Unit 5 The Meaning of English ----Semantics ()
Unit 6 Unit 7
5.1 What is semantics?
Semantics Is generally considered to be the study of meaning in language
What is meaning?
5.2. Some views concerning the study of meaning
5.2.1 The naming theory ()
? One of the oldest views
? Proposed by the ancient Greek scholar : Plato.
? Words are names or labels for things.
Weak points of Naming Theories
1) This theory seems to apply only to nouns.
2) even with nouns, there will be problems, because many nouns such as unicorn, fairy, ghost,
heaven relate to creatures or things that do not exist.
5.2.2. The Conceptualist view
This theory holds that words and things are related through the mediation of concepts of the
This can be best illustrated by the Semantic Triangle advanced by Ogden and Richards.
Thought / Reference
Linguistic elements The object, etc, in the
such as words or sentences world of experience
According to this theory, there is no direct link between symbol and referent (between language
and the world). The link is via thought or reference, the concepts of our minds.
This theory raises a new problem. For example, what is precisely the link between the
symbol and concept?
Some scholars have suggested that the link is simply a psychological one---when we think of
a name, we think . The problem is that people don’t actually try to see the image of something in
their mind’s eye every time they utter a word of a concept.
During the period roughly from 1930 to 1960, linguists gave pre-eminence to the empirical
or observational aspect in the study of meaning.
This theory holds that meaning should be studied in terms of situation, use,
context---elements closely linked with language behavior.
Firth, the leading British linguist of the period held the view that “ We shall know a word by
the company it keeps.”
e.g. a piece of paper
a daily paper
an examination paper
a white paper
a term paper
? One can derive meaning from or deduce to observable contexts.
? Two kinds of contexts are recognized:
? the situational context and linguistic context
? Every utterance occurs in a particular spatiotemporal situation, the main components of
which include, apart from the place and time of the utterance,
? the speaker and the hearer, the actions they are performing at the time, the various objects
and events existent in the situation.
? The linguistic context, sometimes known as co-text, is concerned with the probability of a
word’s co-occurrence or collocation with another word
? E.g. 1. The seal could not be found. The zoo keeper became worried.
? 2. The seal could not be found. The king became worried.
According to Bloomfield, the meaning of a linguistic form should be viewed as “ the
situation in which the speaker utters it, and the response which it calls forth in the hearer.”
the famous account of Jack and Jill
Bloomfield argued that meaning consists in the relation between speech and the practical
events S and R that precede and follow it.
5.3 Lexical Meaning
Two Concepts to Understand: Sense Vs Reference
1. Sense relates to the complex system of relationships that hold between the linguistic
elements themselves; it is concerned only with intra-linguistic relations.
Pairs of words can be formed into certain patterns
e.g. Cow/hello, sow/boar, ewe/ram, mare/stallion etc. form a pattern indicating a meaning
related to sex indicate sense relations.
Duck/ducking, pig/piglet, dog/puppy, lion/cub, etc. form another pattern indicating a
relationship between adult and young
Narrow/wide, male/female, buy/sell, etc. show a different pattern related to opposition.
In fact, when we are talking of sense relations, we are talking of synonymy, antonymy,
hyponymy, polysemy, homonymy, etc
5. 3.2.1 synonymy
Synonymy is used to mean “ sameness of meaning”
1. Context plays an important part in deciding whether a set of lexical items is synonymous.
" What a nice ----of flowers!"
The items “range, selection, choice,” etc. are synonymous.
" His ----of knowledge is enormous!"
Range, breadth,etc. are synonymous
2. Difference in meaning
Amaze and astound form a pair of synonyms. Both suggest great wonder or bewilderment in the face of something that seems impossible or highly improbable.
