On 28 June Heidi Klockmann MA (Language structure: variation and change) will defend her PhD thesis in which she develops a system to analyse semi-lexicality, a term to describe words that fall in between existing word categories. She argues that existing word categories such as nouns, verbs and adjectives, should be divided into smaller subcategories to understand how semi-lexical words function.
When studying language, the classification of words into categories often forms the first step. The basic categorisation of words in nouns, verbs and adjectives appears to be sufficient to a certain extent. However, when we study words more thoroughly, we find many examples that do not fit into these categories.
Often, semi-lexical elements have a surface similarity to the lexical category of noun, adjective or verb, but also have certain properties that prevent them from being treated with that category. Numerals are an example of these semi-lexical words, they challenge the traditional division of categories into nouns, verbs and adjectives in many languages, which has led to many debates on how to treat the category of a numeral within and between languages. It is the aim of this dissertation to understand how semi-lexicality arises.
Effects of lexical idiosyncracies in the syntax
Klockmann develops a system to analyse semi-lexicality, which she defends through three case studies: Polish numerals, English quantificational nouns, (lot, ton, bunch, number) and English kind-words (kind, type, sort). She finds that semi-lexicality can be traced back to idiosyncracies in the lexical entry of a semi-lexical head. Such idiosyncracies induce systematic effects in the syntax, according to how the lexical specification is realised. This thesis predicts that a study of other examples of semi-lexicality should find similar patterns to the ones identified here. Once we understand what the canonical structure of a noun, verb or adjective would be, it will be possible to explore how the specification a functional feature interacts with the syntax.