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Study On Theories In Semantics English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 2396 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Semantics is the level of linguistic analysis at which meaning can be analysed . in an attempt to understand what makes words, sentences and utterances meaningful ,or what makes them meaningless .In the case of grammar ,many explanations of meaning and attempts to analyse meaning in language have been made by linguists.

The structural linguists were of the view that meaning cannot be studied as part of the scope of linguistics studies language as a hierarchial structure of system such as phonology ,morphology and syntax .The purpose of language study is to describe this hierarchial structure

Meaning can be studied as a part of linguistics since meaning is a part of language and not independent of language .There is no escape from language and it is a fundamental tool for expression of meaning . Thus, a semanticist is concerned with a description of the meaning of words ,sentences ,etc, and with manner in which the meaning of these words and sentences is used and understood .

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There is a close relation between language and logic. We cannot accept a sentence as meaningful if it is illogical and does not communicate anything. If an utterance is not logical ,it is meaningless, if it is a tautological or if it is a contradictory , it cannot be meaningful. Also, if a statement does not correspond to real world knowledge ,it can be absurd

Some explanations or theories of semantics are based on the structuralist approach , some are based on the logic , and some on the generative approach . some give an account of word meaning whereas others attempt to account for sentence meaning .

In certain approaches in semantics enable us to describe meaning in a more precise and scientific manner .The structural gives an account of word meaning . The total meaning of a word is broken up in to its basic distinct component. The meaning of each word is understood as a combination of an ultimate contrastive

elements The component analysis of this kind treats components in terms of binary opposites.

Componential analysis helps us to understand meaning relations such as synonymy and antonymy .These

Can be understood as meaning inclusion ( including of similar meanings being similarity relation)

And meaning exclusion (contrasting relations ) . two componential meanings are exclusive if one contains at least one feature contrasting with one feature of the other

While many meanings can be understood in terms of binary contrasts , there are some oppositions that involve more than two terms . Examples are in the field of description of species of animals or plants ,types of metals, colours, etc . Giving these examples, Leech (1981) calls them instances of multiple taxonomy .

There are some of the basic methods of componential analysis of meaning . They are helpful in making conceptual distinctions and contrasts for the understanding of the meaning

The truth-conditional theory in semantics attempts to explain the logical meaning of sentences, treating a sentence as a logical proposition or basic statement which can be either true or false .It holds that if we know the conditions under which a particular sentence is true , we can infer the truth of related proportions. It does not refer to the external world ,but to the logical relations existing between proportions. .

It is that many semantics today assume that the main purpose of semantics is to explain that primary , conceptual aspect of meaning called ‘conceptual’ or ‘logical’ meaning, and that in particular we havr to account for certain semantic categories and relationships which apply to sentences ;:synonymy, entailment, contradiction, semantic anomaly etc. These may be taken to be intuitively ‘given’. They can be called BASIC STATEMENTS… and it is because semantics has to explain them, by constructing theories from which they can be deduced

Synonymy- Statement X is synonymous with statement Y when if X is true, Y is also true; if X is false, Y is also false.

Entailment- Statement X entails statement Y when if X is true Y is true; if X is false, Y is false.

Inconsistent- Statement X is consistent with statement Y when if X is true, Y is false ; if Y is true, X is false

Tautology- Statement X is invariably true.

Contradiction- Statement X is invariably false.

Presupposition- Statement X presupposes statement Y when if X is true, Y is true; if negation of X is true, Y is true.

Anomaly or Absurdity- Statement X is absurd in that it presupposes a contradiction.

It is that a native speaker of language can infer the truth of propositions in that language from the truth of other propositions. The speaker knows that the conditions in which a particular sentence is true . Thus, according to truth-conditional semantics, to know the meaning of a sentence is to know the condition under which it is true. A sentence is true if all the necessary conditions of truth are satisfied. These conditions do not refer to the real world , they are conditional within the language.

The goal truth-conditional semantics is to explain meaning by explaining all the entailment relations between sentences in the language. One of the limitations of this approach is that it takes only statements in to account and does not consider other sentences-type such as questions.

Some semanticists say that even questions have a basis in conditions of truth as they can elicit either a positive proposition (yes) or a negative proposition (No) in reply Another limitation is that truth-conditional semantics is not concerned with synthetic truth , but it is concerned about analytic truth. Truth -conditional semantics thus explain meaning of sentences to a limited extent , but does so in a logical and scientific manner.

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A linguistic theory that investigates word meaning. This theory understands that the meaning of a word is fully reflected by its context. Here, the meaning of a word is constituted by its contextual relations Therefore, a distinction between degrees of participation as well as modes of participation are made. In order to accomplish this distinction any part of a sentence that bears a meaning and combines with the meanings of other constituents is labeled as a semantic constituent. Semantic constituents that can not be broken down into more elementary constituents is labeled a minimal semantic constituent

Generative theory deals with the meaning as deep structure ,where lexical items with particular features are selected to combine with others to generate a meaningful sentence. The study of meaning became the subject of renewed interest with the development of the transformational – generative model of grammar

. This model sought to relate meaning with syntax and sound through a set of transformation from deep structure to surface structure. Chomsky’s Standard Theory and the later Revised Extented Standard Theory is based on the notion that the deep structure of a sentence and the meanings of words (lexical items) used in that structure represent the total meaning of the sentence.

