Presentation on theme: "The meaning of language. So far we have considered language from a structural perspective, with relatively little concern for meaning. But (obviously)"— Presentation transcript:
The meaning of language
So far we have considered language from a structural perspective, with relatively little concern for meaning. But (obviously) words, phrases and sentences mean something.
Why does a certain set of words mean something and a similar set mean something very different? When do two different sentences mean the same thing? How can one sentence mean more than one thing? What is meaning?
Is a word’s meaning simply its dictionary definition?
In our society, many people feel that the dictionary definition of a word more accurately represents a word’s meaning than an individual speaker’s understanding of the word. But descriptivists arrive at their definitions by studying the ways speakers of the language use different words.
A word’s meaning is determined by the people who use that word, not by a dictionary. Also, dictionary definitions are circular: For the same reason, the meaning of a word in your mental lexicon can’t just be a string of other words: clearly there must be something more to the meanings of a language’s words.
This will mean the end of my career. I mean to help if I can Wear your uniform properly! This means you. His losing his job means that he will have to look for a new one. Black Label means fine whisky. Those clouds mean rain. She doesn’t mean what she said. The Linguistics teacher is mean!
What else is there? One possibility is that a word’s meaning includes a mental image: when you hear tree, for example, an image (or smell, or whatever) of a tree comes to mind. Note that a mental image can’t be all there is to meaning, either, as each individual’s mental image of a given thing is likely to be different.
Write down the first example of each of the following things that comes to mind. bird vegetable fruit
Any analysis of a given word must take into account this tendency (which is cultural) to choose a typical or ideal example of the kind of thing. Any word, however, can be used to represent a wide range of things, any one of which may or may not be typical. ◦ Even though your mental image of bird may be, say, a chicken, the word is of course equally applicable to ostriches and penguins.
Where would you draw the line between an arm chair and a sofa?
So, we need more for a word’s meaning than simply a definition and a mental image. Language is used to talk about things in the world, and many words seem to stand for (or refer to) actual objects or relations in the world. Denotation vs. Connotation
It seems reasonable, then, to consider the actual thing a word refers to, its referent, as one aspect of the word’s meaning. Note that words can also refer to things that don’t exist in the real world, like Santa Claus, Harry Potter, unicorns etc.
Reference ◦ Words always refer to a specific object in the real world. Joe who is a funny guy is my friend. The funny guy. My friend. That guy. Joe The funny guy My friend That guy
Consider the fact that these two sentences mean the same thing: Bill Clinton is married to Hillary Clinton. The winner of the 1992 U.S. presidential election is married to Hillary Clinton. So Bill Clinton and the winner of the 1992 U.S. presidential election both refer to the same thing.
Sense (connotation) If reference were meaning alone there would be some problems: Hobbits, unicorns, of, by, will, may Two expressions that refer to same object, but different meaning Prime minister & Abhisit Sense but no referent
1. Meaning is provided by a community of language speakers, not by some special authority like a dictionary or grammar book. 2. The meaning of a word or expression is not just a definition composed of more words in the same language, since ultimately the meaning of some words would have to be known in order to understand the definitions.
3. The meaning of a word or expression is not just a mental image, since mental images seem to vary from person to person more than meaning does. 4. The meaning of a word involves more than just the actual thing the word refers to, since not all expressions have real-world referents, and substituting expressions with identical referents can change meaning.
Two central features of idioms: 1.The meaning of the idiomatic expression cannot be deduced by examining the meanings of its parts. 2.The expression is fixed both grammatically and lexically. For example: Shut up= ‘stop talking’
Synonyms Expressions that have the same meaning. Sign in the San Diego Zoo Wild Animal Park: Please do not annoy, torment, pester, plaque, molest, worry, harass, bother, tease the animals. Transmit Recuperate Descend
Antonyms Opposites of a word Complementary: Alive/deadpresent/absent fail/pass Gradable pairs: Small/bighot/coldfast/slowhappy/sad
Creating antonyms by affixing: Likely/unlikely Able/ unable Smoker/nonsmoker Tolerant/intolerant Exceptions: Add ‘in’ to following words and explain the meaning: Flammablevaluable
Homonyms (homophones) Different meaning but same pronunciation To, too, two Homonyms can create ambiguity: I’ll meet you by the bank.
