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Lecture 4

The Meaning of
Language
Ching-Fen Hsu
2013/11/12
Semantics
• The study of linguistic meaning of morphemes,
words, phrases, sentences
• Subfield #1: Lexical semantics is co...
The Meaning of ‘Meaning’
• Lg speakers easily understand what is said
• Lg speakers produce strings of words that are
mean...
When You Know A Language,
You Know…

(4) a S has two meanings (Jack saw a man with a
telescope) (5) two words have the sam...
What Speakers Know about
Sentence false
Meaning
• Ss are not always true or
• Ss are true or false in given situations, ‘J...
Entailment & Related
Notions

• One S entails another if whenever 1st S is true 2nd
is also true in all conceivable circum...
Contradictory
• Two Ss are contradictory if one is true & the other
is false (contradiction: both Ss are false)
• Two Ss h...
Ambiguity
• The meaning of a linguistic expression is built
on words it contains & on its syntactic structure
• Structural...
Compositional Semantics
• Our knowledge of grammaticality, constituent
structure, relations bet Ss, limitless creativity o...
Semantic Rules

• Jack: a proper name refers to a precise object
in the world, a referent; the individual it refers to
• S...
Semantic Rule I & II
• Rule I: a S composed of a subject NP & a
predicate VP is true if the subject NP refers to
an indivi...
Truth Condition

• Semantic knowledge of entailment may be
represented in grammar, Jack swims beautifully
• Beautifully: a...
When Compositionality Goes Awry
• Compositional truth-conditional semantics is
powerful & useful tool for investigating se...
Anomaly

• Semantic feature conflict: Colorless green ideas
sleep furiously, colorless [without color], green
[green in co...
Metaphor
• Anomaly in nature creates salient meanings
• Metaphors are ambiguous: literal meaning +
metaphorical meaning (算...
Cultural Component of
Metaphors

• Shakespeare’s metaphors to depict “Fortune” as
“woman” (p.150)
• Computer usage: there ...
Idioms (1)

• Individual morphemes are not decomposable &
have fixed meanings to learn
• Usual semantic rules for combinin...
Idioms (2)

• Idioms can break rules on combining semantic
properties, “eat” for something edible
Eat your heart out
• Idi...
Lexical Semantics

• Theories of word meanings
• Lexicon: storehouse of information about words
& morphemes
• Meanings of ...
Reference

• Dictionaries actually provide paraphrases of
words rather than meanings
• It’s our knowledge to figure out de...
Sense

• What real-world entities would function words like
of, by, modal verbs (will, may)?
• Harry Potter, unicorns have...
Lexical Relations

• Words are semantically related to one another
• Synonyms: words or expressions have same
meaning in s...
Marked vs. Unmarked

• Unmarked member is the one used in questions
of degree, how high is the mountain? vs. how
low is it...
More Lexical Relationship
• Homonyms: words have different meanings but
are pronounced the same (spell same or
different) ...
Semantic Features
• Basic set of properties of word meanings
reflecting knowledge about what words mean
• Decomposing word...
Slips of the Tongue
• Semantic features are not directly observable
but inferring from linguistic evidence such as
speech ...
Semantic Features of
Nouns

• The same semantic feature may be shared by
many words, [female], [human], [young], [male],
[...
Count Nouns vs. Mass
Nouns

• Count nouns can be enumerated & pluralized, one
potato, two potatoes, many potatoes
• Mass n...
Semantic Features of
Verbs

• Verbs have semantic features as part of their
meanings, [cause] in darken/kill/uglify, [go] ...
Argument Structure
• Verbs differ in terms of number & type of
phrases they can take as complements or
adjuncts
• Argument...
Verb Types

• Components of a verb’s meaning are relevant to
argument choices (p.163)
throw/toss/kick/fling a single quic...
Thematic Roles

• Subject/objects are semantically related in various ways
to verbs
• Thematic roles express relations tha...
Theta Assignment

• Theta role assignment is connected to syntactic
structure rather than random assignment, buy/sell
(“go...
Deep Structure Matters

