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Semantics: How do words mean? "I don't know what you mean by 'glory,' "Alice said. Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't -- till I.

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Presentation on theme: "Semantics: How do words mean? "I don't know what you mean by 'glory,' "Alice said. Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't -- till I."— Presentation transcript:

1 Semantics: How do words mean? "I don't know what you mean by 'glory,' "Alice said. Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't -- till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!'" "But `glory' doesn't mean `a nice knock-down argument,'" Alice objected. "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less. "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean different things." "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master -- that's all." Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. "They've a temper, some of them -- particularly verbs, they're the proudest -- adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs -- however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That's what I say!" "Would you tell me, please," said Alice, "what that means?" "Now you talk like a reasonable child," said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. "I meant by "impenetrability' that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you meant to do next, as I suppose you don't intend to stop here all the rest of your life." "That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra." "Oh!" said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark. “Ah, you should see ‘em come round me of a Saturday night," Humpty Dumpty went on, wagging his head gravely from side to side: "for to get their wages, you know." Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass (1872)

2 Natural (onomatopoeia) as opposed to conventional boom, mush, hiccup, splash machines: beep, zoom, honk, zap unrecognized: bleat (

3 animal sounds: quack, moo, bark, woof, purr, meow, roar, baa But note dog sounds in other languages (click here for more animals!)here Afrikaans: woef Albanian: ham ham / hum hum Arabic (Algeria): haw haw Bengali: ghaue-ghaue Catalan: bup, bup Chinese (Mandarin): wang wang Croatian: vau-vau Danish: vov Dutch: woef English: bow wow, arf, woof, ruff ruff Esperanto: boj Estonian: auh Finnish: hau hau /vuh vuh French: ouah ouah German: wau wau, wuff wuff Greek: gav Hebrew: haw haw (/hav hav) Hindi: bho:-bho: Hungarian: vau-vau Icelandic: voff Indonesian: gonggong Italian: bau bau Japanese: wanwan, kyankyan Korean: mung-mung (/wang-wang) Norwegian: voff / vov-vov Polish: hau hau Portuguese (Portugal): au au au (nasal diphthong) Portuguese (Brazil): au-au Russian: gav-gav Slovene: hov-hov Spanish (Spain, Argentina): guau guau Swedish: vov vov Thai: hoang hoang (with falling tone) Turkish: hav, hav Ukrainian: haf-haf Vietnamese: wau wa

4 Words and things arbitrary relationship? (pig, table, ceiling) words refer to things, or concepts of things? harder with abstract words (popular, difficulty) word refers to a concept? meaning = use in language (children learn in context)

5 Semantic categories Roget’s Thesaurus: abstract relations, space, matter, intellect, volition, affections OED: External world (universe, earth, living world, sensation, matter, abstract properties, relative properties, supernatural) Mind (mental capacity, emotion/feeling, philosophy, aesthetics, will, refusal/denial, having/possession, language) Society (community, inhabiting/dwelling, armed hostility, authority, morality, education, religion, communication, travel, occupation, leisure)

6 Relationships between meanings synonyms: no such thing: (happy/glad, small/little) antonyms: easier (good/bad, hot/cold) gradable: hot/cold, fast/slow, handsome/ugly non-gradable: lay/clergy, dead/alive, married/single Imposing meanings on words arbitrary (coinage) Pandemonium = capital of Hell (Milton, Paradise Lost) language conditions cognition (linguistic relativity, Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis)

7 Denotation and connotation denotation: basic, specific, literal meaning of a word or phrase as opposed to its emotional meaning and associations connotation: emotional meaning of a word; its implications, suggestions, or associations, as opposed to its explicit literal meaning rose (Shakespeare sonnet / botany textbook) emotive value: poor little boy vs. poor small boy lonely travelers historical change: appeasement “literary” feel: begin (OE) vs. commence (Latin) calling (OE) vs. vocation (Latin) lady vs. woman

8 Polysemy: “The fact of having several meanings; the possession of multiple meanings, senses, or connotations.” (OED) glass (substance) > drinking glass > glass (ellipsis) some kinds of words change readily (nouns, verbs, adjectives adverbs), some less readily (prepositions, conjunctions, articles, pronouns, auxiliary verbs) example: preposition for (= in front of) 1.support:(in support of: "I will vote for you") (instead of: "they use string for shoelaces") (because of: "she was jailed for her beliefs”) 2.obstacle(in spite of, notwithstanding: "A man's a man for a' that" [Robert Burns]; “for all his faults, I love him still”) OED “for” (preposition): 30 pages, 11 main senses, 31 subsenses

9 Conservative semantics pen (Latin penna, wing, feather) - quill pen paper (Greek papyrus) - flowering plant Cyperus papyrus electric (Greek, “pertaining to amber”) atom (Greek, “indivisible”) window (Old Norse vindauga “wind-eye”)

10 Radiation model of semantic change head head of the department a dollar a head head of the page to come to a head to lose one’s head 60 head of cattle

11 Concatentation model of semantic change: cardinal < Lat. cardinalis < cardo (“hinge”) (obsolete) pertaining to a hinge cardinal virtues cardinal points of compass (archaic) hinging, of fundamental importance (connected to one of the “cardinal” churches of Rome) (obsolete) (noun) church dignitary wear scarlet hats and robes (current) one of 70 ecclesiastics in Pope’s council (obsolete) scarlet cloak worn by women (obsolete) scarlet red (current) bird with scarlet plumage

12 Radiation + concatenation cappuccio (Italian “hood”) (concatenation) Capuchin monks (radiation) capuchin monkey (radiation) cappuccino