Hyponymy ◦ scarlet, vermilion, carmine, and crimson are all hyponyms of red (their hypernym), which is, in turn, a hyponym of color. ◦ What are these hyponyms and what is their hypernym?
Zeroing in on “meaning”
The assassin killed Kennedy. What can you say about what happened? What kind of people were involved? This kind of information, for example that assassin means a human, a murderer, and a killer of important people, are examples of the semantic features of a word.
Relating words by looking at commonalities. Big vs. Red Semantic property: “about size” Semantic property: “about color” Buy vs. sell Semantic property: “change in possession”
Quick exercise: Determine a common semantic property among the following words: 1) Henauntwidowwomangirl maidengrandmother 2) Doctordeanprofessorteenager bachelorparentbabychild
One way of representing meaning is with semantic features. This is a device we use to indicate the presence or absence of semantic properties. For example, woman would appear as [+female, +human, -young, …] while girl would be [+young] and man would be [-female].
Concept of Semantic features Man [+MALE], [+ADULT], [+HUMAN] Boy[+MALE], [+YOUNG], [+HUMAN] Bachelor[+MALE], [+UNMARRIED], [+HUMAN] Woman[+FEMALE], [+ADULT], [+HUMAN] Girl[+FEMALE], [+YOUNG], [+HUMAN]
MALE ADULT PARENT father bachelor mother boy woman
For the most part no two words have exactly the same meaning; additional semantic properties make for increasingly finer distinctions. For example, what semantic property distinguishes between “slap” and “hit”?
Incorrect “matching” of the semantic features of different elements of a sentence can result in ungrammatical (but syntactically sound) sentences: The man [-female] was pregnant [+female]. I sawed [+solid] the water [-solid]. The ideas [-living] are sleeping [+living].
The importance of context
is concerned with the interpretation of meaning in context. 2 contexts: Linguistic context (discourse) Situational context (anything non-linguistic)
Within discourse, preceding sentence often affect the meaning of following sentences. Reference/meaning of pronouns often depends on prior discourse. Prior discourse often disambiguates words like bank.
Sometimes homonyms and ambiguous structures cause confusion: What do they mean!? AUTOMATIC WASHING MACHINES: PLEASE REMOVE ALL YOUR CLOTHES WHEN THE LIGHT GOES OUT Outside a secondhand shop: WE EXCHANGE ANYTHING - BICYCLES, WASHING MACHINES, ETC. WHY NOT BRING YOUR WIFE ALONG AND GET A WONDERFUL BARGAIN? Outside a disco: SMARTS IS THE MOST EXCLUSIVE DISCO IN TOWN. EVERYONE WELCOME Notice in a dry cleaner's window: ANYONE LEAVING THEIR GARMENTS HERE FOR MORE THAN 30 DAYS WILL BE DISPOSED OF Spotted in a safari park: ELEPHANTS PLEASE STAY IN YOUR CAR Notice in a field: THE FARMER ALLOWS WALKERS TO CROSS THE FIELD FOR FREE, BUT THE BULL CHARGES Spotted in a toilet in a London office block: TOILET OUT OF ORDER. PLEASE USE FLOOR BELOW
Reference Using referring expressions to refer to referents in the context. Commonly used reference: pronouns
Substitution Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes made of ticky-tacky, Little boxes, little boxes, Little boxes, all the same. There’s a green one and a pink one And a blue one and a yellow one And they’re all made of ticky-tacky And they all just look the same. (Reynolds, 1963 )
Substitution Similar function as pronouns Using a word to substitute for its referent Ellipsis Omitting words and phrases mentioned earlier Purpose to avoid repetition Martin loves his wife, and so do I.
Repetition Repeated words/phrases to exploit its stylistic effect ◦ “Little boxes” Synonyms To avoid repetition another word with the same meaning is used.
