Words& How many of them do we use each day, hour, minute? Certainly, a lot. But what is a word? Well, it’s the simplest unit of speech that enables us to communicate. However, word is more than that. It’s our inner feeling that we want to express so that other people see and feel it.
The first difficulty in defining what the term “word” is that it has
more than one definition. In fact, traditionally, there are three
completely different and exclusive definitions for the term “word”. To
understand the difficulties in defining and differentiating the
meanings of the term “word” we must first discuss each of the senses
of the term.
The first sense of the term “word” is known as word form. In word
form, a word is a unit that can be physically defined, be it
orthographically or phonetically, as a word. It is easier to see the
boundaries between words in the orthographic word, the written word,
than in the phonological, or spoken word. This is because of the
visual spaces between words. However, even that is open to debate, as
will be discussed later. In both forms, boundaries are identified by
pauses and junctures between words.
The second sense of the term “word” is known as the lexeme. “A
Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics” defines lexemes as being “the
units of vocabulary”. In addition, along with “Morphology”, by
Matthews, it states that lexemes are found in dictionaries as entries.
The common factor among lexemes is the underlying set of forms. The
lexeme is more abstract than the word form and pertains to the
variants of the original form. For example, the lexeme work has the
variants works, worked, working etc.
The third and final sense of the term “word” is known as word. This
sense refers to the grammatical unit. As such it is used in
conjunction with the sentence and the morpheme. The sentence is
considered the largest grammatical unit in which an idea can be put
forward, while the morpheme is the smallest. In other words, a
sentence is made up words, which are in turn made up of at least one
Words themselves have very different grammatical characteristics from
one language to another. For instance, in Chinese, a sentence is
mostly made up of a series of monosyllables. Some sentence can be made
up of only one word, but not all words are capable of this. The words
that qualify to do this are known as free forms. This indicates that
“not all words are equal”.
It can be difficult to decide whether two seemingly separate words,
i.e., by a space, are in fact grammatically separate. An example used
by Matthews is the French “des enfants”. Phonologically, they are not
separate, but on paper they clearly are. In this case “des enfants” is
a phonological word, if not a written one. Another example is “washing
machine”. The term is a relatively new invention derived from two
words that describe this appliance. Should the constituents be
combined, into washing machine?
We can now see that not only does the term “word” offer difficulties
for us in relation to the different “categories of linguistic
description”, but there are problems within the individual senses of