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Semantics and Pragmatics

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Semantics and Pragmatics. Semantics. Definition: The study of meaning in language. Pragmatics The study of how context contributes to meaning in language. Referential Meaning = The labeling of objects, persons, events

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The study of meaning in language.


The study of how context contributes to meaning in language

kinds of semantic meaning
Referential Meaning = The labeling of objects, persons, events

Cultural Meaning = reflection of attitudes, values, shared symbols

Situational Relevance = differing forms for different social situations

Interactional Meaning = defines the social status or relationship between speakers

Affective Meaning = emotional tone of meaning

Kinds of Semantic Meaning
semantic properties
Semantic Properties

Example: Nouns

Semantic Features

1. Count/mass

2 cats but not 2 waters

2. Specific vs. generic

Ann vs. girl

4. animate vs. inanimate

cow vs. rock

5. Masculine vs. feminine

cow vs. bull

6. Human vs. non-human man vs. dog

7. Definite vs. indefinite

the cat vs. a cat

semantic roles
Semantic Roles

1. Agent 6. Experiencer

2. Patient 7. Instrument

3. Source 8. Cause

4. Goal 9. Temporal

5. Location 10. Possessor

Amy sent a letter from Paris to her friend in Iowa.

1 2 3 4

John’s refrigerator is leaking on the floor.

10 1 5

semantic features
Semantic Features


  • Actions Jane ran.
  • Processes The wood dried.
  • Action/process Jane dried the wood.
  • State The wood is dry.
semantic concordance
Semantic Concordance
  • Action verbs take agent subjects
  • Process verbs take patient subjects
  • Action/process verbs take agent subject and a patient object .
  • States take patient nouns.
reference vs sense
Reference vs. Sense

Reference is the direct labeling of an object, person, event, etc.


Denotative meaning

Sense is the meaning that is assumed around the reference.


Connotative meaning

the nyms some examples
The “Nyms” Some examples:

Homonyms – flower, flour

Homographs – bank, bank



relational opposite – buy, sell

gradable – big, small

marked vs. unmarked – man, woman

complementary – dead, alive

Metonyms – Rome, Catholic church

Polysemous – sound investment, sound of music

truth conditions in sentences
Truth Conditions in Sentences

Paraphrase = two different sentences with the same truth conditions

Thematic Roles

Anomalous – deviates from the rules of sense

Metaphorical – must use imagination to interpret an anomalous sentence.

Idiom – sentence/phrase that has a semantic meaning other than the referential/sense


Ambiguous – Ex.

The mother of the boy and the girl will arrive soon. (structural)

She is good at catching flies.



Studying Speech in Cultural Context (Ethnographic Study of Speech)

1. Speech Situation (Context)

The social setting in which speech takes place (a party, a religious ceremony, etc.)

2. Speech Act

Minimal unit of speech has a specified function.

  • Speech Event

A series of interrelated speech acts that

comprise a unit (Conversation, lecture, joke)


An implied truth that is taken for granted by all parties to a speech act.