‘In the Beginning was the Word’

  • Reilly M
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All linguists assume that the meaning of a complex syntactic expression is determined by its structure and the meanings of its constituents. Most believe that the meanings of words are similarly compositionally derived from the meanings of their constituent morphemes. The classical lexicalist hypothesis holds instead that the central basic meaningful constituents of language are not morphemes but lexemes. This article supports that hypothesis with evidence from syntax, lexical semantics, and morphology. Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language (ABSL) is a new language that is compositional down to its smallest pieces, in which these pieces are lexemes. ABSL shows that a language can emerge very quickly in which lexemes are basic. Next comes evidence against the claim that newly derived words diverge from compositionality only because they are stored in memory. Finally, Hebrew verb roots are shown to have robust morphological properties that bear no relation to meaning and little to phonology, leaving room for morp...

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  • Michael P.J. Reilly

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