Lexical gap

Lexical gap

A lexical gap or lacuna is an absence of a word in a particular language. Several types of lexical gaps are possible, such as untranslatability and missing inflections.


Often a concept lexicalized in one language does not have a corresponding lexical unit in another language and thus presents a translation difficulty. Circumlocution, a descriptive phrase, must be used instead, or possibly even multiple phrases used in varying situations. If the concept is important or must be cited often, then borrowing from one language and adding to another may occur.

This case should not be confused with translation into a different type of lexical unit. For example, a simple word may be translated as a compound or a collocation, as in the cases of the Russian word "bosoy", which is translated as the compound "barefoot" in English, and the English word "private (rank)", which is "soldato semplice" in Italian.

An abundant source of lacunas used to be a contact of primitive cultures with more advanced civilizations. For example, the Russian ethnographer Miklukho-Maklai, famous for his study of the aborigines of New Guinea, recorded that Papuans, who have never seen an ox, gave the animal a name back-translated as "a huge pig with teeth on the forehead". [M. Kolesnikov, "Miklukho-Maklai" (Moscow, Young Guard, 1961), a book from the "Life of Prominent People" (Жизнь Замечательных Людей) series ru icon]

Missing inflection

Sometimes a certain inflection of a word by produces a word phonetically forbidden or awkward in a given language. For example the Russian word 'dno' in the meaning of bottom (of a barrel or a river) does not have a plural form.

ee also

*Lacuna model
*Defective verbs lack some of the inflections of normal verbs.


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