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

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Textbooks
  • General Architecture of the Lexicon
  • Compositionality in the Mapping from the Lexicon to Syntax
  • Lexical Databases and Computational Lexicons

Linguistics Lexicon
Olga Batiukova, James Pustejovsky
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0310


The lexicon is a collection of words. In theoretical linguistics, the term mental lexicon is used to refer to the component of the grammar that contains the knowledge that speakers and hearers have about the words in a language. This typically covers the acoustic or graphic makeup of the word, its meaning, and its contextual or syntactic properties, which are encoded as part of the lexical entry in linguistics and lexicography (see Properties of the Lexical Entry and Structure of the Lexical Entry and Lexical Structures. Until relatively recently, the lexicon was viewed as the most passive module of grammar in the service of other, more dynamic and genuinely generative components, such as syntax and morphology. In the last fifty years, different linguistic theories have progressively increased the amount and, more importantly, the complexity of information associated with lexical items. Many of them explicitly argue that the lexicon is a dynamic module of grammar, which incorporates as well as dictates essential components of syntactic and semantic interpretation. One of the main issues facing present-day lexical research is that, in spite of the growing interest in lexical issues and significant progress achieved by different frameworks, there is no unified theory of the lexicon, but rather many different, often compatible and even overlapping, partial models of the lexicon. This is the result of each framework (or family of frameworks) defending its own vision of the lexicon, and also of the inherently intricate nature of the word, involving other components of grammar: semantics, syntax, morphology, and phonology. Of course, the lexicon and the studies dealing with its different facets cannot be embraced in full in a review chapter like the present one. To narrow its scope, we chose the most prominent research issues and frameworks of the last few decades. This article focuses on the literature dealing with the interaction of the lexicon with syntax (cf. Lexicon in Syntactic Frameworks and Compositionality in the Mapping from the Lexicon to Syntax) and semantics (cf. Lexicon in Semantic Frameworks), on the structure and properties of the lexical entry (Properties of the Lexical Entry and Structure of the Lexical Entry and Lexical Structures), and on the general structure of the lexicon (in General Architecture of the Lexicon). It also includes basic pointers to references dealing with computational lexicons (in Lexical Databases and Computational Lexicons). This entry uses adapted materials from the authors’ joint book, Pustejovsky and Batiukova 2019, cited under General Overviews and Textbooks.

General Overviews and Textbooks

There are very few broadly themed collections and anthologies that are focused on the lexicon specifically, and all of them are fairly recent: see Hanks 2008; Cruse, et al. 2002; Taylor 2015; and Pirrelli, et al. 2020. Some of the comprehensive treatments of lexical structure and design have been published in textbook series, such as Aitchison 2012, Singleton 2012, De Miguel 2009, Ježek 2016, and Pustejovsky and Batiukova 2019.

  • Aitchison, Jean. 2012. Words in the mind: An introduction to the mental lexicon. 4th ed. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons.

    Cognitively oriented basic-level introduction to the organization of the mental lexicon. Entertaining and profusely illustrated with real-text excerpts and graphic materials (diagrams, schemes, and drawings).

  • Cruse, David Alan, Franz Hundsnurscher, Michael Job, and Peter Rolf Lutzeier, eds. 2002. Lexikologie: Ein internationales Handbuch zur Natur und Struktur von Wörtern und Wortschätzen. 2 vols. Berlin: De Gruyter.

    This two-volume collective handbook includes 251 chapters (written in English and German) covering all the significant areas of the study of the lexicon: wordhood (chaps. 7–13, 229–232), form and content of the words (chaps. 25–45), lexical-semantic structures and relations (chaps. 57–71), general architecture of the lexicon (chaps. 72–116), methodology of lexical research (chaps. 117–120), lexical change (chaps. 184–187), relation between the lexicon and other components of grammar (chaps. 218–228), etc.

  • De Miguel, Elena, ed. 2009. Panorama de la lexicología. Barcelona: Ariel.

    A collective volume that offers the state of the art on the study of the lexicon. Structured in four parts focused on the basic units of study and the notion of word; word meaning, meaning change, and meaning variation; theoretical frameworks of the study of the lexicon; and experimental and applied perspectives on the lexicon.

  • Hanks, Patrick W., ed. 2008. Lexicology: Critical concepts in linguistics. London: Routledge.

    Six-volume collection of milestone contributions (ranging from Aristotle to contemporary frameworks) to the understanding of different aspects of the lexicon, including its philosophical and cognitive underpinnings, lexical structures and primitives, polysemy, contextual properties of lexical items, and its role in first language acquisition, among many others.

  • Ježek, Elisabetta. 2016. The Lexicon: An introduction. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Introduction covering a wide range of topics related to the internal structure of the lexicon and its usage. Structured in two parts: Part I covers the properties of individual words, and Part II the general structure of the lexicon.

  • Pirrelli, Vito, Ingo Plag, and Wolfgang U. Dressler, eds. 2020. Word knowledge and word usage. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter.

    This open access collective volume is authored by teams of experts from different fields of study, who offer a cross-disciplinary overview of the research methods and topics related to the mental lexicon. It is structured in three parts: “Technologies, Tools and Data,” “Topical Issues,” and “Words in Usage.”

  • Pustejovsky, James, and Olga Batiukova. 2019. The lexicon. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/9780511982378

    In-depth introduction to the theory and structure of the lexicon in linguistics and linguistic theory. Offers a comprehensive treatment of lexical structure and design, the relation of the lexicon to grammar as a whole (in particular to syntax and semantics), and to methods of interpretation driven by the lexicon.

  • Singleton, David. 2012. Language and the lexicon: An introduction. London and New York: Routledge.

    Broad descriptive introduction focused on issues typically dealt with in lexicological studies: word meaning, lexical variation and change, collocational properties of words, relation of the lexicon with syntax and morphology, etc.

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

    Collective volume dealing with the word as a linguistic unit. Topics covered include the notion of wordhood and its role in linguistic analysis, word structure and meaning, properties of the mental lexicon, words in first and second language acquisition, etc.

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