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What's a 'word'?

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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby Wakannai » Fri 12.14.2007 2:15 pm

What about 分かる meaning "to understand", and 分かる meaning "to be divided"?


I thought 分ける was to be divided.
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby two_heads_talking » Fri 12.14.2007 2:28 pm

Yudan Taiteki wrote:
Look, if you don't like a thread, why don't you just ignore it, instead of coming in and trying to tell everyone else not to discuss it? The original poster asked "technically speaking, linguistically" what's a word. If the topic doesn't interest you, just move on.


it obviously interested me.. it just interested me in a different way than it interested you.

if my comments don't suit you.. tough bananas. if you don't like my interpretation of it, that's fine too. but, I has as much right to give my opinion on it as you do.
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby katafei » Fri 12.14.2007 2:39 pm

How about this:
Howdoyoudo
versus
howdoIgethome.

Apparently the unit 'how' can be used in different constructions and still contain more or less the same meaning.
For me, that would be an indication that it can be considered as one word.


As for the homonyms, I'll have to give that some thought. First impression:
Just because two 'words' sound the same, but have a different meaning doesn't rule them out as seperate words, does it?
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Fri 12.14.2007 2:47 pm

Wakannai wrote:
What about 分かる meaning "to understand", and 分かる meaning "to be divided"?


I thought 分ける was to be divided.


分ける means "to divide".
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby Nibble » Fri 12.14.2007 3:08 pm

Apparently the unit 'how' can be used in different constructions and still contain more or less the same meaning.
For me, that would be an indication that it can be considered as one word.


The unit 's' can be used in different constructions and still contain more or less the same meaning (plural), but we don't call that a word. We call it a morpheme, which is basically a unit of sound that carries meaning and can't be broken up into smaller meaningful parts. Words are generally defined as one or more morphemes put together in a meaningful way (for example, 'how' is a one-morpheme word, and 'goes' is made up of two), but then you have the problem of deciding the upper bounds. "Howdoyoudo" has a specific meaning and could be seen as a phrase made up of four single-morpheme words, or as a single word made up of four morphemes.

As far as I can tell, these boundaries are pretty much arbitrary and left up to the speakers of a language to decide where they are. For example, many German words are made up of many smaller words written together without spaces, such as "Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz" ("Beef labeling oversight transfer law," apparently the longest word of this kind); although I haven't asked any Germans if they actually consider them to be single words, or if it's just a writing convention.
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby guitarplayer7694 » Fri 12.14.2007 3:19 pm

BetterSense wrote:
.....So are 箸 and 橋 two different words that sound the same, or is it one word that has two meanings?.....


2 words that sound the same would be spelled diffrently, a word that has dual meaning would be spelled the same, could you use that as a basis?
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby Chris Hart » Fri 12.14.2007 3:26 pm

guitarplayer7694 wrote:
BetterSense wrote:
.....So are 箸 and 橋 two different words that sound the same, or is it one word that has two meanings?.....


in't that 2 ways of saying the same thing?

Not exactly. The first says they are homophones, the second says you just have one word with multiple definitions. My gut is telling me that the quoted example is two different words.


This thread seems to exist to determine a PRECISE definition of the word "word" that applies to ANY language. The definition listed earlier in the thread doesn't seem to work with languages such as Japanese. I suppose that our problem is the word "word" may not be stuck with just one definition, but has multiple similar definitions that vary when looking at different aspects of what it is referencing.
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby katafei » Fri 12.14.2007 3:36 pm

Nibble wrote:
The unit 's' can be used in different constructions and still contain more or less the same meaning (plural), but we don't call that a word. We call it a morpheme, which is basically a unit of sound that carries meaning and can't be broken up until smaller meaningful parts. Words are generally defined as one or more morphemes put together in a meaningful way (for example, 'how' is a one-morpheme word, and 'goes' is made up of two)


I guess I was trying to keep my example simple.
I think the question of words and morphemes is a slightly different one. 'goes' would probably never be recognised as anything but one word for those who do not study linguistics. But a word like 'how' will be.
That is interesting in it self (if it is true).

