Semantics: The Meaning of Language

Compositional semantics
A theory of meaning that calculates the truth value/meaning of a sentence by putting together the meanings of smaller units into meaningful phrases and sentences

“Jack swims” and “Jack kissed Laura” represent
Compositional semantics because we can judge them as either true or false. At least part of their meaning will be their truth value.

Tautology definition
A sentence that is true in all situations; a sentence that is true from the meaning of its words alone

A sentence that is false by virtue of its meaning alone, irrespective of context

The relationship between two sentences, where the truth of one necessities the truth of the other; one sentence entails another if whenever the first sentence is true the second one must be true also

Words or expressions that have the same meaning in some or all contexts

Referent definition and example
The entity/real-world object designated by an expression or word
Ex: Jack, the happy swimmer, my friend, and that guy can all have the same referent in the sentence “Jack swims”

Anomaly definition
A violation of semantic rules resulting in expressions that seem nonsensical

Nonliteral, suggestive meaning in which an expression that designates one thing is used implicitly to mean something else
-sentences that seem to be anomalous but are understood in terms of a meaningful concept

Idiom/Idiomatic phrases definition
Phrases with meanings that cannot be predicted based on the meanings of the individual words

Words that are opposite in meaning

The three kinds of antonymy
Gradable, Relational and Complementary pairs

Complementary pair definition and examples
A kind of antonym where the negation of one is the meaning of the other

Gradable pair
A kind of antonym where more of one is less of the other; no absolute scale


Relational pair definition and examples
A kind of antonym that displays symmetry in their meanings

Ex: -give/receive

Ways to form antonyms
You can add the prefix -un, -non, -ing

Homonyms (homophones) definition
Words that have different meanings but are pronounced the same
-Bear and bare
-Bark and bark

Homographs definition and example
Words that are spelled the same and possibly pronounced the same
-bear and bear
-dove and dove

The ‘undergoer’ of the action of the verb

The endpoint of a change in location or possession

Where the action originates

The means used to accomplish an action

The one receiving sensory input

The agent of the sentence “The boy rolled a red ball”
The NP “the boy” (the ‘doer’ of the rolling action)

The theme of the sentence “The boy rolled a red ball”
The NP “a red ball” (the “undergoer” of the rolling action)

Thematic roles
The relationship between the arguments of the verb and the situation the verb describes

The goal of the sentence “The boy threw the red ball to the girl”
“The girl” (the endpoint of a change in location or possession)

The instrument of the sentence “Professor Snape awakened Harry Potter with his wand”

Deictic/deixis definition
Words or expressions whose reference depends on the situational context

Definition of person deixis
The meaning depends on who is present and being discussed

Definition of time deixis
The meaning depends on when the utterance was said or what period of time is being discussed

Maxims of conversation definition
Conversational conventions that people appear to obey to give coherence and sincerity to discourse

What are the maxims of conversation?
1. Quality: Truth
2. Quantity: Information
3. Relation: Relevance
4. Manner: Clarity

Speech act
The action or intent that a speaker accomplishes when using language in context, the meaning of which is inferred by hearers

(The little extra)
An element of meaning separate from reference and more enduring, that presents the reference

Examples of expressions that have the same reference but different senses
Barack Obama, The President, Michelle Obama’s husband

A word that has sense but no reference

“Time is money” is an example of what?

What does structural/syntactic ambiguity arise from?
Multiple syntactic structures corresponding to the same string of words

What does lexical ambiguity arise from? Examples (not on review sheet)
Multiple meanings corresponding to the same word or phrase
-This will make you smart
-She can’t bear children

The study of how context and situation affect meaning; our understanding of language in context

Truth-conditional semantics
A theory of meaning that takes the semantic knowledge of when sentences are true and false as basic; the speaker’s knowledge is central

Lexical semantics
The meanings of words and the relationships among words

Argument structure
The various NPs that occur with a verb

Inferences that may be drawn from an utterance based on context

Implicit assumption about the world required to make an utterance meaningful or relevant

“Jack postponed the meeting””Jack put off the meeting” are examples of what?