13 Figurative use of language (esp. metaphor) metaphorical sense outlives literal sense: to thrill (originally, "to pierce" - cf. nostril "nose hole") to fret (OE fretan "to devour") to depend (Latin dependere, "to hang from") metaphorical and literal senses coexist: dull (lit. of things, also "slow-witted" or "boring") bright (lit. of things, also "quick-witted")

14 Poetic imagination daisy (day's eye) tulip (Persian "turban") easel (OE esel "ass" - bears a burden) tribulation ("threshing" – suffering has a purifying effect)

15 extension of one sense to another (good taste, clashing colors, soft voice, sweet sound, feel sorry for someone) metonymy: "the figure by which an object or idea is described by the name of some closely related object or idea” container for thing contained: hot pot instrument for result: tongue for "language" material for product: nickel for "5c piece” synecdoche: “the figure by which the name of a part is applied to the whole, or, conversely, the name of the whole is applied to a part of it" all hands on deck, wheels, Washington

16 generalization: narrow semantic range broadens quarantine (40 days -> any period of isolation) panier (breadbasket -> traveling container on horse, bicycle, etc.) journey (day's walk or ride -> any trip) generalization leads to weakening lovely (worthy to be loved -> vague expression of praise) great (very large in size -> another vague expression of praise) good, nice, fine, excellent, etc.

17 specialization: broad semantic range narrows generous = "of noble birth" -> having noble qualities -> having the quality of open-handedness shrew -> unisex -> only of women starve = "to die" -> to die of hunger (and used exaggeratedly of being hungry) older (general) sense exists alongside newer (restricted) sense (usually in proverbs or compounds): tide = time -> sea movement ("time and tide wait for no one") cattle ( agricultural property (livestock) -> cows (archaic chattel retains older meaning)

18 euphemism: substitution of a word with a neutral or pleasant connotation for one with an unpleasant connotation (sex) whore (from Latin carus "dear, beloved”), relations, intimate, sleep with, intercourse (illness): disease ("discomfort”), insane ("unhealthy”), social disease (STD), big C (cancer), pass away (die) replacement of a word with the negation of its opposite: untruthful, intemperate, unwise, impolite initials: b.m. for bowel movement, b.o. for body odor slang used euphemistically: kick the bucket, croak, buy the farm, push up daisies

19 amelioration: a change to a more favorable meaning fame (< Latin fama "report, talk") – specialization, amelioration admire (< Latin admirari ”to wonder, marvel at”) nice - once unfavorable (OF nice, from Latin nescius "ignorant”) from 13 th century, used in England with derogatory sense - 16 th specialized to mean "fastidious, difficult to please” but fastidiousness sometimes seen as evidence of good judgment - late 18 th c., extended to a general term of praise narrower sense "precise, subtle" remains (a nice distinction) usually a term of praise so general as to be meaningless

20 pejoration: a change to a less favorable meaning more common than amelioration cnafa (OE "boy") -> knave (low economic status - > bad manners, moral blame) churl (OE ceorl - not a noble, but not a slave) boor (OE gebur "dweller") villain (OF vilein "feudal serf") base (originally "of humble birth" - now, moral unworthiness implied) lewd (OE læwede "not in holy orders" -> "unlearned” -> MnE "lascivious, unchaste" - specialization and pejoration)

21 pejoration by overuse or being used insincerely or patronizingly quaint ("skilled, clever" -> (13 th c.) "cunning, scheming") - also shifted to "handsome, elegant" -> "unusual" -> (MnE: old-fashioned, a bit silly) silly (OE sælig "blessed" -> innocent -> harmless -> weakly foolish > playful, jocular specious (Latin speciosus "beautiful" -> truthful -> "giving the deceptive appearance of truth”) companion: pejoration then amelioration ("one who shares bread" -> "comrade" -> (a good or a bad thing) -> term of abuse (Shakespeare) - then lost derogratory associations

22 weakening: a decrease in the force or quality of the meaning of a word ætwitan (OE "to reproach, blame for a very serious offense") -> twit (to reproach someone mildly for a not very serious offense) (or, as noun, a silly person) gilpan (OE "to boast") -> cry of an animal (based on metaphor, reflects a dislike of boasting) -> an animal-like cry, from an animal or a human giddy (OE "possessed by a god" -> "mad, foolish -> "frivolous, flighty" -> "dizzy” procrastination causes semantic change! all the following originally meant "at once, instantly”: soon, presently, by and by, anon weakening of intensives: "she's awfully nice" literally (as opposed to metaphorically) "The rock band was literally blown right off the stage” – see Literally, A WeblogLiterally, A Weblog naughty ("worthless”); cf. naught (“nothing”)

23 strengthening: an increase in the force or quality of the meaning of a word divergence in meaning of related words, or variant forms of same word encouraged if the words are pronounced differently defy "to distrust" -> to challenge openly miser/misery - both < Latin miser ("wretched”) miser originally = "wretched person" - then specialized to one form of wretchedness (cheapness) - misery still means "wretchedness"

24 word birth and death slang: generally comes about when there is already a word or words for a concept, but appeals to people's imagination because it expresses an old idea more vividly than existing words slang words tend either to disappear or become standard: bet, fun, shabby, trip ("short journey"), blackguard, coax, simper - all originally slang but booze (14 th century) is still slang today dead words: rathe "early" ("The rathe primrose" Milton, Lycidas) but comparative (rather) remained and developed depart "to separate" - obsolete by 1661 Anglican Prayer Book - wedding ceremony:Till death us depart > Till death us do part > Till death do us part


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