Semantics - University of Florida

Semantics - University of Florida

Semantics The study of meaning in language Semantics is The study of meaning in language. It deals with the meaning of words (Lexical semantics) and how meaning of sentences (compositional semantics) is derived from words. Lexical vs. Compositional

Semantics LEXICAL man: 2-legged mammal, (relatively) hairless, male sex, dog: 4-legged mammal, hairy, canine, definitely loyal COMPOSITIONAL Dog bites man. (happens all the time;

not too interesting) Man bites dog. (newsworthy) FUNDAMENTALS

Language meaning communicates information about the world around us (language as a system of symbols) Symbols are things that stand for or refer to other things. Language with information content. Meaning is processed in the interactants minds. Meaning is a social phenomenon Meaning of words/sentences have various relationships among themselves (antonyms, synonyms, etc.) THEORIES OF MEANING

Four theories to the meaning of words: Dictionary Meanings demand (N) the need or desire that people have for particular goods or services desire (N) a strong hope or wish wish (N)

the act of wishing for something wish (V) to hope that something will happen Problems with dictionary meanings Understanding meaning of word involves understanding all the words in definition Circularity pride: the quality or state of being proud

proud: feeling or showing pride More problems with dictionary meanings: They are NOT theoretical claims about the nature of meaning, but a practical aid to people who already speak a language. They are usually paraphrases. They may be a way of learning the meaning of some words, but there is much more to word meaning than the dictionary definition. Why?

Mental image is a graphic representation in ones mind of a referent (when I say table, you "draw" a table in your mind) There is much more to meaning than a simple mental image. Why? Because of the diversity of the mental images, but

the uniformity of the word Some words, even though having meaning, have no real definite image ("honesty", or "the") Mental images are usually a prototype or standard of the referent (bird: what bird?) (This image excludes atypical examples) What is the prototype for bird? Advantages of prototype theory

Provides some insight into the way we conceive of certain ideas/objects Evidence from experimental psychology reaction time: typical member < atypical member Prototypes may help children learn the meanings of new words Disadvantages of prototype theory Culturally and socially dependent

prototypes can vary across populations Many words have no clear mental images forget, things, without Referents have to do with the fact that words usually stand for (refer to) actual objects or relations in the world.

Example: Dubya, Florida, Disney World There is much more to meaning than a referent. Why? It would exclude from language the fantasies, speculations, and fiction. (Santa Claus refers to what?) The fact that two words (or expressions) refer to the

same thing does not indicate that they mean the same thing Componential Theory The meaning of a word is specified by smaller semantic components Semantic components are primitive elements of meaning expressed as binary features (+ or -) Semantic decomposition

woman: [+ human] [+ female] [+ adult] man: [+ human] [- female] [+ adult] girl: [+ human]

[+ female] [- adult] boy: [+ human] [- female] [- adult] Advantages of componential theory Captures similarities among semantically related words

Groups meanings into natural classes (like phonology) Disadvantages of componential theory Difficult to analyze abstract concepts What are the semantic components of blue? [+ color]? [+ blueness]? Meaning of semantic components is sometimes no more explanatory than the words they are specifying

Meaning relationships Within Lexical Semantics There are many ways for words to be related: Morphologically lift ~ lifted (same stem) Syntactically call ~ take (both transitive verbs) Phonologically

knight ~ night (both [najt] Semantically Semantic relationships Semantic relationships indicate a similarity in meaning between two words. crayon and pencil But not pencil and refrigerator, for example.

Semantic relationships The semantic relationships we discuss here are: Hyponymy Synonymy Antonymy Scalar/gradable pairs

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