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Albert Gatt LIN 1180 – Semantics Lecture7. Ambiguity and vagueness Continuation from last week.

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Presentation on theme: "Albert Gatt LIN 1180 – Semantics Lecture7. Ambiguity and vagueness Continuation from last week."— Presentation transcript:

1 Albert Gatt LIN 1180 – Semantics Lecture7

2 Ambiguity and vagueness Continuation from last week

3 Ambiguity vs. Vagueness (I) In context, a word can seem to have several distinct senses. Some may appear more related than others. In our example: run 1 = physical act of running run 2 = place where fowl are kept So run is 2-ways ambiguous (2 senses) But run 1 exhibits vagueness between a general sense of running, and the more specialised sense used in cricket.

4 Ambiguity vs. vagueness (II) Similarly: da ħ la 1 = entrance or inlet da ħ la 2 = introduction to a text 2-ways ambiguous da ħ la 1 is vague between the sense of “entrance” and that of “inlet”

5 Ambiguity vs. vagueness (IV) Ambiguity: In this case, the context will select one of the meanings/senses We often don’t even notice ambiguity, because context clarifies the intended meaning. Vagueness: Context adds information to the sense. Therefore the sense of the word itself doesn’t contain all the information. It is underspecified.

6 Tests for ambiguity and vagueness There are some tests to decide whether meaning distinctions involve ambiguity or vagueness. The do-so test of meaning identity The synonymy or sense-relations test

7 The do-so test: preliminary example I ate a sandwich and Mary The do-so construction is interpreted as identical to the preceding verb phrase Similar constructions in Maltese: Kilt bi ċċ a ħ ob ż u anka Marija Kilt bi ċċ a ħ ob ż u Marija g ħ amlet hekk ukoll. did so too did too

8 The do-so test and meaning identity Main principle: if a particular sense is selected for a word in a verb phrase, it will also be the same sense in the do-so phrase Therefore, very useful to test if two meanings are two distinct senses.

9 Do-so examples Lili g ħ o ġ bitni d-da ħ la u lil Jimmy wkoll (I liked the entrance/introduction and so did Jimmy) Suppose da ħ la here = “introduction” Is it possible that I liked the introduction and Jimmy liked the entrance? If not, then these are two distinct senses or da ħ la I made a run and so did Priscilla If “I made a run” = “I ran”, then Priscilla cannot have made a run for her chickens... So, again, these are two distinct senses of run.

10 The sense relations test Basic principle: Words exhibit synonymy or similarity of meaning to other words. Therefore, if a word is ambiguous, we can substitute it for a similar word in the same context, and see if the meaning stays roughly the same.

11 Sense relations examples Recall: run 1 = physical act of running (similar word: jog) run 2 = a closed space for animals (similar word: enclosure) Pete went for. We can’t substitute one set of words for another and still keep the same meaning. √ a run √ a jog *an enclosure

12 Lexical relations: basic concepts LIN Semantics We have established that: words in the lexicon can have multiple senses (ambiguity) they can also be vague, so that the actual meaning is underspecified and becomes clearer in context In addition: Words are not merely listed they are often related to one another

13 Homonymy, polysemy, synonymy Part 1

14 How is the lexicon structured? LIN Semantics Lexical items belong to semantic fields words that belong to the same “topic”,“subject” or “usage” lexical relations are often strongest within a semantic field different senses of a word often fall into different fields Examples: computing: gigabyte, CPU, memory, disk, monitor administration/diplomacy/politics: green, monitor, parliament, election Notice that monitor here has two senses, each falling in a different field.

15 Homonymy -- I LIN Semantics Homonyms are unrelated senses of a the same phonological or orthographic word. sometimes we use homographs for unrelated senses of a written word could be considered different words lexicographers often treat derivationally related forms as homonyms Examples: bank (river) / bank (financial) ring / wring house (N) / house (V) right / write

16 Two subtypes of homonymy LIN Semantics homphony ring / wring same phonology different orthography homography articulate (ADJ) / articulate (V) Maltese: domna (V) (stay-late.3PL) / domna (N) (religious icon) different phonology same orthography

17 Polysemy LIN Semantics One phonological word, multiple senses (ambiguity) senses are related, though distinguishable cf. da ħ la (entrance) vs. da ħ la (inlet) in traditional dictionaries, multiple senses are listed under the same head word.

18 Homonymy vs. polysemy LIN Semantics Relatedness: homonymy: senses are unrelated; polysemy: senses are related either historically or based on speaker intuition NB: Not always a clear-cut distinction. Speakers’ intuitions vary considerably. Do you consider sole (“bottom of foot”) and sole (“flat, riverbed fish”) related?

19 Synonymy LIN Semantics Different phonological words with highly related meanings: sofa / couch boy / lad ż g ħ ir (small) / ċ kejken (little) moxt (comb) / petne (comb) Very very difficult to find examples of perfect synonyms.

20 Imperfect synonymy LIN Semantics Synonyms often exhibit slight differences, espcially in connotations petne (“comb”) has Romance origins; probably used by most speakers today moxt (“comb”) has Semitic origins (cf. xuxa “hair”) Usage differs depending on dialect, context…

21 The importance of register LIN Semantics With near-synonyms, there are often register-governed conditions of use. Register = a style of language specific to a situation (e.g. formal, colloquial etc) E.g. naive vs gullible vs ingenuous gullible / naive seem critical, or even offensive ingenuous more likely in a formal context

22 Synonymy vs. Similarity LIN Semantics Native speakers often have strong intuitions about words which are “related”, though not necessarily identical, in meaning. E.g. boat/ship; car/truck; man/woman But also near-synonyms such as: snake/serpent Similarity is broader than synonymy, since even words with “opposite” or “antonymous” meanings can be judged as similar; e.g. large/small

23 When are two words similar? LIN Semantics Contextual view of meaning (Wittgenstein, 1953…): the meaning of linguistic expressions can be characterised by looking at how they are used two words are similar to the extent that they’re used in similar ways

24 Example: master/pupil LIN Semantics These words have very different meanings, but share a core set of uses. Both refer to human roles which tend to be practised in the same real world contexts (school etc). Is this reflected in the way we use the words? master of X school, pupil of X school past master, past pupil … Rather than in contextual terms, we could view similarity as simply arising from links in a network of concepts.

