In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Lexical Semantics

  • Introduction
  • Overviews and Anthologies
  • Textbooks
  • Bibliographies

Linguistics Lexical Semantics
Dirk Geeraerts
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0078


Lexical semantics is the study of word meaning. Two issues of demarcation are relevant in this respect. First, although the definition of lexical semantics may suggest otherwise, morphological semantics (the study of the meaning of complex words as a function of the meaning of their parts and the way they are constructed) is usually considered a separate field from lexical semantics proper. Morphological semantics is not envisaged by the present article. Second, the study of the meaning of words does not exhaust the linguistic study of words: topics including lexical variation across language varieties, borrowing, phraseology, or the origin of words are distinct from the study of word meaning, but, like lexical semantics, they form part of the broader field of lexicology. Again, lexicology at large lies beyond the scope of the present chapter, although this article occasionally refers to publications that are situated at the level of lexicology rather than that of lexical semantics in the strict sense. Apart from an overview of general resources, the chapter looks at three aspects of lexical semantics: the theoretical approaches that have dominated the discipline throughout its development, the research topics that are high on the agenda of lexical semantics, and a few connections with other fields of inquiry.

Overviews and Anthologies

Geeraerts 2010 is the only currently available overview of the main historical and contemporary trends of research in lexical semantics. Cruse, et al. 2002–2005 is a voluminous collective reference work on all aspects of lexicology, with numerous articles on topics specifically relating to word meaning research. Taylor 2015 and Riemer 2016 are highly accessible handbooks of lexicology at large, and Hanks 2007 is an extensive anthology.

  • Cruse, D. Alan, Franz Hundsnurscher, Michael Job, and Peter Rolf Lutzeier, eds. 2002–2005. Lexikologie: Ein internationales handbuch zur natur und struktur von wörtern und wortschätzen. 2 vols. Berlin: De Gruyter.

    This huge two-volume handbook (with no less than 240 chapters and almost 2,000 pages of text) covers the entire field of lexicology. Chapters 28 to 96 of Volume 1 are specifically relevant to lexical semantics.

  • Geeraerts, Dirk. 2010. Theories of lexical semantics. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Provides an overview of the main approaches to lexical semantics, from the emergence of the field in the nineteenth century to the present day. Comes with an extensive bibliography and pays specific attention to the methodological and descriptive undercurrents that link (or distinguish) the various theoretical currents.

  • Hanks, Patrick W., ed. 2007. Lexicology: Critical concepts in linguistics. London: Routledge.

    Includes one hundred influential articles or book chapters in the field of lexicology. Paints a representative picture of the development of lexical studies in the twentieth century and is particularly useful for making available some less accessible articles.

  • Riemer, Nick, ed. 2016. The Routledge handbook of semantics. London and New York: Routledge.

    Covers meaning at all levels of linguistic structure. Part 5 of the book is specifically devoted to lexical semantics, but various chapters in other sections of the book are also relevant for word meaning research, for instance, chapters on linguistic relativity, compositionality, lexical typology, or semantic processing.

  • Taylor, John R., ed. 2015. The Oxford handbook of the word. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Part 3, “Meanings, Referents, and Concepts,” of this broadly conceived lexicological handbook focuses on issues of lexical semantics: theoretical issues concerning word meaning, terminologies and taxonomies, lexical relations, cross-linguistic variation, and cultural variation of meaning.

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