1. Meaning in natural language

A. Definition of natural language - in neuropsychology, linguistics and the philosophy of language, a natural language or ordinary language is any language that has evolved naturally in humans through use and repetition without conscious planning or premeditation. Natural languages can take different forums, such as speech, signing, or writing. They are distinguished from constructed and formal languages such as those used to program computers or to study logic

B. Semantics has to answer two questions:
What is meaning?
How does language relate to the world?

Three types of entities:
1. Linguistic: words, phrases and sentences
2. Real world entities: objects, properties and relations
3. Mental entities: concept, judgment, inference

2. Word Meaning and sentence meaning

A. Word meaning
- Word meaning explained in terms of a single entity
- Word meaning is the referent
- Word meaning is the concept

Word meaning as a relation
Between the sign and the referent – the relation is called reference
Between the sign and the concept

What does word meaning consist of?
Word meaning explained in terms of smaller units than the word
Semantic component, semantic features, semantic markers
What is a semantic component?
A semantic component is a symbol that stands for a concept that is part of the lexical meaning of a given lexical item.
Word meaning represented in terms of semantic components – componential analysis of meaning

   woman                                      man
[+HUMAN]                             [+HUMAN]
[+ADULT]                               [+ADULT]
[- MALE]                                 [+ MALE]

What is the meaning of boy, girl, to kill?
Deficiencies of componential analysis of meaning

B. Sentence meaning

First option: proposition – the abstract meaning of a declarative sentence when it is used to describe a state of affairs in the world.
Semantics is interested only in the meaning of declarative sentences because only declarative sentences express complete propositions, interrogative and imperative sentences express incomplete propositions
Pragmatics studies the meaning of all the three basic sentence types.

Second option: sentence meaning in terms of its sense and reference
Reference here means truth conditions
What is meant by the term truth conditions?
The conditions in the world that make a sentence true

Alfred Tarski, a Polish philosopher, a semantic explanation of truth as a property of propositions

How about truth from the point of view of the speaker of a language?

John speaks English.

Snow is white.            When is this sentence true?

To explain sentence meaning we look at how the words in the sentence are used in relation to the world.
When we use language to describe states of affairs in the word, we refer and predicate. The words in any declarative sentence are used in two ways: some are used to refer and others are used to predicate.
The words in any declarative sentence divided into two expressions: a referring expression and a predicate expression

Representation of propositional meaning
A proposition consists of an argument/or arguments and a predicate
An argument stands for an object in the world, a predicate stands for a property and a relation.
Speak (John)
John kicked the ball.
Kick (John, the Ball)
John is a doctor.
Doctor (John)

3. Different views on meaning (Frege, Lyons, Kempson, Cruse)

A. Componential analysis of meaning

B. Kinds of meaning from the point of view of the process of communication
Two principles underlie all linguistic patterning: the principle of contrastiveness and the principle of structure. The principle of contrastiveness – a thing can be described not only positively, through the properties it has, but also negatively, through the ones it doesn’t possess.

denotative, logical, conceptual meaning
Explained in terms of semantic components: the minimum number of semantic features that gives us the correct use of a given lexical item; universal and invariable. Represented as a closed set.

connotative meaning
Defined again in terms of semantic features, but these are peripheral features, over and above central semantic traits that form denotative meaning. Indeterminate and open-ended. Represented as an open set. Features vary with time and culture. Connotative meaning is incidental to language rather than an essential part of it. Shared by other systems of communication such as music and art.
Woman – connotative features

associative, expressive, affective meaning
What is communicated of the feelings and attitudes of the speaker/writer. Largely a parasitic category in the sense that to express our emotions we rely upon other types of meaning – denotative, connotative and stylistic.
You are a vicious tyrant and I hate you for it!
Emotions can be expressed not only through words, but through tone – impolite, casual - as well.

social meaning
What is communicated of the social circumstances of language use. Features of language tell us something about the social status of the speaker and the hearer and the social relationship between them, the education of the speaker, the geographical area he/she comes from. Social meaning is also manifested in style: from formal to literary at one end to colloquial, familiar and slang at the other.

Crystal and Davy
Dimensions of socio-stylistic variation: dialect, time, province (language of law, of science, of advertising), status (polite, colloquial, slang), modality (language of memoranda, lectures, jokes), singularity.

cast (literary, biblical)                                    steed (poetic)
throw (general)                                              horse (general)
chuck (casual, slang)                                    nag (slang)
                                                                       gee-gee (baby lang.)

reflected meaning
What is communicated through associations with another sense of the same expression. Reflected meaning arises in cases of multiple conceptual meaning, when one sense (meaning) of a word forms part of our response to another sense of the same word when the first word has a dominant suggestive power either through relative frequency and familiarity or through the strength of its associations.
gost – spook, apparition
gost – Holy Gost

collocative meaning
Whast is communicated through association with words which tend to occur in the environment of another word.
E.g., pretty and handsome. They have the same denotative meaning, but differ in their collocative meaning, i.e. they differ in the range of nouns with which they are likely to occur.

thematic meaning
What is communicated by the way in which the message is organized in terms of order and emphasis.
Mrs. Jones donated the first prize.
The first prize was donated my Mrs. Jones.
The two sentences have the same propositonal meaning, i.e. the same truth conditions, but different communicative value in the sense that they suggest different context of use.
Functional sentence perspective: theme and rheme, topic and comment.

