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‘EXPLAINING AND CREATING MEANINGS’ ‘The Language Detective’, Villiers Park Educational Trust, 9-13 July 2007 Aims of the session: oTo look briefly at the.

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Presentation on theme: "‘EXPLAINING AND CREATING MEANINGS’ ‘The Language Detective’, Villiers Park Educational Trust, 9-13 July 2007 Aims of the session: oTo look briefly at the."— Presentation transcript:

1 ‘EXPLAINING AND CREATING MEANINGS’ ‘The Language Detective’, Villiers Park Educational Trust, 9-13 July 2007 Aims of the session: oTo look briefly at the distinction between linguistically encoded meanings and contextually inferred meanings (i.e. the distinction between semantics and pragmatics) oTo think about how far we can account for word meanings (or morpheme meanings) in terms of dictionary-like definitions oTo discuss any other questions about language meaning you’re interested in

2 ‘knowns and unknowns’

3 Eric Cantona press conference

4 ‘knowns and unknowns’ ‘Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don’t know’ (Donald Rumsfeld, US Defence Secretary, February 2002) ‘seagulls and trawlers’ ‘When seagulls follow a trawler, it is because they think that sardines will be thrown over the side into the sea’ (Eric Cantona, January 1995)

5 SEMANTICS-PRAGMATICS ACTIVITY See if you can give a rough characterisation of what is linguistically encoded by Donald Rumsfeld’s and Eric Cantona’s utterances. What do you think is their intended meaning and how do their audiences work out that that’s what they mean?

6 SEMANTICS AND PRAGMATICS As we said, before linguistic semantics is concerned with linguistically encoded meanings while pragmatics is concerned with meanings we work out in specific contexts. We’ve just seen that the processes of working out meanings can be very complicated. To get the full picture you need to think systematically about all of the things involved in working out meanings based on what’s linguistically encoded.

7 LINGUISTIC SEMANTICS So what’s linguistically encoded? Usually, this is divided into lexical meanings (word meanings)** and syntactic meanings. So we need to know the meanings of each word in an utterance such as: ‘We’re horses and you’re the mummy horse’ and also know what this syntactic structure tells us about the meaning. **Of course, we should really say ‘morpheme meanings’.

8 INTONATIONAL MEANINGS What about intonation? It’s not easy to decide how to treat intonational meanings (the meanings of pitch movements). To make sure we all know what I mean by pitch movements, I’m going to say this utterance with a particular pitch movement now and ask you what kind of utterance you think it is (e.g. a statement, a question, an order, something else?): ‘I went to Graeme’s party yesterday’

9 INTONATIONAL MEANING A:They’ve announced the new author of the James Bond books. B:There’s books? Compare the previous example with the second utterance in this exchange:

10 INTONATIONAL MEANINGS Some people think intonational meanings are fully linguistically encoded (similar to words like happily). Others think they work more like non-verbal communication (similar to nonverbal behaviour such as speaking in a sad, wistful voice). Others (including me) suggest that intonation can have both kinds of meaning.

11 WORD MEANINGS How can we explain the meanings of words? How, for example, would you explain the meaning of the word orange?

12 WORD/MORPHEME MEANINGS A natural initial assumption is that we can account for word meanings by defining them. Do you know of any problems with this approach? To help you think about it, propose a definition of the following words and then look up their meanings, and the meaning of orange, in more than one dictionary: bachelorelmyewbeech happypaintalthoughhe How satisfactory do you think these definitions are? Do they accurately reflect what we know about their meanings?

13 PROBLEMS WITH DEFINITIONS When people think of word meanings, they usually think in terms of dictionary definitions, but there are several problems with assuming that we can account for word meanings in this kind of way, including: oCircularity (defining words in terms of words) oVariation from speaker to speaker oSome words (e.g. although) don’t seem to fit this kind of approach

14 WORDS AND CONCEPTS One way out of the circularity problem is to say that words name concepts (or that ‘word meanings ARE concepts’). It’s not circular to say that bachelor names the concept {BACHELOR} as long as we then go on to explain what the concept {BACHELOR} is/means. So what’s the concept {BACHELOR}? One approach suggests that we should explain this by analysing the concept into other concepts from which it is ‘composed’, e.g.: {ADULT}{MALE} {HUMAN}{NEVER MARRIED}

15 WORDS AND CONCEPTS Can you see any problems with our new approach? Clues: oAsk yourself what are the meanings of each of the smaller concepts used in the definition oHow would you break down the meaning of {ALTHOUGH} OR {HE} into other concepts?

16 KINDS OF WORD MEANING There are different kinds of word meaning. Words like although and he do not have the same kind of meaning as words like bachelor or elm. See if you can separate these words into groups with similar kinds of meanings and say something about the kinds of meanings they have (if they’re ambiguous, treat the different senses as being associated with more than one word): bacheloralthoughhechase followpainfulbuttomorrow democracyherefreeeven

17 KINDS OF WORD MEANING o‘concept’ words which we can treat as naming concepts, e.g bachelor o‘pointing’ words (technically known as deixis/deictic expressions) which acquire a meaning (or a ‘referent’) when uttered in a specific context, e.g. here o‘contextually determinable’ words, whose meanings can be (but aren’t always) fixed in a particular context, e.g. painful o‘definitionally vague’ words for which the meaning never becomes determinate, e.g. democracy We can distinguish at least four types of word meaning:

18 KINDS OF WORD MEANING So what does this picture suggest for how we understand the meanings of utterances? What, for example, would be the linguistically encoded meaning of this utterance? ‘The dentist pressed against my tooth and asked if it was painful’ And how would you work out what it meant in a particular context?

19 INFERRING MEANINGS To finish, consider what’s linguistically encoded by these utterances and how hearers work out what they mean: ‘This is the best essay I’ve ever read’ ‘This is the worst essay I’ve ever read’ ‘It’s not the best essay I’ve ever read’ ‘The party was a disaster. 100 people turned up’ ‘Phew. I thought I was bald but I’ve just found I’ve still got one hair left.’ ‘Is Graeme here now?’


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