Lexicon – Concept, types of lexicon and what is semantics

We explain what the lexicon is and the different levels at which it works. In addition, its relationship with semantics and the types of lexicon that exist.

The lexicon is a set of words and meanings associated with a language.

What is the lexicon?

The lexicon is understood as set of known words of a language, that is, its vocabulary, what the dictionaries of that language collect. It is a set of words and associated meanings, which nevertheless works at different levels:

  • The one with the formal language. The say, the meanings widely used and accepted by the institutions of the language and by the majority of its speakers;
  • The one with the informal language. Since each community adapts the language to its needs and imagination, thus generating a community, local or geographically determined lexicon.

Thus, the language contemplates a general lexicon, while the communities create a specific one, for occasional use. It is something similar to what happens with technical or specialized language: words of specific use, circumscribed to certain groups of knowledge, as occurs with scientific, medical terminology, etc.

That’s the reason why not everything is called the same in countries that speak the same language, like the Latin Americans, but there are specific differences that must be learned; but the essential functioning of the language, as well as the most basic and abundant meanings, remain unchanged.

Within the lexicon too loanwords from other languages, neologisms or invented words are often found to cover a new expressive need, so that far from being a stable and universal set of words, it is a living system in perpetual modification.

Lexis and semantics

Semantics studies the modes, mechanisms and procedures of language.

Semantics is the science that study the meanings of the language: the way they are composed, their mechanisms and procedures, and so on. Furthermore, in a specific language, the words that make up the lexicon are ordered according to their shared meanings, to the associations that arise from them, in mental structures called lexical-semantic fields.

These fields are equivalent to an ordering “by subject” of the words, but also by phonetic and grammatical similarity. For example: in the lexical-semantic field of the word “pet” there will appear around it, as a cloud of meanings, other associable terms such as “dog”, “cat”, “rabbit”, “pet”, but also others of less immediate association such as “home”, “childhood”, “family” and, possibly, other words that sound similar as “pet” or to words derived from “mascot”Even though they mean totally different things.

Lexicon types

The passive lexicon encompasses words that are not in common, everyday use.

Linguistics distinguishes between various types of lexicon:

  • Active lexicon. Also called productive lexicon, it is made up of the most commonly used and most widely used words in the language, since its meaning is known to all its speakers and does not require special learning or training.
  • Passive lexicon. It is also called receptive vocabulary, as it encompasses the set of words that are not in common and everyday use, but whose understanding is relatively simple, that is, they do not require specialized learning to understand each other.
  • Jargon. It is a specialized lexicon to which you do not have access if you do not belong to the community that devised and uses it. This is what happens, for example, with scientific jargon, with prison or criminal jargon, or with the jargon typical of a region of a particular country.