What are the differences between lexis, lexicon, vocabulary?

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What are the differences between lexis, lexicon, vocabulary?

Post by operayahoo »

Google yielded two answers. But Logan R. Kearsley, MA in Linguistics from BYU is too recondite. Can you please explain at the level of a 16 y.o.? What does "analytical level of a language that deals with vocabulary" mean?
A lexicon is a set or inventory of all the lexemes in a language. (What counts as a _lexeme_ is a whole other question all on it's own!)

Lexis is the _analytical level_ of a language that deals with vocabulary (as opposed to morphology or syntax). It's also defined as "the complete group of all words in a language", which, depending on how you define "word" vs. "lexeme", may or may not be the same thing as the lexicon. Languages with sufficiently productive morphology, for example, may have an infinite set of words (lexis), but will still have a finite _lexicon_ of lexemes that can be listed in a dictionary.

Vocabulary refers to a subset of words in a language that are used in a particular context or known to a particular person. Thus, you have "my vocabulary", "legal vocabulary", "vocabulary words for next week's quiz", and "the vocabulary you need to understand this book".
Siberia's comment is too brusque on detail.
Lexis usually refers to all words in a language that have a meaning but not their inflections.
Lexicon - this includes the morphemes.
Vocabulary - a list of words with an explanation.
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Re: What are the differences between lexis, lexicon, vocabulary?

Post by Dormouse559 »

To start off, Siberia got "lexis" and "lexicon" switched, so that may be where some confusion is coming from.

As Kearsley says, a lexicon is a language's inventory of lexemes. A lexeme is an abstract concept, the unit of meaning underlying various inflected forms. For example, in English, we have this set of words, all connected through inflection: sing, sings, sang, sung, singing. They are all understood as forms of a verb meaning "produce melodic sound", but the inflections add grammatical information such as tense, aspect, person, number and finiteness. The lexeme is that underlying verb, without inflection. The lexeme of the verb forms I gave would generally be represented as "sing".

A lexis is all the actual words in a language, including inflections; as opposed to abstract lexemes. As a result, a lexis of English would include "sing", "sings", "sang", "sung" and "singing", not just "sing".

As for vocabulary, Kearsley's definition feels quite straightforward to me; the term is about a group of words in a particular context. I'll add that "vocabulary" is sometimes a synonym for "lexicon". For example, "English has a large vocabulary" normally means the same thing as "English has a large lexicon".

As Kearsley points out, there's a lot of discussion about what, precisely, constitutes a "lexeme" or a "word". I'm no theoretician, and I don't have the knowledge to open that particular can of worms.
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Re: What are the differences between lexis, lexicon, vocabulary?

Post by Salmoneus »

I'd say a difference is that lexis isn't really a list of words - it's a way of analysing a language, or it's one of the faculties of language. Lexis is the part of language that's about knowing and choosing and using words (as opposed to morphology, how words are productively related to one another, and syntax, how words are ordered).

A lexicon, on the other hand, is an analytical tool that is used to explain and understand the lexis of a certain language (by listing (either in reality or in theory) all the words you'd need to know to speak the language, and their 'meanings').

It's not so much that they mean slightly different things, as that they're used in slightly different conversations.

At least, that's my layman's perception...
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