Lexical semantics

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The lexical semantics (including word semantics ) is a portion of linguistics . It deals with the meaning of the individual lexical elements ( words , morphemes , lexemes ).

Areas of application

Among other things, it covers:


Many theories of lexical semantics make use of lexical decomposition, which has its historical origin partly in French linguistics ( Algirdas Julien Greimas , Bernard Pottier ) and partly in generative semantics . Word meanings are derived from an arrangement of primitive meaning modules ( semantic features , semes ). For example, the lexical structure of the verb to kill is more complex than that of the verb read , because kill is a causative verb made from the constants CAUSE (x) and BECOME (DEAD (y)), whereas read only from an activity constant DO (x, y) ) consists. So the variables x and y represent the arguments of the verb. In more recent approaches, decomposition structures are also reflected syntactically, so that the combinatorial behavior of lexical units systematically results from the interplay of syntactic and lexical principles.

Relation to sentences

Assuming that the meanings of words are recorded, the question is asked how the meaning of a word relates to the meaning of the sentence (keyword: Frege's principle of compositionality ). For this purpose, the combinatorial properties of lexical units are examined, which enable them to form into more complex units - such as compound words, phrases or sentences. An essential component of a meaningful theory of lexical semantics must therefore be the mapping of lexical-semantic to syntactic structures - the so-called linking. So there is a competition between syntax and lexical semantics as to which of the two systems produces or generates certain complexes . For example, it is unclear whether complex verbs of the type lean are to be regarded as a product of syntactic structure formation (for example, the separability of the particles speaks for this) or lexical structure formation (this is suggested by the word status of such particle verbs). Lexical semantics have a similar interface status with regard to the morphological module of grammar . The question arises whether morphological operations can in principle be understood as mechanisms of the system of grammar - this would mean that morphological and lexical-semantic operations would coincide - or whether a strict distinction should be made between the two types of grammatical structure formation.

See also


  • Manfred Bierwisch : On the nature of semantic form in natural language. In: F. Klix, H. Hagendorf (Eds.) Human Memory and Cognitive Capacities - Mechanisms and Performances. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp. 765-784.
  • A. Blank: Introduction to Lexical Semantics. Tübingen, 2001.
  • A. Blank: Principles of the lexical change of meaning using the example of the Romance languages. Niemeyer, Tübingen 1997.
  • DA Cruse: Lexical Semantics. Cambridge University Press, 1986.
  • J. Pustejovsky, B. Boguraev (eds.): Lexical semantics: the problem of polysemy. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1996.
  • M. Rappaport-Hovav, B. Levin: Building verb meanings. In: M. Butt, W. Geuder (Eds.) The projection of arguments. CSLI Publications, Stanford.
  • Dieter Wunderlich : CAUSE and the structure of verbs. In: Linguistic Inquiry. 28-1, pp. 27-68.
  • W. Müller: On the practice of the explanation of meaning (BE) in (monolingual) German dictionaries and the semantic reversal test. In: Herbert Ernst Wiegand (ed.): Germanistische Linguistik- 3–6 / 84, pp. 359–461 (explanation of the semantic reversal sample, pp. 437–447).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Meibauer, Introduction to German Linguistics, 2nd ed. (2007), p. 168.
  2. A slightly different definition is given by Schwarz / Chur, Semantik, 5th ed. (2007), ISBN 978-3-8233-6296-8 , p. 17: “The lexical semantics (…) deals with literal, context-independent meanings of words, d. H. with the meanings stored in the mental lexicon. "
  3. ^ Bernard Pottier: The semantic definition in the dictionaries . In: Horst Geckeler (ed.): Structural meaning theory . Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft 1978, pp. 402-411 ISBN 3-534-06471-2 .