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Chapter 5

Semantics ()

Key points of the chapter

Two theories about the meaning of meaning

Two meanings to distinguish
Three sense relations
The componential analysis of word meaning
The integrated theory of sentence meaning

The meaning of meaning

1. The referential theory

The theory relates the meaning of a word to
the thing or entity it refers to.
2. The semantic triangle
, Odgen and Richard proposed that the
relation between a word and entity it refers
to is not direct. Its meditated by concept.

Semantic Triangle

Refers to



Stands for


There is not a direct

link between the sound
of the word dog and
the object it refers to.
What is called the
signified is not actually
what we have been
shown but an abstract
concept formed in our

The SYMBOL refers to the linguistic elements

(word, sentence, etc.), the REFERENT refers to the
object in the world of experience, and THOUGHT
or refers to concept.
The symbol or a word signifies things by virtue
of the concept associated with the form of the
word in the minds of the speaker of the language,
and the concept looked at from this point of view is
the meaning of the word.
e.g. The dog over there looks friendly.
The word dog is directly associated with a
certain concept in our mind, i.e. what a dog is
like, but it is not directly linked to the referent (the
particular dog) in this particular case.

These three elements relate to one another

as a semiotic system.

Denotative and connotative meaning

Denotative meaning refers to the definitional,

'literal', 'obvious' or 'commonsense' meaning of
a sign. In the case of linguistic signs, the denotative
meaning is what the dictionary attempts to
Connotative meaning refers to some additional,
especially emotive or cultural meanings.
E.g.thrifty: favorable,
sting: derogatory.

Sense relations


Componential analysis---analysis of

one entity involved


Componential analysis---analysis of

if two entities are involved

Father=PARENT(x, y) & MALE (x)
x is ys parent, and x is a male.
Mother=PARENT(x, y) & ~MALE(x)
x is ys parent, and x is a female.

Componential analysis on verbs

Give=CAUSE (x, (~ HAVE(x, y))) it means

cause x dont have y
Take=CAUSE (x, (HAVE(x, y))) it means
cause x have y.
Bring=CAUSE (x, (HAVE (x, y))) it means
cause x have y.

Componential analysis--rules

The synonyms might share the semantic components or

The words with all but one similar components are antonyms.
A word which has all the semantic features of another are
hyponym of the latter.
e.g. Boy = [+HUMAN, --ADULT, +MALE]
Child = [+HUMAN, --ADULT]

In a sentence, if some contradictory semantic components

exist, the sentence is irrational.
e.g. John murdered Bill without intending to.
Murder = {INTENT (x, (CAUSE(x, (BECOME(y, (~ALIVE(y)))))))

But sometimes it is also used to achieve special effect.

e.g. I hate him but I love him.

Identification of semantic features--slips of the tongue

Intended utterance
Bridge of the nose
When my gums bled
He came too late.
Mary was young.
Thats a horse of
another color.
He has to pay her

Actual utterance (error)

bridge of the neck (body parts)
when my tongues bled
He came too early. (time)
Mary was early. (time)
Thats a horse of another
He has to pay her rent.

Difficulties with componential analysis

1) polysemous words:
man may include female members; actors also
includes actress; waiter also includes waitress.
Should we analyze man as male or female?
2) opposition relative:
girlwoman. There is a overlap between girl and
woman. Adult or not?
3) For some words, it is very difficult to ascertain
their semantic components.
e.g. conjs, but, then.

Sentence meaning

In Chomskys standard theory, meaning is

taken into consideration. That is, meaning or
the study of it should be an integrated
part of grammar. This is called the
integrated theory of linguistic Description.
The basic idea of the theory is that a
semantic theory consists of two parts, a
dictionary and a set of projection rules.

The dictionary provides the grammatical classification and

semantic information of words. The former is more concrete
than parts of speech. For example, nouns generally marked as
Nc(concrete noun) and Na(abstract noun). Verbs are marked as
Vtr (transitive verb) and Vintr(intransitive verb). The simplified
forms as Nc, Na, Vtr, and Vintr is called grammatical markers.
And the semantic information includes two categories: 1) a
more general feature of something, shown by semantic
markers; 2the features specified to the word, also named
distinguishers. For example, p176
When those words are organized into a sentence, projection
rules will play their roles.
For example, colorful ball here.

Little green frogs sleep


Colorless green ideas sleep


We can understand the sentence in this

way (according to Chao [])
green = fresh
sleep sleep on (= not decide about (sth)
until the next day )


I have got some ideas recently. So they

are green ideas. Some of them are
colorful; some are colorless.I dont want
to publish my colorless green ideas
immediately. I would rather sleep on
them, or, to put it in my favorite way, let
them sleep. Unfortunately, these
colorless green ideas contradict each
other, and fight each other furiously. So
I would like to complain to my friends
that colorless green ideas sleep