Author Topic: Introductory Linguistics: defining lexical categories  (Read 6079 times)


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Introductory Linguistics: defining lexical categories
« on: March 12, 2014, 06:43:10 AM »
I was hoping for some help on defining lexical categories. Are there any examples that I can refer to in order to define a lexical category correctly? For e.g. a sentence such as "My brother owns two very furry cats", I need to figure out the lexical category of the word "cats". What is the deductive reasoning/correct way to outline how I come to the conclusion that cats is a noun? For example, is writing: The word “cats” reflects inflectional morphology consistent with nouns; as “cat” is attached to the plural morpheme ‘-s’. Lexical category: nouns.
Would that be enough? I'm just having a hard time figuring out how much information I need to provide in order to prove a lexical category, if there are examples (of the English language) that can be referred to, as well as if there is a "procedure" for writing out your reasoning correctly.

p.s. I also feel like an incredible n00b struggling with basic class questions on this forum. Is there another forum for Linguistic students who are just starting out?

Offline Corybobory

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Re: Introductory Linguistics: defining lexical categories
« Reply #1 on: March 13, 2014, 02:18:35 AM »
Hi orange,

Don't worry the whole forum is for people who are just starting out too :)  There are some of us who have studied formally, some of us who study on our own, and people who are just interested and starting out.

I think you are also looking for syntactical categories, not lexical categories. I could be wrong, but my impression lexical categories would have to do with the meaning of the word (someone correct me if I'm wrong!).  Syntactical categories are also called "parts of speech". Syntax is the way a language puts words together to create meaning - and this is what nouns, verbs etc do differently, and why we give them different categories.

You're exactly right about the morphology that cats is a noun because it has a plural morpheme, and in English only nouns get the plural morpheme -s (note: there is another -s morpheme in English that marks verbs, ex. "he walks" - but this is a different morpheme marking walks as a verb in the third person).

Perhaps looking up 'parts of speech' will help you with this in your search - I have to run but I'll come back and help in a bit ;)
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Offline MalFet

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Re: Introductory Linguistics: defining lexical categories
« Reply #2 on: March 13, 2014, 03:21:29 AM »
A lexical category is one particular kind of syntactic category. The terminology here quickly gets more complicated than helpful, but what defines a lexical category is that all the words in it are bound by the same restrictions on how they combine with other words.

Most of the big lexical categories are probably already familiar to you. Nouns refer to entities (cat, hat, beer, freedom, etc.), adjectives modify nouns (fat cat, blue hat, cold beer, individual freedom, etc.), and verbs position nouns in terms of a specific statement or claim (I kicked the fat cat, I bought the blue hat, I want cold beer, I have individual freedom, etc.)

Countless different lexical categories have been proposed, and different linguists count different things as lexical categories. But, the major categories and their descriptions should be easy enough to find if you look up (like Corybobory suggested) "parts of speech".

In figuring out how particular sentences are structured, the easiest thing to do is usually to find the top-level verb (which, in English at least, will generally be conjugated for tense) and then figure out how all the other words relate to it.

In your example sentence, the main verb is "owns", because that's what establishes the activity of the sentence. Then, you have "my brother" (who does the owning) and "two very fuzzy cats" (which get owned) which are noun phrases.

Offline Daniel

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Re: Introductory Linguistics: defining lexical categories
« Reply #3 on: March 13, 2014, 07:43:47 PM »
Distributional Criteria is the term you're looking for.

Morphological: how does the word look? What affixes are used with it?

Syntactic/structural: where does the word appear? What structural evidence is there for the category? Does it always follow or precede a particular word?

Cats ends in -s, which is an ending for nouns.
Cats follows furry, an adjective, and often follows other adjectives. Adjectives often precede nouns.
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