- Slides: 22
Chapter Nine Semantics
• Semantics: is the study of the meaning of words, phrases and sentences. • This approach is concerned with objective (or general) meaning and avoids the subjective (or individual) meaning. / i. e. , it focuses on the knowledge of the meaning of words that we all share.
Meaning • 1/ Conceptual meaning: – Covers the basic components (literal meanings) of a word/ the type of meaning that dictionaries describe. – E. g. , the basic components of ‘needle’ include ‘thin, sharp, steel instrument. ’ So, these components are part of the conceptual meaning of ‘needle’ – E. g. , ‘low-calorie’ (producing a small amount of heat or energy) • 2/ Associative meaning: – Connotations – e. g. , the word ‘needle’ might be associated with ‘pain’ or ‘illness’ or ‘blood’ or ‘drugs’ etc. – ‘low-calories’ (healthy) – Differ from one person to the next – These associations are not part of the word’s conceptual meaning. – Literary writers, like poets, and advertisers are interested in associative meaning, however, in linguistics, semantics is more concerned with analyzing conceptual meaning.
Semantic Features • E. g. , – The hamburger ate the boy – The table listens to the radio. – The horse is reading the newspaper. • Notice that the ‘oddness’ of these sentences is not derived from their syntactic structure/ they have well formed structures: NP V NP The hamburger ate the boy - So, the sentence is syntactically good but semantically odd. However, the following sentence is perfectly acceptable: - The boy ate the hamburger –
• To identify the source of the problem we have to look at the components of the conceptual meanings for both nouns: boy and hamburger because they must be different since one can be used as a subject for the verb ate while the other cannot. • Obviously, the noun of the verb ate must be capable of ‘eating’ • Thus, we can determine the feature of meaning that any noun must have in order to be used as the subject of the verb ate, this feature can be referred to as ‘an animate being’ • We can describe the feature as either (+) meaning that the feature applies to the noun, or as (-) meaning that the feature does not apply to the noun – E. g. , boy is (+ animate) while hamburger is (- animate) – Other examples of semantic features (+ human, - human) and (+female, -female) etc. – Such features can be treated as basic elements that can be used for differentiating between the meaning of words in a language.
Semantic features table horse Boy Man Girl woman animate - + + + human - - + + female - - + + adult - + - +
- Thus, we can say for example that the noun girl involves the feature (elements) [+human, +female, adult] - We can supplement the syntactic analysis with semantic features: - The ____ is reading the newspaper. N [+human] - This approach would make it easier to identify which nouns make the sentence semantically ‘odd’, e. g. , table, horse, hamburger. - Unfortunately, this approach cannot be applied to all words in the language, e. g. , advice, threat, warning.
Semantic Roles • Instead of thinking of words as ‘containers’ of meaning, we can look at the ‘roles’ they fulfill in the sentence, we call them semantic roles • Semantic roles are also called thematic roles • We recognize semantic roles of noun phrases in a sentence which describe the roles of entities (such as, people and things), unlike the verb which describes the action. – E. g. , The boy kicked the ball
• Agents and themes are the most common semantic roles: • Agent: – The entity that performs the action – E. g. , the role taken by the boy in ‘the boy kicked the ball. ’ – They are typically human, but they can also be non-human forces (the wind blew the ball away) or machines (the car ran over the ball) or creatures (the dog caught the ball) • Theme: – – – The entity that is involved in or affected by the action. E. g. , the role taken by the ball in the same example. The theme can also be an entity that is simply being described. E. g. , the ball in ‘the ball was red. ’ The theme is typically non-human but it can also be human ‘the boy kicked himself’ the boy is agent and himself is theme
• Instrument: - if an agent uses another entity in performing an action - e. g. , ‘the boy drew a picture with a crayon’ the noun phrase a crayon have the semantic role of an instrument. • experiencer: – When a noun phrase represents an entity as the person who has a feeling, a perception or a state/ if you see, or know or feel you do not really perform any action – E. g. , ‘did you hear that noise’ the experiencer is you and theme is that noise
• Location: – Where an entity is in the description of an event – ‘on the table’ ‘in the room’ • Source: – Where an entity moves from (from Chicago) • Goal: – Where it moves to (to New Orleans) – E. g. , ‘We drove from Chicago to New Orleans. ’ the source is Chicago and the goal is New Orleans.