25 Opposites and antonymy Part 2

26 Semantic opposition LIN Semantics Traditionally, antonyms are words which are opposite in meaning. dead – alive We can find other kinds of opposition: hot – cold explode – implode writer – reader, employer – employee black – white, red – orange (?)

27 Simple vs Gradable antonyms LIN Semantics Simple antonyms: dead – alive, hit – miss truth of one implies falsity of the other ? X is dead but he’s alive. Gradable antonyms: hot – cold, big – small both may be “false”: neither tall nor short typically, many terms to express gradations: hot >> warm >> tepid >> cool >> cold often modifiable with intensifiers: very hot, somewhat cold exhibit global dependencies: If we say X is big, we mean “big for an object of type X” big elephant is much bigger than a big mouse

28 Reverses and converses LIN Semantics Reverses: explode – implode a kind of opposition where one terms “reverses” the other. often found with terms related to movement (go/come, etc) Converses: employer – employee, own – belong to describe a relation between two entities from different viewpoints “complement eachother” if X is Y’s employer, then Y is X’s employee if X owns Y, then Y belongs to X

29 Taxonomies LIN Semantics Colour redorange yellow greenblue Taxonomies are classification systems, often in the form of a tree. Sisters are elements at the same level.

30 Taxonomic sisters LIN Semantics Usually taken to be complementary or “opposed” or “incompatible” or “mutually exclusive” NB: Taxonomies are often our way of imposing a discrete categorisation on a continuum (e.g. colour).

31 Opposites and similarity LIN Semantics To many native speakers, the most highly related word to an adjective is its antonym or opposite. also typical of taxonomic sisters does this mean that opposites are synonymous? No! It just means that “similarity” under the contextual view is much broader than synonymy.

32 Hyponymy and other relations Part 3

33 Definition of hyponymy LIN Semantics  Hyponymy is a relation of inclusion.  Arrows can be interpreted as “IS-A” relations.  Unlike taxonomic sisterhood, which is horizontal, hyponymy is vertical. ANIMAL MAMMAL BIRD CANARY SPARROW

34 Elements of hyponymy LIN Semantics If Y IS-A X then: X is the superordinate or hypernym of Y Y is a subordinate or hyponym of X e.g. HUMAN is the hypernym of MAN, TOOL is the hypernym of CHAINSAW Inclusion: if Y is a hyponym of X then Y contains the meaning of X (plus something extra) e.g. MAN includes all the features of HUMAN, plus the specification of ADULT and MALE. Transitivity: if X IS-A Y and Y IS-A Z, then X IS-A Z

35 Transitivity -- illustration LIN Semantics A CANARY IS-A BIRD A BIRD IS-A ANIMAL Therefore, a CANARY IS-A ANIMAL ANIMAL BIRD SPARROW CANARY MAMMAL

36 Special cases of taxonomic relations LIN Semantics Sometimes, language exhibits special cases of relations that are: well-established and lexicalised seem to depend on an underlying taxonomy or hierarchy ADULT-YOUNG dog – puppy, duck – duckling, etc MALE-FEMALE woman – man, dog – bitch, drake – duck, etc NB: These pairs are often asymmetric. The unmarked case in the MALE- FEMALE is the MALE. We tend to use it for the name of the species.

37 Meronymy or part-whole LIN Semantics A different kind of taxonomic relationship. Arrows are interpreted as “HAS-A” ANIMAL BIRD WING LEG HAS-A IS-A HAS-A

38 Meronymy vs. Hyponymy LIN Semantics Meronymy tends to be less regular than hyponymy: NOSE is perceived as a necessary part of a FACE CELLAR may be part of HOUSE, but not necessarily Meronymy need not be transitive: If X HAS-A Y and Y HAS-A Z, it does not follow that Y HAS-A Z window HAS-A pane room HAS-A window ??room HAS-A pane Common-sense knowledge plays a very important role in acceptability of these relations.

39 Member-collection relations LIN Semantics We often lexicalise names of collections of specific things: flotta (fleet) : a collection of ships mer ħ la (flock): a collection of sheep Native speakers know there is a member-collection relation: flotta (fleet) – vapur (ship) armata (army) – suldat (soldier) mer ħ la (flock) – nag ħġ a (sheep) Can be viewed as a special, lexicalised case of meronymy.

40 Are collections singular or plural? LIN Semantics In many languages, there is the possibility of switching from: a view of a collection as a single entity vs. the “contents” of the collection as a group or set English: The band played well tonight. It drove the crowd nuts [SG] They drove the crowd nuts [PL] Maltese: L-armata rtirat (The army retreated.SG) ?L-armata rtiraw. (The army retreated.PL) Perhaps not as acceptable? Only with some nouns?

41 Portion-mass LIN Semantics Mass nouns: nouns denoting things which have no units noun is also true of portions of the substance liquid, coal, hair Languages often have lexicalised concepts denoting portions of specific substances: qatra (drop) for liquids strand of hair

42 Summary LIN Semantics This lecture gave an overview of some standard ways to classify relations between lexical items. homonymy vs. polysemy synonymy (and contextual similarity) taxonomic relations: part-whole and hyponymy


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