Units of Meaning Sense and Reference

WEEK 2 7 MARCH 2012

What is Semantics?
 Semantics is the study of meaning (Lyons 1977, Riemer 2010)  Semantics is the study of meaning in language (Hurford &     

Heasley 1983) Semantics is the study of meaning communicated through language (Saeed 1997) Semantics is the study of the meanings of words and sentences (Saeed 2009) Linguistic semantics is the study of literal, decontextualized, grammatical meaning (Frawley 1992) Semantics is the part of linguistics that is concerned with meaning (Löbner 2002) Linguistic semantics is the study of how languages organize and express meanings (Kreidler 1998)

What is Meaning?
 Speaking involves communicating information to somebody  The speaker has something in his/her mind (an idea, a feeling,

an intention), and decides to communicate it linguistically  Vocal noises are then emitted that are perceived by the hearer, who “translates” these noises back into ideas, with the result being that this hearer somehow “knows” what the first person had in mind.  That “something” that was at first in the speaker’s mind and now is also in the hearer’s mind can be called meaning.  But this "something" can be virtually anything: objects (concrete, abstract or imaginary), events and states(past, present, future or hypothetical), all sort of properties of objects, feelings, emotions, intentions, locations, etc. We can talk about almost anything we can think of.

complex reasoning patterns.  Or.e.Why do we have meaning?  Either language evolved as a means of communication. etc. language is a way of representing the world in our minds). conditionals.  In either case. allowing us to conceive hypothetical scenarios. language exists primarily for mental representation (i. . meaning is crucial.. This would offer humans the advantages of performing certain manipulations of those representations.

Units of Meaning  When you think of a meaningful unit of language. loan words)  Nouns.can express all types of meaning. adverbs . adjectives. verbs. what do you think of? Words  Open-class words--can express all types of meaning  Open-class . Easily added to lexicon (for example.

causality. time and other things such as manner.  Conjunctions: used to relate bigger chunks of meaning. Closed-class --express limited range of meanings  Not easily added to lexicon  Prepositions: used to indicate relations of place. we use them to indicate causality. etc. They help to clarify whether something has been mentioned before or not. coordination. etc . or we are referring to all the instances of the entity or a particular one.  Determiners: used to indicate reference. etc.

gender. size.g.g.Non-word morphemes. aspect)  Derivational morphemes (used to change the grammatical category of the stem. the plural)  Limited range of meanings (plurality.. -er of “worker”  Wider range of meanings .. affixes  Inflectional morphemes (which do not change the grammatical category of the stem.person &number. e. e.

Phonology  Do sounds themselves have meanings?  The traditional answer is that the sounds of language are arbitrary (Saussure 1913)  /nada/  Spanish “nothing”  Hindi “thread”  Slovene “hope”  Indonesian “tone” .

… .Grammar  Does grammar have meaning?  Meaning derived from syntactic structure allows us to construct many sentences with different meanings from the same words:  The rat that bit the dog chased the cat  The cat that chased the dog bit the rat  The rat that chased the cat bit the dog  The dog that chased the rat bit the cat  The dog that bit the rat chased the cat  Etc.

. Grammatical constructions can be combined indefinitely. within the limitations of human memory:  The car broke down because Tom forgot to fill the tank because he was running late because Bill rang him just when he was leaving because Bill wanted to sell John a home gym because he doesn’t use it any more and he needs the money because he spent too much last month because he went for a quick holiday because he needed a break because …  This is the maiden all forlorn that milked the cow with the crumpled horn that tossed the dog that chased the cat that killed the rat that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built.

. but rather combine lexical and grammatical meanings to produce infinite possible meaningful utterances.  This property shows that we do not memorize expressions. new sentences and utterances are used all the time. New words and new grammatical constructions are relatively rare.  The property of embedding one phrase inside another of the same kind is called recursiveness.

and Knowledge of facts about the objects to which the word refers.The dictionary and the encyclopaedia  Should we (or can we) distinguish between: Knowledge of a word’s meaning (dictionary knowledge). or “things in the world” (encyclopaedic knowledge)? .

cakes). the devices you use to prepare coffee (Italian stovetop.What do we know about coffee? We know that coffee is a drink. that is black. a strong taste. made of certain plant beans. that it contains caffeine that it can be taken hot or iced. we know how to prepare coffee in different ways. has a particular smell. that we can put sugar or cream in it. professional cafeteria . that we can consume it in other forms (ice cream. that it has a particular effect (stimulating).

that other beverages such as colas also have caffeine. French press.). the receptacles where you put the coffee when it’s done (a cup. flat white. when you take coffee or how many times a day. cappuccino. in an airport.).).espresso-maker. etc. etc. flavours and quantities of coffee. in a hotel. etc. that if you drink it in the evening you might have trouble sleeping. etc. where to buy it so you can prepare it yourself or where to buy it to take away or . that these produce varying strengths. a thermos. that you need different grinds of coffee for these different methods.). that it wakes you up in the morning and/or relieves symptoms of caffeine deprivation in the addict. packets. long black. mocha. in a café. you know how expensive it is (depending on whether you buy it in a shop. types of coffee and espresso drinks (latte. filter.

you know it’s produced in countries like Brazil and Colombia. which implies that you will talk. that it’s a civilized and informal first date to go for a coffee. . or a “coffee break” during which you stop work or another activity and may or may not have coffee (you can have “tea” at a coffee break. or nothing).where you can sit and drink it. you know that too much is bad for your health. that in aeroplanes the option is either tea or coffee. that stains from coffee are difficult to clean. you know the social occasions in which coffee is the typical drink (think of the expression “go out for a coffee”. that decaf has little caffeine but often tastes worse. that you must store it in a dry and fresh place. that there is a “coffee” hour. that students drink coffee during exam preparation. possibly about informal or personal matters). … and so on. that coffee culture and drinks are different in different countries.