• Thematic roles must be assigned to the same dstructure position
The trainer gave the dog a treat...
Pragmatics meaning
• The study of extra-truth-conditional
• How a speaker uses literal meaning in
conversation or as a par...
Pronouns & Deictic Words

• Our use of lg is relatively inexplicit but natural in
daily conversations (p.167, 1b vs. 1a)
•...
Reference Resolution

• Pronouns are uttered to determine referents in
contexts
• Linguistic context is anything that has ...
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Meaning of language

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Meaning of language

  1. 1. Lecture 4 The Meaning of Language Ching-Fen Hsu 2013/11/12
  2. 2. Semantics • The study of linguistic meaning of morphemes, words, phrases, sentences • Subfield #1: Lexical semantics is concerned with meanings of words & meaning relationships among words • Subfield #2: Phrasal or sentential semantics is concerned with meanings of syntactic units larger than words • Subfield #3: Pragmatics deals with how context affects meaning in certain situations
  3. 3. The Meaning of ‘Meaning’ • Lg speakers easily understand what is said • Lg speakers produce strings of words that are meaningful • Lg is used to convey info to others (My new bike is pink), ask Qs (Who left the party early?), give commands (Stop lying), express wishes (May there be peace on Earth) • How do you know that you know a lg? (1) to differentiate meaningful word (flick) or meaningless (blick) (2) meaningful S (Jack swims) or meaningless S (Swims metaphorical every) (3) a word has two meanings (bear)
  4. 4. When You Know A Language, You Know… (4) a S has two meanings (Jack saw a man with a telescope) (5) two words have the same meaning (sofa & couch) (6) two Ss have the same meaning (Jack put off the meaning, Jack put the meaning off) (7) words or Ss have opposite meanings (alive/dead; Jack swims/Jack doesn’t swim) (8) have real-world object knowledge (the chair in the corner) or non-actual objects (the unicorn behind the bush) (9) truth conditions (True: all kings are male, False: all bachelors are married) (10) entailment knowledge (Nina bathed her dog  Nina’s dog got wet)
  5. 5. What Speakers Know about Sentence false Meaning • Ss are not always true or • Ss are true or false in given situations, ‘Jack swims’ is true for you know he can swim; ‘Jack swims’ is false for you know he never learned to swim • Tautologies (analytic): Ss are always true regardless of circumstances, their truth is guaranteed solely by meanings of parts & ways they are put together Circles are round, A person who is single is not married • Contradictions: Ss are always false, Circles are square, A bachelor is married
  6. 6. Entailment & Related Notions • One S entails another if whenever 1st S is true 2nd is also true in all conceivable circumstances, Jack swims beautifully entails Jack swims • Entailment goes only in one direction, Jack swims does not entail Jack swims beautifully • Negating Ss reverses entailment, Jack doesn’t swim entails Jack doesn’t swim beautifully • Synonymous (or paraphrases): Ss are both true or false with respect to same situation, Jack put off the meeting = Jack postponed the meeting • Two Ss are synonymous if they entail each other
  7. 7. Contradictory • Two Ss are contradictory if one is true & the other is false (contradiction: both Ss are false) • Two Ss have opposite truth values Jack is alive vs. Jack is dead • Two Ss are contradictory if one entails the negation of the other Jack is alive = ﹁ Jack is dead (Jack is not dead) Jack is dead = ﹁ Jack is alive (Jack is not alive) • Two Ss are contradictory, their conjunction with and is a contradiction, Jack is alive and Jack is dead  contradiction (they cannot be true simultaneously under any circumstances)
  8. 8. Ambiguity • The meaning of a linguistic expression is built on words it contains & on its syntactic structure • Structural ambiguity: Ss have more than one meaning, The boy saw the man with a telescope (p. 143) • Lexical ambiguity: one word in a phrase has more than one meaning, This will make you smart • Principle of compositionality: the meaning of an expression is composed of meanings of its parts & how they are combined structurally
  9. 9. Compositional Semantics • Our knowledge of grammaticality, constituent structure, relations bet Ss, limitless creativity of linguistic competence  syntactic rules in the grammar • Our knowledge of the truth, reference, entailment, ambiguity of sentences, ability to determine meaning of limitless number of expressions  semantic rules combine meanings of words into meaningful phrases & Ss in the grammar