But if you use this kind of thinking for a language like Japanese, there is probably more of a snag. I'm a bit rusty on my linguistics, so I may be using wrong or simplified terms. (I'm a lover of KISS ^_^)
The Japanese works with postpositions. Often, the meaning of a word is defined by the ending, right?
But if you follow the line of reasoning I used in my earlier post, you might argue that a structure like 'nakerebanarimasen' could function as one word. Yet, it doesn't (IMO).
This is where grammar comes in. 'nakereba' would make one word with the verb before it, and 'narimasen' is basically a word in it's own right.

Well, again this would probably depend on which definition you accept.
I wonder if literate people really differ much on what they count as a word?
Interesting question, though.
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby Chris Hart » Fri 12.14.2007 4:23 pm

If we ignore the part of the definition above that says it is the chunk of charecters seperated by a space, there are terms other than the example listed on p1 that could be either way. English example - solarphobia. Both "solar" (of or pertaining to the sun) and "phobia" ((irrational) fear of) can stand alone, or be combined and form 1 word. (we have some parts of speech that carry meaning, but can't stand alone, as well, such as "-ology" (study of))
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby two_heads_talking » Fri 12.14.2007 5:38 pm

since many "words" (see how complicated it gets to use a simple word?) have origins in other languages, ie: Greek, Roman, German, Latin, etc) it seems to me that words being able to stand on their own isn't the best way to determine whether it is a word or not. (however, if standing alone were the only basis, it would be certainly simpler to figure it out).
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby Tspoonami » Fri 12.14.2007 7:35 pm

Could one say that a 'word' is simply the most basic unit of (meaningful) language, as a cell is the most basic unit of life on Earth?

The trick to this is that cells have organelles and stuff inside, like how words have parts inside of them.
Last edited by Tspoonami on Fri 12.14.2007 7:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Fri 12.14.2007 8:50 pm

Usually the term for the most basic unit of meaningful language is "morpheme" -- for instance, the "tele" in "television" is a morpheme, but not a word. For Japanese, the on-yomi of kanji are morphemes, but many of them are not words.
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby sei » Fri 12.14.2007 9:56 pm

I don't have much time but I just wanted to say something.

Of course everyone could say what a word is. Maybe a 5 year old kid could too without any study of the written language (though I doubt it).

Problem around really is, and I see it in every post, that people are thinking of the WRITTEN word. But linguistically, what matters is the spoken language. "How" you say it's a word, because you associate a meaning to it and in your head you have the "image" of the word. But if there was no alphabet (I am exaggerating) you'd never say that's a word.

Simply because while you see "Howdoyoudo'" as a sentence of 4 words because you picture it, the real spoken sentence would be something like "hodyudo" (This is of course, badly translated, besides not being in the phonetic alphabet, the English sounds have different symbols and interpretations I have not studied). Now, you don't see there the word "how" do you? A person who has no knowledge of the written symbols we use would have much more trouble trying to say what a word is among the sounds she produces.

I hope I made myself clear enough while writting this quickly. ^^

Though I know I forgot to mention something I meant to mention...

Edit: Oh, by the way, Yudan is right. The most basic unit with meaning of a language is the morpheme. But the real basic unit of a language is the phoneme (the individual sounds we can articulate).
Last edited by sei on Fri 12.14.2007 10:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby katafei » Sat 12.15.2007 9:11 am

sei wrote:
Problem around really is, and I see it in every post, that people are thinking of the WRITTEN word. But linguistically, what matters is the spoken language.

I'm not sure I agree with this. If there was no written word, I wonder if there's be linguistics?? ^_^
It's the students and linguistics that come up with questions like this and my guess more often then not, they're initiated by written language.

sei wrote:
I hope I made myself clear enough while writting this quickly. ^^

This I can relate to. If I wait until I collected my thoughts, I'd be necrothreading....

sei wrote:
Edit: Oh, by the way, Yudan is right. The most basic unit with meaning of a language is the morpheme. But the real basic unit of a language is the phoneme (the individual sounds we can articulate) (Bold added).


Again, I'm not sure if I agree. I don't think it's a matter about anyone or any theory being the right one. Were all forming an opnion of our own and having an interesting discussion.
Last edited by katafei on Sat 12.15.2007 9:12 am, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: What's a 'word'?

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sat 12.15.2007 10:38 am

You have to have some distinction between a morpheme and a word.

But sei is right that language is speech.

I don't think it's a matter about anyone or any theory being the right one.


I suppose that's true if you're willing to dismiss the entire field of linguistic study.
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