Semantics LING 200 Spring 2006
Overview • Semantic competence • Lexical semantics • Some meaning relationships • Cross-linguistic variation • Reference • iconicity • protypes • sense vs. reference • “semantics” • Phrasal semantics
Semantic competence • Semantics • overlaps with morphology, syntax • an important part of linguistics • What native speakers know about: • meanings of individual morphemes • meanings of heteromorphemic words and sentences • relationships between meanings • Challenge of studying semantics • knowing what morphemes, words and sentences mean
Lexical semantics • = meanings of morphemes (and words) • Some meaning relations • Synonymy • Ambiguity • Antonymy • Hyponymy and hypernymy
Synonymy • If A is synonymous with B, • A and B mean the same thing, A can be paraphrased by B • (Fairly) synonymous lexical items • couch = sofa • get = receive • throw up = vomit • put off = postpone • cf. procrastinate (‘put off due to laziness’)
Ambiguity • Polysemy vs. homophony • Polysemous morpheme • meaning1 meaning2 • e.g. hard • “durable, solid” • “difficult” • Single lexical entry in a dictionary
Homophony • Homophones • morpheme1 morpheme2 meaning1 meaning2 • e.g. pass (‘I’m going to pass’) • ‘abstain’ • ‘succeed’ • Distinct lexical entries in a dictionary
Hyponymy and hypernymy • If B is a hyponym of A, then • the meaning of B is a special case of A • If A is a hypernym of B, then • the meaning of A is a more general instance of B B A
Hyponymy: adjectives colored (‘contains color’) red green black purple blue yellow turquoise royal blue
Fromkin, Rodman and Hyams (p. 184): ‘clarinet, guitar, horn, marimba, piano, trumpet, and violin are hyponyms because they are “musical instruments” but there isn’t a single word meaning “musical instrument” that has these words as its hyponyms.’ Still, piano is a hyponym of musical instrument; etc.
Caveats re adjectival modification • Anti-intersection adjectives phony offer offer
‘Non-intersection’ adjectives thief alleged thief alleged thief ?? ??
Caveat re compounding • “Exocentric” compounds
Cross-linguistic variation in lexical semantics 1. How many morphemes are required to express a concept? • ‘conifer branch’ • English: 2 morphemes • Witsuwit’en • 1 morpheme: [?l] ‘branch of conifer’ • cf. ‑[jischm] ‘branch of deciduous tree’
2. How general is the concept expressed by a morpheme? (How many semantic features does it take to describe the concept?) How are concepts morphologically encoded? • Witsuwit’en • [tstl’s] ‘paper, letter, book’ • [nxw]- ‘our, your (pl.)’, [nj]- ‘your (sg.)’
Cross-linguistic variation in the encoding of kinship concepts • e.g. ‘parent’s sibling’ • Other possible concepts that might also be encoded in a single morpheme: • sex: not specified, male, female • side of family: not specified, maternal, paternal • 3 x 3 = 9 possible distinct concepts (in addition to ‘parent’s sibling’)
Reference • Iconic vs. non-iconic reference • Does the form of a sign (expression) resemble what it refers to? • spoken languages, rarely • sign languages, more often
Iconic vs. non-iconic reference BANANA ENGLAND
Prototypical reference • For many common nouns, the set of possible referents are clustered around a prototype. • E.g. ‘bird’ • Prototypical exemplars of a category are more readily (quickly, reliably) processed than atypical exemplars.
Reference and prototypes • Prototypes vs. set of possible referents: • some set overlap possible: • ‘bowl’ vs. ‘cup’
Reference and prototypes • ‘a few’ vs. ‘several’ • ‘blue’ vs. ‘green’
Coreference • Grammatical encoding of reference • syntax overlaps with semantics • Pronoun form. Reflexive pronouns:
Coreference • Joyce burped. Julia asked if Joyce could excuse herself. • Julia burped. Julia asked if Joyce could excuse her. ‘herself’ must be coreferential with another NP in the same sentence ‘her’ must not be coreferential with another NP in the same sentence
Sense vs. reference --‘What does [hawláak] mean?’ --‘Let’s ask Virginia Beavert.’ vs. ‘Let’s ask someone who speaks Sahaptin.’