But they differ in degrees of wonder or bewilderment. Amaze denotes difficulty of belief and astound extreme difficulty of belief
English is particularly rich in synonyms for the historical reason that its vocabulary has come from two different sources, from Anglo -Saxon on the one hand and from French, Latin
and Greek on the other. Synonyms can be divided into the following groups:
i) dialectal synonyms
Synonyms belonging to different dialects of the language
British English American English
Garage Service station
Car park parking lot
Lay-by Rest area
Call box Telephone booth
ii) words differing in styles or registers
Words having the same cognitive meaning but having different stylistic meanings
They made a decision to abandon the project. ( formal )
They decided to walk out on the project. ( informal )
man (neutral )
chap ( colloquial )
fellow ( colloquial )
bird ( colloquial )
guy ( slang )
bozo ( slang )
steed ( poetic )
horse ( general )
nag ( slang )
gee-gee ( baby talk )
iii) words differing in emotive or evaluative meaning
"little" and "small" are synonyms. But if any emotion is associated with the designation,
we must choose "little".
" A small boy" is as good English as " a little boy."
Yet if you should exclaim" *Poor small boy!", the phrase is unidiomatic, because the
word "small" has no affective meaning.
Isn't he •a little •devil!•
(indicating affectionate regard).
What a pretty little house!
That poor little girl!
...She is •a nice little thing ( indicating tenderness or regard, but possibly patronage, or •a feeling of superiority)...."
iv) collocational synonyms
These words can be considered as synonyms only when they occur in conjunction with
The policemen accused his of the arson.
At the meeting he charged his opponent with evasion of the basic issues.
The teacher rebuked the student for being impudent.
reproach...with or for, e.g.
He reproached me with ( or for ) extravagance.
sail a small boat
navigate a liner
offering to a church
dole to the unemployed
? The same word may have more than one meaning.
? One-meaning words are very rare. They are often scientific terms.
? Moonwalk, oxygen, etc.
The more commonly used a word is, the more likely it has acquired more than one
Sources of polysemy:
A. Shifts in application
Words have a number of different aspects according to the contexts in which they are used
Shifts in application are particularly noticeable in the use of adjectives since these are apt to change their meaning according to the noun they modify.
a) apt, skilled, clever
b) proper, fitting, decent
c) beautiful with dignity
a) appropriate, apt, clever
a) fitting, seemly
b) gallant, brave
c) generous, magnanimous
a) fair, moderately large
b) ample, liberal, munificent
B. Specialization in a social milieu
Polysemy often arises through a kind of verbal shorthand.
C. Figurative language
Many parts of the human body are compared to the inanimate objects or things.
e.g. the eye of a needle 针眼
the eye of a potato马铃薯的芽眼
the eye of the hurricane 风眼
the eye of a peacock’s tail孔雀翎斑
the eye of the revolution 革命中心
A pig:a dirty, greedy or ill-mannered person
An ass: a stupid foolish person
A mouse: a person, esp. A woman, who is quiet and timid
A goose: a silly person, esp. female
A cat: a nasty person
A rat: a low worthless disloyal man
An ape: a person who copies the behaviour of others
A monkey: a child who is full of annoying playfulness and trick
A parrot: a person who repeats, often without understanding, the words or actions of
English homonyms are classified as follows:
1. Complete homonyms: words identical in sound and spelling but different in meaning are called perfect homonyms; e.g.
lie vi make a statement that one
knows to be untrue;
lie vi be, put oneself flat on a
horizontal surface or in a
page n. one side of a leaf of paper in
a book, periodical, etc.;
page n. boy servant, usu. in uniform,
in a hotel, club, etc.;
2. Homophones: Words identical in sound but different in spelling and meaning are called homophones. E.g.
air, heir; bear, bare; pair, pear;
Words identical in spelling but different in sound and meaning are called homographs:
lead v. guide or take, esp. by
going in front, etc.
lead n. easily melted metal of a
dull bluish-grey colour
Sow v. put (seed) on or in the
ground or in soil;plant
(land with seed)
sow n. a fully grown female
tear n. drop of salty water
coming from the eye
tear v. pull sharply apart or to
? Hyponymy refers to the sense relation between a more general, more inclusive
word and a more specific word.
