LINGUIST List 12.2761

Mon Nov 5 2001

Review: Singleton, Language and the Lexicon

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  1. Pritha Chandra, Review: Singleton, Language and the Lexicon - An Introduction

Message 1: Review: Singleton, Language and the Lexicon - An Introduction

Date: Mon, 5 Nov 2001 15:34:47 +0530
From: Pritha Chandra <>
Subject: Review: Singleton, Language and the Lexicon - An Introduction

Singleton, David (2000) Language and the Lexicon: An Introduction.
Arnold Publishers, hardback ISBN 0-340-73173-7, xii+244pp.

Pritha Chandra, Centre of Linguistics and English,
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi (India).

This book is an introduction to the various aspects of
lexicology and its relevance for the other sub-fields of
linguistics such as morphology, syntax and semantics. It
also provides an elaborate account of other factors such as
language variations, language development theories and
language pedagogy, which essentially have a massive impact
on studies of the lexicon. The book is ideally suited for
new students to the discipline, with detailed 'suggestions
for further reading' and 'focussing questions/topics for
discussions' provided at the end of every chapter. The
style is lucid and the text is full of examples making the
task of learning easier for the freshers to the field.
Nevertheless, its relevance as an all time reference for
the fundamental issues in linguistics and lexicology cannot
be in any way undermined.

The chapters are methodically arranged, beginning with the
basic definitions and introduction to the concept 'word'
itself while finally proceeding to evaluate its
relationship with the other aspects of language. The first
chapter introduces the terms lexicon, lexis and lexicology,
and comments on some of the ancient theories that
considered speech to be analogous to the word. The possible
definitions of a word, in terms of its phonetic,
phonological, semantic, syntactic and orthographic forms
have been discussed quite extensively, while the
limitations of each approach have been consistently
provided alongside the description. However, the bias
towards the grammatical approach, which uses the criteria
of 'possible mobility' and 'internal stability' to define
the word is quite well pronounced.

The second chapter tries to evaluate the status accorded to
the lexicon as a structure building system. Variant
syntactic theories, such as the Valency Grammar, Lexical
Functional Grammar, Chomskyan Grammar etc are studied in an
attempt to examine the extent to which lexical items
determine the forms and meanings of utterances. The domain
of the lexicon is revisited in the third chapter with

efforts to understand the internal structure of words with
discussions ranging over a wide range of concepts such as
the morpheme, the differences between free and bound
morphemes, inflectional and derivational morphemes and some
of the word formation processes such as compounding.

Words do not combine with each other randomly; rather,
there seems to be a systematic approach to the patterns and
possible range of combinations or collocations that
specific words are allowed in different languages. This
fact has often been taken into consideration in traditional
dictionary making procedures, and also shapes the
electronic corpus building processes of the present times.
The fourth chapter looks at the issue of collocations
again, while suggesting that a large part of our language
performance relies on word combinations that function as
"prefabricated chunks", that also provides ground for the
assumption that the definition of lexical units can be
extended to semantically transparent multi-word
expressions. This idea is carried on to the next chapter,
which focuses on the variant approaches to the meanings of
lexical items, such as the referential/denotational
account, lexical field theory and some cognitive
approaches. The chapter concludes with the note that
context plays a pivotal role in the functioning of the
lexicon. The sixth chapter looks at the possible ways in
which choice of lexical items determine the phonological
forms (as for instance, the position of the stress
determined by the part of speech in some languages such as
English) as well as orthographic forms of a language. The
text provides a detailed account of the various kinds of
orthography that have evolved to suit language particular
characteristics. Evidence is also provided to support the
idea that both phonology and orthographic realisations are
to a large extent, determined by grammatical and semantic
information available in the language.

The seventh chapter deals with language variation, in terms
of geographical, socio-cultural, ethnic and gender related
factors. The interaction between lexical units and human
perception and thought processes is also studied,
especially in the light of some of the well-known theories
such as that propagated by Humboldt and the Safir-Whorf
hypothesis. It is argued that though there is an inevitable
relation between language and human thought processes, a
language deterministic position is best avoided. The eighth
chapter discusses the core methodologies of a diachronic
study of languages, namely the Comparative Method and the
Internal Reconstruction Method. The focus is however on the
changes that have occurred in the lexical forms and
meanings and their distribution, and the factors
influencing these changes, such as social status, cross-
linguistic influence, omission of euphemisms and creation
of new terms for new concepts and things.

The ninth chapter looks at the acquisition of lexical
items, starting from the one-word stage to the multi-word
stage and the possible role of the environment and
motherese in the language acquisition process. The rest of
the chapter discusses the organisation and operation of the
lexicon, with reference to some approaches such as the
Logogen Model, Cohort Model, the Modularity Hypothesis and
Connectionism. Differences between first language and
second language acquisition have also been highlighted in a
further attempt to understand the internal structuring of
the lexicon.

