Semantics and Meanings
GOVT HR SEC SCHOOL
Semantics and Meanings
Semantics is the study of the meaning of (words, phrase and sentence) language. We know that
language is used to express meanings which can be understood by others. But meanings exist in
our minds and we can express what is in our minds through the spoken and written forms of
language (gestures and actions). The sound pattern of the language is studied in the level of
phonology and the organization of words and sentences is studied at the level of morphology and
syntax. These are organized in such a way that we can convey meaningful message or receive or
understand message. How language organized in order to be meaningful? Semantics is that level
of linguistic analysis where meaning is analyzed.
Philosophers have puzzled over this question for 2000 years. Their thinking begins from
the question of the relationship between words and the objects which words represent. For
example we may ask: what is the meaning of the word “cow”? One answer would be that it
refers to animal, who has certain properties, that distinguish it from other animals, who are called
by other names, where do the names come from and why does the word “cow” mean only that
particular animal and none other? Some thinker say that there is no essential connection between
the word “cow” and the animal indicated by the word, but we have established this connection
This fact gives rise to the view held by later thinkers that the meaning of a word is not the
object it refers to, but the concept of the object that exists in the mind. Moreover, as de Saussure
pointed out, the relation between the word (signifier) and the concept (signified) is an arbitrary
one, i.e. the word does not resemble the concept.
L.K.Ogden and I.A.Richards made an attempt to define meaning.
1. An intrinsic property of some language
2. Other words related to that word in a dictionary
3. The thing to which the speaker of that word refers
4. The thing to which the speaker of that word should refer
5. The thing to which the speaker of that word believe himself to be referring
6. The thing to which the speaker of that word believe in being referred.
Conceptual and associative meaning:
When we investigate the meaning of words in a language, we are normally interested in
characterizing the conceptual and associative meaning and less concerned with the associative
meaning of the word. Conceptual meaning covers those basic, essential components of meaning
that are conveyed by the literal use of a word. Associative meaning different people have
Denotative meaning: The logical meaning, which indicates the essential qualities of a concept
which distinguish it from other concepts. The concept is a minimal unit of meaning which could
be called a Sememe in the way as the unit of sound is called phoneme. Just as the phoneme /b/
may be bilabial + voiced + plosive.
Social meaning: It is the meaning that a word possesses by virtue of its use in particular social
situation and circumstances. The words domicile, residence, abode, home.
Domicile is used in the official context and abode is used in poetic context, residence is in a
formal context and home is used in the normal context
Thematic meaning: It lies in the manner in which a message is organized for emphasis.
Instead of thinking of words as a “container” of meaning, we can look at the “roles” they fulfill
within the situation described by a sentence.
Lexical and grammatical meaning.
Lexical or word meaning is the meaning of individual lexical items. These are of two types: the
open class lexical items such as noun, verbs, adjectives and adverbs and the close class lexical
items preposition, conjunction and determiners.
(e.g): I saw him in the bank
(e.g): The parents of the bride and the groom were waiting
Sense and reference:
The signs refer to the concepts as well as to other concepts. A sign is symbol that indicates a
concept. This is the reference, which refers in turn to some object in the real world, called the
referent. The relationship between linguistic items and non-linguistic world of experience is a
relationship of reference.
Sentence and utterance meaning.
Sentence is the grammatical unit which contains a logical statement or
preposition, utterance is the speaking or writing of a sentence by a user, in a
I don’t like coffee.
It’s cold in here.
Entailment and presupposition.
One sentence entails another when it includes the meaning of the other sentence.
One sentence presupposes another when it implies an earlier meaning which is