4. Phonetic, Morphological and Semantic motivation of word meaning

The term motivation is used to denote the relationship existing between the phonemic or morphemic composition and structural pattern of the word on the one hand, and its meaning on the other. There are three main types of motivation: phonetical motivation, morphological motivation, and semantic motivation.

1. Differential meaning is the semantic component that serves to distinguish one word from all others containing identical morphemes. In words consisting of two or more morphemes one of the constituent morphemes always has differential meaning. For example, in such words as bookshelf, bookcase, bookshop the second morphemes have differential meanings that serve to these words from each other.
Denotational and differential meanings are not mutually exclusive. However, there are some cases when it is difficult or even impossible to assign any denotative meaning to the morpheme, as is the case with the morpheme cran- in the word cranberry, though its differential meaning is felt in comparison with words blackberry, gooseberry, strawberry.

2. Distributional meaning is the meaning of the order and arrangement of morphemes constructing the word. It is found in all words containing more than one morpheme. For example, the word reader is composed of two morphemes, namely, read- and –er, each possessing a denotational meaning. But there is one more element of meaning that enables us to understand this word. It is the pattern of arrangement of its constituent morphemes. A different arrangement of the same morphemes would make this word meaningless.
There are cases when we can observe a direct connection between the structural pattern of the word and its meaning. In such cases we say that the word is motivated. The term motivation is used to denote the relationship existing between the phonemic and morphemic composition and structural pattern of the word, on one hand, and its lexical meaning, on the other.
There are three main types of motivation: phonetical, morphological and semantic motivation.

3. Phonetic motivation of a word implies a direct connection between the phonetical structure of the word and its lexical meaning.
If the word is motivated by a certain similarity between the sounds which make it up and the sounds referred to by the sense of this word, we observe an onomatopoeic, imitative or echoic motivation, as in the case of cuckoo, cok-a-doodle-doo.
There is one more type of phonetic motivation closely akin to the imitative forms, namely sound symbolism. Some sounds or combination of sounds are supposed to have a symbolic value in explaining the meaning of words. As the same combinations of sounds are used in many semantically similar words, they become more closely associated with the meaning. For example, the sound-cluster fl used in the words flap, flip, flop, flitter, flimmer, flicker, flutter, flash, flush, flareis associated with quick movement.

4. Phonological motivation
In every language there is a limited number of words that imitate sounds in nature. Such words are called onomatopoeic: buzz, click, crash, click, splutter, cuckoo, rustle, thump, whisper, etc.
Words denoting sounds made by water: plop, splash, gush, sprinkle, drizzle, drip.
Imitating a human voice: giggle, grunt, murmur, blurt, chatter.
Denoting wind sounds: swish, swoosh, whiff, whiz, whoosh.
Interjections: express an emotion or a sentiment – oops, whoops, wow, shh, hey…
Crispy, crunchy…
Do sounds express meaning?

In English final consonants differentiate meaning that is why it is essential if a consonant is voiced, to be pronounced as voiced:
thing                bring                back
think                brink                bag
Final consonants in Bulgarian do not differentiate meaning: поп, боб.

5. Sound symbolism - Phonosemantics says that vocal sounds, even single syllables, have meaning. That meaning is imprecise, symbolic and metaphoric. High-pitched vowels, made toward the front of the mouth, tend to be associated with things that are thin and light. Lower-pitched vowels, made toward the back of the mouth, tend to be associated with things that are large and heavy.
Research shows that the inarticulate noises we make during conversations - hmm, uh, uhuh, mmm, etc - are packed with meaning.
sl- associated with slowness or laziness, e.g. slow, slacker, slouch, slug, sluggard
Hinton, Leanne, Johanna Nichols and John J. Ohala (eds.), 2006. Sound Symbolism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

6. Grammatical motivation - Words belong to morphological classes or categories – nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs - and in order to function in sentences they have to be grammatically shaped. Nouns have number, gender and case. Verbs have tense, aspect, mood, voice, person, number.
The relation of possession in the world. How is it expressed in English?

7. Semantic motivation - An object is named after its most conspicuous feature and afterwards the feature begins to represent or stand for the whole object. With time this motivation might be lost and then it is known only to specialists, i.e. etymologists.
писалище                  writing desk    bureau           
жълтурче                   buttercup
самолет                     aircraft
горчица                      moustarde                  mustard
костенурка    tortoise

The same motivation in different languages
кривак                        crook
скакалец                   grasshopper
устие              mouth of a river Germ. Mundung

прозорец                   window

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