 What if you don’t know all of these things about     coffee? Are you then unable to talk about coffee? Which information about coffee should be considered dictionary information and which belong to encyclopaedic knowledge? Can we all agree on a dictionary entry for coffee? We can say that meaning is characterized with respect to “domains”: facets of experience which encapsulate what we know about something .

 According to some estimates (e.. passive vs. active vocabulary. writing vocabulary. . 1994: 7) an educated adult speaker of English knows between 50.g. etc.Sense and Reference  Words appear to be the key to expressing many of the concepts we store in our heads. speaking vs.). to the measuring method. Aitchison.000 and 135.000 words (the numbers vary according to the individual.

 This general function of words. of picking out objects from reality. is called reference.  Definition by pointing to an object of the kind in question is called ostensive definition.  The object in the world picked out by a particular word is called its referent.Reference  The word tree has meaning because we can use it to refer to an object in the world (or. to direct the hearer’s attention towards that object). to put it in another way.  Reference to an object in the world is one use of language. .

. etc. depending on context. non-referring expressions Do all nouns have reference? Nouns without physical referents in the world pose a problem for theories that characterize meaning in terms of reference and truth conditions (“denotational theories”. We will see that possible worlds are proposed as one solution to this problem. Reference is the action by which a speaker picks out an object        (the referent) in the world. A word has only one specific referent each time it is used. user. It can be variable. Do all words have reference? Referring vs. to which we will return).

) All specific expressions are referring expressions . In (1b). etc. in (1a) we are not referring to any particular chair. the speaker is presumably referring to some particular chair.Ways of Referring  1a. A/the chair is the most basic piece of furniture in today’s  home  1b. So generic expressions are a kind of non-referring expression (along with very. I bumped into a chair this morning  Though we are looking at the same noun. chair. we call this a specific or referring reading. and the phrase in     which it occurs is the same (a chair). because. In (1a) we are dealing with a generic or non-referring reading of chair.

they change their referent . Queen Cleopatra  Variable reference: I want to go there in your car tomorrow Who wants to go where in whose car when?  Expressions that depend on context are called deictics (I. tomorrow)  Depending on who says them. and where. Many expressions are specific/generic ambiguous (2) I’m looking for a blonde.  Constant reference: the Eiffel Tower. the Pacific Ocean. when. your. there.

 “queen”  Vs. to which a word can refer is its denotation. meaning should be studied by learning how words are mapped to the objects they refer to. etc.Denotation & Connotation  Denotation The class of possible objects. .. situations.  “Queen Cleopatra”  For some authors. This is called the denotational view of meaning.  This is the view adopted in truth-conditional semantics and logic.

/The chair has become outdated in the modern home. I bumped into a chair this morning. A chair is the most basic piece of furniture in today’s home. often referents in context This duality is often referred to as the token-type distinction. . instances of denotation Tokens: instances of a category/class/type. Generic expressions refer to types Specific expressions refer to tokens 1a.Types and Tokens  Types: categories or classes of tokens to which an expression       can refer. 1b.

 A rose is a rose is a rose.  How many word tokens are there?  How many word types are there?  We can correctly say that there are either 3 or 8 words in the sentence. all tokens of a given type of expression have the same referent .  A rose is a rose is a rose.  How many tokens and types are there of the sentence itself?  In constant reference.

but seen at different times of the day. sense indicates the manner in which a referent is accessed.  Gottlob Frege (1848-1925) noted that the Evening Star and the Morning Star have the same referent: the planet Venus.Sense  General meaning of an expression such as the queen has fallen off the table (Riemer 2010)  Words & expressions have multiple senses and/or meanings  A distinction can be made between polysemous senses (multiple related senses of a word) and sense used in contrast to reference.  Classically. .

(6) sounds tautological and absurd: (6) ?Planet Venus is Planet Venus Frege suggested that these manners of accessing the referent could be called senses. we could meaningfully say: (5) a. . The Evening Star is the Morning Star b. To someone who did not know that both objects refer     to Planet Venus. The Morning Star is the Evening Star On the other hand.

 Many scholars find this distinction useful for describing      word meaning apart from reference. “Clark Kent is Superman” or “Superman is Clark Kent” are far from trivial or tautological statements. . Why should we overload our minds learning and storing many different labels for the same thing? Therefore a label is needed for these different expressions. Having many different expressions which are exactly equivalent would not make sense psychologically. However. A second example: Clark Kent and Superman arguably have the same referent.

president Hillary’s husband Monica Lewinsky’s lover Dad (speaker: Chelsea)  Even if we all know the referent of these expressions is the same.  If “Lois Lane loves Superman” is true. is “Lois Lane loves Clark Kent” necessarily true?       Same referent: Bill Clinton Former U. though both have the same referent.S. Much can be said about either Clark Kent or Superman that does not necessarily apply to the other sense. they involve:  Different contexts  Different connotations .

Connotation  Connotation refers to the aspects of meaning that do notaffect a word’s reference or denotation.  Similar denotations but different connotations:  Child vs Brat  Mare vs Nag  Police officer vs Cop  Personal response device vs Clicker  Slim vs Skinny  Inexpensive vs Cheap  Thrifty vs Miserly  New vs Unproven .

denotation (tokens vs. specific reference. reference  Generic vs. Monica Lewinsky’s lover) Summary  Sense vs. nonreferring expressions  Reference vs. President vs. connotation . types)  Denotation vs. Different senses usually have different connotations (former U.S. referring vs.

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