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Semantics and pragmatics

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1 Semantics and pragmatics
Meaning Semantics and pragmatics

2 Semantics Focuses on the literal meanings of words, phrases and sentences; concerned with how grammatical processes build complex meanings out of simpler ones

3 Pragmatics Focuses on the use of language in particular situations;
aims to explain how factors outside of language contribute to both literal meaning and nonliteral meanings which speakers communicate using language

4 Speaker’s meaning and semantic meaning
To understand semantic meaning, we have to bring together 3 main components: 1) the context in which a sentence is used, 2) the meanings of the words in the sentence, 3) the morphological and syntactic structure

5 Example (1) My dog chased a cat under the house.
Because (1) contains the pronoun my, part of its meaning depends on the fact that you uttered it Since you uttered it, my refers to you The semantic meaning depends to some extent on the context of use, the situation in which the sentence was uttered, by a particular speaker, to a particular addressee, at a particular time, etc

6 Example The semantic meaning of (1) also depends on the meanings of the individual words: dog, chased, cat, etc. – the semantic meaning depends on the lexicon Morphological and syntactic structure of sentence (1) is crucial to its meaning If the words were rearranged to A cat under the house chased my dog, it would mean sth different – the semantic meaning also depends on the grammatical structure of the sentence

7 The speaker’s meaning (1)
Suppose you know I’ve lost my cat and you say (1) to me Your speaker’s meaning would be to inform me that my cat may be hiding under the house, and to suggest that I go there to look for it To understand where this meaning comes from, we need to bring together two components: the semantic meaning and pragmatic meaning

8 The speaker’s meaning (1)
Pragmatic meaning: I have to assume that we both know my cat is missing, that you know I want to find it, and that you want to see that my cat is safely back home

9 Pragmatic and semantic meaning
Semantics Semantic meaning Speaker’s meaning Pragmatics lexicon grammar Context of use

10 Semantics vs. pragmatics
Semantics focuses on the link between the lexicon, grammar and semantic meaning Pragmatics focuses on the connection between context of use and semantic meaning

11 Semantics Studying the semantics of different languages shows us the great variety of ways in which languages can accomplish the task of talking about the world Identifying what is common to the semantics of all languages helps us to understand what is unique about language and human nature

12 Fundamental semantic concepts
The most fundamental semantic concepts describe how words, phrases, and sentences relate to each other and to the world Synonymy: Two words, phrases, or sentences are synonyms if they have the same semantic meaning (I saw more than two and fewer than five dogs = I saw three or four dogs)

13 Fundamental semantic concepts
Antonymy: Two words are antonymous if they are opposed in semantic meaning (e.g. tall – short) Hyponymy A word is a hyponym of another if its semantic meaning is more specific than the other’s (e.g. dog – animal)

14 Fundamental semantic concepts
Hyperonymy A word is a hyperonym of another if its semantic meaning is more general than the other’s (animal is a hyperonym of dog) Polysemy A word, or phrase, or sentence is polysemous if it has multiple semantic meanings (e.g. bank: river bank vs. financial institution; head; chair)

15 Fundamental semantic concepts
Entailment A sentence entails another if the truth of the first guarantees the truth of the second. (e.g. I like all animals entails I like dogs) Tautology A sentence is a tautology if it must be true (If something is a big animal, it’s an animal)

16 Fundamental semantic concepts
Contradiction A sentence is a contradiction if it cannot be true (I like dogs contradicts I hate all animals)

17 The Principle of Compositionality
Grammar (morphology and syntax) generates new words, phrases and sentences This gives us a potentially infinite number of words, phrases and sentences that can have meaning In order to explain how an infinite number of pieces of language can be meaningful, and how we, as language users, can figure out the meanings of new ones, semanticists apply the Principle of Compositionality

18 The Principle of Compositionality
The semantic meaning of any unit of language is determined by the semantic meanings of its parts along with the way they are put together

19 The Principle of Compositionality: example
Mary liked you – the meaning is determined by (a) the meanings of the individual morphemes that make it up (Mary, like, “past”, you) B) the morphological and syntactic structures of the sentence

20 The Principle of Compositionality
Does not apply only to sentences It implies that the meaning of the verb phrase liked you is determined by the meanings of its parts and the grammatical structure of the VP, and the meaning of the word liked is determined by the meanings of the two morphemes that make it up (like and –ed)

21 The Principle of Compositionality
Compositional semantics (or formal semantics) – concerned how the Principle of Compositionality applies Formal semanticists study the variety of grammatical patterns which occur in individual languages and across the languages of the world

