Meaning. Cao Ning School of English Language Longdong University. Outline. Introduction Views on meaning Lexical meaning Sense relations between sentences Analysis of meaning. What is Semantics ?. Semantics is generally considered to be the study of meaning in language.
School of English Language
Views on meaning
Sense relations between sentences
Analysis of meaning
generally considered to
be the study of
This can be best illustrated by the Semiotic Triangle advanced by Ogden and Richards.
Thought or Reference
Linguistic elements such as words or sentences
The object, etc, in the world of experience
a daily paper
an examination paper
a white paper
a term paper
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.
into certain patterns to
indicate sense relations.
Cow/hello, sow/boar, ewe/ram, mare/stallion etc. form a pattern indicating a meaning related to sex.
Duck/ducking, pig/piglet, dog/puppy, lion/cub, etc. form another pattern indicating a relationship between adult and young.
buy/sell, etc. show a different
pattern related to opposition.
In fact, when we are talking of sense
relations, we are talking of
Synonymyrefers to the sameness or close
similarity of meaning.
e.g. buy / purchase
world / universe
brotherly / fraternal
!But total synonymy is rare, The so-called synonyms are all context dependent.
A teacher was amazed to find that a lazy student had gained a mark of 100 in an important test.
A woman may be astounded to learn that her dearest friend has been spreading malicious gossip about her.
Synonyms belonging to different dialects of the language
Words having the same cognitive meaning but having different stylistic meanings
colour overcoat village airliner
sail a small boat
navigate a liner
offering to a church
dole to the unemployed
A) gradable opposites ( contraries)
0 25 50 75 100...
d. Since they show different degrees of a given quality, they will allow a middle ground between them.
0 50 100...
“ He is not rich” does not mean “he is poor.”
They can be used in the structure
I am neither rich nor poor.
Unmarked ( long)
Length of the scale
A. How badly do you speak English?
B. Very well
C. Very poorly
D. Like a native.
“ He is not alive” means “ He is dead”.
“ neither…nor” because they do not allow possibilities between them, for example:
I am neither alive nor dead.
Relational opposites (Conversives)
If A sells a watch to B, B buys a watch from A.
If A gives a pen to B, B receives a pen from A.
If A lends money to B, B borrows money from A.
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
In the English language, there are many pairs or groups of words, which, though different in meaning, are pronounced alike or spelled alike, or both. Such words are called homonyms
A. Types of homonyms
English homonyms are classified as follows:
1. Perfect homonyms: words identical in sound and spelling but different in meaning are called perfect homonyms;
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.;
base n. the thing or part on which
base adj. having or showing little or no
honour, courage or decency;
meet vt. to come upon or encounter;
meet n. a meeting, gathering, or
assembling as for a sporting
2. Homophones: Words identical in sound but different in spelling and meaning are called homophones.
3. Homographs: Words identical in spelling but different in sound and meaning are called homographs: e.g.:
lead /li:d/ v. guide or take, esp. by
going in front, etc.
lead /led/ v. easily melted metal of a
dull bluish-grey colour
sow/s u/ v. put (seed) on or in the
ground or in soil;plant
(land with seed)
sow /sau/ n. a fully grown female
tear /ti / n. drop of salty water
coming from the eye
tear / / v. pull sharply apart or to
The word Polysemy is of Greek origin (GK polys, much + sema, meaning). It has been defined as "...A term used in semantic analysis to refer to a lexical item which has a range of different meanings ( Crystal 1980:274)."
The ability of one word to denote several senses is one of the basic peculiarities of human speech. A glance at any English dictionary will give you an idea of how frequent polysemy is. One -meaning words (monosemic words) are very rare. They are very often scientific terms (e.g. oxygen, moonwalk, and earthrise).
fair: (of attitude, behavior ) just and
( of results ) average, quite good
( of the weather ) clear and sunny
( of amount ) satisfactory, abundant
( of the skin, hair ) pair; light in
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 qualify. The adjective " handsome", for example, has been used, in the course of its history, in the following sense, grouped according to the noun to which they refer:
a) apt, skilled, clever
b) proper, fitting, decent
c) beautiful with dignity
a) easy to handle
b) of fair size
c) beautiful with dignity
d) proper, fitting ( of dress )
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. For a lawyer, "action" will naturally mean legal action; for the soldier it will mean a military operation, without any need for a qualifying epithet. In this way the same word may acquire a number of specialized senses, only one of which will be applicable in a given milieu.
C. Figurative language
Many inanimate objects are compared to the parts of the human body.
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 flower 花心
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
meaning is composed of meaning components called semantic features. Plus and minus signs are used to indicate whether a semantic feature is present or absent in the meaning of a word. e.g.
I. X is synonymous with Y, e.g.
Y: John is a bachelor.
Y: I have been to your country before.
Y: I have no father.
Y: John married a blond.
Y: He has been to Europe.
Y: I have a father.
Y: John has a bike.
Y: England has a queen.
This orphan has a father.
My unmarried sister is married to a bachelor.