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Linguists views on the concept of Lexeme

I. Introduction

            As we know, nowadays, many linguists use the term 'word' less carefully, so Lyons proposes as follows,

            "However, since most linguists now employ the term 'word' to refer to such phonological or orthographical units such as /saen/ or 'sang' on the one hand, or to the grammatical units they represent, on the other hand, (and indeed do not always distinguish even between these two senses), we shall introduce another term, lexeme, to denote the more 'abstract' units which occur in different inflexional 'forms' according to the syntactic rules involved in the generation of sentences" (1968:197). So, the word or 'word' is distinguished from the word or 'lexeme'.


Source of Image: https://www.merriam-webster.com/

                Actually, the term lexeme was used by Whorf in 1938. In one of his essays, the pioneer of language relativity explained that "The lexeme ..." is "…..the word or item as an item of the vocabulary, and as a part analyzed or abstracted from sentence words" (see Carol 1956:125). Lyons is another essay, stated, "…vocabulary words constitute one subclass or what….we are calling lexeme".(1977:19). Then he states, "…lexemes are the words and phrases that a dictionary would list under a separate entry" (1977:23). Another scholar, Mathews, says that a lexeme is "an Abstract unit" (1974:21) is "...the fundamental unit... of the lexicon (1974:22)..

In the following, various linguists' views on the concept of Lekseme will be presented, including the opinions of F. Katamba, Laurie Bauer, Harimurti Kridalaksana, and D. Edi Subroto.


A. View F. Katamba

A lexeme is an abstract vocabulary item. Forms such as pickling, pickle, pickles, and pickled are different realizations or representations of the lexeme PICKLE. The lexeme is written in capital letters. These words have a core meaning even though they are spelled and pronounced differently, according to Di Scivilo and Williams 1987. 

Lexemes are the vocabulary items that are listed in the dictionary. We agree that the physical form of words: see, sees, seeing, saw, seen is a realization of the SEE lexeme. The terms tall, taller, tallest are the realization of the lexeme TALL. The words boy, boys are the realization of the lexeme BOY, and the words woman, women are the realization of the lexeme WOMAN.

    The term 'word' is not an abstract vocabulary item with an ordinary core meaning (lexemes) but refers to certain physical realizations in spoken or written form. So: see, sees, seeing, saw, and seen are five different words from the same lexeme. "word" can also be seen as a representation of a lexeme associated with morpho-syntactic devices, such as nouns, adjectives, verbs, tenses (Kala), gender, numerals and so on. "word" in this case we call 'grammatical word'. The word 'cut' in the following sentences is a representation of different grammatical words:

usually, I cut the bread on the table

Yesterday I cut the bread in the sink

 'cut' on a. represents grammatical word – present tense.

'cut' on b. represent grammatical word–past tense.

They are from the same lexeme, namely the verb lexeme CUT. But the sentence 'Jane has a cut on her finger'. The word 'cut' is a realization of the noun lexeme.

B. Laurie Bauer's View

        Lexeme is the primary key within the boundaries of the paradigm, which does not refer to a particular form that is owned by a word in certain circumstances but instead refers to all the possible shapes that the word can have.

For example: if we find the sentence "This hunter shoots big game," but we do not understand the verb in the sentence. In this case, we will look up the meaning of the word in the dictionary. We will not look for the word 'shoots' but the form of the word shoot. With the entry of the word 'shoot', we hope to find all the info needed to translate the meaning of shoot and shoots, shooting, and shot.

The word shoot is the key/key to the inflectional paradigm that led to the emergence of the word shoots. Words like shoot, shoots, shooting, and shot all come under the lexeme "SHOOT."

Forms of words and lexemes:

Forms of words refer to certain forms of expression in certain situations. The emphasis is on phonological and orthographic forms (correct or conventional spelling). At the same time, lexemes refer to more abstract forms. For example, the word 'shot' is a form of the word 'shoot'. The use of new terminology can be clarified by stating that the form of the word 'shot' is a form of the lexeme 'shoot.' According to typographic conventions, uppercase letters are used to distinguish word forms. 

Word forms (word forms) are representations of lexemes. The citation form of a lexeme is the word form of the lexeme inflectional paradigm, which is used when a lexeme is entered into the standard dictionary; So; the form of the English lexeme that has been discussed above is shoot NOT shot, shoots or shooting.

C. D. Edi Subroto's view

A lexeme is the result of an abstraction that does not change its identity. Identity here is meant identity that does not change the paradigm. More specifically, it is said that lexemes result from the smallest abstraction that does not change the identity of the paradigm—good paradigm of nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.

For example, from the WRITE lexeme, there are different forms, such as writes, wrote, written, etc. This is still in the verb paradigm. While the form of writer, the writing is in a different paradigm, namely the noun paradigm. This two-form lexeme is not WRITE but WRITER. The word 'writer' is already the smallest unit.

D. Harimurti Kridalaksana's view

The lexeme is the basic unit in the lexicon that is distinguished from the word. A lexeme is a primary material that becomes a word in the grammatical sub-system after undergoing grammatical processing. So the lexeme is:

the smallest unit in the lexicon

units that act as inputs in the morphological process

raw materials in the morphological process

Elements that are known to exist from forms which after being segmented from complex forms are primary forms that are separated from affix morphemes.

Forms that are not classified as pro-lexemes or particles.

 Lexeme in morphology

      Morphology is seen as a subsystem that processes lexemes into words. Lexeme as input is a lexical unit, and word as output is a grammatical unit. Apart from changing form, there is also a change in meaning in the process.

Lexeme – – – – – – – Morphological Process – – – – – –– – Word

                                 –zero derivation




                                 –back derivation


The changing of a lexeme into a word is also called grammaticalization, and its opposite is lexicalization.

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