All concepts are "fuzzy sets", that is, they are a collection of
"prototypes" (most-typical examples) with some degree of variation
permitted within, between, and outside of the prototypes. Even a
named individual, as a concept, is a fuzzy collection of incidents
(e.g. various positions and movements, appearance at different times
and places, etc).
An animal, when it comes across a situation that has caused him pain
in the past, will associate the concepts of that situation with the
concepts of actions that have helped in the past. The results of
this association will be strengthened if the results are
satisfactory, or not if not. In this way, concepts become
interconnected in the animal's memory to form a semantic network.
But there are no words.
In humans, concepts are connected to lexemes, which operate a bit
like a "fuzzy word-set". Commonly, there are one or two prototypical
lexemes that are then capable of being altered by syntax and other
processes which are applied to the lexemes in context with other
concepts and their associated lexemes.
At first, a child learns to associate specific lexemes with specific
concepts. The child then learns to add to individual lexemes a
variety of details and begins to compose the resulting set of
lexemes into a structure that conveys the inter-relationship of the
details that is more-or-less isomorphic with the relationship of the
concepts. This is semantic structure.
Another way to look at semantic structure, on a word-by-word basis,
is componential analysis. A brief introduction is available here.
When someone experiences an event, a portion of the semantic net is
engaged, both the concepts and the associated lexemes. While the
relevant concepts and lexemes are engaged, they form a temporary
structure. The conceptual structure may become a memory of the
event. The lexemic structure may become the basis for a verbal
(Although this temporary structure is actually within the larger net
of semantic knowledge, it may be convenient to think of it as a
network of lexemes in a "semantic sketch-pad, like cognitivists talk
about the phonological loop and the visual sketch-pad, both of which
are likely also embedded in the larger network and not limited to a
localized area of the mind or brain.)
We can model this lexemic structure in various way. I prefer the
model developed by Leech in his book "Semantics". Examples of
Leech's model can be viewed here.
This structure is then processed by the learned syntax of one's
particular language into something we can model with the familiar
syntactic "trees" we find in any introduction to syntax. This in
turn is further processed until it becomes a verbal expression. Of
course, the process also happens in reverse (from hearing to
conceptual reconstruction) and the expression portion of the process
can include written as well as verbal materials.
More detail on syntax and morphology can be found here and here,
© C. George Boeree 2016