: Semantics is the study of meaning

20-10-2010, 09:40 PM
What is semantics

Semantics is the study of meaning. It is a wide subject within the general study of language. An understanding of semantics is essential to the study of language acquisition (how language users acquire a sense of meaning, as speakers and writers, listeners and readers) and of language change (how meanings alter over time). It is important for understanding language in social contexts, as these are likely to affect meaning, and for understanding varieties of English and effects of style. It is thus one of the most fundamental concepts in linguistics. The study of semantics includes the study of how meaning is constructed, interpreted, clarified, obscured, illustrated, simplified negotiated, contradicted and paraphrased.

20-10-2010, 10:50 PM
Some important areas of semantic theory or related subjects include these

Symbol and referent

Conceptions of meaning

Words and lexemes

Denotation, connotation, implication



****phor, simile and symbol

Semantic fields

Synonym, antonym and hyponym

Collocation, fixed expression and idiom

Semantic change and etymology


Homonymy, homophones and homographs

Lexicology and lexicography

Thesauruses, libraries and Web portals



20-10-2010, 10:51 PM
Symbol and referent

These terms may clarify the subject. A symbol is something which we use to represent another thing - it might be a picture, a letter, a spoken or written word - anything we use conventionally for the purpose. The thing that the symbol identifies is the referent. This may sometimes be an object in the physical world (the word Rover is the symbol; a real dog is the referent). But it may be something which is not at all, or not obviously, present - like freedom, unicorns or Hamlet.

21-10-2010, 08:04 AM

21-10-2010, 11:02 AM
Conceptions of meaning

Words → things: This view is found in the Cratylus of Plato (427-347 BC). Words name or refer to things. It works well for proper nouns like London, Everton FC and Ford Fiesta. It is less clear when applied to abstractions, to verbs and to adjectives - indeed wherever there is no immediately existing referent (thing) in the physical world, to correspond to the symbol (word).
Words → concepts → things: This theory was classically expressed by C.K. Ogden and I.A. Richards, in The Meaning of Meaning (1923). It states that there is no direct connection of symbol and referent, but an indirect connection in our minds. For each word there is a related concept.
The difficulty is in explaining what this concept is, and how it can exist apart from the word. In Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell imagines a society whose rulers remove disapproved thoughts by removing (from print and broadcasting) the corresponding words. However there are many real-world examples of concepts which came before the words which described or named them (hovercraft, Internet) or where the symbols have changed, but not the concepts they refer to (radio for wireless, Hoover for vacuum cleaner). This suggests that the concept is independent of particular language symbols

Stimuli → words → responses: Leonard Bloomfield outlines this theory in Language (1933). A stimulus (S) leads someone to a response (r), which is a speech act. To the hearer the speech act is also a stimulus (s), which leads to a response (R), which may be an action or understanding.
S → r.................s → R
Jill is hungry, sees an apple (S) and asks Jack to bring it her (r). This new language stimulus, Jack's hearing her (s) leads to his action (R) of bringing her the apple. Bloomfield's behaviourist model leads to obvious problems - Jack doesn't bring Jill the apple because of a quarrel years before, or he brings several apples and a glass of beer.

23-10-2010, 10:37 PM
Words and lexemes

As a lexical unit may contain more than one word, David Crystal has coined the term lexeme. This is usually a single word, but may be a phrase in which the meaning belongs to the whole rather than its parts, as in verb phrases tune in, turn on, drop out or noun phrase (a) cock up.

24-10-2010, 09:52 PM

This is the core or central meaning of a word or lexeme, as far as it can be described in a dictionary. It is therefore sometimes known as the cognitive or referential meaning. It is possible to think of lexical items that have a more or less fixed denotation (sun, denoting the nearest star, perhaps) but this is rare. Most are subject to change over time. The denotation of silly is not today what it was in the 16th century, or even the 18th, when Coleridge referred to the silly buckets on the deck. Denotation is thus related to connotation, which leads to semantic change.

27-10-2010, 02:58 PM

Theories of denotation and connotation are themselves subject to problems of definition. Connotation is connected with psychology and culture, as it means the personal or emotional associations aroused by words. When these associations are widespread and become established by common usage, a new denotation is recorded in dictionaries. A possible example of such change would be vicious. Originally derived from vice, it meant extremely wicked. In modern British usage it is commonly used to mean fierce, as in the brown rat is a vicious animal.