Spanish-English Contrasts: A Course in Spanish Linguistics

By M. Stanley Whitley | Go to book overview

Chapter 14
Introduction to the study of words and usage

14.0 What it means to know a word.
In addition to the phonology and grammar of their language, native speakers know its vocabulary or LEXICON. They learn and store each word as an item subject to the rules and categories of their language, and each LEXICAL ENTRY contains the information needed for using the word appropriately and accurately. For many readers, "lexical entry" may suggest what is recorded in a dictionary: syntactic category and subcategory (e.g., "transitive verb"), morphological peculiarities, pronunciation, and meaning(s). But the contents of one's mental lexical entry are richer than dictionaries can portray, inasmuch as meaning and usage tie in with the wealth of experiences that people have had, individually and collectively, in using language in sociocultural contexts and in a universe that they understand in specific ways.
14.1 An example: The meaning of compadre.
The breadth of knowledge contained by lexical entries can be illustrated by Spanish compadre. García-Pelayo y Gross (1983) gave it a definition that reads in part as follows:

COMPADRE m. Padrino del niño respecto de los padres y la madrina de éste. (SINÓN.
v. Padrino). || Fam. Amigo o conocido.

This definition is accurate, but it presupposes far more information than it states. It relies on the knowledge of what padrino, niño, padres, and madrina mean, and interpreting it requires complex linguistic and cognitive skills to pick up on points such as the following:
1. Padre has several senses (duly listed under PADRE), but it is assumed that the reader will consider the context of los padres and construe it as 'parents', not 'priests', 'ancestors', or 'fathers'. The reader must also draw on familiarity with biology and culture to fill in the connection between padres and niño.

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