Presentation on theme: "The meaning of language"— Presentation transcript:
1 The meaning of language SemanticsThe meaning of language
2 SemanticsSo far we have considered language from a structural perspective, with relatively little concern for meaning.But (obviously) words, phrases and sentences mean something.
3 Questions in Semantics 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?
4 Dictionary Definitions Is a word’s meaning simply its dictionary definition?
5 Is a word’s meaning simply its dictionary definition? No! 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.
6 That is to say,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.
7 What do words mean? This will mean the end of my career. I mean to help if I canWear 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!
8 Mental Images 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.
9 For example:Write down the first example of each of the following things that comes to mind.birdvegetablefruit
10 If that worked…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.
11 An Example from a study of Semantics Where would you draw the line between an arm chair and a sofa?12345
12 Meaning and ReferenceSo, 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
13 Meaning and ReferenceIt 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.
14 Lexical Semantics Reference Joe who is a funny guy is my friend. 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.JoeThe funny guyMy friendThat guy
15 Problems with Reference 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.
16 Lexical Semantics Sense (connotation) If reference were meaning alone there would be some problems:Hobbits, unicorns, of, by, will, mayTwo expressions that refer to same object, but different meaningPrime minister & AbhisitSense but no referent
17 SummaryMeaning is provided by a community of language speakers, not by some special authority like a dictionary or grammar book.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.
18 Summary3. 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.
19 Idioms Two central features of idioms: For example: The meaning of the idiomatic expression cannot be deduced by examining the meanings of its parts.The expression is fixed both grammatically and lexically.For example:Shut up= ‘stop talking’
20 Lexical Relationships SynonymsExpressions 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.TransmitRecuperateDescend
21 Lexical Relationships AntonymsOpposites of a wordComplementary:Alive/dead present/absent fail/passGradable pairs:Small/big hot/cold fast/slow happy/sad
22 Lexical Relationships Creating antonyms by affixing:Likely/unlikelyAble/ unableSmoker/nonsmokerTolerant/intolerantExceptions:Add ‘in’ to following words and explain the meaning:Flammable valuable
23 Lexical Relationships Homonyms (homophones)Different meaning but same pronunciationTo, too, twoHomonyms can create ambiguity:I’ll meet you by the bank.
24 Lexical Relationships Hyponymyscarlet, vermilion, carmine, and crimson are all hyponyms of red (their hypernym), which is, in turn, a hyponym of color.What are these hyponyms andwhat is their hypernym?
25 Zeroing in on “meaning” Semantic PropertiesZeroing in on “meaning”
26 Consider this sentence: 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.
27 Semantic properties Relating words by looking at commonalities. Big vs. RedSemantic property: “about size”Semantic property: “about color”Buy vs. sellSemantic property: “change in possession”
28 Semantic properties Quick exercise: Determine a common semantic property among the following words:Hen aunt widow woman girl maiden grandmotherDoctor dean professor teenager bachelor parent baby child
29 Semantic propertiesOne 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].
30 Semantic properties Concept of Semantic features Man [+MALE], [+ADULT], [+HUMAN]Boy [+MALE], [+YOUNG], [+HUMAN]Bachelor [+MALE], [+UNMARRIED], [+HUMAN]Woman [+FEMALE], [+ADULT], [+HUMAN]Girl [+FEMALE], [+YOUNG], [+HUMAN]
31 These properties are overlapping: motherADULTPARENTwomanfatherbachelorboyMALE
32 Semantic Properties and Meaning 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”?
33 Semantic Features and Syntax 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].
34 The importance of context PragmaticsThe importance of context
35 Pragmatics…is concerned with the interpretation of meaning in context.2 contexts:Linguistic context (discourse)Situational context (anything non-linguistic)
36 Linguistic contextWithin 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.
37 Lexical ambiguitySometimes homonyms and ambiguous structures cause confusion:What do they mean!?AUTOMATIC WASHING MACHINES: PLEASE REMOVE ALL YOUR CLOTHES WHEN THE LIGHT GOES OUTOutside 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 WELCOMENotice in a dry cleaner's window: ANYONE LEAVING THEIR GARMENTS HERE FOR MORE THAN 30 DAYS WILL BE DISPOSED OFSpotted in a safari park: ELEPHANTS PLEASE STAY IN YOUR CARNotice in a field: THE FARMER ALLOWS WALKERS TO CROSS THE FIELD FOR FREE, BUT THE BULL CHARGESSpotted in a toilet in a London office block: TOILET OUT OF ORDER. PLEASE USE FLOOR BELOW
38 Holding texts together Cohesive devicesHolding texts together
40 Grammatical Cohesion Reference Using referring expressions to refer to referents in the context.Commonly used reference: pronouns
41 Grammatical Cohesion 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 oneAnd a blue one and a yellow oneAnd they’re all made of ticky-tackyAnd they all just look the same.(Reynolds, 1963)
42 Grammatical Cohesion Substitution Similar function as pronouns Using a word to substitute for its referentEllipsisOmitting words and phrases mentioned earlierPurpose to avoid repetitionMartin loves his wife, and so do I.
43 Lexical Cohesion Repetition Repeated words/phrases to exploit its stylistic effect“Little boxes”SynonymsTo avoid repetition another word with the same meaning is used.
44 Quick Exercise: find the synonyms 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)
45 Lexical Cohesion 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.
46 Situational context…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.
47 Situational context…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.
48 Pronouns and discourse 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?
49 Pronouns and discourse 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.
50 Pronouns Quick exercise: State for each pronoun whether it is free, bound, or both.Example: John finds himself in love with her. Himself= bound; her=freeJohn said that he loved her.Louise said to herself in the mirror: “she’s so ugly.”The fact that he finds her pretty pleases Maria.It seems that she and he will never stop arguing with them.
51 Deixis (dike-sis)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.
52 Time deixis & place deixis Following expressions are deictic:Nowthentomorrowthis timethat timeseven days ago2 years from nowLast weekNext AprilhereThereThis placeThis cityThis farmThose buildingsOver thereThese mountainsThis country
54 Deixis Quick exercise Determine any deictic expressions I saw her standing there.Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away.Copper conducts electricityThe toilet is to your right.He will graduate in the coming year.
55 More on situational context… 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 contextDo 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.
56 Presuppositions Quick exercise What are the presuppositions of following utterances.Maria regretted not having accepted Martin’s wedding proposal.Christopher swore to himself that he would pass the exam this time.To quit smoking is so easy! I’ve done it a hundred times.
57 PresuppositionFind 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.
58 ImplicaturesOften speakers infer or conclude based on not only what has been said but on what the speakers intentions are.It’s quite warm in here. (Situation: you are in the classroom.)Can you pass me a tissue? (you are in the canteen)
59 Implicatures Quick exercise: Each of the sentences has at least one implicature. What is it?StatementSituationIt’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.
60 Speech acts 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
61 I hereby declare war on you. Performative verbsIn 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.
62 Performative verbs Quick exercise: Determine which of the following sentences are performative. Use ‘hereby’I testify that she is innocent.I know that she is innocent.He bet her 1000Baht that the yellow shirt would win.I teach the class.I dismiss the class.I resign from this lousy job.I resigned from this lousy job.