Lexicalization Definition and Examples


Alpesh Ambalal Patel / Getty Images

Lexicalization is the process of making a word to express a concept. Verb: lexicalize. Here are some examples and observations from experts and other writers:

Examples and Observations

Hans Sauer: The OED (1989) defines lexicalize (1) as 'to accept into the lexicon, or vocabulary, of a language,' and lexicalization as 'the action or process of lexicalizing.' In this sense simple and complex words, native as well as loanwords can be lexicalized. Thus, Lyons (1968:352) says 'that the relationship of the transitive (and causative) concept of 'to cause someone to die' is expressed by a separate word, to kill (someone). Quirk et al. (1985:1525f.) restrict lexicalization to words formed by word-formation processes, explaining it as the process of creating a new word (a complex lexical item) for a (new) thing or notion instead of describing this thing or notion in a sentence or with a paraphrase. The use of words is more economical because they are shorter than the corresponding (underlying) sentences or paraphrases, and because they can be more easily used as elements of sentences. Thus one does not say 'someone who writes a book [...] for someone else, who then often pretends it is their own work,' one says ghostwriter instead.

Laurel J. Brinton and Elizabeth Closs Traugott: Despite a certain lack of consensus about the meaning of 'idiom,' the identification of lexicalization with idiomatization is widespread . . .. Indeed, according to Lehmann (2002:14) idiomatization IS lexicalization in the sense of coming to belong to an inventory, and Moreno Cabrera (1998:214) points to idioms as the best examples of lexicalization. Lipka (1992:97) cites examples such as wheelchair, pushchair, and trousersuit, which have specific and unpredictable meanings. Bussmann [1996] considers idiomatization to be the diachronic element of lexicalization, which occurs when 'the original meaning can no longer be deduced from its individual elements' or 'the original motivation of [a] unit can only be reconstructed through historical knowledge,' as in the case of neighbor, cupboard, or mincemeat... Bauer identifies a subtype of lexicalization which he calls 'semantic lexicalization' (1983:55-59), instancing compounds such as blackmail, mincemeat, townhouse, and butterfly or derivatives such as unquiet, gospel, and inspector which lack semantic compositionality (because semantic information has been either added or subtracted). Antilla (1989 [1972]:151) adduces examples such as sweetmeat, nutmeat, Holy Ghost 'spirit,' widow's weeds 'clothes,' and fishwife, which are morphologically transparent but semantically opaque as instances of lexicalization.

Peter Hohenhaus: It is important to note, however, that idiomatization is only one aspect of lexicalization, which is why the two terms should not be used interchangeably (as is sometimes the case). Rather 'lexicalization' has to be regarded as the cover term for a range of phenomena, semantic and non-semantic. Bauer (1983: 49) also emphasizes that 'opacity is not a necessary pre-requisite for lexicalization' since '[s]ome lexicalized forms [...] may remain perfectly transparent,' e.g. warmth--which must be considered lexicalized because 'the suffix -th cannot be added synchronically to an adjective to provide a noun.'

Pronunciation: lek-si-ke-le-ZAY-shun

Alternate Spellings: lexicalisation

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Lexicalization Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-is-lexicalization-1691119. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 28). Lexicalization Definition and Examples. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-lexicalization-1691119 Nordquist, Richard. "Lexicalization Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-lexicalization-1691119 (accessed April 1, 2023).