  10. 10. Semantic Rules • Jack: a proper name refers to a precise object in the world, a referent; the individual it refers to • Swim: relies on what is happening in the world • Predicates (verbs, adjectives, common nouns): the individuals that those predicates successfully describe; the set of individuals (human beings, animals) that swim • Semantic rules are sensitive to meanings of individual words and structures in which they occur • Computing semantic rules of Jack swims (p.144)
  11. 11. Semantic Rule I & II • Rule I: a S composed of a subject NP & a predicate VP is true if the subject NP refers to an individual who is among members of the set that constitute the meaning of the VP (p.145) Jack kissed Laura (p.145) • Rule II application (p.146): the meaning of VP is the set of individuals X such that X is the first member of any pair in the meaning of V whose second member is the meaning of NP
  12. 12. Truth Condition • Semantic knowledge of entailment may be represented in grammar, Jack swims beautifully • Beautifully: an operation reduces size of sets that are the meanings of verb phrases; reduces the set of individuals who swim to smaller set of those who swim beautifully (1)Jack swims beautifully-narrower truth condition (2)Jack swims-wider truth condition (1) entails (2); Jack swims beautifully entails Jack swims • Semantic rules account for our knowledge about truth value of Ss by taking meanings of words & combining them according to syntactic structure & Ss, She can’t bear children
  13. 13. When Compositionality Goes Awry • Compositional truth-conditional semantics is powerful & useful tool for investigating semantic properties of natural lg • Compositionality breaks down when words or semantic rules have problem • Semantic anomaly: (1)one or more words in a S do not have a meaning (2)when individual words have meaning but cannot be combined together as required by syntactic structure & related semantic rules • Metaphors: meanings derived with lots of creativity & imagination • Idioms: expressions have fixed meanings (noncompositional)
  14. 14. Anomaly • Semantic feature conflict: Colorless green ideas sleep furiously, colorless [without color], green [green in color] (or anomalous S) Dark green leaves rustle furiously • Uninterpretable Ss: nonsense words combination, Lewis Carroll’s poem Jabberwocky (p.148), words do not exist in the lexicon of the lg • Semantic violations in poetry form strange but interesting images, a grief ago! • Breaking semantic rules creates desired imagery
  15. 15. Metaphor • Anomaly in nature creates salient meanings • Metaphors are ambiguous: literal meaning + metaphorical meaning (算帳/耳邊風) • Compositionality failure: Walls have ears • Listeners try literal meanings first, then infer or provide resemblance or comparison to end up as a meaningful concept • Necessities to understand metaphors: individual words, literal meaning of whole expressions, facts about the world; Time is money (time is taken as a valuable concrete object as money)
  16. 16. Cultural Component of Metaphors • Shakespeare’s metaphors to depict “Fortune” as “woman” (p.150) • Computer usage: there is a bug in my program • Common expressions nowadays may have originated as metaphors: the fall of the dollar (decline in value on the world market), bat an eyelash (to save time or not to waste time) • Metaphorical use of lg is lg creativity at its highest • The basis of metaphorical use is ordinary linguistic knowledge of words, semantic properties, combinatorial possibilities
  17. 17. Idioms (1) • Individual morphemes are not decomposable & have fixed meanings to learn • Usual semantic rules for combining meanings do not apply • Idioms are similar in structure to ordinary phrases except they tend to be frozen in form • Idioms do not undergo rules that change word order or substitution of parts idiomatic meaning: put her foot in her mouth (p.151) • Some idioms whose parts can be moved without affecting idiomatic sense, keep tabs on radicals (p.152)
  18. 18. Idioms (2) • Idioms can break rules on combining semantic properties, “eat” for something edible Eat your heart out • Idioms lead to humor (p.152) • Idioms may be used to create paradoxes, “drop the ball” in Times Square in New York • Idioms have special characteristics grammatically & semantically for entering lexicon or mental dictionary as single items with specified meanings • Speakers learn their special restrictions on their use in lgs
