Convention and Contrast in Acquiring the Lexicon

  • E. V. Clark
Part of the Springer Series in Language and Communication book series (SSLAN, volume 12)


Two major principles govern the lexicon. The first, that words have conventional meanings, I will call the principle of conventionality, and the second, that words differ in meaning, I will call the principle of contrast. To illustrate the workings of these two principles, imagine constructing a dictionary for some new language: After collecting notes on words and their meanings, one would organize them by putting the first word on the left of the page, say, with its conventional meanings on the right, the second word and its conventional meanings below the first, and so on until the page was filled. The principle of conventionality captures the fact that each word listed has one or more conventional meanings. Notice also that the second meaning differs from the first, and that the third differs from both the first and the second, and so on down the page. The principle of contrast captures the fact that every meaning of every word listed differs from the other meanings. In this contribution, I will argue that the acquisition and growth of the lexicon is much like the construction of a dictionary: what is continually being added are conventional meanings that contrast with those meanings already available.


Word Form Spontaneous Speech Productive Device Conventional Meaning Semantic Transparency 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1983

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  • E. V. Clark

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