5.4. The Lexical Perspective

The semantic perspective for analyzing relationships is the fundamental one, but it is intrinsically tied to the lexical one because a relationship is always expressed using words in a specific language. For example, we understand the relationships among the concepts or classes of “food,” “meat,” and “beef” by using the words “food,” “meat,” and “beef” to identify progressively smaller classes of edible things in a class hierarchy.

The connection between concept and words is not so simple. In the Simpson family example with which we began this chapter, we noted with “father” and “padre” that languages differ in the words they use to describe particular kinship relationships. Furthermore, we pointed out that cultures differ in which kinship relationships are conceptually distinct, so that languages like Chinese make distinctions about the relative ages of siblings that are not made in English.271[Ling]

[271][Ling] Languages and cultures differ in how they distinguish and describe kinship, so Bart might find the system of family organization easier to master in some countries and cultures and more difficult in others.

This is not to suggest that an English speaker cannot notice the difference between his older and younger sisters, only that this distinction is not lexicalizedcaptured in a single wordas it is in Chinese. This “missing word” in English from the perspective of Chinese is called a lexical gap. Exactly when a lexical gap exists is sometimes ...

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