I. Definition of semantics

  • Semantics is the study of meaning. More specifically, semantics is the study of the meaning of linguistic units, words and sentences in particular.
  • remains the least known area in linguistics

II. The meaning of “meaning”

  • C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards put forward this issue in the book The Meaning of Meaning in 1923.
  • 7 types of meaning are recognized by Geoffrey Leech (1974) in his semantics.
  1. Conceptual meaning(denotative meaning)概念意义

Associative meaning联想意义:
2. Connotative meaning内涵意义
3. Social meaning社会意义
4. Affective meaning情感意义
5. Reflected meaning反映意义
6. Collocative meaning搭配意义
7. Thematic meaning主题意义

III. The referential theory

  • The theory of meaning which relates the meaning of a word to the thing it refers to, or it stands for.
  • Problems of referential theory:
  1. There is something behind the concrete thing we can see with our eyes.
  2. There are many words that do not have a reference.  E.g. dinosaur, ghost, God
  • It is argued that the relation between a word and its reference is not direct, but is mediated by concept (Odgen and Richards). → The Semantic Triangle

IV. Semantic relations

I) Three kinds of semantic relations among words

i) Synonymy: the sameness relation

  • Absolute synonymy is very rare. The so-called synonyms are all context dependent.
  • Differ in style, connotation and sometimes dialectal differences

ii) Antonymy: oppositeness relation

Øgradable antonymy 程度/等级反义: good&bad, big&small
Øcomplementary antonymy 互补反义: male&female, innocent&guilty, present&absent
Øconverse antonymy 反向反义(两者互为存在)buy&sell, teacher&student

iii) Hyponymy-a matter of class membership 上下义现象

  • Superordinate上位词, hyponym下位词, co-hyponyms同下位词
  • ØA superordinate may be a superordinate to itself.
    ØA superordinate may be missing.
    ØHyponyms may also be missing.

Polysemy refers to a word that has two or more related meanings. 一词多义

Homophony (同音异义)

  • A single form has two or more entirely distinct meanings.
  • Homophones need not have identical spellings
    e.g. write-right piece-peace flower- flour

II) Semantic relations involving sentences

  • Paraphrase, entailment, contradiction

V. Componential analysis (semantic decomposition)

  • Definition: The analysis of lexical items in terms of semantic features or semantic components
  • Boy: [+Human], [-Adult], [+Male]
  • The componential analysis may explain sense relations between words or sentences.
  • Problems

1. Polysemous words
2. Some semantic components are seen as binary taxonomies. 二元分类
3. Words whose semantic components are difficult to ascertain.


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