Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 7


English semantics



For thousands of years philosophers have pondered the meaning of meaning, yet speakers of a language can understand what is said to them and can produce strings of words that are meaningful to other speakers. To understand language we need to know the meaning of words and of the morphemes that compose them. We also must know how the meanings of words combine into phrase and sentence meanings. Finally, we must consider context when determining meaning. The study of the linguistic meaning of morphemes, words, phrases, and sentences is called semantics. Subfields of semantics are lexical semantics, which is concerned with the meanings of words, and the meaning relationships among words; and phrasal, or sentential, semantics, which is concerned with the meaning of syntactic units larger than the word.1 Semantics is a branch linguistics devoted to the study of meaning, especially the meaning of words, phrases, sentences, and text. It is concerned with describing how the user of a language represents the meaning of a word, or linguistic forms above or below a word in his mind and how he uses this representation in constructing sentences.2 Recently, there has been more interest in lexical semantics -- that is, in the semantics of words. Lexical semantics is not so much a matter of trying to write an "ideal dictionary". (Dictionaries contain a lot of useful information, but don't really provide a theory of meaning or good representations of meanings.) Rather, lexical semantics is concerned with systematic relations in the meanings of words, and in recurring patterns among different meanings of the same word. It is no accident, for instance, that you can say Sam ate a grape and Sam ate, the former saying what Sam ate and the latter merely saying that Sam ate something. This same pattern occurs with many verbs. Semantics probably won't help you find out the meaning of a word you don't understand, though it does have a lot to say about the patterns of meaningfulness that you find in words. It certainly can't help you understand the meaning of one of Shakespeare's sonnets, since poetic meaning is so different from literal meaning. But as we learn more about semantics, we are finding out a lot about how the world's languages match forms to meanings. And in doing that, we are learning a lot about ourselves and how we think, as well as acquiring knowledge that is useful in many different fields and applications.

Victoria Fromkin, Robert Rodman, and Nina Hyams, An Introduction to Language (Los Angeles: University of Carolina, 2003), p.173

Muhammad Farkhan, An Introduction to Linguistics (Jakarta: UIN Jakarta Press, 2006), p.97



a) Word Meaning Word meaning is what a sentence (or word) means.3 The meanings available in the dictionaries have been based on the relationship between the references and denotations; and between utterances and the world outside. They are taken and adopted from the language users experiences which vary from one individual to the other individuals during all their lives. So, word meanings are derived from the convention among a societys community which happened naturally and unconsciously. Some factors that have a great influence towards the words meanings are personal experiences, grammatical structure, reference, and denotation. Mostly, in their early ages children learn the meaning of words by hearing sentences other people in their nearest environment that is a family, and latter from their community. Then they practice such utterances themselves subject to the correction of others and they learn which expression is appropriately used to convey the meanings to the others. If the persons to whom they talked understand and catch their intended meanings, they must acquire those meanings and extend their vocabulary mastery. The process goes on all their lives, and they learn new words and increase their knowledge of the words, as they hear and see them in fresh utterances and used slightly differently from the ways which they are accustomed to. The meaning of word, therefore, may be considered as the way it is used and understood as a part of different sentences. The meaning of word may be partially indicated by the grammatical structure and certain phonological features such as word form, word order, or intonation. The word teach , for example, may mean to transfer the knowledge or skills to the other; but when this verb is changed into other word form by attaching suffix er to be teacher , its meaning will be different. It means the doer of transferring the knowledge or skills to the other. This shows that the meaning of a word form may be indicated by the other word form. Not different from the word form, the word order in sentences may also indicate a part of a word meaning. Consider the following examples: 1) The teacher is reading the exercise for the students in the class room. 2) The students greet the teacher before the class begins. The meaning of the teacher in the first sentence is partly different from the teacher in the second sentence. The difference lies on that the first is as the subject of the verb is reading, and the second is as the object of the verb greet. As the subject of the verb, the teacher is having active role, while as the object the teacher is having passive one. This difference is of course indicated by the word order. Word order, therefore, can be considered as a factor that indicates the part of word meaning. Reference and denotation are clearly a part of the meaning of many words in all languages. Reference is an extra-linguistic notion, the entities or states of affairs in the external world referred to by a linguistic expression. By the use in sentences of certain words one is able to pick out from the environment particular items, features, processes, and qualities, or elicit further information about

James R. Hurford, Semantics: A Coursebook (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 3

them, make them the objects of action or speculation, and most importantly, recall them from past experience and anticipate them in the future. These are the words whose meanings may, in part, be learned by pointing. The relationship between the word and that to which it may be said to refer is not a simple one. Proper names refer to individuals as single individuals. John in John goes to school every day refers to the single person whose name is John known by the speaker. Jakarta in they have been in Jakarta refers to the city located in the western area of Java in Indonesia. The father in the father is watching TV with his children refers to the actual father known by the speaker. The other examples are the words climb, fly, swim, and walk, refer to four different types of bodily movement in space. As a part of words meaning, the denotation means the class of person, things, etc. That is generally represented by an expression. The denotation of the father in the previous sentence is the set of people who are picked out by the word father; or all people who have the property + animate, + adult, and + male. Some words may have only the reference. Most of the proper nouns have only the references; the words Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bill Gates, and Monica Lewinsky refer to single entity in the world. Some words may have only the denotation, like adjectives, adverbs, or verbs have the abstract concepts of meanings. The words read, speak, hot, big, beautifully, philosophically, and slowly do not have any references but they denote certain activities or states. Read denotes the activity of obtaining the information from the printed graphic symbols or textual content. Speak denotes the activity of producing speech sounds used to convey the meanings or messages to the other. Hot denotes the state or condition of having higher degree of heat. Big denotes the state or condition of having large number in size or shape. Beautifully denotes the manner of doing something characterized by having beauty properties. Philosophically denotes the manner of doing something characterized by having beauty properties. Slowly denotes the manner of doing something characterized by having slowness properties. Some words may have the denotation and reference including most of the common nouns. The words girl, table, and newspaper will have their denotation or reference according to the context they appear. Girl denotes to set of people who are picked out by the word girl; and refers to the actual girl being talked about by the speaker. Table denotes the set of things are picked out by the word table. Newspaper denotes the set of things are picked out by the word newspaper, and refers to the actual newspaper being talked about the speaker.4