22 Subjects, predicates, arguments
The meaning of a sentence – determined by the meanings of its parts Most sentences: subject and predicate In most English sentences, the subject is the first NP and the predicate is the VP of the sentence Under the Principle of Compositionality, the meaning of such a sentence is determined in terms of the meaning of its subject and predicate

23 Subjects, predicates, arguments
Simple NPs refer to particular things in the world (called referents) The predicate typically contains a verb, adjective, noun or prepositional phrase: ran down the street (VP) is happy (is + AP) is under the table (is + prepositional phrase) is a butterfly (is + NP)

24 Proposition The meaning of a sentence is called a proposition
Proposition -a complete thought, a statement which can be true or false The proposition is true if the predicate accurately describes the referent of the subject

25 Proposition Propositions – usually described in terms of truth conditions Often a predicate contains, in addition to a verb, preposition, or adjective, one or more arguments Arguments - elements which are needed to complete the meaning of a predicate: they bring the predicate closer to expressing a complete proposition (The ball hit Mary: the verb has two arguments: direct object and subject)

26 Logical words The principle of compositionality applies to more complex sentences made by combining simpler sentences Sentences may be modified and connected using such words as not, and, or

27 Logical words The meanings of these words – traditionally explained in terms of the truth conditions (e.g. the word not reverses the truth conditions of a sentence): the sentence a is true if, and only if, b is false, and vice versa A) The cat is under the table. B) The cat is not under the table.

28 Logical words A sentence made by joining two sentences with and is true if both component sentences are true: John ran down the street and Mary hit the ball. A sentence which is made by joining two sentences with or is true if at least one of the component sentences is true: John ran down the street or Mary hit the ball.

29 Logical words The traditional goal of logic is to explain what patterns of reasoning are valid, and the words not, and and or are especially important for this

30 Adjectives Many adjectives display the property of vagueness
A word is vague if it has a single, general meaning which becomes more specific in a particular context of use Adjectives which relate to a scale are vague when they do not mention a particular value on the scale (e.g. old); E.g. good: a good deed (morally good); a good pie (tasty); good walking shoes – appropriate for a given use)

31 Vagueness vs. polysemy It is often difficult to distinguish vagueness from polysemy Polysemous words have multiple different, but related, meanings; vagueness, in contrast, describes a single general meaning which becomes more specific in a particular context of use Since it involves more than one meaning, polysemy is a kind of ambiguity, but vagueness is not

32 Modality Modality refers to aspects of meaning which cause sentences to be about the non-actual – i.e. about alternative possibilities for how things could be John is kind to animals. John should be kind to animals.

33 Modality Modality can be expressed through a variety of grammatical categories: modal auxiliaries (should, must, can), nouns (possibility, necessity, requirement), adjectives (possible, necessary, probable)

34 Modality I must have left my keys in the car.
If I had dropped my keys on my way to the car, they would be on the steps or on the street now. It is a requirement of this university that everyone study Armenian. Since the keys aren’t on the street, it is probable that they are in the car.

35 Modality Possible worlds help explain the semantics of modals because they provide a way of talking about alternative possibilities The ability to imagine alternative ways that the world could be – alternative possible worlds – an essential part of the human capacity to use language

36 Modality Epistemic modals involve reference to facts that we know (I must have left my keys in the car) Deontic modals (Guests should leave their keys in the car); Modals which are about rules, right and wrong, obligations etc. are known as deontic modals

37 Tense and aspect Tense and aspect – semantic categories having to do with time They may lead to a sentence being about past or future, not only the present Aspect refers to features of language which describe how events unfold in time, like the English progressive: John is drawing a picture. Ben has fallen asleep.

38 Aspectual classes Statives – sentences which describe states, while non-stative sentences can be called eventive Eventives can be further classified as achievements, activities, and accomplishments

39 Semantics in the law Semantics can play a role in the interpretation of legislation Case: Raymond Moskal, who lived in Pennsylvania, would buy used automobiles, set back the milometers, send the inaccurate mileage readings to Virginia along with other required information, and receive new titles from Virginia with the incorrect mileage. He would then sell the cars for inflated prices to unsuspecting customers. He was prosecuted and convicted for violating a statute that prohibits the interstate transportation of ‘falsely made’ securities. In short, Moskal got real titles that contained false information.

40 Semantics in the law Legislation:
Whoever, with unlawful or fraudulent intent, transports in interstate or foreign commerce any falsely made, forged, altered, or counterfeited securities or tax stamps, knowing the same to have been falsely made, forged, altered, or counterfeited…Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both. (18 USC &2314 (2001)

41 Semantics in the law The US Supreme Court agreed that Moskal could be punished under this law, but Justice Scalia dissented for two reasons based on the meaning of the phrase falsely made. One reason had to do with the historical meaning of the phrase falsely made in legal documents and the other had to do with its ordinary meaning.

