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Semantics

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Semantics

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  1. Semantics The meaning of language

  2. Semantics • So far we have considered language from a structural perspective, with relatively little concern for meaning. • But (obviously) words, phrases and sentences mean something.

  3. Questions in Semantics • Why does a certain set of words mean something and a similar set mean something very different? • When do two different sentences mean the same thing? • How can one sentence mean more than one thing? • What is meaning?

  4. Dictionary Definitions Is a word’s meaning simply its dictionary definition?

  5. Is a word’s meaning simply its dictionary definition? No! • In our society, many people feel that the dictionary definition of a word more accurately represents a word’s meaning than an individual speaker’s understanding of the word. • But descriptivists arrive at their definitions by studying the ways speakers of the language use different words.

  6. That is to say, • A word’s meaning is determined by the people who use that word, not by a dictionary. • Also, dictionary definitions are circular: • For the same reason, the meaning of a word in your mental lexicon can’t just be a string of other words: clearly there must be something more to the meanings of a language’s words.

  7. What do words mean? • This will mean the end of my career. • I mean to help if I can • Wear your uniform properly! This means you. • His losing his job means that he will have to look for a new one. • Black Label means fine whisky. • Those clouds mean rain. • She doesn’t mean what she said. • The Linguistics teacher is mean!

  8. Mental Images • What else is there? • One possibility is that a word’s meaning includes a mental image: when you hear tree, for example, an image (or smell, or whatever) of a tree comes to mind. • Note that a mental image can’t be all there is to meaning, either, as each individual’s mental image of a given thing is likely to be different.

  9. For example: • Write down the first example of each of the following things that comes to mind. • bird • vegetable • fruit

  10. If that worked… • Any analysis of a given word must take into account this tendency (which is cultural) to choose a typical or ideal example of the kind of thing. • Any word, however, can be used to represent a wide range of things, any one of which may or may not be typical. • Even though your mental image of bird may be, say, a chicken, the word is of course equally applicable to ostriches and penguins.

  11. An Example from a study of Semantics • Where would you draw the line between an arm chair and a sofa? 1 2 3 4 5

  12. Meaning and Reference • So, we need more for a word’s meaning than simply a definition and a mental image. • Language is used to talk about things in the world, and many words seem to stand for (or refer to) actual objects or relations in the world. • Denotation vs. Connotation

  13. Meaning and Reference • It seems reasonable, then, to consider the actual thing a word refers to, its referent, as one aspect of the word’s meaning. • Note that words can also refer to things that don’t exist in the real world, like Santa Claus, Harry Potter, unicorns etc.

  14. Lexical Semantics • Reference • Words always refer to a specific object in the real world. • Joe who is a funny guy is my friend. • The funny guy. • My friend. • That guy.

  15. Problems with Reference • Consider the fact that these two sentences mean the same thing: Bill Clinton is married to Hillary Clinton. The winner of the 1992 U.S. presidential election is married to Hillary Clinton. • So Bill Clinton and the winner of the 1992 U.S. presidential election both refer to the same thing.

  16. Lexical Semantics • Sense (connotation) • If reference were meaning alone there would be some problems: • Hobbits, unicorns, of, by, will, may • Two expressions that refer to same object, but different meaning • Prime minister & Abhisit • Sense but no referent

  17. Summary • Meaning is provided by a community of language speakers, not by some special authority like a dictionary or grammar book. • The meaning of a word or expression is not just a definition composed of more words in the same language, since ultimately the meaning of some words would have to be known in order to understand the definitions.

  18. Summary 3. The meaning of a word or expression is not just a mental image, since mental images seem to vary from person to person more than meaning does. 4. The meaning of a word involves more than just the actual thing the word refers to, since not all expressions have real-world referents, and substituting expressions with identical referents can change meaning.

  19. Idioms Two central features of idioms: • The meaning of the idiomatic expression cannot be deduced by examining the meanings of its parts. • The expression is fixed both grammatically and lexically. For example: Shut up= ‘stop talking’

  20. Lexical Relationships • Synonyms • Expressions that have the same meaning. • Sign in the San Diego Zoo Wild Animal Park: • Please do not annoy, torment, pester, plaque, molest, worry, harass, bother, tease the animals. • Transmit • Recuperate • Descend

  21. Lexical Relationships • Antonyms • Opposites of a word • Complementary: • Alive/dead present/absent fail/pass • Gradable pairs: • Small/big hot/cold fast/slow happy/sad

  22. Lexical Relationships • Creating antonyms by affixing: • Likely/unlikely • Able/ unable • Smoker/nonsmoker • Tolerant/intolerant • Exceptions: • Add ‘in’ to following words and explain the meaning: • Flammable valuable

  23. Lexical Relationships • Homonyms (homophones) • Different meaning but same pronunciation • To, too, two • Homonyms can create ambiguity: • I’ll meet you by the bank.

  24. Lexical Relationships • Hyponymy • scarlet, vermilion, carmine, and crimson are all hyponyms of red (their hypernym), which is, in turn, a hyponym of color. • What are these hyponyms and what is their hypernym?

  25. Semantic Properties Zeroing in on “meaning”

  26. Consider this sentence: The assassin killed Kennedy. • What can you say about what happened? What kind of people were involved? • This kind of information, for example that assassin means a human, a murderer, and a killer of important people, are examples of the semantic features of a word.