At 75 cm across and capable of cracking open a coconut with its claws, the land- dwelling coconut crab is your beach lounger’s worst nightmare. Fortunately for the sunbather, the world’s largest terrestrial arthropod has been confined to tropical islands across the Pacific and Indian oceans only. (adapted from Cutting, 2002)
Superordinates Similar to hyponomy The great white shark can grow up to 8m long. It is one of the more dangerous predators in the sea.
…is the nonlinguistic environment in which discourse happens and includes speakers, hearers, any others present, their beliefs, physical environment, subject of conversation, time of day etc.
Pronouns can be used to replace NPs from prior discourse. Prior linguistic context plays important role when interpreting the pronoun. It seems that the man loves the woman. Many people think he loves her. What does her refer to? When a pronoun is coreferential, it is bound. Could it refer to another person?
Many people think he loves her! Many people think he loves her. When a pronoun refers to an object not explicitly mentioned in the discourse, it is free or unbound.
Quick exercise: State for each pronoun whether it is free, bound, or both. 1. Example: John finds himself in love with her. Himself= bound; her=free 2. John said that he loved her. 3. Louise said to herself in the mirror: “she’s so ugly.” 4. The fact that he finds her pretty pleases Maria. 5. It seems that she and he will never stop arguing with them.
The reference of some words entirely rely on situational context of the utterance. First- and second-person pronouns (I, me, you, yours etc) are always deictic. Third-person pronouns are deictic if they are free. If they are bound, their reference is known from linguistic context.
Following expressions are deictic: Nowthentomorrow this timethat timeseven days ago 2 years from nowLast weekNext April hereThereThis place This cityThis farmThose buildings Over thereThese mountains This country
Quick exercise Determine any deictic expressions 1. I saw her standing there. 2. Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. 3. Copper conducts electricity 4. The toilet is to your right. 5. He will graduate in the coming year.
Presuppositions are implicit assumptions about the world or background belief relating to an utterance. They must be mutually known or assumed by the speaker and addressee for the utterance to be considered appropriate in context Do you want to do it again? ◦ Implies that she has done it before. David wants more beer. ◦ He drank some beer already. The lecturer told the students to stop chatting. ◦ The students were chatting.
Quick exercise What are the presuppositions of following utterances. 1. Maria regretted not having accepted Martin’s wedding proposal. 2. Christopher swore to himself that he would pass the exam this time. 3. To quit smoking is so easy! I’ve done it a hundred times.
Find the 4 presuppositions that can be inferred from this utterance: John regrets that he stopped doing linguistics before he left MUIC. John stopped doing linguistics before he left MUIC. John was doing linguistics before he left MUIC. John left MUIC. John had been at MUIC.
Often speakers infer or conclude based on not only what has been said but on what the speakers intentions are. 1. It’s quite warm in here.(Situation: you are in the classroom.) 2. Can you pass me a tissue? (you are in the canteen)
Quick exercise: Each of the sentences has at least one implicature. What is it? StatementSituation It’s getting late.You and your friends are at a night club and it’s 4 a.m. Most of the food is gone.You arrived at a cocktail party late. The restaurants are open until midnight. It’s 10p.m. and you didn’t have dinner yet. If you weren’t so fat this wouldn’t hurt so badly. Someone is standing on your toe. John or Mary made a mistake.You’re their boss and looking at some work they have done.
Performative sentences Language can be used to do things. It can be used to make promises, bets, issue warnings, offer congratulations. I warn you; I have a big brother. I bet you that ManU will win. I challenge you to a match. I fine you Baht for possession of drugs. I nominate Abbhisit for a Nobel prize. I promise I will improve. I resign! I pronounce you husband and wife
In performative sentences, the speaker is always the subject. Performative sentences are always in present tense. A test to determine if a sentence contains a performative verb is to begin the sentence with I hereby. Only performative sentences sound right when this is done: I hereby declare war on you. *I hereby know you.
Quick exercise: Determine which of the following sentences are performative. Use ‘hereby’ 1. I testify that she is innocent. 2. I know that she is innocent. 3. He bet her 1000Baht that the yellow shirt would win. 4. I teach the class. 5. I dismiss the class. 6. I resign from this lousy job. 7. I resigned from this lousy job.