42 Semantics in the law Justice Scalia showed that in the 100 years up to 1939, when the statute was written, legal documents had used falsely made to mean ‘forged’ or ‘counterfeit’ Thus, it seems that the meaning of this crucial phrase had changed, at least within the world of law, between the time the law was written and the time it was applied to Moskal’

43 Semantics in the law Scalia’s other argument was that the phrase falsely made, in its ordinary meaning, includes only things that are counterfeit, not real documents that are made to contain false information Solan concluded that Scalia’s ordinary meaning argument is wrong He shows that falsely made typically means ‘made to include false information’ as in “(When falsely made, this accusation (child abuse) can be enormously destructive”

44 Semantics in the law In other words, a falsely made accusation means that the accusation contained false information, and Solan assumes by analogy that a falsely made car title would be a car title containing false information

45 Semantics in the law Do you agree with Justice Scalia or the majority?
How convincing do you find Scalia’s historical argument? Do you think that Solan is correct that falsely made means the same thing when applied to an accusation and when applied to a document? Is a falsely made car title a counterfeit car title or a car title containing false information?

46 Semantics in the law What do you think of Solan’s strategy of looking at a database of newspaper columns to determine the ordinary meaning of a controversial phrase?

47 Semantics summary Two main branches: lexical semantics and compositional semantics Lexical semantics: Meaning of words Compositional semantics focuses on the process of building up more complex meanings from simpler ones

48 Pragmatics: meaning and context
Pragmatics concerns the relationship between context of use and sentence meaning, and the relationships among sentence meaning, context of use, and speaker’s meaning

49 Deixis words and phrases that cannot be fully understood without additional contextual information Words are deictic if their semantic meaning is fixed but their denotational meaning varies depending on time and/or place. Words or phrases that require contextual information to convey any meaning – e.g., English pronouns – deictic

50 Deixis

51 Deixis: traditional categories
Person Place Time

52 Person grammatical persons involved in an utterance:
(1) those directly involved (e.g. the speaker, the addressee), (2) those not directly involved (e.g. overhearers—those who hear the utterance but who are not being directly addressed) (3) those mentioned in the utterance

53 Place Locations may be either those of the speaker and addressee or those of persons or objects being referred to. The most salient English examples are the adverbs“here” and “there” and the demonstratives “this” and “that”, e.g.: I enjoy living in this city Here is where we will place the statue She was sitting over there

54 Time Time, or temporal, deixis concerns itself with the various times involved in and referred to in an utterance. This includes time adverbs, e.g. "now", "then", "soon", etc. and also different tenses Example: tomorrow denotes the consecutive next day after every day. The "tomorrow" of a day last year was a different day from the "tomorrow" of a day next week. Time adverbs can be relative to the time when an utterance is made (Fillmore: "encoding time", or ET) or when the utterance is heard (Fillmore’s "decoding time", or DT): e.g. „It is raining now, but I hope when you read this it will be sunny”

55 Time Tenses are generally separated into absolute (deictic) and relative tenses: e.g. simple English past tense – absolute: He went the pluperfect is relative to some other deictically specified time:He had gone.

56 Deixis: other categories
Discourse Social

57 Social deixis concerns the social information that is encoded within various expressions, such as relative social status and familiarity. Two major forms of it are the so-called T–V distinctions and honorifics. T–V distinctions, named for the Latin “tu” and “vos” - the name given to the phenomenon when a language has two different second-person pronouns. The varying usage of these pronouns indicates something about formality, familiarity, and/or solidarity between the interactants, e.g. the T form might be used when speaking to a friend or social equal, whereas the V form would be used speaking to a stranger or social superior - common in European languages

58 Honorifics Honorifics are a much more complex form of social deixis than T–V distinctions, though they encode similar types of social information. They can involve words being marked with various morphemes as well as nearly entirely different lexicons being used based on the social status of the interactants. This type of social deixis is found in a variety of languages, but is especially common in South and East Asia

59 Discourse Discourse deixis, also referred to as text deixis, refers to the use of expressions within an utterance to refer to parts of the discourse that contain the utterance — including the utterance itself: e.g. This is a great story

60 Anaphora An exophoric reference refers to language outside of the text in which the reference is found. A homophoric reference is a generic phrase that obtains a specific meaning through knowledge of its context, e.g. the meaning of the phrase "the Queen" may be determined by the country in which it is spoken. An endophoric reference refers to something inside of the text in which the reference is found. - an anaphoric reference, when opposed to cataphora, refers to something within a text that has been previously identified, e.g. "Susan dropped the plate. It shattered loudly" the word "it" refers to the phrase "the plate". - a cataphoric reference refers to something within a text that has not yet been identified, e.g. in "He was very cold. David promptly put on his coat" the identity of the "he" is unknown until the individual is also referred to as "David".

