I am self-studying morphology and came across this paragraph in Martin Haspelmath book "Understanding Morphology".

Although we must assign names to lexemes to be able to talk about them, lexemes are abstract entities that have no phonological form of their own.

Could someone explain the meaning of 'abstract entities that have no phonological form of their own' ?

1 Answer 1


Think of a lexeme as an equivalence class of word forms belonging together, e.g., the class of word forms go, goes, went, going, gone. Now, for the English language we pick by convention go, identical to the infinitive form, as the name of this lexeme.

For Latin, the conventions are different: A verb is usually quoted in the first person singular present tense (active, when available), so the class ire, eo, is, it, ... , ii, ..., itum is represented by eo.

I think this illustrates very well the point of not having a phonological form of its own.

  • Thanks for your answer. To understand a bit more, what is the meaning of ‘phonological form’?
    – F. Zer
    Jul 22, 2019 at 17:32
  • 3
    Basically, a phonological form is some mental representation leading to a pronunciation. The point of Haspelmath is that you cannot pronounce a lexeme, but you can give it a pronounceable name. Jul 22, 2019 at 17:50

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