Updated: Feb 27
A lexical network can be defined as a representation of the relationships between words occurring in natural languages. There are many different kinds of relationships between words that we can study, and some are listed below:
Synonyms (same meaning)
Antonyms (opposite meaning)
hyponyms (a more specific term for a word)
meronyms (parts composing a whole)
We can even go further and study word relationships such as characteristics, colors, actions, emotions, and more. Why is this important? Well, lexical networks can represent how humans make associations, connections, and understand the world around them through language. Words are not just standalone units- their meanings are built upon each other. When we learn a new language, understanding words and concepts as connected can make memorization and fluency easier to achieve. This all might sound very abstract and hard to conceptualize. How about we give a physical representation?
A game whose purpose is to build a lexical network in French, JeuxDeMots, displays this web on their website. The length and thickness of the arrows represent the closeness of the relationship and how often it might occur within the French language.
The above web uses a variety of relationships to form connections between words. The arrows show the direction of the relation between words. They also have different thicknesses depending on how frequently the two words are connected. This is only a small sample, but theoretically, one could create an infinitely large lexical network. Below is a list that describes the types of connections seen in the above lexical network.
action > object: you can read a book or pet a cat
term > characteristic: a cat can be tamed
subject > action: a boy can walk, eat, and read
term > place: a book can be on a table, a cat can be on a sofa
term > collective word: a cat is a feline, a cat and the feline are both living beings
term > part of the noun: leg, eye, etc. are parts of a boy or human
term > color: a cat can be black
How about another example? A paper entitled “Networks in the Mind- What Communities Reveal About the Structure of the Lexicon” by Kovács et. al shows another web representing a lexical network. Again, the thickness and length of the arrows represent the closeness of the relationships and how often these words might co-occur near each other in language.
Lexical Networks Online
As mentioned before, JeuxDeMots is a game whose purpose is for participants to identify relationships between French words thus creating an online database of a lexical network. There are other computer-based lexical networks, such as:
WordNet: an online database displaying different meanings of the same word and synonyms for it.
Edinburgh Associative Thesaurus: a collection of word associations without semantic labels. It has about 56,000 nodes (or words) in the lexical network.
Kovács, L., Bóta, A., Hajdu, L., & Krész, M. (2021, January 1). Networks in the Mind: What Communities Reveal About the Structure of the Lexicon. De Gruyter. Retrieved February 9, 2023.