lexicon

dictionary

[dik-shuh-ner-ee]

Reference work that lists words, usually in alphabetical order, and gives their meanings and often other information such as pronunciations, etymologies, and variant spellings. The earliest dictionaries, such as those created by Greeks of the 1st century AD, emphasized changes that had occurred in the meanings of words over time. The close juxtaposition of languages in Europe led to the appearance, from the early Middle Ages on, of many bilingual and multilingual dictionaries. The movement to produce an English dictionary was partly prompted by a desire for wider literacy, so that common people could read Scripture, and partly by a frustration that no regularity in spelling existed in the language. The first purely English dictionary was Robert Cawdrey's A Table Alphabetical (1604), treating some 3,000 words. In 1746–47 Samuel Johnson undertook the most ambitious English dictionary to that time, a list of 43,500 words. Noah Webster's dictionary of Americanisms in the early 19th century sprang from a recognition of the changes and variations within language. The immense Oxford English Dictionary was begun in the late 19th century. Today there are various levels of dictionaries, general-purpose dictionaries being most common. Modern lexicographers (dictionary makers) describe current and past language but rarely prescribe its use.

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In linguistics, the lexicon (from Greek Λεξικόν) of a language is its vocabulary, including its words and expressions. More formally, it is a language's inventory of lexemes.

The lexicon includes the lexemes used to actualize words. Lexemes are formed according to morpho-syntactic rules and express sememes. In this sense, a lexicon organizes the mental vocabulary in a speaker's mind: First, it organizes the vocabulary of a language according to certain principles (for instance, all verbs of motion may be linked in a lexical network) and second, it contains a generative device producing (new) simple and complex words according to certain lexical rules. For example, the suffix '-able' can be added to transitive verbs only, so that we get 'read-able' but not 'cry-able'.

Usually a lexicon is a container for words belonging to the same language. Some exceptions may be encountered for languages that are variants, like for instance Brazilian Portuguese compared to the Portuguese language, where a lot of words are common and where the differences may be marked word by word.

When linguists study the lexicon, they study such things as what words are, how the vocabulary in a language is structured, how people use and store words, how they learn words, the history and evolution of words (i.e. etymology), types of relationships between words as well as how words were created.

An individual's lexicon, lexical knowledge, or lexical concept is that person's knowledge of vocabulary.

See also

Further reading

  • Aitchison, Jean. Words in the Mind: An Introduction to the Mental Lexicon. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2003.

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