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N°22 – Margins and boundaries in linguistic categorization

Deadline for sending in final versions of papers: 31 October 2023

Lexis Journal in English Lexicology – will publish its 22nd issue in 2023. It will be edited by Romain Delhem (Université Clermont Auvergne, France) and Caroline Marty (Sorbonne Université, France) and will deal with the topic “Margins and boundaries in linguistic categorization”.

Margins and boundaries in linguistic categorization  

Categorization is a basic cognitive process. Humans use language to categorize, primarily through the nominal category (Mignot [2017]). More particularly, categorization enables them to better organize the world around them in order to make learning and decision-making easier (Lakoff [1987]). Metaphorically, humans resort to cognitive boundaries to define their everyday experiences and bring them together according to the properties they have in common, or the “family resemblances” (Familienähnlichkeit) that they share, i.e. networks of more or less significant similarities (Wittgenstein [1953]).  

The classical view of categorization considers categories as clear-cut and homogeneous – no element can belong to two distinct categories, and all the elements within a category have the same status. However, Rosch’s [1973] research in psychology posits that categories are organized around a central element called “prototype”, with other elements moving progressively further from it. Thus, categories include marginal elements – for example, a chair is considered a more prototypical piece of furniture than a telephone (Rosch [1975]).  In linguistics, various authors have taken up the notion of prototype. In his work on notional domains, Culioli [1990] puts forward the notions of “inside” and “outside”, separated by a boundary, while Lakoff [1987] defines cognitive models as categories built around a membership gradient, a generator (i.e. a specific, central member of the class) and common features.  
Prototype theory is used more or less explicitly in the study of many lexical units, whether it is kinship (Lounsbury [1964]), color (Berlin & Kay [1969]) or taxonomy (Wierzbicka [1992]).  

Taylor [1998] applies categorial gradience to linguistic description. He posits that a specific lexical unit should not be categorized according to strict selection criteria (which would imply a clear boundary and equality of the members within the class), but according to tests of prototypicality which make it possible to distinguish central members from marginal ones. This point of view is taken up by Aarts [2007], who puts forward the notion of “subsective gradience”: lexical categories are organized around prototypes, and within these classes some elements are closer to the center or to the periphery (e.g. utter is a less typical adjective than happy).  

Subsective gradience can be the source of intersective gradience: a peripheral element within a linguistic category can also be at the margin of another category, and therefore be a kind of hybrid, such as near (both an adjective and a preposition). This more flexible view of parts of speech also calls into question some traditional cases of conversion: in real good or come quick, are the units real and quick adverbs derived from adjectives, adjectives used as adverbs, or units belonging to both categories?  

More broadly, the question of the boundary between the lexicon and syntax may be explored. Indeed, cognitive approaches (Langacker [2008]) question the perception of language as consisting of a finite list of lexical units and combination rules (Taylor [2012]). Moreover, in Construction Grammar (Fillmore et al. [1988], Goldberg [1995]), all linguistic units are considered fundamentally similar. In this view of language, the lexicon deals with simpler, specified units, while grammar encompasses more complex, schematic units. Thus, there is no clear-cut distinction between these two notions, which must rather be seen as the two ends of the same continuum (simple → complex, specified → schematic).  

Papers may focus on the following issues: 

  • The notions of prototypicality, marginality and boundary in parts of speech – does a marginal element still belong to a given category? What are the criteria ruling over its belonging or not belonging to the category?; 

  • The porous nature of parts of speech and matters of conversion and polycategoriality;  

  • The extent of the lexical domain in relation to the grammatical domain and the study of units at the margin of the lexicon or halfway between the lexicon and syntax;  

  • The boundary of the notion of ‘word’, especially in relation to the notions of “affix” and “clitic”;  

  • The lexicon in varieties considered as marginal within certain linguistic groups (linguistic family or branch, dialect continuum, standard variety). 


Aarts Bas, 2007, Syntactic Gradience: the Nature of Grammatical Indeterminacy, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Berlin Brent & Kay Paul, 1969, Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Culioli Antoine, 1990, Pour une linguistique de l’énonciation. Tome 1 : Opérations et représentations, Gap: Ophrys.

Fillmore Charles & Kay Paul & O’Connor Mary Catherine, 1988, “Regularity and idiomaticity in grammatical constructions: the case of let alone”, Language 64(3), 501–538.

Goldberg Adele, 1995, A Construction Grammar Approach to Argument Structure, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff George, 1987, Women, Fire and Dangerous Things: what Categories Reveal about the Mind, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Langacker Ronald, 2008, Cognitive Grammar: an Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lounsbury Floyd, 1964, “A formal account of the Crow- and Omaha-type kinship terminologies”, in Goodenough Ward Hunt (Ed.), Explorations in Cultural Anthropology, New York: McGraw-Hill, 351–394.

Mignot Élise, 2017, La morphologie du nom en anglais : vers une sémantique des parties du discours(Monographie d’habilitation à diriger les recherches), Paris: Sorbonne Université.

Rosch Eleanor, 1973, “Natural Categories”, Cognitive Psychology 4., 328–350.

Rosch Eleanor, 1975, “Cognitive representations of semantic categories”, Journal of Experimental Psychology 104, 192-234.

Taylor John R., 1998, “Syntactic constructions as prototype categories”, in Tomasello Michael (Ed.), The New Psychology of Language: Cognitive and Functional Approaches to Language Structure (volume 1), Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 177–202.

Taylor John R., 2012, The Mental Corpus: how Language is Represented in the Mind, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wierzbicka Anna, 1992, Semantics, Culture, and Cognition: Universal Human Concepts in Culture-Specific Configurations, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wittgenstein Ludwig, 1953, Recherches philosophiques, Paris: Gallimard.

How to submit

Please clearly indicate the title of the paper and include an abstract between 3,000 and 6,000 characters (including spaces) as well as a list of relevant keywords and references. All abstract and paper submissions will be anonymously peer-reviewed (double-blind peer reviewing) by an international scientific committee composed of specialists in their fields. Papers will be written preferably in English or occasionally in French.

Manuscripts may be rejected, accepted subject to revision, or accepted as such. There is no limit to the number of pages.

Abstracts and articles will be sent via email to


September 2022: Call for papers

January 31 2023: Deadline for sending in abstracts to Lexis

March 2023: Evaluation Committee’s decisions notified to authors

June 30 2023: Deadline for sending in papers (Guidelines for submitting articles:

July and August 2023: Proofreading of papers by the Evaluation committee

September 1 to October 31 2023: Authors’ corrections

October 31 2023: Deadline for sending in final versions of papers

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