61 Anaphora A. Do you see that baby girl over there? She is cute.
When a word or phrase picks up its meaning from some other piece of language nearby, the relationship between the two – anaphora A word which gets its meaning in this way – an anaphor, and the piece of language which gives the anaphor its meaning – its antecedent

62 Presupposition Presupposition - when a speaker’s choice of words shows that he is taking sth for granted E.g.: John stopped crying at noon – makes sense if it is assumed that John was crying just before noon.

63 Presupposition an implicit assumption about the world or background belief relating to an utterance whose truth is taken for granted, e.g.: Jane no longer writes fiction. Presupposition: Jane once wrote fiction. Have you stopped eating meat? Presupposition: you had once eaten meat. Have you talked to Hans? Presupposition: Hans exists.

64 Presupposition A presupposition must be mutually known or assumed by the speaker and addressee for the utterance to be considered appropriate in context.

65 Presupposition Crucially, negation of an expression does not change its presuppositions: I want to do it again and I don't want to do it again both presuppose that the subject has done it already one or more times; My wife is pregnant and My wife is not pregnant both presuppose that the subject has a wife. In this respect, presupposition is distinguished from entailment and implicature, e.g. The president was assassinated entails that The president is dead, but if the expression is negated, the entailment is not necessarily true

66 Presupposition Presuppositions – often understood in terms of the notion of common ground The common ground – a set of propositions which the participants in a conversation mutually assume The common ground - a major part of the context of use, and helps us make explicit the role of presupposition

67 Meaning and the intention to communicate
Indexicality and presupposition – aspects of pragmatics which have to do with the relationship between context of use and semantic meaning

68 Entailment Entailment is the relationship between two sentences where the truth of one (A) requires the truth of the other (B). E.g., the sentence (A) The president was assassinated. entails (B) The president is dead. If (B) is false, then (A) must necessarily be false. To show entailment, we must show that (A) being true forces (B) to be true, or, equivalently, that (B) being false forces (A) to be false.

69 Implicature Implicature -a term coined by H.P. Grice, which refers to what is suggested in an utterance, even though neither expressed nor strictly implied by the utterance. For example, the sentence "Mary had a baby and got married" strongly suggests that Mary had the baby before the wedding, but the sentence would still be strictly true if Mary had her baby after she got married.

70 The Gricean view of meaning
Semantics views meaning from the compositional perspective: the meaning of a sentence is built up from the meanings of its parts The smallest parts get their meanings from the lexicon, and then these meanings get put together according to rules which pay attention to the grammatical structure of the sentence Not all aspects of meaning can be explained by this compositional “bottom-up” approach, and a complementary “top-down” view of meaning has focused on the intentions of language users: when A says sth to B, A intends for B to be affected in a certain way

71 Implicature H.G. Grice’s theory of conversational implicature
Often, when someone says sth, she doesn’t mean exactly what the words literally mean: the speaker’s meaning differs from the (semantic) meaning “There’s a bear sneaking up behind you!” – not just a report, but also a warning This “extra” meaning which goes beyond what the words literally say – an implicature

72 Cooperative principle (Paul Grice)
describes how people interact with one another. "Make your contribution such as it is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged.„ Though phrased as a prescriptive command, the principle is intended as a description of how people normally behave in conversation. Listeners and speakers must speak cooperatively and mutually accept one another to be understood in a particular way. The cooperative principle describes how effective communication in conversation is achieved in common social situations. The cooperative principle: 4 maxims, called the Gricean Maxims, describing specific rational principles observed by people to enable effective communication. The Gricean Maxims are a way to explain the link between utterances and what is understood from them.

73 Grice’s maxims Maxim of Quality
Do not say what you believe to be false. Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence. Maxim of Quantity Make your contribution as informative as is required (for the current purposes of the exchange). Do not make your contribution more informative than is required. Maxim of Relevance Be relevant. With respect to this maxim, Grice writes, "Though the maxim itself is terse, its formulation conceals a number of problems that exercise me a good deal: questions about what different kinds and focuses of relevance there may be, how these shift in the course of a talk exchange, how to allow for the fact that subjects of conversations are legitimately changed, and so on. I find the treatment of such questions exceedingly difficult, and I hope to revert to them in later work." Maxim of Manner Avoid obscurity of expression. Avoid ambiguity. Be brief (avoid unnecessary prolixity). Be orderly.

