Types of linguistic definitions


Lexical items are usually categorised into different lexical categories through their meanings. These are often called semantic definitions for word categories as semantics is the area of linguistics that deals with the meanings of words, phrases and sentences. The semantic definitions of lexical items are the following:


Abbreviations for lexical categories


Note that we often use abbreviations when describing lexical categories (or other grammatical terms). For example, we use N for nouns, V for verbs, P for prepositions, Adv for adverbs and A or Adj for adjectives, PP for prepositional phrase, AdvP for adverbial phrase, NP for noun phrase, VP for verb phrase and S for sentence or clause. You might have also come across sg (for singular) and pl (for plural) before. Abbreviations for grammatical terms often differ from one book to another, but usually they are quite obvious and/or the author gives a list.

Semantic definitions of lexical categories need to be supplemented by another essential criterion, namely the range of positions in which the various lexical categories can occur in grammatical sentences. A definition that is based on the positions that the members of a lexical category can occupy is known as a distributional definition. For example, a noun is often preceded by an article as in:

He saw the cat.

We can therefore give the following distributional definition for the lexical category noun:

A noun occurs after an article.

Using the same definitional strategy, can you define the lexical category article? As you can see from this example, the main problem with definitions based on the distribution of lexical categories in a sentence is, however, that they use other lexical categories or grammatical terms as reference points. That means that in our example, we have to know what an article is before we can find out if cat is a noun or not.

Since you will only be learning about some of these lexical categories later, we have to put the distributional definition of lexical categories on hold until you have mastered all the necessary concepts. In the meantime, we will have to make the semantic definitions of these lexical categories.

Last modified: 2019/12/02