? Superordinate (上义词) e.g animal
? Hyponyms(下义词) tiger, elephant, dog, cat, lion, etc.
Antonymy is a used for oppositeness of meaning
i) gradable antonyms
a. They will show different degrees of a given quality
b. They can be modified by adverbials of degree.
c. Their meanings are relative to each other. One meaning is determined in reference to the meaning of the other.
rich, well-to-do, well-off, moderately wealthy, comfortably off, poor
d. Since they show different degrees of a given quality, they will allow a middle ground between them
“ He is not rich” does not mean “he is poor.”
They can be used in the structure
I am neither rich nor poor.
A. How badly do you speak English?
B. Very well
C. Very poorly
D. Like a native.
ii) Complementary antonyms
“ He is not alive” means “ He is .dead”.
They can not be used in the structure
“ neither…nor” because they do not allow possibilities between them:
I am neither alive nor dead
iii) Relational opposites
They express the reversal of a relationship between items or a contrast of directions
Very often a word is polysemous in nature, therefore, a word may have different corresponding
antonyms, for example:
Fresh bread/stale bread
fresh air/stuffy air
fresh flowers/faded flowers
5.4 Sense relations between sentences
I. X is synonymous with Y
e.g. X; I am an orphan.
Y: I am a child and have no father or mother.
e.g. X; He was a bachelor all his life.
Y: He never married all his life
In terms of truth condition, If X is true, Y is true, and if X is false, Y is false.
X: The boy killed the dog.
Y: The dog was killed by the boy
II.X is inconsistent with Y
e.g. X: I am an orphan.
Y: I have a father.
In terms of truth condition, if X is true, Y is false, and if X is false, Y is true.
e.g. X: John is married.
Y: John is a bachelor.
X: This is my first visit to your country.
Y: I have been to your country before.
III. X entails Y.
(Y is an entailment of X.)
e. g. X: I am an orphan.
Y: I have no father.
In terms of truth condition, if X is true, Y is necessarily true; if X is false, Y may be true or false.
If Y is true, X may be true or false; If Y is false, X is false
e. g. X: John married a blond heiress.
Y: John married a blond.
X: He has been to France.
Y: He has been to Europe.
If X is true, Y is necessarily true, e.g. If he has been to France, he must have been to Europe.
If X is false, Y may be true or false, e. g. If he has not been to France, he may still have been to
Europe or he has not been to Europe.
If Y is true, X may be true or false, e.g. If he has been to Europe, he may or may not have
been to France.If Y is false, X is false, e.g. K he has not been to Europe, he cannot have been to
iv. X presupposes Y.
(Y is a presupposition of X. )
e. g. X: My father is at home.
Y: I have a father.
v. X is a contradiction
vi. X is semantically anomalous
e.g. The orphan’s mother lives in New York..
More Reading on Semantic Fuzziness:
主要关照对象是作为概念的语言范畴，属于语义学的一个分支(Quantitative Fuzzy Semantics)，其理论基础是美国加州大学控制论专家查德(L.A.Zadeh)的“模糊集”(Fuz
第三种是模糊蕴涵（vagueness by implicature），即有的清晰概念含着某些不言自明的细枝末节，以精确形式传递模糊意义。例如：
和短语：sort of , a little bit, almost, entirely, kind of, more or less, quite, re
ally, some, somewhat, to some extent，等等。使用这些词语可以把一些接近正确，
A: What about his ears? Is he still draining fluid? It's just sort of cruste
Sort of, really, kind of 的使用修正了原话语的真实程度，削弱了句子的肯定语
范围变动语是指限制变动范围的词和短语。具体有：about, around, approximately, essentially, in most respects, loosely/strictly speaking, par excellence, r
oughly, something between x and y, over,，等等。这类词往往和具体数字一起使
His weight was approximately three point two kilograms, which is was e
The baby's blood pressure was also about something between forty and