Themes – Space Semantics

Semantics and syntax examples

Semantics refers to the knowledge and comprehension of words. Semantic skills may be measured by various receptive vocabulary tests. However, semantics is a broader concept than merely words in the sentence. Compare the sentences below:

  1. I went home and died after the party.
  2. Her father died last week.

Obviously, the meaning of the word died changed to reflect the context. As this example illustrates, it is often difficult to entirely separate semantics from the next level of language—syntax. Syntax refers to the formal relationships between words in phrases or sentences. Examples of such relationships are the subject/verb relationship and the relationship between the verb and the direct object.

Wiig was one of the early researchers to study syntax and semantics (Wiig, Lapointe, & Semel, 1977). This research consistently demonstrated deficits in various semantic and syntactic abilities among children with learning disabilities. For example, these children demonstrate deficits in the ability to apply morphological rules (formation of plurals, verb tenses, and possessives are some examples). Also, comprehension and expression of syntactic structures have been identified as a deficit area among these children. These syntactic structures include relationships between words in sentences and phrases. Understanding who a pronoun applies to and what function is served by a direct object and an indirect object are examples of this syntactic skill. These deficits are apparent both in the child's understanding of the language of others and in his or her own production of spoken language. Finally, at least one of these studies demonstrated that oral language production did not automatically improve with age for students with learning disabilities as it does for other students (Wiig et al., 1977). This may suggest a critical period in which language intervention must take place if such intervention is to be effective.

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