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Basic Ideas in Semantics

Reference & Sense

Utterance, Sentence, &

Reference (1)
The meaning of linguistic expressions
derives from two sources: the language they
are part and the world they describe
Words allow people to identify parts of the
world and make statement about them.
The relationship by which language hooks
onto the world is called reference.
In talking about reference, we deal with the
relationships between language and the

Reference (2)
Thus, reference is a relationship between
parts of a language and things outside the
language (the world)
e.g. My son is in the beech tree


There is a very little constancy of reference

in a language. Two different expressions can
have the same referent
e.g. Morning star & Evening star refer to
planet Venus

Sense of an expression is its place in a system of
semantic relationships with other expressions in a
e.g. I almost fell over
Ill see you on Wednesday
We can talk about sense, not only of words, but also of
longer expression such as phrases and sentences
e.g. Rupert took off his Jacket
Rupert took his Jacket off
Bachelors prefer the redheads
Girls with red hair are preferred by unmarried man

Reference & Sense

Thus, referent of an expression is often a
thing or a person in the world; whereas the
sense of an expression is not a thing at all.
e.g. almost and and do not refer to things
in the world.
Every expression that has meaning has
sense but not every expression has

An utterance is any stretch of talk, by one
person, before and after which there is
silence on the part of that person
An utterance is the USE by particular
speaker, on a particular occasion, of a piece
of language, such as a sequence of
sentences or a single phrase, or even a
single word

Are they utterance?

Not Much
Utterance may consist of a single word, single
phrase, or a single sentence. They may also consist
of one or more grammatically incomplete
sentence-fragments. In short, there is no simple
relation of correspondence between utterances
and sentences

A sentence is neither a physical event nor a
physical object. It is, conceived abstractly, a string
of words put together by grammatical rules of
A sentence can be a thought of as the ideal string
of words behind various realizations in utterance
and inscriptions
e.g Help represents an utterance
The postillions have been struck by lightning
represents a sentence
The postillions have been struck by lightning
represents an utterance
Postillions represents a word conceived as part
of a sentence

Sentence & Utterance

A sentence is a grammatically complete string
of words expressing a complete thought
e.g. I would like a cup of coffee is a sentence
In the kitchen is not a sentence
An utterance can be in form of complete
sentence or incomplete sentence
e.g. I would like a cup of coffee is an
In the kitchen is an utterance of nonsentence

A proposition
A proposition is that part of meaning of an
utterance of a declarative sentence which
describes some state of affairs
The state of affairs typically involves
persons or things referred to by
expressions in the sentence. In uttering a
declarative sentence, a speaker typically
asserts a propositions
True propositions correspond to facts, in
the ordinary word fact. False propositions
do not correspond to facts.

Proposition, sentence, & utterance

A single proposition could be expressed by
using several different sentences and each
of these sentences could be uttered an
infinite number of times
A proposition is an abstraction that can be
grasped by the mind of an individual person
(an object of thought). We can put the
thought in linguistic entities to be
sentences and do some actions about it
(realize it) in form of utterance

Proposition, sentence, & utterance

Literal & Non-literal meaning

Literal meaning refers to meaning of a sentence or
other expression as determined solely by those
ascribed to the separate words, etc. of which it is
composed and to the syntactic relations in which
they stand compositional meaning
e.g. Im hungry
Im starving
Non-literal use of language are traditionally called
figurative (e.g. metaphore, irony, hyperbole, etc)
e.g. I could eat a horse
My stomach thinks my throats cut