Lexical Analysis

Lexical Analysis

Norms and Exploitations

By Patrick Hanks

A lexically based, corpus-driven theoretical approach to meaning in language that distinguishes between patterns of normal use and creative exploitations of norms.





A lexically based, corpus-driven theoretical approach to meaning in language that distinguishes between patterns of normal use and creative exploitations of norms.

In Lexical Analysis, Patrick Hanks offers a wide-ranging empirical investigation of word use and meaning in language. The book fills the need for a lexically based, corpus-driven theoretical approach that will help people understand how words go together in collocational patterns and constructions to make meanings. Such an approach is now possible, Hanks writes, because of the availability of new forms of evidence (corpora, the Internet) and the development of new methods of statistical analysis and inferencing.

Hanks offers a new theory of language, the Theory of Norms and Exploitations (TNE), which makes a systematic distinction between normal and abnormal usage—between rules for using words normally and rules for exploiting such norms in metaphor and other creative use of language. Using hundreds of carefully chosen citations from corpora and other texts, he shows how matching each use of a word against established contextual patterns plays a large part in determining the meaning of an utterance. His goal is to develop a coherent and practical lexically driven theory of language that takes into account the immense variability of everyday usage and that shows that this variability is rule governed rather than random. Such a theory will complement other theoretical approaches to language, including cognitive linguistics, construction grammar, generative lexicon theory, priming theory, and pattern grammar.


$70.00 X ISBN: 9780262018579 480 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 21 b&w illus.


  • This book is recommended reading for those who are serious about studying lexis and/ or the interplay between structure and meaning.

    Linguist List


  • Do word meanings exist? How do words mean? Hanks's answers to these formidable questions are not based on philosophical speculations but on the conclusions of a whole career spent observing texts to compile dictionaries. His theory of norms and exploitations (TNE) is 'a lexically-based, corpus-driven, bottom-up theory of language.' It posits that words have meaning potentials rather than meanings; that meanings correspond to syntactic and collocational patterns; that all or some of the components of these potentials are activated in each context, so that meanings are events, not entities; and that there are normal uses of words and more or less predictable exploitations of these norms. The gist of Hanks's research has been published in various journals and books over the years, but it is presented here for the first time in full book form. A fascinating text summing up decades of hands-on research that will be useful to linguists, semanticists, lexicographers, and the philosophers of language. Unputdownable.

    Henri Béjoint

    Professor Emeritus at the University of Lyon

  • This outstanding work is set to become a landmark in the long-running debate over word meaning and its interaction with word use. Patrick Hanks convincingly argues for a lexically based theory of language capable of accounting for both normal usage of language and its creative exploitations. One of the most appealing features of the volume for me was the balance it achieves between theory and practice. The rigorous corpus-driven analyses bring strong support to the theory but also provide the reader with methodological guidelines of how to implement it. This is not a book that will lie collecting dust on my bookshelf. I am quite certain it will prove an invaluable companion whenever I'm dealing with thorny lexical issues, both theoretical and applied.

    Sylviane Granger

    Professor of English language and linguistics, Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium

  • This book is a tour de force, a work that will surely be a core point of reference for many years to come. Hanks applies his years of experience in lexicography to explain a curiously troublesome perennial question for linguists—how we interpret the meanings of words. He models language in a way that simultaneously accommodates our intuitions about core meanings, and explains how we can be creative with words without confusing others. He navigates a path between the under- and over-interpretation of corpus data, to give us an extra dimension for understanding the mechanisms of lexical meaning.

    Alison Wray

    Director of Research, Cardiff School of English, Communication and Philosophy

  • Patrick Hanks provides a brilliant interpretation of work on empirical semantics. He sets out clear methods and principles, illustrated with dozens of excellent examples from corpus data, from his long experience as a lexicographer, and from his wide knowledge of recent linguistics.

    Michael Stubbs

    Professor of English Linguistics, University of Trier, Germany