What is the lexicon?

We explain what the lexicon is and the different levels at which it works. In addition, its relationship with semantics and the types of lexicon that exist.

  1. What is the lexicon?

Lexicon is understood as the set of known words of a language , that is, its vocabulary, which is collected by the dictionaries of that language. It is a set of words and associated meanings, which nevertheless works at different levels:

  • he of the formal language , that is, the meanings widely used and accepted by the institutions of the language and by the majority of its speakers;
  • he of the informal language , since each community adapts the language to their needs and imaginary, thus generating a community, local or geographically determined lexicon.

Thus, the language contemplates a general lexicon, while the communities create a specific one, of punctual use . It is something similar to what happens with technical or specialized language: words of specific use, limited to certain knowledge groups, as is the case with scientific, medical terminology, etc.

That is the reason why not everything is called the same in countries that handle the same language , such as Latin Americans, but there are specific differences that must be learned; but the essential functioning of the language, as well as the most basic and abundant meanings, remain immutable.

Within the lexicon there are also loans from other languages, neologisms or invented words to cover a new expressive need, so that far from being a stable and universal set of words, it is a living system and in perpetual modification.

  1. Lexicon and semantics

Semantics studies the modes, mechanisms and procedures of the language.

Semantics is the science that studies the meanings of language : the way they are composed, their mechanisms and procedures, and so on. In addition, in a specific language, the words that make up the lexicon are ordered according to their shared meanings, to the associations that arise from them, in mental structures called lexical-semantic fields.

These fields are equivalent to an ordering “by subject” of words, but also by phonetic and grammatical similarity. For example: in the lexical-semantic field of the word “pet” will appear around it, as a cloud of meanings, other associable terms such as “dog”, “cat”, “rabbit”, “companion animal”, but also others of less immediate association such as “home”, “childhood”, “family” and possibly other words that sound like “mascot” or words derived from ” mascot  ” even if they mean totally different things.

  1. Types of lexicon

The passive lexicon encompasses words that are not in common and everyday use.

The linguistic distinction between various types of lexicon:

  • Active lexicon . Also called productive lexicon, it is constituted by the most commonly used words and most commonly used in the language, since its meaning is known by all its speakers and does not require special learning or training.
  • Lexical liability . It is also called receptive vocabulary, since it encompasses the set of words that are not common and everyday, but whose understanding is relatively simple, that is, they do not require specialized learning to understand each other.
  • Jargon . It is a specialized lexicon to which you do not have access if you do not belong to the community that devised and uses it. This is the case, for example, with scientific jargon, with prison or criminal jargon, or with the typical jargon of a region of a given country.

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