different from STANDn, the noun in examples like (2).

(2) We erected a stand for the spectators.

Beneath STANDv we recognise two sub-lexemes, the intransitive STANDvi and the transitive STANDvt found in (3a) and (3b).

(3) a We stand on our feet.

b We can't stand the noise.

Each of these has a distinct syntactic valency (object or no object) paired with a distinct meaning (`be upright' versus `tolerate').

One special kind of lexeme is used for idioms (e.g. `hot dog', `kick the bucket'). Most idioms are built round one word, whose dependents change its normal meaning. This can be handled by recognising the parent word as a special sub-lexeme of the lexeme concerned: DOGsausage or KICKdie, which have the idiomatic meaning and require the dependent which forces this meaning - e.g. DOGsausage means `sausage-filled roll' and requires hot as its preadjunct.







This is an article from the Encyclopedia of Word Grammar and English grammar. If you refer to it, please give the url as "http://tinyurl.com/wg-encyc".