Second Language Learning and Language Teaching Website
Vivian Cook
    SLA topics index    Keywords

Key Vocabulary Terms

argument structure: is the aspect of a word that dictates the structures in which it may be used, for example the verb 'give' requires an animate subject, a direct object and an indirect object: 'Peter gave a stone to the wolf'.

cognates: are words that have similar or identical forms in different languages, due to historical connections, such as ‘subject’ (English)/ ‘sujet’ (French) and ‘medicine’ (English)/ ‘Medizin’ (German). This does not mean that they necessarily have the same meaning: ‘prune’ in French means a plum, in English only a ‘dried plum’.

collocations: a collocation is a set of words that often go with one another. ‘bread’ is likely to occur with ‘butter’, ‘stormy’ with ‘weather’ and so on.

components of meaning are general aspects of meaning which are shared by many words; 'boy' has the components 'male', 'human', ‘juvenile’ etc, woman ‘female’, ‘human’, ‘adult’, etc.

false friends: are words that look more or less the same in two languages but have different meanings: French ‘coin’ looks just like English ‘coin’ but means ‘corner.

lexical entry: a lexical item has a lexical entry in the mental lexicon that gives all the information about it such as its pronunciation, meaning, and how it may be used in the structure of the sentence. E.g. ‘man’: /mæn/, <man>, Noun, countable, +animate, pl. /men/ <men> …

lexical items: are single words or phrases of more than one word that need to have a lexical entry in the lexicon as they have a unique meaning: ‘go’, ‘go through’, ‘go on’, ‘go on a spree’ are all lexical items consisting of one or more words.

prototype theory: words have whole meanings divided into basic level ('car'), subordinate level ('Ford') and superordinate level ('vehicle').

reference: is one kind of meaning in which a word or lexical item connects an aspect of the world to a concept in the mind: ‘dog’ refers to D.

semantic features: some aspects of meaning can be ‘decomposed’ into semantic features: ‘boy’ means (+male), (+human), (-adult), while ‘ewe’ means (-male), (-human) (+adult), etc.

word: the best definition for ‘word’ in English (but not in Chinese) is the letters between two spaces, i.e. it defines the written word. In speech it is hard to pin down except to say that words can potentially have pauses after them. ‘Word’ is a convenient unit for analysing vocabulary and syntax but often needs to be specified more closely as lexical item etc.

word frequency: measured by counting how often a word or word form occurs in a large sample of spoken or written language such as the British National Corpus (BNC), Corpus of Contemporary American (COCA) or Ngram Viewer