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Semantics The field of linguistics concerned with the study of meaning in language.

From the Greek, "sign"


"The technical term for the study of meaning in language is semantics. But as soon as this term is used, a word of warning is in order. "Any scientific approach to semantics has to be clearly distinguished from a pejorative sense of the term that has developed in popular use, when people talk about the way that language can be manipulated in order to mislead the public. A newspaper headline might read. 'Tax increases reduced to semantics'--referring to the way a government was trying to hide a proposed increase behind some carefully chosen words. Or someone might say in an argument, 'That's just semantics,' implying that the point is purely a verbal quibble, bearing no relationship to anything in the real world. This kind of nuance is absent when we talk about semantics from the objective point of linguistic research. The linguistic approach studies the properties of meaning in a systematic and objective way, with reference to as wide a range of utterances and languages as possible." (David Crystal, How Language Works. Overlook, 2006)

"A perennial problem in semantics is the delineation of its subject matter. The term meaning can be used in a variety of ways, and only some of these correspond to the usual understanding of the scope of linguistic or computational semantics. We shall take the scope of semantics to be restricted to the literal interpretations of sentences in a context, ignoring phenomena like irony, metaphor, or conversational implicature." (Stephen G. Pulman, "Basic Notions of Semantics." SRI International, Cambridge, England)

"[S]emantics is the study of the meanings of words and sentences. . . . "As our original definition of semantics suggests, it is a very broad field of inquiry, and we find scholars writing on very different topics and using quite different methods, though sharing the general aim of describing semantic knowledge. As a result, semantics is the most diverse field within linguistics. In addition, semanticists have to have at least a nodding acquaintance with other disciplines, like philosophy and psychology, which also investigate the creation and transmission of meaning. Some of the questions raised in

these neighboring disciplines have important effects on the way linguists do semantics." (John I. Saeed, Semantics, 2nd ed. Blackwell, 2003)

Syntax & semantics

Syntax and semantics are terms used in relation to aspects of language. Syntax is concerned with the structure of language. Syntax is a matter of the logical or grammatical form of sentences, rather than what they refer to or mean. Semantics is concerned with the meaning of words and sentences. Semantics is a matter of the content or meaning of sentences, often in relation to their truth and falsehood. 'Moths speak ravenously' is syntactically correct as it has a valid 'noun verb adverb' structure, but it is senseless (semantically null). 'Boys play roughly' has both proper syntax and a clear semantic content.