Examples – Mary – She saw a mosquito borrowed – and she on the wall a magazine hit the bug from George with a magazine – she handed the magazine back to George – “gee thanks”, said George. • Notice that a single entity ‘George’ can appear in several different semantic roles
Lexical Relations • Words can also have ‘relationships’ with each other • We usually explain the meanings of words in terms of their relationships – E. g. , conceal is the same as hide – Shallow is the opposite of deep – Daffodil is a kind of flower • This approach is used in semantic studies and is referred to as the analysis of lexical relations, they include the following types
1/ Synonymy • Synonyms: are two or more words with very closely related meanings • They can often substitute for each other – What was his answer? / What was his reply? • Some common synonyms are called ‘pairs’ – E. g. , almost/nearly, big/large, cab/taxi, freedom/ liberty • Synonyms are not always in ‘total sameness’/ sometimes one is more appropriate than the other – Sandy had only one correct answer. (not reply) • Synonyms can also differ in terms of formal vs. informal uses – My father purchased a large automobile. (formal) – My dad bought a big car. (informal/ casual)
2/ Antonymy • Antonyms: two forms with opposite meanings – e. g. of common antonyms, the pairs: alive/dead, big/small, fast/slow, hot/cold, male/female, true/false • Divided into two types: • 1/ Gradable antonyms: – Opposites along a scale (big/small) – Can be used in comparative constructions (I’m bigger than you/ A pony is smaller than a horse) – The negative does not necessarily apply to both antonyms (My car isn’t old) doesn’t mean (My car is new) • 2/ non-gradable antonyms: – Direct opposites – Comparative constructions are not normally used/ we cannot say (John is deader than Mike)* – The negative applies to both pairs of an antonym (My grandparents aren’t alive) means that (My grandparents are dead) – Other e. g. of non-gradable antonyms: male/female, married/single, true/false
3/ Hyponymy • Hyponymy: when the meaning of one form is included in the meaning of another. • We can consider connections between hyponyms in a diagram that can show visually the hierarchal relationship between them. (see p. 118) – From the diagram, ‘horse is a hyponym of animal’ – ‘cockroach is a hyponym of insect’ • ‘animal’ and ‘insect’ are called Superordinate (= having a higher level) • Two or more words that share the same superordinate are called co -hyponyms. – E. g. , dog and horse are co-hyponyms under the superordinate animal. (give other examples from the diagram) • The relation of hyponymy captures the concept of ‘is a kind of’ – E. g. ‘the asp is a kind of snake’
4/ Prototypes • Prototype: the idea of the ‘characteristic instance’ of a category. / i. e. the clearest example or the best representative of that category – E. g. , while the words (canary, penguin, robin, duck…etc. ) are all cohyponyms of the superordinate ‘bird’ they are not all good examples of ‘bird’/ the most characteristic instance of the category is ‘robin’ – Also, ‘chair’ can be considered the prototype of furniture/ shirtclothing/ carrot-vegetable • There is a general pattern to the categorization process and it determines our interpretation of word meaning (how much a word resembles the clearest example ‘the prototype’) • However, individual experience can lead to variations and people may disagree over the categorization of some words e. g. avocado is it a vegetable or a fruit?
Homophones and homonyms • Homophones: when two or more different written forms (i. e. different spellings) have the same pronunciation – E. g. , bare/bear, meat/meat, flower/flour, right/write, to/too/two • Homonyms: when one form has too or more unrelated meanings (same spellings). The following examples are homonyms. They are not related in meaning at all/ they have separate meanings but exactly the same form: – – Bank (of a river) / bank (financial institution) Bat (flying creature) / bat (for sports) Pupil (of the eye) / pupil (student) Race (contest of speed) / race (ethnic group)
Polysemy • Polysemy: two or more words with the same form and related meanings. / i. e. , one from having multiple meanings that are all related. – E. g. , head (top of the body/ foam on top of drinks/ person on top of a company) – Foot (of person/bed/ mountain) – Run (person/ water/ colors) • If in doubt a word is an example of homonymy or polysemy best to check dictionary (if polysemy there will be a single entry with numbers for the different meanings/ if homonymy there will be two separate entries) (e. g. look up bat and head)
Word Play • The last three lexical relations can be used for comical purposes, for example the polysemy of ‘lamb’ is clear in the following: – Mary had a little lamb, some rice and vegetables. – Why are trees often mistaken for dogs? (homonymy of ‘bark’) – Why is 6 afraid of 7? (homophones ate/eight)
Metonymy • Metonymy: the type of relationship between words based on a close connection in everyday experience/ we can use one of these words to refer to the other, e. g. , – Container-content (bottle/water) – Whole-part (car/wheels) (house/ roof) – Representative-symbol (king/crown) (the president/ the white house) • It is the familiarity with metonymy that helps us understand, e. g. : – – He drank the whole bottle The White House has announced. Giving someone a hand Answering the door.
collocation • Collocation: words that tend to go with other words/ i. e. words that frequently occur together/ it is one way of organizing our knowledge of words, e. g. , – – Hammer/nail Bread/butter Salt/pepper table/chair • Corpus Linguistics: its a large collection of texts typically stored as a database in a computer. • Linguists use this database to find out how often specific words occur together and what types of collocations are most common.