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Hxe302 semantics1

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  • 1. HXE 302 -SEMANTICSLecture 1
  • 2. Introduction: what is semantics?• Semantics is the study of meaningcommunicated through language (Saeed,2003).• Semantics is the study of the linguisticmeaning of morphemes, words, phrases, andsentences (Fromkin et al, 2006).• Meaning is manifested in the systematic linkbetween linguistic forms and things that wewant to talk about or communicate.
  • 3. Introduction• Language allows us to talk about the world, toconvey information to one another about ourselvesand our surroundings in a reliable fashion.• Let us consider this example:- This is red.• Interpreting the example above is impossible unlessthe interpreter has access to some contextuallysalient entity to which this refers, say a pen lyingon the table.• Language also enables us to communicate aboutmore private internal worlds, to share our mentalstates, attitudes, hopes, fears, etc.• Compare: The door is closed. John wants to eat atuna sandwich.
  • 4. We may distinguish different linguisticfields according to:• Phonetics - sounds• Phonology• Morphology• Syntax• Semantics -meaning• Pragmatics• The physical side oflinguistic utterances– the articulationand perception ofspeech sounds• The meaningexpressed byelements of alanguage,characterizable as asymbolic system
  • 5. What is meaning?• What makes words meaningful is that they areabout the things in the world, what makes themmeaningful is their relation to the things in theworld. But meanings, the entities that semanticsinvestigates, cannot be directly observed.• The mystery of meaning is that it does not seem tobe located in any single place –- Not in the word (a noise or a scribble)- Not in the objects that are described by the words- Not in the mind (in a separate concept or ideahovering between the word and the things we aretalking about)
  • 6. • Meanings are not located somehow in the physicalshape of words:- There are no physical features that all trueutterances have in common.- Words do not have meanings because of their soundor look except onomatopoeic words (ex cuckoo,buzz, etc)- Not only do languages vary in their vocabularies,but also within one language the relation betweenwords and what they stand for changes (ex. gay)- One of the defining properties of human language is“the ARBITRARINESS of the linguistic sign”(Ferdinand de Saussure, 1916): the connectionbetween a word and what it stands for isARBITRARY
  • 7. Semantics and semiotics• Linguistic meaning is a special subset of the moregeneral human ability to use signs, e.g.:- Those vultures mean there’s a dead animal upahead.- His high temperature may mean he has virus.- The red flag means it’s dangerous to swim.- Those stripes on his uniform mean he is a sergeant.- To mean here two meanings: cause-effect vs.arbitrary symbols used in public signs• In general, to mean reflects the all-pervasive habitof identifying and creating signs: of making onething stand for another.
  • 8. What is meaning?• What is the relationship between the useof the word ‘mean’ in:a. Smoke means fire.b. That road sign means there are road worksahead.c. ‘Bachelor’ means unmarried man.d. Love means never having to say you aresorry.e. The fact that door to the room was openmeans the butler did it.
  • 9. The meaning of words• Every word has some meaning (some onlyin context).• What is a meaning of a word?a. Dictionary definitionb. Mental imagec. Referenced. Parallel worldsKnowing the meaning of words is notenough to understand the meaning of asentence.
  • 10. • The process of creating and interpretingsymbols, sometimes called signification, isfar wider than language.• Saussure (1974) stressed that the study oflinguistic meaning is part of this generalstudy of the use of sign system and thisgeneral study is called semiotics.• Semioticians investigate the types ofrelationship that may hold between a signand the objects it represents or in theSaussure’s terminology, between a signifierand its signified
  • 11. • One basic distinction (acc. to Perice) isbetween icon, index and symbol.• An icon is where there is a similaritybetween a sign and what it represents, i.e,between a portrait and its real-life object• An index is where the sign is closelyassociated with its signified, often in acausal relationship; thus smoke is an indexof fire• A symbol is where there is only aconventional link between the sign and itssignified; the way that mourning issymbolised by wearing of black clothes insome cultures
  • 12. Different dimensions of meaning• Reference vs sense- Meaning as reference: the meaning of words arederived from the way they describe the world.Linguistic expressions are linked in virtue of theirmeaning to parts of the world- Denotation of an expression – the part of reality theexpression is linked to; the set of things a wordapplies to- Extension of a word – the class denoted by the word- Reference or referent – the entity to which theexpression refers
  • 13. - Problems with referential approach:expressions that have no extension (do notrefer to anything in the world) but still havemeaning: ex. unicorn, the present king ofFrance, Santa Claus) or abstract words –justice, knowledge- There is more to meaning than reference.- Ex. a) Shakespeare b) the author of Hamlet.- a) and b) may refer to the same person butthey have different meanings
  • 14. Denotation and reference• We use language to talk about theworld.• We can use words to refer to things.• Pat went to Summerville.• We say that Pat denotes the personPat, Somerville denotes the citySomerville. A connection betweenwords and the world.
  • 15. Sense and reference• Sense – the way the speaker thinks aboutthe object; the guise under which the objectis known to the speaker; mode ofpresentation; idea in the mind; sense isspeaker-relative.• Acc. to Frege: sense and reference are twodifferent aspects of meaning of at leastsome kinds of terms. A term’s reference isthe object it refers to and its sense is theway in which it refers to that object
  • 16. Sense and Reference• An innovation of the Germanphilosopher and mathematician G.Frege in his 1892 paper (On Sense andReference)• According to Frege, sense andreference are 2 different aspects ofthe meaning of at least some kinds oflinguistic expressions.• Frege divided meaning into sense(intension) and reference (extension).
  • 17. Sense and reference• Reference relates words to entities inthe world.• Sense relates words to each otherwithin the language.• Sense is what you grasp when youunderstand a word• Sense of chair is ‘seat with four legsand a back’• Sense of aunt is ‘parent’s sister’
  • 18. • Literal and non-literal meaning- I’m hungry.- I’m starving- I could eat a horse• Non-literal uses of language are traditionallycalled figurative and are described by a hostof rhetorical terms including metaphor,irony, etc. ex. glass ceiling for promotionalbarriers to women or surfing the Internet