Introduction to Linguistics II
Ling 2-121C, group b
Lecture 7
Eleni Miltsakaki
Spring 2006
Review: Word meaning
State the semantic properties that are common and
different between the following groups of words
(a) bachelor, man, son, paperboy, pope, chief
(b) bull, rooster, drake, ram
(a) table, stone, pencil, cup, house, ship, car
(b) milk, alcohol, rice, soup, mud
(a) walk, run, skip, jump, hop, swim
(b) fly, skate, ski, ride, cycle, canoe, hang-glide
Review: Word meaning
• Explain why the following are retronyms:
– Straight razor, one-speed bike, conventional warfare,
acoustic guitar, bar soap
• Classify the following antonyms as
complementary, gradable or relational opposites
– Good-bad, expensive-cheap, parent-offspring,
beautiful-ugly, false-true, pass-fail, hot-cold, legalillegal
• Think of five or more heteronyms
Review: Phrasal meaning
• What does the principle of compositionality
Review: Meaning of nouns
• What is it important to identify the head of a
• What do you know of the meaning derived from
adjective-noun combinations?
• What do you know about the meaning derived
from noun-noun compounds?
Review: Sense and reference
• What is sense and reference?
• Do all nouns have both sense and
reference? Give examples.
Review: Sense and reference
• In a conversation about Britain in 1982 can the
Prime Minister and the Leader of the
Conservative Party have the same referent?
• If we are talking about a situation in which John
is standing in the corner, can John have the
same referent as the person in the corner?
Review: Sense and reference
• Do the following words refer to things in the world?
– Almost, probable, and, if
• When you look up the meaning of the word in a dictionary
what do you find?
– Its referent?
– An expression of the same sense?
• Sense is hard to define. It’s easier to talk about words
that have the same sense in order to understand sense.
• Video: What does ‘alike’ mean?
Verb meaning
• The verb determines the number of objects
• It constrains the semantic properties of
both the subject and the object(s)
• Examples?
Thematic roles
Subjects and objects of verbs are
semantically related to the verb.
Thematic roles
• The boy found a red brick
• Agent: the boy
• Theme: a red brick
 Part of the meaning of find is that the
subject is an agent and the object a theme.
Thematic roles
John put the red brick on the wall.
Agent: John
Theme: the red brick
Location: on the wall
Thematic roles
Mary received a gift from John
Source: John
Goal: Mary
Theme: a gift
Thematic roles
John cut his hair with a razor.
Agent: John
Theme: his hair
Instrument: with a razor
Thematic roles
• John admires Mary
• Experiencer: John
• Stimulus: Mary
Thematic roles in other
• German does not allow location to be the subject of a
– This hotel forbids dogs
– In diesem Hotel sind Hunde verbotem
– (in this hotel are dogs forbidden)
• Thematic roles are often referred to as ‘case’ of the noun
– In Finnish, the morphological shape of the noun reflects its
thematic role
• Languages with a rich case system often put more
constraints on the thematic role that’s permitted in subject
The theta-criterion
• The process of assigning thematic roles is called theta
– E.g., The boy opened the door with the key
• Theta assignment:
– Agent=the subject
– Theme=the direct object
– Instrument=the prepositional phrase
• Theta criterion: states that a particular thematic role may
occur once in a sentence
– *The boy opened the door with the key with a lock-pick
 The semantic relations between verbs
and noun phrases are part of linguistic
competence and account for much of
meaning in language.
Sentential meaning
• Like noun phrases sentences can have
sense or intension
• Sentences can also have reference or
• Their extension is true if the sentence is
true, false if the sentence is false
Sentence meaning
• Truth conditions
– The sense of a declarative sentence makes it
possible to know under what circumstances
the sentence is true
– These circumstances are the truth conditions
of the sentence
– The truth of falsehood of sentences is their
Sentence meaning
• Truth conditions
– Knowing the truth conditions is not the same
as knowing the facts
– The truth conditions let you examine the world
and learn the facts
– You may not know the truth of ‘The
Mecklenburg Charter was signed in 1770’
– But if you know its meaning you know how to
discover its truth
Sentence meaning
• Truth conditions
E.g. Rufus believes that the Declaration of
Independence was sign in 1976
– An entire sentence maybe true even if one or
more parts are false
– The example is true if some individual named
Rufus believe the statement
Two sentences are paraphrases if they
have the same truth conditions, i.e.
whenever one is true, the other is true too
1. The horse threw the rider.
2. The rider was thrown by the horse.
• Not all active-passive pairs are
– Every person in this room speaks two
– Two languages are spoken by every person in
this room
– These two sentences do not have the same
truth conditions
• Sometimes knowing the truth of a
sentence entails or necessarily implies the
truth of another sentence
– Corday assasinated Marat
– Marat is dead
• Much of what we know about the world
comes from knowing the entailments of
true sentences
• Contradiction is negative entailment
– Scott is a baby
– Scott is an adult
Events and states
• Some sentences describe events such as
– John kissed Mary
– John ate oysters
• Other sentences describe states such as
– John knows Mary
– John likes oysters
• These differences have syntactic consequences
Events and states
• Compare
Mary was kissed by John
John is kissing Mary
Kiss Mary!
John deliberately kissed Mary
• With
? Mary is known by John
? John is knowing Mary
Know Mary!
John deliberately knows Mary
Pronouns and coreference
• Show the close interaction of sentence
structure and semantics
– Reflexive pronouns pick an antecedent from
the same S or phrase
– Compare:
• Jane bit herself
• * Jane said that herself slept
Pronouns and coreference
• Sentence structure plays a role in the
interpretation of pronouns
• Compare
– John believes that he is a genius
– He believes that John is a genius
• It’s not about linear order
– The fact that he is considered a genius bothers John
• Anomaly occurs in many ways
– Contradictory semantic properties
– Nonsense words
– Violation of semantic rules…
• The fact that we are able to understand
anomalous sentences and identify them as such
is evidence of our knowledge of the semantic
system of a language
• Sometimes breaking semantic rules is
done intentionally to create special effects,
as in poetry
– …children building this rainman out of snow
(e.e. cummings)
– … a grief ago (Dylan Thomas)
• A metaphor is an expression that ordinarily designates one concept,
used for another
The fall of the empire
Walls have ears
Dr. Jekyll is a butcher
Time is money
• To understand metaphors we need to understand both the literal
meaning and facts about the world
• Metaphor can have a strong cultural component
– My car is a lemon
• The principle of compositionality is sometimes
supeseded by expressions that seem decomposable
• Idioms are similar in structure to ordinary phrases but
have frozen meaning
– Bite your tongue
– Kick the bucket
– