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In , a word of a can be defined as the smallest sequence of that can be uttered in isolation with or . In many languages, words also correspond to sequences of ("letters") in their standard that are delimited by spaces wider than the normal inter-letter space, or by other graphical conventions. The concept of "word" is usually distinguished from that of a , which is the smallest unit of word which has a meaning, even if it will not stand on its own together or in other small words.

In many languages, the notion of what constitutes a "word" may be learned as part of learning the writing system. This is the case for the , and for most languages that are written with alphabets derived from the ancient or .

There still remains no consensus among linguists about the proper definition of "word" in a spoken language that is independent of its writing system, nor about the precise distinction between it and "morpheme". This issue is particularly debated for and other languages of .Charles F. Hockett (1951): Review of John De Francis (1950) Nationalism and language reform in China. Published in Language, volume 27, issue 3, pages 439-445. Quote: "an overwhelmingly high percentage of Chinese segmental morphemes (bound or free) consist of a single syllable; no more than perhaps five percent are longer than one syllable, and only a small handful are shorter. In this sense — in the sense of the favored canonical shape of morphemes — Chinese is indeed monosyllabic."

In English orthography, the letter sequences "rock", "god", "write", "with", "the", and "not" are considered to be single-morpheme words, whereas "rocks", "ungodliness", "typewriter", and "cannot" are words composed of two or more morphemes ("rock"+"s", "un"+"god"+"li"+"ness", "type"+"writ"+"er", and "can"+"not"). In English and many other languages, the morphemes that make up a word generally include at least one root (such as "rock", "god", "type", "writ", "can", "not") and possibly some ("-s", "un-", "-ly", "-ness"). Words with more than one root ("typewriter", "cowboys", "telegraphically") are called compound words.

Words are combined to form other elements of language, such as ("a red rock", "put up with"), ("I threw a rock"), and sentences ("I threw a rock, but missed").


There have been many proposed criteria for identifying words. However, no definition has been found to apply to all languages.
(2022). 9780511061493, Cambridge University Press.
categorize a language's (i.e., its vocabulary) into lemmas. These can be taken as an indication of what constitutes a "word" in the opinion of the writers of that language. The most appropriate means of measuring the length of a word is by counting its or morphemes. When a word has multiple definitions or multiple senses, it may result in confusion in a debate or discussion.Chodorow, Martin S., Roy J. Byrd, and George E. Heidorn. " Extracting semantic hierarchies from a large on-line dictionary". . Proceedings of the 23rd annual meeting on Association for Computational Linguistics. Association for Computational Linguistics, 1985.

Semantic definition
Leonard Bloomfield introduced the concept of "Minimal Free Forms" in 1928. Words are thought of as the smallest meaningful unit of that can stand by themselves.Katamba 11 This correlates phonemes (units of sound) to (units of meaning). However, some written words are not minimal free forms as they make no sense by themselves (for example, the and of).Fleming 77

Some semanticists have put forward a theory of so-called semantic primitives or , indefinable words representing fundamental concepts that are intuitively meaningful. According to this theory, semantic primes serve as the basis for describing the meaning, without circularity, of other words and their associated conceptual denotations.Wierzbicka 1996; Goddard 2002

In the Minimalist school of theoretical syntax, words (also called lexical items in the literature) are construed as "bundles" of linguistic features that are united into a structure with form and meaning.Adger (2003), pp. 36–37. For example, the word "koalas" has semantic features (it denotes real-world objects, ), features (it is a noun), number features (it is plural and must agree with verbs, pronouns, and demonstratives in its domain), features (it is pronounced a certain way), etc.

Word boundaries
The task of defining what constitutes a "word" involves determining where one word ends and another word begins—in other words, identifying word boundaries. There are several ways to determine where the word boundaries of spoken language should be placed:
  • Potential pause: A speaker is told to repeat a given sentence slowly, allowing for pauses. The speaker will tend to insert pauses at the word boundaries. However, this method is not foolproof: the speaker could easily break up polysyllabic words, or fail to separate two or more closely linked words (e.g. "to a" in "He went to a house").
  • Indivisibility: A speaker is told to say a sentence out loud, and then is told to say the sentence again with extra words added to it. Thus, I have lived in this village for ten years might become My family and I have lived in this little village for about ten or so years. These extra words will tend to be added in the word boundaries of the original sentence. However, some languages have , which are put inside a word. Similarly, some have : in the sentence "Ich komme gut zu Hause an", the verb ankommen is separated.
  • Phonetic boundaries: Some languages have particular rules of that make it easy to spot where a word boundary should be. For example, in a language that regularly the last syllable of a word, a word boundary is likely to fall after each stressed syllable. Another example can be seen in a language that has (like ):Bauer 9 the vowels within a given word share the same quality, so a word boundary is likely to occur whenever the vowel quality changes. Nevertheless, not all languages have such convenient phonetic rules, and even those that do present the occasional exceptions.
  • Orthographic boundaries: See below.