74 Implicature Grice explained how speaker’s meaning can be determined in such cases by positing a Cooperative Principle that speakers and hearers assume when speaking to each other: Cooperative Principle: speaker’s meaning can be calculated on the basis of semantic meaning and the assumption that speakers are behaving rationally and cooperatively

75 Conversational implicature
1. The speaker deliberately flouts a conversational maxim to convey additional meaning not expressed literally, e.g. a speaker responds to the question: „How did you like the guest speaker?” with the following utterance: „Well, I’m sure he was speaking English”. If the speaker is assumed to be following the cooperative principle in spite of flouting the Maxim of Quantity, the utterance must have an additional nonliteral meaning, such as: „The content of the speech was confusing.”

76 Conversational implicature
2. The speaker’s desire to fulfil two conflicting maxims results in his flouting one maxim to invoke the other, e.g. when he responds to the question „Where is John?” by saying: He’s either in the cafeteria or in his office The Maxim of Quantity and the Maxim of Quality are in conflict: a cooperative speaker doesn’t want to be ambiguous but also doesn’t want to give false information by giving a specific answer in spite of his uncertaity. By flouting the Maxim of Quantity, he invokes the Maxim of Quality

77 Conversational implicatures
3. The speaker invokes a maxim as a basis for interpreting the utterance: Do you know where I can get some gas? There’s a gas station around the corner. The 2nd speaker invokes the Maxim of Relevance, resulting in the implicature that „the gas station is open and one can probably get gas there”

78 Culture-specific implicature
Cultural assumptions can be crucial in determining speaker’s meaning Example: if two Chinese people are looking at the dessert display in a French restaurant, and one says to the other, “That tart is not too sweet”, she intends this comment as praise of the tart. She might intend to implicate that her dinner partner should order the tart. This meaning arises, in part, from the fact that it is common knowledge among Chinese people that most of them find western desserts too sweet. Among some other groups, the same comment could be interpreted as a criticism, rather than a compliment

79 Culture-specific implicature
The cultural specificity of the speaker’s meaning is not a fact about the Chinese language The implicature could arise regardless of the language they are speaking

80 Speech acts John Austin pointed out that when people use language they are performing a kind of action These actions: speech acts Example: “I now pronounce you man and wife” in a wedding ceremony All speech acts rely on the speaker using an utterance to signal his intention to accomplish some action and the hearer inferring that action from the utterance: bets, threats, promises, congratulations, apologies, orders, threats

81 Speech acts A) I promise to visit tomorrow
B) She promised to visit tomorrow Sentences which perform actions – performatives (A); other sentences (B) – constatives A good test of whether a sentence is a performative is whether you can insert the word hereby before the verb (I hereby promise; *I hereby walk)

82 Speech acts Austin pointed out that even constatives perform actions of a sort; B performs the action of reporting The distinction between performatives and constatives may not be as important as the idea that all sentences can be used to perform actions

83 Speech acts Three levels:
Locutionary acts: grammar-internal actions like articulating a certain sound, using a certain morpheme, referring to a particular person Illocutionary acts: actions of communication like asserting a fact, asking a question, requesting an action, making a paromise, or giving a warning Perlocutionary acts: actions which go beyond communication, like annoying, frightening, or tricking someone by what you tell them

84 Speech acts: example There’s a bear sneaking up behind you!
At the locutionary level, A utters the word there and refers to the addressee with the word you, etc. At the illocutionary level, A asserts a fact and warns B. At the perlocutionary level, A frightens B and causes B to run away

85 Speech acts Illocutionary force – the type of communicative intention that the speaker has The bear example: the illocutionary force of warning The context in which the sentence is uttered – crucial in interpreting the illocutionary force of a speech act (if a loan shark to whom you owe money says “I promise to visit tomorrow”, the speech act may be a threat (disguised as a promise)

86 Pragmatics summary Pragmatics – about how the context of use contributes to meaning, both semantic meaning and speaker’s meaning Core topics: indexicality, presupposition, implicature, speech acts

87 Summary Semantic meaning – the literal meaning of a word, phrase or sentence The speaker’s meaning - what a language user intends to communicate Semantic meaning - derived in accordance with the Principle of Compositionality through the interplay of lexical meaning, grammatical structure, and the context of use

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