Words and meanings

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Language units large and small

Marked forms of words - Inflection, Derivation, Declension, Conjugation · Diminutive, Augmentative

Groups and categories and properties of words - Syntactic and lexical categories · Grammatical cases · Correlatives · Expletives · Adjuncts

Words and meaning - Morphology · Lexicology · Semiotics · Onomasiology · Figures of speech, expressions, phraseology, etc. · Word similarity · Ambiguity · Modality ·

Segment function, interaction, reference - Clitics · Apposition· Parataxis, Hypotaxis· Attributive· Binding · Coordinations · Word and concept reference

Sentence structure and style - Agreement · Ellipsis· Hedging

Phonology - Articulation · Formants· Prosody · Sound change · Intonation, stress, focus · Diphones · Intervocalic · Glottal stop · Vowel_diagrams · Elision · Ablaut_and_umlaut · Phonics

Analyses, models, software - Minimal pairs · Concordances · Linguistics software · Some_relatively_basic_text_processing · Word embeddings · Semantic similarity

Unsorted - Contextualism · · Text summarization · Accent, Dialect, Language · Pidgin, Creole · Natural language typology · Writing_systems · Typography, orthography · Digraphs, ligatures, dipthongs · More linguistic terms and descriptions ·


Semiotics can be taken as the study of signs and how we relate them to meaning - any communication and any part of it.

Signs in this context are are anything that can be interpreted to have a meaning, including but not limited to sounds, motions, gesture, images.

(Meaningful things aren't even limited to things done intentionally. Signs that are present but not made intentionally are e.f. those used in medical diagnosis, as a symptom can be a a sign of a medical condition.)

In a practical sense we often still focus on words, yet the term is used in part to remind you these are far from the only meaning-carriers, even in diagolgue you consider to be word-based first.

Sign process is sometimes synonym for semiotics, arguably a more self-explanatory name to those not already deep in the theory.

Sign process is also sometimes a little more specifically meant as a "any process/activity that involves signs, and probably meaning".

You can argue that linguistics is mostly about intentional meaning, in a sense we try to keep compact and practical and structural, and semiology is a wider, more anthropological thing about any signs and symbols anyone may have used along the way.

As such, linguistics courses may skim over semiology, or use the term only for some of the more symbolic inbetweens we meet - analogy, allegory, metonymy, metaphor, symbolism, and also conduct, behaviour, and a lot of other sociology.

It also overlaps with philosophy, relating to structuralism, and more. (see e.g. Saussure)

See also:

Philology, Etymology

This article/section is a stub — some half-sorted notes, not necessarily checked, not necessarily correct. Feel free to ignore, or tell me about it.

Etymology is the study of the history of words and phrases, primarily reporting use, change, transfer between languages and such, often comprising of finding and proving (or disproving) these genetic-like relations.

While it is focused a little less on meaning, it often ends up mentioning things in terms of morphology simply because a lot of carried meaning comes from morphemes.

The term is related to philology, which refers to the extensive study of historical linguistics, which may easily include many aspects of a language at a time - grammar, culture, relevant politics, and more.

You can usually see systematic differences between cognates between similar languages in terms of phonetics and meaning. Partly because of this, a game of guess-the-cognate plays a role in second language vocabulary aquisition. Of course, it's easy to guess false cognates and false friends this way and get rather confused.

Loaning across languages can introduce various cognate relations. Consider for example:

False etymology, folk etymology

People regularly guess at etymologies.

And, with some regularlity, incorrectly.

They may sound quite plausible, and some get a status similar to urban legend -- they just won't die even though they're not hard to falsify.

This also sometimes leads to changes how these words are used, which are essentially neologisms.


Cognates are words that are related by origin, by common ancestry, but have started developing independently, and as such now have distinct meanings and etymologies.

Meaning may have drifted apart, or are similar and now serve to distinguish two similar concepts.

For example, the English skirt and shirt have a common Old English origin.

May be used to refer to cognates within a language, but note that words that sound about the same across languages, particularly those in the same language family, are also commonly considered cognates - often because of their common origin and their development within their language.

For example, the word 'night' looks and/or sounds similar between most Indo-European languages.

Various cognates grow from long-term development, from common origins that unites two languages in the language trees. For example, English and German are fairly closely related, while English and Spanish's common ground is mostly in Latin.

False cognates

False cognates are words that are thought to be similar, usually because they look and sound it, but do not share a direct or common root.

For example, Latin habere (to have) and German haben (to have) seem like likely cognates, but these two words come from different origins. Tracing them back reveals that their similarity is coincidental; the sounds changed over time, and from distinct origins.

Doublets (etymological twins)

Repeated loaning from the same origin, often at different times, creates doublets, a.k.a. etymological twins: words with the same origin, but that are made distinct in the loaning process.

Could be considered a special case of cognates.

Regularly have similar but distinct meanings and/or uses, often (near-)synonyms, sometimes (near-)antonyms.

For example, English has

fire and pyre,
aperture and overture
carton and cartoon,
and, less recognizably, sovereign and soprano

Triplets also exist, but are fairly rare.

False friends

False friends are words that look quite similar between languages, but significantly differ in meaning.

They are easily misidentified when the words are homonyms, or cognates (false or not).

False friend recognition probably happens most often across languages. Literal translation of regular sentences and especially idioms regularly introduces false friends.

See also:

  • Linguistic inference / linguistic transfer


Onomastics, also known as onomatology, is the study of names, and usually refers to its etymological aspects,like figuring out where they came from and how they evolved.

Not to be confused with Onomasiology (the means of expressing concepts).


This article/section is a stub — some half-sorted notes, not necessarily checked, not necessarily correct. Feel free to ignore, or tell me about it.

Lexicology is the general and objective study of words and their meanings.

In some ways, it is the lexical part of philology.

In other ways it is closely related to etymology, phraseology, and semantics.

Lexicography can be said to be the applied part of lexicology, as it studies the use of words.

'Lexicography' is also and is often used to refer to the compilation of a lexicon. Note that lexicographer is a comparatively specific word, referring to someone who writes dictionaries.


Onomasiology concerns itself with the means of expressing concepts in language - often in either the context of lexicology, or more widely in the sense of lexical semantics.

Not to be confused with onomastics/onomatology, the somewhat more specific study of names.



See also


Etymological websites: