Semantics
Questions? Comments?
Problem Set 4 due 5/20
Problem Set 5 due 5/29
Exercises for Chapter 6: 1, 2, 3, 12, 18 due 5/22
Goals for Semantics chapter
 Not responsible for Section 3.4 (interpretation of pronouns)
You should know how to do the following:
Identify the relation among words and sentences
Understand the different theories of meaning
Structural versus lexical ambiguity
Thematic roles
Pragmatics - Especially 4.4 Conversational Maxims
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Semantics is the study of the meaning in human language.
Have you ever said in frustration, “Well that’s not what I
meant!” - what happened?
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Semantic relations that exist among words
Synonymy (words that are synonyms) - words that have the same
meaning in some or all contexts
Antonymy (words that are antonyms) - words that have the opposite
meaning of each other (with regard to some component of their meaning)
Polysemy - when a word has 2 or more related meanings
Homophony - when 2 words (same pronunciation) has 2 or more
entirely distinct meanings (sound the same but don’t have to have same
spelling)
LEXICAL AMBIGUITY = when a single form has 2 or more
meanings (polysemy and homophony)
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Semantic relations that exist among phrases and sentences
Paraphrase (like synonyms) - 2 sentences that can have the same meaning
a. The cat chased the squirrel.
b. The squirrel was chased by the cat.
The relationship between the above sentences is that if one is true, then the other
must be true as well. They are said to have the same truth condition
When the truth of one sentence guarantees the truth of another, we say that there
is a relation of entailment - the above example is mutual in that either sentence
entails the other
Relation can be asymmetrical:
a. The cat killed the squirrel.
b. The squirrel is dead
If a is true, then b must be true, but not vice versa
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Contradiction - if one sentence is true, than the other must be false
a. Jeff is an only child.
b. Jeff has an older sister.
 Both sentences cannot both be true, then one contradicts the other
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Practice
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Semantics Practice
steal (to rob)
steel (metal)
homophones
I saw Craig at the party.
It was Craig I saw at the party.
paraphrase
grass (cows eat)
grass (marijuana)
polysemes
Jeff is an only child.
Jeff’s sister is Julie.
contradiction
The cat killed the mouse.
The mouse is dead.
entailment
Exercises 1, 2, 3
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What exactly is meaning?
As native speakers of a language, we all know the meaning of a great
many words in our language. If we don’t know the meaning, we look it up
in the dictionary. But to understand the definition, we have to know the
meaning of those words...
It is easier to determine the semantic relation between words than the
precise meaning of a word. There are attempts at some theories of
meaning...
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What exactly is meaning? Theories of meaning
 Connotation - according to this theory, a word’s meaning is simply the set
of associations that the word evokes - desert evokes hot, dry, sandy
 Denotation - according to this theory, a word’s meaning is not the set of
associations it evokes, but rather the entity to which it refers = its denotation or
referent in the real world - desert would refer to that set of regions in the world
characterized by barrenness and lack of rain
Problems with these theories? A desert with no sand, unicorn, the President
of the United States AND the leader of the free world OR Michelle Obama’s
husband
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What exactly is meaning?
 Extension/Intensions - combines denotation and connotation - extension
refers to the referents in the real world and intension is the associations that a
word evokes. desert = extension = a barren, dry region in the world such as
the Gobi or Sahara. intension = having to do with barrenness and dryness, not
a specific region
 Extension is the referent while intension is the mental image - in this
case, unicorn or ogre have no extension, only intension - but what about
Shrek?
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What exactly is meaning? Theories of meaning
 Componential Analysis - this theory is based on the idea that meaning can
be decomposed into smaller semantic units (like features in phonology).
 [+living, +human, -adult] gives us the category child
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What exactly is meaning? Problems with the theories
 Connotation - different people have different associations for words, and
associations do not necessarily get at meaning
 Denotation - it cannot account for entities that exist in an imaginary realm
 Extension/Intension - can account for entities in imagination, but still don’t
get at what meaning actually is
 Componential analysis - works relatively well, but it is difficult to specify
all the features that would be needed. Also, it is difficult to determine smaller
units of meaning for some words (blue versus yellow or orange)
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Practice
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Semantics Practice
Describe the intensions and extensions of each of theses phrases.
Extension
Intension
a) the president of the US
Barak Obama US head of state
b) the queen of England
Elizabeth II
British monarch (or the wife of British
monarch)
c) the capital of Indiana
Indianapolis
city containing the state legislature
d) women who have walked on the
moon
none
set of females who have walked on the
lunar surface
e) my linguistics professor
Jeff
the person charged with teaching the
ling course in which I am enrolled
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 Concepts - the system we use to identify, classify and organize all elements
of our experiences. Our conceptual system reveals how meaning is expressed
through language.
 Fuzzy Concepts - concepts that can differ from person to person - no clearcut boundaries - expensive or even smart, beautiful, ugly
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Graded Membership - members of a concept can be graded according to how
typical they are within that concept - most typical is prototype - other
members are arranged around the prototype - members having more in
common with the prototype occur closer to the prototype, and less in common,
further away
What is meaning of vegetable? What is a prototypical vegetable?
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 Metaphor - the concepts expressed by language do not exist in isolation,
but are interconnected and associated. Metaphor = the understanding of one
concept in terms of another can be used to make these connections.
 emotions connected to up and down
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Lexicalization - process whereby concepts are encoded into the words of a
language and is language specific. Some English words contain both the
concept of motion and the manner of motion (roll, crawl, slither). Spanish
does not and both concepts need to be lexicalized (2 different words - 1 for
motion and 1 for manner). Spanish has verbs (native English words do not)
that show motion and direction go up = subir; go down = bajar (Eskimo words
for snow/NW word for rain)
By studying what concepts are lexicalized we can find out if there are common
or universal concepts that are or are not lexicalized in any given language
See Figure 6.3 for example
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 Grammaticization - concepts that are expressed as affixes or nonlexical
categories. Concepts such as tense, number and negation are often
grammaticized across languages. Hidatsa statements accompanied by a
morpheme that indicates the evidence for its truth (certainty, common
knowledge, etc) See Table 6.13, p. 220 - Book says English doesn’t really
have this - do you agree?
What about -ish? Do you think this morpheme grammaticizes
uncertainty?
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What about wanna, kinda, sorta, like? How do express future tense in Englsih?
will/gonna? going to  gonna grammaticized only for future, not for any combination
of going + to.
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Practice
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In English, are these concepts fuzzy, graded or have been grammaticized?
the comparative or superlative
grammaticized
cats
graded
mountains
graded,
fuzzy
grammaticized
fuzzy
time
vegetables
graded
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 Principle of Compositionality - The meaning of a sentence is determined
by the meaning of its component parts and the manner in which they are
arranged in syntactic structure.
 How is syntactic structure relevant for meaning?
 Constructional meaning - the meaning of a sentence defined by the
construction
The caused motion construction
X causes Y to go somewhere: Jeff mashed the book into the backpack.
NP VP
NP
PP
The ditransitive construction
X causes Y to have Z: The bartender blended George a margarita.
NP
VP
NP
NP
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Ambiguity
Structural Ambiguity - 2 sentences with the same word order but with
different meanings due to the structural relationship that the sentences
have (e.g., I met the woman standing by the water cooler.)
wealthy men and women
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Ambiguity
Lexical Ambiguity - 1 word in a sentence having more than one meaning
(caused by polysemy or homophony)
The glasses are on the table
Eye glasses or drinking glasses???
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 Thematic Roles (theta roles) - used to categorize the relation between a
sentence’s parts and the event it describes.
Agent (actor) = the entity that performs the action
Theme = the entity undergoing an action of movement
Source = the starting point for a movement
Goal = the end point for a movement
Location = the place where an action takes place
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Practice
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Semantics Practice
Identify the thematic roles in the following examples
and determine which verb/preposition assigned the role
Sara drove the bus from Seattle to Portland.
agent
theme
source goal
The children ate their ice cream in the kitchen.
agent
theme
location
Which shoes did Jake buy at the store?
theme agent
location
 Thematic Roles (theta roles) - used to categorize the relation between a
sentence’s parts and the event it describes.
Agent (actor) = the entity that performs the action
Theme = the entity undergoing an action of movement
Source = the starting point for a movement
Goal = the end point for a movement
Location = the place where an action takes place
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 Thematic Roles assignment - Thematic roles are assigned to NPs based on
their position within the sentence. Typically, verbs and prepositions assign
thematic roles.
 VERBS: Assign the agent role to its subject NP; Assign the theme role to its
complement NP (Both are optional)
PREPOSITIONS: Assign a thematic role (the specific one depends on the
preposition) to its complement NP
Thematic roles are assigned at deep structure. What did the students throw?
has the deep structure The students threw what - The verb threw assigns the
agent role to the students and the theme role to what. What retains this role
even after Move changes its position in the structure.