  19. 19. Lexical Semantics • Theories of word meanings • Lexicon: storehouse of information about words & morphemes • Meanings of words are part of linguistic knowledge • This knowledge permits us to use words to express thoughts of words • All speakers of a lg share a basic vocabulary • Agreed-upon meanings of words are not free to be changed otherwise communication is impossible
  20. 20. Reference • Dictionaries actually provide paraphrases of words rather than meanings • It’s our knowledge to figure out definitions • How words are represented in mind is mystery • Reference: the meaning of a word or expression, it is associated with the object referred to (referent) • When an NP has a referent, it is part of the meaning of the NP, Jack, the happy swimmer • Not every NP has a referent, No baby swims, superman, Harry Potter, unicorns
  21. 21. Sense • What real-world entities would function words like of, by, modal verbs (will, may)? • Harry Potter, unicorns have no referent but sense vs. proper names have referents but little meaning beyond that • Part of word meaning is mental image that it connects with books or movies • Many meaningful expressions are not associated with clear unique image, oxygen vs. nitrogen (colorless, odorless gases); dog vs. wolf/fox • Relate to properties of referents, associated information to complete associations
  22. 22. Lexical Relations • Words are semantically related to one another • Synonyms: words or expressions have same meaning in some or all contexts (p.156) • No two words have exactly the same meaning but similar as in He’s sitting on the sofa/ He’s sitting on the couch • English roots have Latin roots (French Norman occupation of England in 1066 CE) • Antonyms: words are opposite in meaning (1)Complementary pairs: alive/dead (2)Gradable pairs: big/small (no absolute scale), a small elephant vs. a large mouse
  23. 23. Marked vs. Unmarked • Unmarked member is the one used in questions of degree, how high is the mountain? vs. how low is it? vs. ten thousand feet high vs. ten thousand feet low high/low tall/short fast/slow • Relational opposites: give/receive, buy/sell, teacher/pupil, employer/employee, they display symmetry in meanings • Ways to form antonyms is adding (1) –un, likely/unlikely, (2) non–, entity/nonentity, (3) in–, tolerant/intolerant
  24. 24. More Lexical Relationship • Homonyms: words have different meanings but are pronounced the same (spell same or different) 歧意詞 bear, bare (homophone) 同音不同形 bank (homograph) 同音同形 lead, lead (heteronym) 不同音同形 • Polysemy: a word has multiple meanings that are related conceptually or historically, diamond (jewel, a baseball field) 多意詞 • Hyponyms: red/white/blue are under color, lion, tiger, leopard are under feline
  25. 25. Semantic Features • Basic set of properties of word meanings reflecting knowledge about what words mean • Decomposing word meanings into semantic features reveals relations among words • Antonyms: sharing all semantic features but one, buy/sell (change in possession), big (about size)/red (about color) • Relating to conceptual elements of word meanings, assassin (human/murder/killer of important people), over, with
  26. 26. Slips of the Tongue • Semantic features are not directly observable but inferring from linguistic evidence such as speech errors • Intended utterance vs. actual utterance (p.159) • Incorrectly substituted words are not random but sharing semantic features • Be aware of distinguishing semantic features from nonlinguistic properties, water (hydrogen & oxygen)
  27. 27. Semantic Features of Nouns • The same semantic feature may be shared by many words, [female], [human], [young], [male], [adult] (p.160) • Classifiers: grammatical morphemes indicate semantic class of nouns, Swahili, -m for human singular, mtoto (child), -wa for human plural, watoto (children); ki- for singular human artifact, kiti (chair), -vi for plural human artifact, viti (chairs) • Semantic features have syntactic & semantic effects, count nouns, mass nouns
  28. 28. Count Nouns vs. Mass Nouns • Count nouns can be enumerated & pluralized, one potato, two potatoes, many potatoes • Mass nouns cannot be enumerated or pluralized, much rice/water/milk (p.160) • The count/mass distinction captures properties that govern this knowledge that speakers have • The distinction is not grounded in human perception • Different lgs treat the same object differently, hair/furniture/spaghetti in English vs. Italian (p.161)
