Word, Orthography

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Summary

In linguistics, a word is the smallest element that may be uttered in isolation with semantic or pragmatic content (with literal or practical meaning). This contrasts with a morpheme, which is the smallest unit of meaning but will not necessarily stand on its own. A word may consist of a single morpheme (for example: oh!, rock, red, quick, run, expect), or several (rocks, redness, quickly, running, unexpected), whereas a morpheme may not be able to stand on its own as a word (in the words just mentioned, these are -s, -ness, -ly, -ing, un-, -ed).

Details

In languages with a literary tradition, there is interrelation between orthography and the question of what is considered a single word. Word separators (typically spaces) are common in modern orthography of languages using alphabetic scripts, but these are (excepting isolated precedents) a relatively modern development (see also history of writing).

In English orthography, compound expressions may contain spaces. For example, ice cream, air raid shelter and get up each are generally considered to consist of more than one word (as each of the components are free forms, with the possible exception of get).

Not all languages delimit words expressly. Mandarin Chinese is a very analytic language (with few inflectional affixes), making it unnecessary to delimit words orthographically. However, there are a great number of multiple morpheme compounds in Chinese in addition to a variety of bound morphemes that make it difficult to clearly determine what constitutes a word.

Sometimes, languages which are extremely close grammatically will consider the same order of words in different ways. For example, reflexive verbs in the French infinitive are separate from their respective particle – e.g. se laver ("to wash oneself"), in Portuguese they are hyphenated – lavar-se, while in Spanish they are joined – lavarse.

Japanese uses orthographic cues to delimit words such as switching between kanji (Chinese characters) and the two kana syllabaries. This is a fairly soft rule, as content words can also be written in hiragana for effect (though if done extensively spaces are typically added to maintain legibility).

Vietnamese orthography, although using the Latin alphabet, delimits monosyllabic morphemes rather than words.

In character encoding, word segmentation depends on which characters are defined as word dividers.

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External Links

  • WikipediaWhat Is a Word?

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