Phonological words are important in the study of pronunciation, but they areirrelevant to the study of grammar.
3. Lexical items.
) is an abstract unit of the lexicon(vocabulary) of a language, with a more or less readily identifiable meaning or function.A lexical item is a word in the sense in which a dictionary contains words. It isalso the sense of ‘word’ in cases like “How many words are present in the vocabulary of an ordinary English-speaker?” and “I learned twenty new words of French today.”A lexical item is an abstract unit, and it must be represented in speech or writing by one of the possibly several forms it can assume for grammatical purposes. For example, if we want to mention canine animals, we must use either the singular form
or the plural form
. But these two grammatical forms both represent the same singleabstract unit, the same lexical item. We can conveniently represent that lexical item asDOG. Then
are the two possible forms of the lexical item DOG.In the same way, we recognize a lexical item TAKE, which can be represented byany of the five grammatical forms
.A dictionary provides entries for lexical items. So, for example, we do not expectto find separate entries in the dictionary for
: we expect to find only oneentry for the lexical item DOG. Likewise, we expect to find only one entry for the lexicalitem TAKE, and not five entries for the five forms of that lexical item.(A small complication. Some dictionaries have a policy of providing entries for irregular forms like
, but an entry for one of these is purely a cross-reference to themain entry. So, the entry for
will say merely “see
”.)In English, the lexical item BE, uniquely, has eight different forms, but no other English lexical item has more than five, and most have fewer than this – sometimes onlyone. However, in grammatically more elaborate languages, such as French, Russian,Latin and Arabic, a lexical item may have several dozen different forms. And there existlanguages in which certain lexical items (usually verbs) can have several hundred forms.
3.1. Citation forms.
We need to talk about lexical items far more often than about other kinds of words. But we have a problem. A lexical item is an abstract unit, and it mustalways appear in one or another of its various forms. Therefore, we are obliged to chooseone of those forms to represent the lexical item when we want to talk about it. The formwe choose is called the “citation form” of the lexical item. The
) of a lexical item is the particular grammatical form of it which we usein naming it, talking about it, and entering it in a dictionary.In English, we are exceptionally fortunate. Almost every English lexical item hasone form which carries no grammatical marking at all. This form, the
, is thenatural choice for the citation form.For a noun like DOG, we choose the singular
as the citation form, and not the plural
. For the verb TAKE, we choose the infinitive
, and not an inflected formlike
. For the adjective BIG, we choose the positive form
, and not aninflected form like
. For the preposition WITH, there is nothing to talk about: thislexical item has only the single form
, and this is therefore its citation form.