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I. Introduction


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 /sæŋ/ or 'sang' or /ˌɪdɪəˈsɪŋkrəsi / or "idiosyncrasy"  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'.


       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 as an item of the vocabulary, and as a part analyzed or abstracted from sentence words" (see Carol 1956:125). 

Lyons in another essay, stated, "…vocabulary words constitute one sub-class or what….we do called as lexeme".(1977:19). Then he says, "…lexemes are the words and phrases that a dictionary would list under a separate entry" (1977:23). Another scholar, Mathews, states 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 Lexeme will be presented, including the opinions of F. Katamba, Laurie Bauer, Harimurti Kridalaksana, and D. Edi Subroto.



A. The view of Francis Katamba

A lexeme is an abstract vocabulary item. Forms such as pickling, pickle, 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 words tall, taller, tallest are the realization of the lexeme TALL. The words boy, boys are the realization of the lexeme BOY, and the terms woman, women are the realization of the lexeme WOMAN.

       The term 'word' is not an abstract vocabulary item with a general core meaning (lexemes), but refers to certain physical realizations of lexemes 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:


a. usually, I cut the bread on table

b. Yesterday I cut the bread in the sink

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

'cut' on b. represents 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 situation, 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 not only shoot but also shoots, shooting, and shot.

The word shoot is the key to the inflectional paradigm that causes the word shoots to emerge. Words like shoot, shoots, shooting, and shot are all under the lexeme "SHOOT".


Forms of words and lexemes:

Forms of words refer to certain forms of a word in certain situations. The emphasis is on phonological and orthographical forms (conventional spelling), while lexemes refer to more abstract forms. For example, the word 'shot' is a form of 'shoot.' With the use of new terminology, it can be clarified by stating that the word 'shot' is a form of the lexeme 'shoot'. According to typographical conventions, capital letters are used to distinguish word forms. So the above statement can be made that "shot is a form of SHOOT".

Word forms are representations of lexemes. The form of a lexeme is the word form of the inflectional paradigm, which is used when a lexeme is inserted et into a 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 results from an abstraction that does not change its identity. Identity, in this case, is the identity that does not change the paradigm. More specifically, it is said that lexemes result from the minor abstraction that does not change the identity of the paradigm. The paradigm will be in the form of nouns, verbs, adjectives etc.

For example, there are different forms of the WRITE lexeme 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, as the basic unit in the lexicon, is distinguished from the word. A lexeme is a basic material that becomes a word in the grammatical sub-system after undergoing a grammatical process. 

So the lexeme is:

1. the smallest unit in the lexicon

2. units that act as inputs in the morphological process

3. raw materials in the process of morphology

4. Elements known to exist from forms that, after being segmented from complex forms, are basic forms separated from affixed-morphemes.

Lexeme in morphology

   Morphology is seen as a sub-system 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







From the description above, it can be concluded that, in general, the opinions of F. Katamba, Laurie Bauer, and D. Edi Subroto have the same idea in the concept of the lexeme, even though the form of the description and explanation is different. According to F. Katamba, lexemes are abstract vocabulary items; according to Bauer, lexemes are the main keys within the boundaries of the paradigm that do not refer to certain forms but refer to all possible forms that the word can have, and according to D.Edi Subroto lexemes are the result of the smallest abstraction that does not change the identity of the paradigm.

Meanwhile, Harimurti Kridalaksana has an opini on that contradicts the views of the three linguists above. A lexeme is an essential material that becomes a word in the grammatical sub-system after undergoing grammatical processing. The term basic material is deemed inappropriate according to the point of view of other linguistic experts because it is considered to be too general in its conception. The general opinion of linguists regarding the lexeme is determined as the smallest abstraction that refers to all the possible forms that the word can have ('all the possible shapes'), which does not change the identity of the paradigm. Syntactic factors or syntactic factors determine changes in the paradigm. This opinion is also in line with Jack Richards in "Longman Dictionary of Applied Linguistics" that "lexeme is the smallest unit in the meaning system of language that can be distinguished from other similar units. A lexeme is an abstract unit. It can occur in many different forms in actual spoken or written sentences. And is regarded as the same lexeme even when inflected.." (p.163).


Bauer, Laurie 1983. English Word Formation. Cambridge University Press. London

D. Edi Subroto. Seminar Nasional I Semantik. Ikhwal Relasi Makna : Beberapa Kasus dalam Bahasa Indonesia. S–2 Linguistik, UNS, 26–27 Februari 1999

Harimurti Kridalaksana. Beberapa Prinsip Perpaduan Leksem dalam Bahasa Indonesia. Penerbit Kanisius. Jakarta

Katamba, Francis . Morphology. Penguin Press...