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Semantics linguistics meaning

Semantics is the study of meaning. There are two types of meaning: conceptual meaning and associative meaning. The conceptual meaning of the word sea is something that is large, filled with saltwater, and so on. This meaning is true for everyone. The associative meaning might be pirates, shipwreck, storms, battle and so on. These associations vary from person to person. The conceptual meaning of concise is expressed in few words, but concise being a good thing is part of the associative meaning.

Reference and Sense[edit]

Reference refers to what an expression refers to in the real world. For example, Wikibooks refers to the website where you can find this book. Barack Obama refers to the first black president of the United States. In the sentence Jimmy Wales, who founded Wikipedia, is an intelligent man, who refers to Jimmy Wales.

Constant reference occurs when an expression always refers to the same thing, regardless of context. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea usually has constant reference, as does Noam Chomsky. Smith, Mary and the dog do not have constant reference.

Sense is different from reference in that sense does not take care of objects in the real world. When you look in a dictionary, most of the definitions you get tell you the senses of the words. Consider this extract from Wiktionary's entry on plane:

  1. An airplane; an aeroplane.
  2. A level or flat surface.
  3. A level of existence or development.

None of these are related to actual aeroplanes or surfaces in the real world. They are senses.

Semantic Features[edit]

To express meaning, we use semantic features. For example, castle is something that with the features [+large, +building, +fortified]. A house that is easy to attack wouldn't be a castle because it does not necessarily have the [+fortified] feature. We can even list semantic features as a table:

large building fortified

Sometimes, a sentence is syntactically correct, by semantically meaningless. Let's revisit Chomsky's example:

(1a) Colourless green ideas sleep furiously.

Obviously, this sentence doesn't make sense to us at all. We can often determine what words can fit into a sentence by using semantic features. Consider this example:

(1b) The N[+living] was killed.

This would prevent us from saying 'the homework was killed' or 'the building was killed'.

Lexical Relations[edit]

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