In languages with a , there is interrelation between and the question of what is considered a single word. (typically spaces) are common in modern orthography of languages using alphabetic scripts, but these are (excepting isolated precedents) a relatively modern development (see also history of writing).

In English orthography, compound expressions may contain spaces. For example, ice cream, air raid shelter and get up each are generally considered to consist of more than one word (as each of the components are free forms, with the possible exception of get), and so is no one, but the similarly compounded someone and nobody are considered single words.

Not all languages delimit words expressly. is a very analytic language (with few inflectional affixes), making it unnecessary to delimit words orthographically. However, there are many multiple-morpheme compounds in Mandarin, as well as a variety of bound morphemes that make it difficult to clearly determine what constitutes a word.

Sometimes, languages which are extremely close grammatically will consider the same order of words in different ways. For example, in the infinitive are separate from their respective particle, e.g. se laver ("to wash oneself"), whereas in Portuguese they are hyphenated, e.g. lavar-se, and in they are joined, e.g. lavarse.Note that the convention also depends on the tense or mood—the examples given here are in the infinitive, whereas French imperatives, for example, are hyphenated, e.g. lavez-vous, whereas the Spanish present tense is completely separate, e.g. me lavo.

Japanese uses orthographic cues to delimit words, such as switching between (Chinese characters) and the two syllabaries. This is a fairly soft rule, because can also be written in for effect (though if done extensively spaces are typically added to maintain legibility).

Vietnamese orthography, although using the , delimits monosyllabic morphemes rather than words.

In character encoding, word segmentation depends on which characters are defined as word dividers.

Morphology is the study of word formation and structure. In synthetic languages, a single (for example, love) may have a number of different forms (for example, loves, loving, and loved). However, for some purposes these are not usually considered to be different words, but rather different forms of the same word. In these languages, words may be considered to be constructed from a number of .

In Indo-European languages in particular, the morphemes distinguished are:

Thus, the Proto-Indo-European would be analyzed as consisting of
  1. , the of the root .
  2. A root-extension (diachronically a suffix), resulting in a complex root .
  3. The .
  4. The nominative or accusative singular suffix .

Philosophers have found words objects of fascination since at least the 5th century BC, with the foundation of the philosophy of language. analyzed words in terms of their origins and the sounds making them up, concluding that there was some connection between sound and meaning, though words change a great deal over time. wrote that the use of words "is to be sensible marks of ideas", though they are chosen "not by any natural connexion that there is between particular articulate sounds and certain ideas, for then there would be but one language amongst all men; but by a voluntary imposition, whereby such a word is made arbitrarily the mark of such an idea". 's thought transitioned from a word as representation of meaning to "the meaning of a word is its use in the language."

classifies a language's lexicon into several groups of words. The basic bipartite division that is possible for virtually every is that of vs .

The classification into such classes is in the tradition of , who distinguished eight categories: , , , , , , conjunction and .

In Indian grammatical tradition, Pāṇini introduced a similar fundamental classification into a nominal (nāma, suP) and a verbal (ākhyāta, tiN) class, based on the set of taken by the word. Some words can be controversial, such as in formal contexts; misnomers, due to them not meaning what they would imply; or words, due to the potential confusion between their various senses.De Soto, Clinton B., Margaret M. Hamilton, and Ralph B. Taylor. "Words, people, and implicit personality theory." Social Cognition 3.4 (1985): 369–82

See also

  • (2022). 9780199243709, Oxford University Press.
  • (1983). 9780521284929, Cambridge University Press.
  • Brown, Keith R. (Ed.) (2005) Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (2nd ed.). Elsevier. 14 vols.
  • (1995). 9780521401791, Cambridge University Press. .
  • (2022). 9780415233774, Routledge.
  • (2022). 9780415298933, Routledge.
  • (2022). 9780521525633, Cambridge University Press.
  • (1996). 9780198700029, Oxford University Press.

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