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Lexical meaning and its structure.

The problem of word boundaries

The difference between words and other two-facet units is not always clear. One of the problems is the size-of-unit problem (проблема отдельности слова) that of separateness and separability in the syntagmatic aspect – that is, in the flow of speech.

There are some controversial units of speech

- Form words. On the one hand, they fuse with notional words phonetically and do not function as sentence-members. On the other hand, they are positionally mobile, e.g. a, to, and.

- Loose compounds, e.g. speech sound, stone wall. On the one hand, they are built in speech. On the other hand, they have one lexical stress. And their spelling is double or even triple – it in some cases may be hyphenated, with a space or without a space.

- Phrasal words: his I-love-you‘s. On the one hand, they are built in speech and are not reproducible. On the other, they have one lexical stress.

Another problem connected with the paradigmatic aspect of word boundary is the Identity-of-unit problem (тождества слова).Form & content of different words don’t always form one-to-one relations. They interrelate through phenomena of polysemy, homonymy, synonymy and variants of a word.

Within the language system the word is a lexeme – an abstract unit which unites all its variants, its material realizations in speech (the same as phoneme and speech sounds):

a) lexico-semantic variants – different meanings of the same polysemantic word: to give a pen, to give a smile, to give an answer;

b) phonetic variants – different pronouncation of the same word: neither, either;

c) orthographic variants – different spelling of the same word: jail – gaol;

d) morphological variants – different morphemic structure of the same word: learned – learnt, geographic – geographical.


The branch of lexicology that is devoted to the study of meaning is known as Semasiology (from Gr . semasia - "signification").

There are 2 major approaches to the problem: 1) the referential approach, which formulates the essence of meaning as the interdependence between words and things or concepts they denote; 2) the functional approach, which studies the functions of a word in speech.


The referential model of meaning is based on the so-called basic semantic triangle. It includes:

1. The sound-form (Sign) of the word: [bз:d].

2. The referent (Denotatum) – the object which the word names: the actual bird.

3. The concept (Designatum) – The essential properties of this object which are reflected in human mind: “a feathered animal with wings“.

Meaning is closely connected with all parts of the semantic triangle but cannot be equated with any of them. Meaning and concept are very closely associated but not identical. Meaning is a linguistic category. Concept is a logical and psychological category, a unit of thinking. Meaning and concept coincide only in scientific terms that have no general meanings (morpheme, phoneme, amoeba) and in terminilogical meanings of polysemantic words, e.g. legal, medical or grammatical usages of the word case.

The functional approach assumes that the meaning of a linguistic unit can be studied only through its relation to other linguistic units and not through its relation to concept or referent, e.g. we know that the meaning of “make v“ and “make n“ is different because they function in speech differently. Analysing various contexts in which these words are used we can observe that they have different distribution. As the distribution of the two words is different, their meanings are different too.

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  5. Grammatical meaning.
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