This brief overview of lexical studies is based on a review of 4 dictionaries that I did as part of my MSc with Aston. The review was guided by key questions taken from 'Words & their Meaning' . Jackson.H. Longman (1988)


Inflectional ("variant") forms are NOT examples of polysemy and dictionaries do not enter them under different senses.
A "lexeme" is a word as an item of meaning and is represented as a different headword in dictionaries.
"Citation forms" of lexemes are the base forms and are normally used as the headword. For example 'sing' NOT sings.
Irregular word forms often have separate entries. e.g. 'sung', 'feet', 'wore' etc.
Homograph = same spelling, different pron. and meaning. (e.g. bow)
Homophone = same pron., different spelling and meaning. (e.g. feet/feat)
Homonym = same spelling and pron., different meaning. (e.g. bank, ear). These are 2 different headwords in dictionaries.
Polysemy = a word with a number of different senses of single meaning. (e.g. grow, foot). These are two variants of the same headword in dictionaries.
The difference between homonyms and polysemous meanings is usually decided on by etymology (i.e. where the words come from).
The craft of the lexicographer is primarily the writing of definitions.
Dictionary definitions are forms of paraphrase (i.e. putting a word into other words)
Definitions can use:
1. Hyponomy. e.g. Cutlery has the hyponyms knife, fork and spoon. Spoon in turn has the hyponyms teaspoon, tablespoon etc. ( = the hierarchial relationship between meanings of lexemes.)
2. Synonymy. e.g. purpose - intention - reason. ( = same or similar meanings). Strict synonymy does NOT occur within a language.
3. Denotation. e.g. caviar : the salted roe of a large fish. ( = description with attempted objectivity)
4. Connotation. e.g. caviar : luxury, high living and sumptuous food. ( = association which is necessarily subjective)
5. Componential Analysis. e.g. girl is [+Human] [-Adult] [+Female]. ( = meanings of lexemes are analysed into components which are compared across groups. It is, however, a limited form of analysis.
6. Collocation. = the combination of words that have a certain high mutual expectancy. Polysemous meanings are often related to the different collocations. e.g. strong in: strong tea, a strong man, a strong personality. There is collocational restriction imposed on some words. e.g. rancid with only butter or bacon. However, collocation does not seem to be important in dictionaries as it is not used systematically.
7. Antonomy. e.g. opposites. There are 3 types:
i) Gradeable antonyms - these are not absolute. They are relative/comparable. (e.g. narrow / wide)
ii) Complementary antonyms - either one or the other. (e.g. alive / dead)
iii) Converses / Relational opposites - a converse relation. (e.g. husband / wife, give / receive, over / under)

Definitions can also be subdivided as follows:
Analytical. analyses words into their classes and attributes / constituents. e.g. bowed, stringed, wooden, etc.
Typify. states what is typical about the word. i.e. How it is used. Its function. e.g. to play music.
Substitutable Synonymy. The use of synonymic paraphrases.
Exemplify. give examples of use. But uneconomical on space. Need to attempt to use simpler language than the lexeme being defined but this is very difficult for simple words like 'flower'.
Synthetic. put into relation with other entitities. Lexeme is viewed as part of the whole.
Rule-based. define how the lexeme is used grammatically.
Encyclopaedic.as in an encyclopaedia. i.e. giving information.

Continuing Samuel Johnson's tradition, today's dictionaries are comprehensive. But surely there is a modern need for a dictionary of "hard words"? i.e. those words most people would NOT know rather than all words.

A dictionary "is an alphabetical listing of words with descriptive information about them, intended to be used for reference purposes."

Types and Sizes of Dictionaries.
1. General purpose dictionaries.
2. Specialist dictionaries.
i) Information
a) Spelling. (Duden Rechtschreibung)
b) Pronunciation.
c) Etymology.
d) Names. (e.g. people, places)
e) Fields. (e.g. slang, botany, medicine.) etc.
ii) User
a) Children.
b) Foreign learners.
c) Crossword enthusiasts. etc.
1. Library dictionaries.
2. Desk dictionaries.
3. Concise dictionaries.
4. Pocket dictionaries.
5. Compact dictionaries.
6. Gem dictionaries.

Layout and content reflect the lexicographer's idea of centrality of needs of a dictionary and not the needs of the users.

1. Alphabetical.
2. Stem lexeme - alphabetical - e.g. hand subcategory: manual.
3. Lexical / semantic fields - e.g. fabrics. - i.e. shared meaning / superordinate hymonyms.
But how do we define the lexical fields?
(Overlapping?) - Examples include the famous "Roget's Thesaurus" which has no definitions and Longman's "Lexicon of Contemporary English" (T.McArthur. 1981) which does include definitions.

Dictionary Compilation:
1. Amass the data.
a) Lexicographer's knowledge and intuition.
b) Previous dictionaries.
c) Original source - text material.
d) Concordance of representative corpus.
2. Selection and Presentation.
Should selection occur before or after collection of data?
Cobuild's corpus questions the inclusion of many lexemes in other dictionaries. The use of the computer in lexicography has become mandatory in many areas:
a) The reading of large texts for necessary citations.
b) The compilation and sorting of citations.
c) Typesetting.
d) Checking. e.g. that words used in definitions are defined elsewhere.
3. Dealing with Meaning.
How many senses? The Cobuild question again! Which order? Polysemy or homonymy? Analytical, synonomy or full sentence definitions?
Paradigmatic (vertical) lexis = substitution
Syntagmatic (horizontal) lexis = collocation
Lexicology = a branch of linguistics concerned with the study of words as individual items. Deals with formal and semantic aspects of words and their etymology and history.
Lexical semantics = a branch of linguistic semantics, as opposed to philosophical semantics, studying meaning in relation to words. It can be considered a branch of lexicology.
Lexicography = the process, the profession and the principles of editing, writing and compiling dictionaries.