Theories of Lexical Semantics (Oxford Linguistics)

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It is divided in two sections devoted to theories and methodologies, respectively. In the first one, we overview three main areas of concern in lexical semantics and how they have been addressed by modern theories of lexical meaning. This allows us to point out the advantages and disadvantages of each theoretical stance for the study of emotion, as well as to identify which one lends itself better to interdisciplinary research.


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Research within each tradition is illustrated with studies on emotion words. In the second section we overview and illustrate four of the most productive methodologies currently employed in emotion semantics.

Theories of Lexical Semantics

This is important to identify in what sense and to what extent the GRID methodology can complement already existing approaches to the study of emotion words. Affective sciences. In: J. Soriano Ed. Oxford : Oxford University Press, Lexical-semantic typology e. Talmy and contrastive lexical semantics e. Weigand raise issues that are relevant to language courses as well. Some of the more promising avenues for such study involve morphological categories, such as gender.

These issues are usually very popular with students.

Theories of Lexical Semantics

If one were to try to cover the topics listed in Table 1 with reference to a single theory, it is unlikely that even coverage of the topics would be possible, since different theoretical perspectives have taken different starting points. For first-year courses, a pre-theoretical approach is usually most attractive. This can be done, for instance, by taking a lexicographical approach—i. In more advanced courses, theoretical approaches are appropriate, but which ones should be tackled is to some degree a matter of taste and of the rest of the curriculum—in that it could be confusing to teach a theory for lexical semantics that is incompatible with the theories taught in the department for general semantics and grammar.

That said, while general semantics courses are often taught from a formal, model-theoretic perspective, lexical semantics teaching is generally approached from non-formal stances. My own preference is to contrast different theoretical approaches to a particular topic without presenting formalisms that require knowledge of particular logical languages —but this presents particular challenges. First, the approaches to be contrasted may have very different basic assumptions about the nature of meaning or the lexicon, and thus a fair amount of background to the theories must be presented.

Second, they may not be trying to answer exactly the same questions or to cover the same set of phenomena. There are at least three ways of getting around these issues. One is to present from the beginning two general types of approach e.

Still, it does require some theoretical juggling. This is the approach of Murphy, forthcoming. This is most suitable to upper-level courses, in which the students are ready to develop their own theoretical accounts. The final option is to simply teach a theory as it is presented in its fundamental literature. However, while this last option may be appealingly straightforward, it is the least promising for instilling critical thinking skills or a broad perspective on the field.

The comparative and envelope-pushing approaches can also be valuable for inspiring further research projects, for example in a final-year dissertation.

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One of the greatest challenges for teaching semantics from a theoretical standpoint is the lack of theory-specific textbooks for the undergraduate level. Some general semantics textbooks e. Another option is to develop a reading pack, based on shorter primary materials, including book chapters, journal articles and encyclopedic overviews. Some relevant, mostly current theoretical approaches are listed below, with citation of their foundational literature or where possible textbooks—marked here by T. In general, they can be divided into two types: componential and schematic.

Componential approaches rely on a language-like system of meaning representation involving a limited number of primitive symbols in some kind of grammar—the classic example being the model in Katz and Fodor Componential approaches are more generally associated with the goals of generative linguistics, and schematic ones with cognitive linguistics, although there is a wide range of variation among all these approaches.

Words provide self-contained packets of language about which many types of investigation can be carried out. Teaching lexical semantics is thus particularly exciting for the opportunities that it allows for student-led, original research. Students can research word meaning using a variety of tools, including introspection, fieldwork, dictionaries, corpora and where appropriate psycholinguistic experimentation, as discussed in turn below. Introspection: Asking oneself how one uses language is the classic linguistic method, and it should be used throughout a lexical semantics course.

The Oxford English Dictionary, on the other hand, provides plenty of etymological information and examples of usage. Both types can be valuable for different kinds of activities. Some activities using dictionaries include: using a number of dictionaries to map the sense boundaries of a particular word, comparing actual uses of words to their dictionary definitions are their senses more fluid than the dictionary records?

The problem for any lexical semantics course, however, is whether the facilities and time are available to provide students with access to a corpus, corpus software and the requisite skills to use them.

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Once students know a bit about corpora, they can have a hand in designing the methodology for a particular corpus investigation, with the tutor or technician still charged with executing it. Stand-alone assignments and seminar activities can be based on any or several of the above methodologies. It is also possible to devise a course in which student-led research provides the themes to be discussed. The Adopt-a-Word scheme for a year 1 lexicology course is described in more detail at the LLAS event report, listed in the web links below. That course is also designed to establish key disciplinary, academic and transferable skills.

See Hudson for discussion of skills development.

Murphy, forthcoming, provides a number of ideas, most of which have been tested in a final-year course in the US. In my courses, students receive at the beginning of the term a document with a dozen or so possible Adopt-a-Word assignments. After each student is assigned or chooses their own word, it is up to the student to determine with some guidance which assignments suit the word.

For instance, an assignment on argument structure may not be suitable for many nouns. The student then does a number of assignments on the same word. The same assignments can be used without adopting a word—i. Finally, involving students in original research greatly reduces the potential for intentional or unintentional plagiarism in essay-writing. Here, again, it is very doable for students to tackle original lexical semantic research, preferably using more than one of the methodologies discussed above. To give some examples, here are short descriptions of some recent final-year dissertations at Sussex:.

Is David Beckham black? An investigation of the meaning of the racial term black in the UK, testing hypotheses based on Social Identity Theory posited in Murphy Data sources included dictionary definitions, questionnaire responses and examples of usage from the press. Child and adult in Japan and Britain. Bizarre: a case study of near-synonymy.

This guide has briefly raised some issues concerning the teaching of lexical semantics, but it has necessarily been based mostly on my own experience. In order to improve the guide, please contact me m. Aitchison, Jean. Words in the mind 3rd edn. Oxford: Blackwell. Allan, Keith. Natural language semantics.

A Concise Review of the Answers to Fundamental Issues of Lexical Semantics | SpringerLink

Bierwisch, Manfred and Ewald Lang eds. Dimensional adjectives. Berlin: Springer. Bloom, Paul. How children learn the meanings of words. Blutner, Reinhard. Lexical pragmatics. Journal of Semantics — Bybee, Joan. The emergent lexicon. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society, — Carter, Ronald.

Vocabulary: applied linguistics perspectives 2nd edn. London: Routledge. Clark, Eve V. The lexicon in acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Croft, William and D.


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Alan Cruse. Cognitive linguistics. Cruse, D. Lexical semantics. Aspects of the micro-structure of word meanings. The book is divided into five main chapters, an introduction, and a concluding chapter.