  29. 29. Semantic Features of Verbs • Verbs have semantic features as part of their meanings, [cause] in darken/kill/uglify, [go] in swim/crawl/throw/fly/give/buy (p.161) {darken [in liquid], crawl [close to surface]}, [become] in break, cause to become broken • Eventive Ss allow passively, progressively, imperatively, being with adverbs (p.162) • Stative Ss do not allow eventive formations • Negative polarity items require a negative element, doubt, refuse, ever, anymore, have a red cent (p.162) having negative semantic features
  30. 30. Argument Structure • Verbs differ in terms of number & type of phrases they can take as complements or adjuncts • Argument: various NPs occur with a verb, intransitives-1 argument (subject); transitives-2 arguments (subject, DO); ditransitives-3 arguments (subject, DO, IO) • Argument structure: a part of verb’s meaning & is included in lexical entry • Verbs determine argument # & limit semantic properties of subjects & objects (S-select), sleep/find select [animate] feature
  31. 31. Verb Types • Components of a verb’s meaning are relevant to argument choices (p.163) throw/toss/kick/fling a single quick motion (ditransitives + transfer DO to IO) push/pull/lift/haul a prolonged use of force (transitives) fax/radio/email/phone communication + apparatus (DO is transferred) murmur/mumble/mutter/shriek communication + voice type used • When transference is not overt, it may be inferred, John baked Mary a cake (implied transfer of the cake from John to Mary)
  32. 32. Thematic Roles • Subject/objects are semantically related in various ways to verbs • Thematic roles express relations that hold bet arguments of verbs & described situations: agent (doer), theme (undergoer), goal (endpoint of a change in location/possession), source (action origin), instrument (means to accomplish actions), experiencer (sensory receiver) • The boy threw the ball to the girl (p.163) • Professor Snape awakened Harry Potter with his wand • Particular thematic roles assigned by verbs can be traced back to components of verb’s meaning, throw/buy/fly (“go”, a change in location or possession) relating to theme/source/goal; awaken/frighten (“affects mental state”) relating to experiencer
  33. 33. Theta Assignment • Theta role assignment is connected to syntactic structure rather than random assignment, buy/sell (“go”, differ in direction of transfer) John sold the book to Mary [recipient/endpoint of transfer] (p.164) Mary bought the book from John [initiator of transfer] • Our knowledge of verbs includes syntactic categories, selected arguments, thematic roles • Thematic roles are the same in paraphrased Ss The dog bit the stick The stick was bitten by the dog (p.164)
  34. 34. Deep Structure Matters • Thematic roles must be assigned to the same dstructure position The trainer gave the dog a treat (p.164) The trainer gave a treat to the dog • NPs receive thematic roles from positions in d-structure, not s-structure • D-structures determine semantic relationships ____was bitten the stick by the dog (D) The stick was bitten _____by the dog (S) • Thematic roles remain the same in non-paraphrased Ss The boy opened the door with the key (p.165) The key opened the door The door opened
  35. 35. Pragmatics meaning • The study of extra-truth-conditional • How a speaker uses literal meaning in conversation or as a part of a discourse • Speakers invoke meaning without expressing it literally • Context can supplement less-than-explicit S meaning • Contexts or orientation of speakers help interpretation of deictic: pronouns (she, it, I), demonstratives (this, that), adverbs (here, there, now, today), prepositions (behind, before), complex expressions (those towers over there)
  36. 36. Pronouns & Deictic Words • Our use of lg is relatively inexplicit but natural in daily conversations (p.167, 1b vs. 1a) • Proper nouns & dates have contextindependent meanings & pick out same referents regardless of contexts • Here & tomorrow are context-dependent & their reference is determined in part by uttered contexts • Deictic words provide restrictions on their own referents, location referents (here/there), temporal referents (here/tomorrow), human referents (he/she)
  37. 37. Reference Resolution • Pronouns are uttered to determine referents in contexts • Linguistic context is anything that has been uttered in discourse prior to or along with pronouns • Situational context is anything non-linguistic

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