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American Sign Language: Linguistics:
Lexemes, morphemes, and phonemes


----- Original Message ----

Sent: Thursday, December 6, 2007 7:40:24 PM
Subject: post: Ann: lexicals?
In a message dated 12/6/2007 6:15:36 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, martann1@ ______ .net writes:
Hello Dr. Bill.
I am trying to understand the difference between Lexicals and Morphemes. I read over the printing you have on your site. However, I'm still unsure of what a Lexical means.
For example, I am trying to count the Lexicals and Morphemes in this sentence.



SAYS, "NOW PRO.3-YOU-COME ON!"     14-Lexicals   13-Morphemes


2) #OK.   1-Lexical   1-Morpheme


Is a lexical each word? Do I count the classifiers handshapes seperately?

I just don't understand?



Your example states that #1 has 14 lexicals and 13 morphemes.
Was that information (14 Lexicals and 13 Morphemes) provided to you by an instructor as an example of the right answer?
Or are those numbers something YOU came up with?
The term "lexical" is an adjective. 


1. of words: relating to the individual words that make up the vocabulary of a language
2. of lexicon: relating to a lexicon or to lexicography
If you add an "s" to the word lexical to make the word "lexicals" you could argue a case that it is being used to mean "lexical words." 
"Lexical words" are "nouns."
"In the lexicon of a language, lexical words or nouns refer to things. These words fall into three main classes:
  • proper nouns refer exclusively to the place, object or person named, i.e. nomenclature or a naming system;
  • concrete nouns refer to physical objects; and
  • abstract nouns refer to concepts and ideas.

Other than lexical words, the lexicon consists of functional or grammatical words which do not refer to objects in the world."

So, technically, according to that definition, by being instructed to count "lexicals" you are being asked to count the "nouns" in the sentences.
But I'm not convinced that is what your instructor really wants you to do.  I wonder if he or she instead wants you to count "lexemes?"

At (12/6/2007) we read:

  A lexeme is the minimal unit of language which
  • has a semantic interpretation and
  • embodies a distinct cultural concept.
  It is made up of one or more form-meaning composites called lexical units.
  A lexical database is organized around lexemes, which include all the morphemes of a language, even if these morphemes never occur alone. A lexeme is conventionally listed in a dictionary as a separate entry.

Now let's consider the part of the assignment that states: "DIRECTOR-DIRECT +AGENT."
In my opinion, that constitutes one lexeme and two morphemes.  The lexeme would be the concept of "director." The morphemes would be "direct" and "agent."  The way it is written in the assignment is ambiguous.  I would instead just write it "DIRECT-AGENT."
I would put the interpretation "director" in a separate English sentence.  Putting both the English interpretation and the ASL Gloss in the same line is redundant and makes it confusing for students. Especially if they are supposed to "count" things.
What book are you studying from?  Where is this assignment from? 
Dr. Bill

In a message dated 12/6/2007 10:20:35 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, martann1@ ______ .net writes:

Thank you Dr.Vicars for such a rapid reply. The teacher gave us a dvd to video to watch and a book to read. Linguistics in ASL, 4th edition. The sentence above is how I glossed it in ASL straight from the DVD. The numbers quoted earlier was my futile attempt of counting morphemes. The instructor asked me how many lexicals, not lexemes I see? How many morphemes in the sentence. The instructor explained in lectures these terms. Unfortunately, I still to did not get it! This is a new class and there is no tutor on site. I didn't know who to ask for clarity.  Thank you for all the information. Too kind!  Ann

Sent: Friday, December 7, 2007 5:01:22 AM
Subject: Re: post: Ann: lexicals?
If later you come to a better understanding of what a "lexical" is (according to your teacher's definition) feel free to share your notes with me.  At this point I'd recommend you find or develop a study group from your class so you can all compare notes.
--Dr. Vicars
In a message dated 12/12/2007 11:35:29 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, martann1@ ______ .net writes:
 Hello Dr. Bill.
I'm back with some progress on lexicals and morphemes. I read your notes and asked a classmate.
Lexical entries (teacher inquiries)-I see 3 (here I'm counting nouns)
Morphemes-16 (I'm counting all words +sign bases such as door=2 morphemes)

I want to be clear that the full fingerspelling F-R-E-Y is only one morpheme Here it represents just one name. Single letters/symbols of the sign alphabet are not morphemes, right?
That is right, single letters/symbols of the sign alphabet are generally not morphemes, they are "phonemes" since they do not have independent meaning.  Someone might try to make a case for single letters having independent meaning in certain contexts. For example, "I got an 'A' on my paper."  But even so, the letter "A" would most likely be produced upside the palm of the base hand becoming at best a "bound morpheme." Someone might try to argue that the fingerspelled letter "A" has the independent meaning of representing the English letter "A."  But that would really be quite silly.  In written or spoken English you could state that the letter "A" is an article of speech and the letter "I" is the first person pronoun.  Such "letters" have independent meaning and qualify as both a phoneme and a "morpheme."  But we are not talking about English, we are talking about ASL. Specifically we are talking about fingerspelled letters in a person's name.  Those letters are definitely "phonemes."


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