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Syntax and Lexical Meaning in the Word Formation Essay

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The current essay deals with a crucial issue of the interrelation of syntax and lexical meaning in the process of word formation and constructing utterances and longer structural elements of a discourse.

Coordination between syntax and lexical meaning of words is the process of language itself and is a crucial issue that must be solved to understand all functions of oral and written language communication. The domain of syntax was for a long understood as being separate from lexical meaning representing the archetypal structure of language which should be analyzed. By studying sentence structure, the researchers tried to reveal the hidden functions of language and its ties with the living conditions of people who bore it (Kuczaj, 1982).

The analysis of nouns, verbs, adjectives and the models of sentence formation proved to be effective but not full. What concerns lexical meaning was for a long time considered that each word has a single and stable meaning that should be detected and analyzed by philological studies (Mcmahon 2002). A sea change occurred when Ferdinand de Saussure found out that lexical meanings are structural consisting of signifiers (sign) and signified (real object), and later Jacobson developed a radically new theory of phonology claiming that words are built from structurally connected values – phons which not only form lexical meanings but take part in sentence construction – syntax (Jakobson, 1960).

Phonological structures not only determine the meaning of different words but also play an important part in syntax element positioning. These revolutions in linguistics allow us to understand word formation as governed mainly by syntax rather than lexical meanings.

Word formation is mainly understood as a creation of a new word. First of all, it should be noted that it considerably differs from semantic changes which occur as a result of context situation of connotative meanings and refer to a single world (Bauer, 2001).

Word formation is also in opposition to idiomatic expressions formation though it should forget that new words can sometimes be formed from multi-word utterance through incorporation and other linguistic techniques. In contrast to lexical formations, word formation is deeply embedded in syntax for the structure of language and the rules by which different grammatical elements interact profoundly affect the linguistic practice of word-formation. The lexical meaning of a new word is a product of word-formation, but its process is predominantly syntactical (Koch, 2002).

For instance, to form an acronym, we should be aware of verb rules and structural peculiarities of word combinations, including the role of prepositions and articles. These rules are predominantly syntactical rather than lexical, and without knowing the basic rules of given language syntax, the product of word-formation will be considerably flawed (Brentari, 2001).

The same is true of affix, which means that morpheme is attached to word base in order to form a new word. There is no denying the importance of the fact that such linguistic practice has nothing to do with lexical meanings. If we then consider back-formation as one of the main types of word formation, it also mainly centred upon syntactical and morphological rules in creating new lexemes. Another example of word-formation, which is blending, is not the independent process of lexical building but heavily depends on morphological and syntactical rules.

That is not to say that word-formation has nothing to do with lexical meanings. Of course, it has since we have new lexemes as its product. For instance, such type of word formation as compound (for instance, ‘doghouse’) forms new meaning from two separate words – ‘dog’ and ‘house’. Though it may seem that word-formation, in this case, has nothing to do with structural norms of syntax, it is not true because there exist certain elements which fix meaning and restrict that are of syntactic origin Mcmahon 2002, p. 56).

Another important element of word formation that shows its inherently syntactical nature is a conversion by which a word representing one syntactical characteristic is transformed into another part of speech. For instance, ‘green’, which is an adjective signifying colour, can be transformed into the noun ‘green’ reincorporation, ing green in golf. In corporation we also observe the unification of vera b and preposition/particle forming new word and correspondingly a new meaning (‘intake’= ‘in’+’take’) (Bussmann, 1996). The same is true of different neologism and noun adjuncts which are heavily dependent on syntactical rules.

Independence between syntactical and lexical structural elements is the main prerequisite of word formation and, more generally, constructing utterance. It can be explicated by our ability to use words (that we do not know) in the sentences. For words in speech, it is necessary that they are integrated into a syntactic plan. Meanings of words are always incorporated into predicate-argument structures and abstract syntactic constructs, which is necessary for forming sentences. Hence a system of sentence production accommodates different lexical variations and organizes them in accordance with the inner logic of syntactic structure. The interrelation between syntactical and lexical elements thus should be regarded as a crucial trait of languages.

To sum it up, the current essay showed that syntactical structures are more important in the process of word-formation than lexical, while these should be understood as products of word-formation. Thus, the interrelation between syntactic and lexical is maintained and reinforced.


  1. Bussmann, H. 1996, Routledge Dictionary of Language and Linguistics, London, Routledge.
  2. Bauer, L. 2001, Morphological Productivity. Cambridge, England, Cambridge University Press.
  3. Brentari, D. (Ed.). 2001, Foreign Vocabulary in Sign Languages: A Cross-Linguistic Investigation of Word Formation. Mahwah, NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  4. Jakobson R. 1960, Selected Writings, (ed. by Stephen Rudy). The Hague, Paris, Mouton.
  5. Kuczaj, S. A. (Ed.). 1982, Language Development: Syntax and Semantics (Vol. 1). Hillsdale, NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  6. Koch, P. 2002, “Lexical Typology from a Cognitive and Linguistic Point of View”, in: Cruse, D. Alan et al. (eds.) Lexicology: An International Handbook on the Nature and Structure of Words and Vocabularies.
  7. Mcmahon, A. 2002, Lexical Phonology and the History of English. Cambridge, England, Cambridge University Press.
  8. Montler, T.1986, An outline of the morphology and phonology of Saanich, North Straits Salish. Occasional Papers in Linguistics (No. 4). Missoula, MT, University of Montana Linguistics Laboratory.
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