Ibid, p. 101-104

b) About dictionaries A dictionary or wordbook is a collection of words in one or more specific languages, often listed alphabetically, with usage information, definitions, etymologies, phonetics, 54 pronunciations, and other information, or a book of words in one language with their equivalents in another, also known as a lexicon.5 A dictionary is central part of the description of any language. A dictionary is a central part of the description of any language. A good ordinary household dictionary typically gives three kinds information about word, phonological information about how the word is pronounced, grammatical information about its part of speech and inflection and semantic information about the words meaning. The aim of this dictionary is to present in alphabetical series the words which have formed the English vocabulary from the time of the earliest record down to the present day, with all the relevant fact concerning their form, sense history, pronunciation, and etymology. It embraces not only the standard language of literature and conversation, whether current at the moment or obsolete, or archaic, but also the main technical vocabulary, and a large measure dialectal usage and slang.6 A good ordinary household dictionary typically gives (at least) three kinds of information about words, phonological information about how the word is pronounced, grammatical (syntactical and morphological) information about its part of speech e.g. noun, verb) and inflection (e.g. for plural number of past tense), and semantic information about the words meaning.7 Examples: C o w / k a / , noun, 1 large female animal kept on farm to produce milk or beef D r a g o n / d r g n / , noun, 1 in stories large animal with wings and claws, able to breathe out fire E a t /i:t /, verb, 1 put food into your mouth and swallow it

c) Meaning postulates A meaning postulate is a formula expressing some aspect of the sense of predicate. It can be read as a proposition necessarily true by virtue of the meaning of the particular predicates involved. Example: x MAN1 = x HUMAN BEING A meaning postulate also need a logical connectives to express the various sense relations that occur in language. The negative connective can be used to account for relations of binary antonimy.

Webster New World Collage Dictionary, Fourth Edition, 2002 Virginia P Clark and Paul A. Eschholsz Alfred F., Language Introductory Readings (New York: University of Vermont. St. martins press 1972), p. 102
6 7

James R. Hurford, Semantic : A course book (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1983), p.177

Example: ASLEEP: +x ASLEEP -x AWAKE Contradiction is most centrally a logical term. The basis form of a logical contradiction is p & -p. Anything that is clearly an instance of this basis logical contradiction. Example: John is here, and John is not here, can be called a contradiction. Anomaly is semantic oddness that can be traced to the meaning of the predicates in the sentence concerned. Example: Christopher is killing phonemes. The Example is anomalous because the meanings of the predicates kill and phoneme cannot be combined in this way. Anomaly involves the violation of a selectional restriction. The meaning postulates have involved one place predicates. Hyponymy relations between two-place predicates can also be expressed by meaning postulates. Example: x FATHER y = x PARENT y This is paraphraseable as: if X is Ys father, then X is Ys parent. The cases of binary antonymy between two-place predicates can also be handled. The converse relationship can also be expressed in terms of meaning postulates. The important thing when formulating meaning postulates involving two-place predicates is to remember that in our notation the variable x conventionally stands in subject position and y stands in object position. In the case of three place predicates, we use to indicate the third position. Meaning Postulates also explain about semantic properties. Pay attention the word assassin includes knowing that the individual to whom that word refers is human, a murderer, and a killer of important people. These pieces of information, then, are some of the semantic properties of the word on which speakers of the language agree. The meaning of all nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverb are the content words and even some of the function words such as with and over can at least partially be specified by such properties. Female is the semantic property that help to define: tigress, doe, ewe, hen, mare, vixen, aunt, debutante, girl, maiden, widow, woman. Human is also the semantic property that help to define: doctor, bachelor, dean, parent, professor, baby, child. The meaning of baby and child have the semantic properties human and young. The semantic properties describe the linguistic meaning of a word should not be confused with other non linguistic properties, such as physical properties.8 One way of representing semantic properties is by use of semantic features. Semantic features are a formal or notational device that indicates the presence or absence of semantic properties by pluses and minuses.

Victoria Fromkin, Robert Rodman, and Nina Hyams, An Introduction to Language (Los Angeles: University of Carolina, 2003), p. 175-176

REFERENCE Carstairs-McCarthy, Andrew. Introduction to English Morphology: Words and Their EidenburghUniversity Press. 2002. Structure . Great An Britain:

Clark, P. Virginia and Paul A. Eschholsz. 1972. Language Introductory Readings New York: University of Vermont. St. Martins Press. Farkhan, Muhammad. 2006. An Introduction to Linguistics. Jakarta: UIN Jakarta. Fromkin, Victoria. 2003. An Introduction to Language: Seventh Edition . USA: Boston. Poedadji, A. 1986. Morfologi Bahasa Inggris Sederhana . Jakarta: IKIP. R. Hurford, James. 1983. Semantics: A Coursebook. USA: CambridgeUniversity Press.Webster New World Collage Dictionary, Fourth Edition. 2002