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Why are we so sure we know what a word is?

Wray, Alison 2015. Why are we so sure we know what a word is? In: Taylor, John R. ed. The Oxford Handbook of the Word, Oxford Handbooks, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 725-750. (10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199641604.013.032)

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Abstract

We all know what a word is. Yet describing and defining the word is far from easy. So, what is the source of our intuition? Is the word a universal concept across human languages? Is it a cognitive necessity, enabling us to express our ideas using small recombinable units? Or are our intuitions more superficial, reflecting only the convention of where spaces are placed in writing? This chapter argues that the concept of the word looks vague because it is inherently so, and that our intuition is fooled into seeing greater definition by the twin influences of orthography and the noun as a strong prototype. With only some conventional word classes rendering truly independent units, writing imposes word breaks that don’t always have much psychological reality. The consequence for linguistic theory is significant: a major difference between what the language learner knows and what corpora of texts can capture.

Item Type: Book Section
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Uncontrolled Keywords: defining the word, writing, spaces between words, orthography, noun, vagueness, word prototype, psychological reality, corpora, linguistic theory
Additional Information: Online publication date: March 2014.
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN: 9780199641604
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2017 06:19
URI: http://orca.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/58424

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