Sense vs. reference • Reference (‘extension’): identity of real world object • Sense (‘intension’): (compositionally determined) meaning • Same referent, unequal sense • ‘Toshiyuki Ogihara’ • has no sense (to an English speaker, other than “Japanese name”) • ‘the semanticist on the faculty in the Dept. of Linguistics, UW’ • Proper names characteristically have a referent but no sense
Sense vs. reference • Sense without reference is possible • ‘the first female president of the United States’ • ‘the B wing elevator in Padelford Hall’
“Semantics” • To non-linguist native speakers of English, if two expressions differ in “semantics”, the expressions have the same referent but differ in sense (as pointed out to me by Prof. Ogihara) • "One of my pet peeves is when people say the school district, instead of our school district. Maybe it's just semantics, but it makes the community sound powerless, and we're not." Russ Wood, president of the Mountain View- Whisman School Board (example from the internet)
Sentence (phrasal) semantics • How do the meanings of lexical items combine? • Metonyms, metaphor • Compositionality and lack thereof (idioms) • Anomaly • Entailment
Metonyms and metaphor • Metonym: ‘substitutes for the object that is meant, the name of an attribute or concept associated with that object.’ (Fromkin, Rodman and Hyams p. 184) • redcoat: ‘a British soldier in a uniform with a red coat, as during the American Revolution’ (New World Dict. of the Amer. Lg.) • soap opera: ‘a daytime radio or television serial drama of a highly melodramatic, sentimental nature: so called since many original sponsors were soap companies’ (New World Dict. of the Amer. Lg.)
redneck: ‘Exceptions [to lexical category predictability] are compounds like redneck, which is a type of person not a type of neck. Their meaning cannot be predicted by rule.’ (Fromkin, Rodman and Hyams p. 184) • [Slang] a poor, white, rural resident of the South: often, a somewhat derogatory term [from the characteristic sunburned neck acquired in the fields by farm laborers] (New World Dict. of the Amer. Lg.) • redneck a metonym; meaning not entirely predictable by rule
Metaphor • ‘an expression that ordinarily designates one concept---its literal meaning---but is used to designate another concept, thus creating an implicit comparison.’ • ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.’
Idioms/proverbs • Institutionalized metaphors • When does a metaphor become so widespread as to become an idiom? • Have two (or more) meanings • literal (compositional) meaning • figurative (noncompositional) meaning, a.k.a. ‘free translation’
Anomaly • Semantically ill-formed phrases • meanings that cannot combine with each other • anomalous expression = ‘oxymoron’ • Sign in a London department store:Bargain basement upstairs • On a church door:'This is the gate of Heaven. Enter Ye all by this door.' (This door is kept locked because of the draught. Please use side door.) • Outside a disco:Smarts is the most exclusive disco in town. Everyone welcome. • source of many of Jay Leno’s “Headlines”
Semantic well-formedness independent of syntactic well-formedness • #Colorless green ideas sleep furiously. • # = semantically ill-formed • Jabberwocky(see p. 202 of Fromkin, Rodman and Hyams)
Entailment • If X entails Y, then whenever X is true Y is also true. • X: Last night I did the dishes and straightened the living room. entails: • Y: Last night I did the dishes. • X: A contestant was fired by Donald Trump. entails: • Y: Someone was fired by Donald Trump.
Entailment • Mutual entailment = complete synonymy • ‘Put off’ is synonymous with ‘postpone’ • If • They put off the wedding until June. entails • They postponed the wedding until June. and • They postponed the wedding until June. entails • They put off the wedding until June. • Then • They postponed the wedding until June. is synonymous with • They put off the wedding until June.
Predicting entailment 1. Factive verbs: be sorry, regret, stop Factive verbs entail the truth of their complements.