  27. Semantic properties • Relating words by looking at commonalities. • Big vs. Red • Semantic property: “about size” • Semantic property: “about color” • Buy vs. sell • Semantic property: “change in possession”

  28. Semantic properties • Quick exercise: • Determine a common semantic property among the following words: • Hen aunt widow woman girl maiden grandmother • Doctor dean professor teenager bachelor parent baby child

  29. Semantic properties • One way of representing meaning is with semantic features. This is a device we use to indicate the presence or absence of semantic properties. • For example, woman would appear as [+female, +human, -young, …] while girl would be [+young] and man would be [-female].

  30. Semantic properties • Concept of Semantic features • Man [+MALE], [+ADULT], [+HUMAN] • Boy [+MALE], [+YOUNG], [+HUMAN] • Bachelor [+MALE], [+UNMARRIED], [+HUMAN] • Woman [+FEMALE], [+ADULT], [+HUMAN] • Girl [+FEMALE], [+YOUNG], [+HUMAN]

  31. These properties are overlapping: mother ADULT PARENT woman father bachelor boy MALE

  32. Semantic Properties and Meaning • For the most part no two words have exactly the same meaning; additional semantic properties make for increasingly finer distinctions. • For example, what semantic property distinguishes between “slap” and “hit”?

  33. Semantic Features and Syntax • Incorrect “matching” of the semantic features of different elements of a sentence can result in ungrammatical (but syntactically sound) sentences: The man [-female] was pregnant [+female]. I sawed [+solid] the water [-solid]. The ideas [-living] are sleeping [+living].

  34. Pragmatics The importance of context

  35. Pragmatics… • is concerned with the interpretation of meaning in context. • 2 contexts: • Linguistic context (discourse) • Situational context (anything non-linguistic)

  36. Linguistic context • Within discourse, preceding sentence often affect the meaning of following sentences. • Reference/meaning of pronouns often depends on prior discourse. • Prior discourse often disambiguates words like bank.

  37. Lexical ambiguity • Sometimes homonyms and ambiguous structures cause confusion: • What do they mean!? • AUTOMATIC WASHING MACHINES: PLEASE REMOVE ALL YOUR CLOTHES WHEN THE LIGHT GOES OUT • Outside a secondhand shop: WE EXCHANGE ANYTHING - BICYCLES, WASHING MACHINES, ETC. WHY NOT BRING YOUR WIFE ALONG AND GET A WONDERFUL BARGAIN? • Outside a disco: SMARTS IS THE MOST EXCLUSIVE DISCO IN TOWN. EVERYONE WELCOME • Notice in a dry cleaner's window: ANYONE LEAVING THEIR GARMENTS HERE FOR MORE THAN 30 DAYS WILL BE DISPOSED OF • Spotted in a safari park: ELEPHANTS PLEASE STAY IN YOUR CAR • Notice in a field: THE FARMER ALLOWS WALKERS TO CROSS THE FIELD FOR FREE, BUT THE BULL CHARGES • Spotted in a toilet in a London office block: TOILET OUT OF ORDER. PLEASE USE FLOOR BELOW

  38. Cohesive devices Holding texts together

  39. Cohesive devices

  40. Grammatical Cohesion • Reference • Using referring expressions to refer to referents in the context. • Commonly used reference: pronouns

  41. Grammatical Cohesion • Substitution Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes made of ticky-tacky, Little boxes, little boxes, Little boxes, all the same. There’s a green one and a pink one And a blue one and a yellow one And they’re all made of ticky-tacky And they all just look the same. (Reynolds, 1963)

  42. Grammatical Cohesion • Substitution • Similar function as pronouns • Using a word to substitute for its referent • Ellipsis • Omitting words and phrases mentioned earlier • Purpose to avoid repetition • Martin loves his wife, and so do I.

  43. Lexical Cohesion • Repetition • Repeated words/phrases to exploit its stylistic effect • “Little boxes” • Synonyms • To avoid repetition another word with the same meaning is used.

  44. Quick Exercise: find the synonyms • At 75 cm across and capable of cracking open a coconut with its claws, the land-dwelling coconut crab is your beach lounger’s worst nightmare. Fortunately for the sunbather, the world’s largest terrestrial arthropod has been confined to tropical islands across the Pacific and Indian oceans only. • (adapted from Cutting, 2002)

  45. Lexical Cohesion • Superordinates • Similar to hyponomy • The great white shark can grow up to 8m long. It is one of the more dangerous predators in the sea.

  46. Situational context • …is the nonlinguistic environment in which discourse happens and includes speakers, hearers, any others present, their beliefs, physical environment, subject of conversation, time of day etc.

  47. Situational context • …is the nonlinguistic environment in which discourse happens and includes speakers, hearers, any others present, their beliefs, physical environment, subject of conversation, time of day etc.

  48. Pronouns and discourse • Pronouns can be used to replace NPs from prior discourse. • Prior linguistic context plays important role when interpreting the pronoun. It seems that the man loves the woman. Many people think he loves her. • What does her refer to? • When a pronoun is coreferential, it is bound. • Could it refer to another person?

  49. Pronouns and discourse Many people think he loves her! Many people think he loves her. • When a pronoun refers to an object not explicitly mentioned in the discourse, it is free or unbound.

  50. Pronouns • Quick exercise: State for each pronoun whether it is free, bound, or both. • Example: John finds himself in love with her. Himself= bound; her=free • John said that he loved her. • Louise said to herself in the mirror: “she’s so ugly.” • The fact that he finds her pretty pleases Maria. • It seems that she and he will never stop arguing with them.