Example of a contradiction
-“Circles are square”
-“Kings are female”

Example of referent
Jack, the happy swimmer, my friend, and that guy can all have the same referent in the sentence “Jack swims”

Example of entailment
If you know that the sentence “Jack swims beautifully” is true, then you also know that the sentence “Jack swims” is true. We say that “Jack swims beautifully” entails “Jack swims.”

Example of idioms/ idiomatic phrases
“Kick the bucket” means ‘to die’
“Snap out of it”

Words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently
-dove and dove
-bass and bass
-please EXCUSE me while I think of an EXCUSE

The ‘doer’ of the action

The experiencer of the sentence “Professor Snape awakened Harry Potter with his wand”
Harry Potter (the one receiving sensory input)

Types of Deictic/deixis
Person, time, place

The source of the sentence “Professor Snape awakened Harry Potter with his wand”
Professor Snape (where the action originates)

Definition of place deixis
The meaning depends on where the utterance was said or what place was being discussed

Example of a speech act
“There is a bear behind you” may be intended as a warning in certain contexts, or may in other contexts merely be a statement of fact

What tend to have reference but no sense?
Proper names

A structurally ambiguous sentence
The boy saw the man with the telescope

Any NP that a pronoun relies on for its meaning

Another term for truth-conditional semantics
Compositional semantics

Example of anomaly
“Colorless green ideas sleep furiously”

Example of place deixis
Here, there, yonder mountains

Example of tautology
-“Kings are not female.”
-“A person who is single is not married.”

The source of the sentence “Mary bought the book from John”
John(where the action originates)

The usual semantic rules for combining meanings do not apply to what?
Idioms or idiomatic phrases

The theme of the sentence “John sold the book to Mary”
The book (the undergoer of the action)

All languages have this, but are rarely translatable word for word from one language to another

Examples of person deixis
I, you, she, that man, those girls

The agent of the sentence “John sold the book to Mary”
John (the ‘doer’ of the action)

The study of the meaning of morphemes, words, phrases, and sentences

Example of time deixis
Now, then, tomorrow, yesterday

Why is the sentence “colorless green ideas sleep furiously” an anomalous sentence?
It’s syntactically fine, but contains semantic violations such as describing ideas as both colorless and green

What are the subfields of semantics
Lexical semantics and phrasal or sentential semantics

What is the situation called whereby even when individual words have meaning, if they cannot be combined together as required by the syntactic structure and related semantic rules we will also not get to a meaning

Phrasal or sentential semantics
The meaning of syntactic units larger than one word

What is it called when the speaker’s knowledge of truth conditions is central?
Truth-conditional semantics

If you know the meaning of a sentence you can determine under what conditions it is what?
True or false

When two sentences entail each other, they are what?

When one sentence entails the negation of another sentence, the sentences are what?

Which semantic rule states that if the meaning of the NP (an individual) is a member of the meaning of the VP (a set of individuals), then S is TRUE, otherwise it is FALSE
Semantic Rule I

Which semantic rule states that the meaning is the set of individuals X such that X is the first member of any pair in the meaning of V whose second member is the meaning of NP
Semantic Rule II

To understand this we must understand the individual words, the literal meaning of the expression, and facts about the world

Example of homonyms (homophones)
Bear and bare (pronounced the same but have different meanings)

Semantic features are properties that are part of what and reflect what?
Word meanings and reflect our knowledge about what words mean

Imagination is used for what?

Speech errors provide evidence for what?
Semantic features

The part of the meaning of a NP that associates it with some entity

Examples of place deixis
Here, there, yonder mountains

Example of gradable pairs

Example of heteronyms
-dove and dove
-bass and bass (spelled the same but pronounced differently)

relational pairs

complementary antonyms