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 Thematic Roles assignment
IP
I'
NP
VP
N'
V'
NP
N'
Det
N
The
students
I
+Pst
V
Det
N
threw the textbook
<ag, th>
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 Thematic Roles assignment
IP
I'
NP
VP
N'
V'
NP
N'
Det
N
The
students
I
+Pst
V
N
threw
what
<ag, th>
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CP
NP
N'
Exercise 12
C'
C
+Q
IP
I'
NP
VP
N'
I
+Pst
V'
NP
N'
N
What
theme
Det
did
the
agent
N
students
I
+Pst
V
N
t
throw
t
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Pragmatics
 Pragmatics - the study of meaning as it relates to speaker’s and addressee’s
background attitudes and beliefs, their understanding of the context in which a
sentence is uttered, and their knowledge of how language can be used to
inform, persuade, mislead, etc.
 Focuses on utterances - sentences that are spoken within a given context
(the same sentence spoken 2 different times is 2 different utterances - why?)
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Pragmatics
Beliefs and attitudes The city council denied the demonstrators a permit because they advocated
violence
The city council denied the demonstrators a permit because they abhorred
violence
The architect gave the secretary a raise after she typed the report.
A man and his son were in a car accident and rushed to the hospital. When
the boy arrived, the surgeon declared, “That’s my son. I cannot operate on
him!” Who is the surgeon?
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Pragmatics
Presupposition - the assumption or belief implied by the use of a particular
word.
John admitted/believed that the soccer team had cheated.
Presupposition cannot be canceled out if the opposite of the event is true.
John admitted that the soccer team had cheated, but the team had not cheated
VS. John believed that the soccer team had cheated, but the team had not
cheated.
admitted presupposes that the team had in fact cheated, whereas believed
does not
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Practice
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Pragmatics Practice

Presupposition - the assumption or belief implied by the use of a particular
word. Which word has the presupposition and what is it?
1)
2)
Identify the sentence that contains the presupposition.
Locate the word that is responsible for the presupposition.
a)
John regrets that Maria went to the graduation ceremony.
John believes that Maria went to the graduation ceremony
b)
The captain thought that the ship was in danger.
The captain realized that the ship was in danger.
c)
It is significant that the criminal was sentenced.
It is likely that the criminal was sentenced
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Pragmatics
Setting/Deictics - the form and interpretation of some words depend on the
location of the speaker and listener within a particular setting. These words are
called deictics.
here/there - this/that - these ones/those ones - can only have meaning from
their use
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Pragmatics
Discourse - the term used to describe the connected speech of utterances that
are produced during a conversation, lecture, story, or other kind of speech act.
Using pronouns in a story to refer back to already introduced nouns.
Meaning depends on the entire discourse.
Topic - old versus new information - differences in the use of a or the in
English
Discourse words like anyways to start an utterance - what does this mean to
you?
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Pragmatics
How do we interpret the following sentences and how does the choice of words
influence that interpretation?
1. Karen was killed/murdered in a car accident.
2. Kevin declared/acknowledged that the accusation was false.
3. a. A priest was at the hospital.
b. The priest was at a hospital.
4. When I come/go back to China, I’ll climb the Great Wall.
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Pragmatics
Speech Acts:
Sometimes we actually do more than communicate thoughts during speech.
Things we do during speech (acts):
Apologize, compliment, make requests, etc.
The meaning of these speech acts often is from conventionalized forms more than the words themselves, but we have gotten used to requests in
certain forms.
Can you hand me that book? What is the meaning of this question? What is the
speech act?
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Pragmatics
Conversations: The Cooperative Principle = Make your contribution
appropriate to the conversation.
Conversational Maxims (p. 233)
Relevance: Make your contribution relevant to the conversation.
Quality: Make your contribution truthful.
Quantity: Make your contribution only as informative as required.
Manner: Make your contribution unambiguous, clear, and logical.
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Pragmatics
Conversational Maxims (p. 233)
Conversational Implicature: During the course of the conversation, we are
often able to make inferences about what is meant but was not actually said.
Implying a meaning in a given conversation by flouting the above maxims. (Not
lying)
EXAMPLES?
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Pragmatics
Can you pass the salt?
Parent to child with injured arm vs. Parent to child at dinner.
What are the differences in what is implied/implicated?
Letter of rec for computer IT job that says: The employee always speaks
quietly and dresses well. Also, they don’t eat fish at lunch....
What maxim is being violated? What is the implicature of the letter?
Exercise 18
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Ling 390 - Intro to Linguistics