The final chapter traces the development of lexicology,
with illustrations from different varieties of glossaries
and dictionaries belonging to different periods. Special
reference is made to two of the most popular dictionaries
of the present times, namely 'A New English Dictionary on
Historical Principle' (1884-1928), now popularly known as
the Oxford English Dictionary and the 'American Dictionary
of the English Language' (1860), prepared by Noah Webster.
Also cited are the names and characteristics of a few of
the most advanced attempts at dictionary making, utilising
the new breakthroughs in information technology, such as
the COBUILD project (Collins Birmingham University
International Language Database), and various dictionaries
on CD-ROM and the internet. The final part of the chapter
looks at the pedagogical techniques adopted for teaching
lexis in the classrooms and evaluates the success of three
most commonly used methods, namely the grammar-translation
method, audio-lingual method and the communicative

One of the prevalent ideas evident throughout the book is
the relevance of a study of lexical items to language and
language pedagogy, thus serving the purpose that the author
had set out with, to show that "everything in language is
related in some way or other to words". However, though
every chapter has mainly focussed on various approaches to
the study of the lexicon and the lexis, the author has been
careful in ruling out a lexical determinist approach and
maintaining that "...conversely, the lexical dimension of
language needs to be conceived of as rather more than just
a list of lexical items".

In some works of generative literature, the lexicon is
conceptualised as a storehouse of information of lexical
items and could be considered at par with a dictionary or
an encyclopaedia (for further information, refer to Speas,
1990). The role of the lexicon extends to more than just
providing the raw materials needed for further syntactic
processes to take place. Each lexical entry is accompanied
by explicitly described semantic peculiarities and
conceptual/schematic structures, which as a matter of fact,
do not greatly influence the structural representation into
which the item enters. This redundancy has been eliminated
in current minimalist inquiries, where the lexicon contains
that minimal amount of information that is required for
further syntactic processes to occur. The lexicon is viewed
as a list of lexical items assembled by a computational
process. It is argued that there exists a universal set of
features, from which a particular language chooses a
subset. The features of the subset are assembled into
lexical items of the language, while the rest of the set
are barred from entering into the computation once the
choice has been made (Chomsky 1998, 1999, 2000). The
features with which the lexemes are construed essentially
are those that are legible at the interface levels, Logical
Form (LF) and Phonetic Form (PF), and consequently by other
faculties of the mind. Based on the conditions imposed by
the legibility conditions, features are divided into three
types (A)-(C).

(A) Phonetic features, interpreted at the phonetic level,
(B) Semantic features, interpreted at the semantic level,
(C) Features that are not interpretable at either

The set of features in (A) and (B) are interpreted at PF
and LF respectively, while those in (C) are those that are
accessible in the course of the narrow syntactic

It is difficult to ascertain whether the features or the
properties of the 'words' in the lexicon also belong to the
'concepts' to which they correspond. "One might ask whether
these properties [phonetic and semantic] are part of the
meaning of the word ... or the concept associated with the
word" (Chomsky 1997: 5-6). The answer to this question is
not available yet; nonetheless one could perhaps
conceptualise a relation between the lexical items and the
'concepts' or the words used in actual performance. Lexical
items are 'elementary' words, which are rather rudiments of
the 'performed' words uttered in the actual speech in all
its discursive richness. The former necessarily are special
forms of the 'performed' words used for the derivation of
expressions in the language faculty, readable by other
interacting mental faculties. The nature of the mechanism
of composition of the semantic features in (B) is however
not very clear. Moreover, questions like the extent to
which the idiosyncratic semantic and phonological features
of the items enter into the computational procedure, and
how the expressions created out of the lexical items
composed solely of features are accessed by other
faculties, to be finally associated with concepts can have
appropriate answers only through further extensive
research. In this regard, Singleton's work, while taking lexicon
as the central theme, introduces to the 'fresh' mind all the
intricate debates, including the compelling arguments of
the generative zone, engrossing the linguistic research
today. It is a commendable and recommendable work for all
those who desire to experience the expanse of the
linguistic field.

Chomsky, N. 1997. Language and Mind: Current Thoughts on
Ancient Problems. Pesquisa Ling��stica 3(4).

Chomsky, N. 1998. Minimalist Inquiries: The Framework.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Chomsky, N. 1999. Derivation by Phase. Cambridge, MA: MIT

Chomsky, N. 2000. Beyond Explanatory Adequacy (ms.).

Speas, M. 1990. Phrase Structure in Natural Language.
Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Pritha Chandra received the MPhil degree in Linguistics
from the Centre of Linguistics and English, Jawaharlal
Nehru University, New Delhi (India) in 2001 and is
currently enrolled in the PhD Programme in the same
university. She has been teaching linguistics in a college
in the University of Delhi. Her research interests revolve
around generative syntax and semantics, with a specific
focus on argument structure, case and the Extended
Projection Principle (EPP). In her MPhil work, she has
analysed the semantic and structural peculiarities of
dative subjects in Hindi. She is presently examining the
theory of empty categories, in light of the recent
development in generative syntax.
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