At the level of a deep structure , lexical items are inserted in to syntactic forms , with the application of ‘selection restrictions’ , and concepts such as subject and object are defined. Selection restrictions are rules regardind the permissible combination of lexical items in language. These rules prevent the generation of unmeaningful or anomalous sentences

There are restrictions , also placed at the level of deep structure on the choice of certain grammatical items in relation to other grammatical items . the specific properties of each lexical item along with the the knowledge of rules regarding the selection of the item are present in the internalized dictionary or lexicon of a language which every native speaker possesses.

This theory is an effort to explain properties of argument structure. The assumption behind this theory is that syntactic properties of phrases reflect the meanings of the words that head them With this theory, linguists can better deal with the fact that subtle differences in word meaning correlate with other differences in the syntactic structure that the word appears in. The way this is gone about is by looking at the internal structure of words. These small parts that make up the internal structure of words are referred to as semantic primitives

A concrete example of the latter phenomenon is semantic under specification- meanings are not complete without some elements of context. To take an example of a single word, “red”, its meaning in a phrase such as red book is similar to many other usages, and can be viewed as compositional However, the colours implied in phrases such as “red wine” (very dark), and “red hair” (coppery), or “red soil”, or “red skin” are very different. Indeed, these colours by themselves would not be called “red” by native speakers. These instances are contrastive, so “red wine” is so called only in comparison with the other kind of wine (which also is not “white” for the same reasons).

Contextual theory describes meaning in contexts of occurrence and use some theories have been developed which deal with the meanings of words and sentences not as isolated entities but as related to situations of the same occurrences and use .one such theory is the FIELD THEORY developed in Europe by Trider.

. This theory explains the vocabulary or lexicon of a language as a system of inter-related networks or semantic fields. Words which are inter- related may belong to the same semantic field.There may be overlapping between fields and it may overlap in relation also. These networks and collocations are built on sense relations in a language

There are other contextual theories deal with the context of use of words and sentence3s by the speakers of a language. A team given by Firth (1957) is ‘context of situation ‘ , in which meaning is related on the one hand to the external world or situation and on the other to levels of language such as the sounds , syntax and words.

When we try to analyse the meaning of a word or sentence , the set of features from the external world or the ‘ context of situation ‘ becomes relevant, i.e. who is the speaker , who is the hearer , what is the role is of each and the relationship of the two , what situation they are in.


In Chompsky linguistics there was no mechanism for the learning of semantic relations, and the nativistview considered all semantic notions as inborn. Thus, even novel concepts were proposed to have been dormant in some sense. This view was also thought unable to address many issues such as metaphoror associative meanings, and semantic changewhere meanings within a linguistic community change over time, andqualia or subjective experience. Another issue not addressed by the nativist model was how perceptual cues are combined in thought.

The view of semantics, as an innate finite meaning inherent in alexical unit that can be composed to generate meanings for larger chunks of discourse, is now being fiercely debated in the emerging domain of cognitive linguistics and also in the non-Fodiarian camp in philosophy of language

Computational Semantics is focused on the processing of linguis factors internal to language, such as the problem of resolving indexical or anaphore (e.g. this x, him, last week). In these situations “context” serves as the input, but the interpreted utterance also modifies the context, so it is also the output. Thus, the interpretation is necessarily dynamic and the meaning of sentences is viewed as context change potential instead of proposition

factors external to language, i.e. language is not a set of labels stuck on things, but “a toolbox, the importance of whose elements lie in the way they function rather than their attachments to thingsEach of a set of synonyms like redouter (‘to dread’), craindre (‘to fear’), avoir peur (‘to be afraid’) has its particular value only because they stand in contrast with one another. No word has a value that can be identified independently of what else is in its vicinity. and may go back to earlier Indian views on language, especially the Nyaya view of words as indicators and not carriers of meaning

tic meaning. In order to do this concrete algorithms and architectures are described. Within this framework the algorithms and architectures are also analyzed in terms of decidability, time/space complexity, data structures which they require and communication protocols.] Many companies use semantic technologies to create commercial value.

The fundamental point is that you cannot create much value from content that you do not understand. Once you understand, then you can interrogate more effectively, create explicit relationships between content around topics and issues, inform contextual advertising and product placement, and build a standard method of sharing structured data between publishers.

Grammatically is linked to appropriacy in this approach , since the meaning of the sentence is understood according to the real world context, the participants, etc. For example , ‘it is raining cats and dogs’ is grammatical , but will not be meaningful if (a) it is not actually raining and (b) the speaker is making a formal speech. The context of situation refers to the situation o0f discourse, i.e. the context in which that particular sentence is uttered.



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