Lexical Priming – A New Theory of Words and Language
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“Lexical Priming” proposes a radical new theory of the lexicon, which amounts to a completely new theory of language based on how words are used in the real world. Here they are not confined to the definitions given to them in dictionaries but instead interact with other words in common patterns of use. Classical theory holds that grammar is generated first and words are then dropped into the opportunities thus created; Hoey’s theory reverses the roles of lexis and grammar, arguing that lexis is complexly and systematically structured and that grammar is an outcome of this lexical structure. He shows that the phenomenon of ‘collocation’, the property of language whereby two or more words seem to appear frequently in each other’s company (e.g., ‘inevitable’ and ‘consequence’), offers a clue to the way language is really organised. Using concrete statistical evidence from a corpus of newspaper English, but also referring to travel writing and literary text, the author argues that words are ‘primed’ for use through our experience with them, so that everything we know about a word is a product of our encounters with it. This knowledge explains how speakers of a language succeed in being fluent, creative and natural.