In the field of linguistics the study of semantics pertains to the analysis of the meaning of lexical items.
Within semantics there exist 7 different types of understanding of the meaning of words. Conceptual meaning is one of those seven types of meanings.
Conceptual meaning is the clear and logical definition of a word based on the structure and form of the word: its lexemes and morphemes (constituent structures), and what is NOT included as part of the formation of the words (contrastive structures). Basically any definition as it appears in its most basic form, without adhering or molding it to fit any particular format of context, is conceptual (theoretical) meaning.
Concisely, we understand the concept of a word by reuniting all of the ways in which the word is formed and can be defined (its constituent nature) and in the manner in which the word is used for a specific meaning (contrastive structure).
An example of conceptual meaning would be the word "cat". When you think of the word, images, words, thoughts, and memories immediately become activated to provide you with the concept behind the three-letter word c/a/t. Hence, these thoughts and memories are the concepts under which you understand the meaning of the word.
- covered in fur
- has whiskers
- sleek and fast
- have great flexibility
- not a dog, not a bird, not a cow, etc (contrastive)
- sleeps up to 18 hours a day
- is unfriendly/friendly
- scratches/has claws
And so on, you will add the facts that will create a concept map of the word. A good way to understand conceptual meaning is through the application of the Frayer Model, which is graphic organizer that classifies and categorizes the facts about a word so that there can be a clear understanding of the concept behind it.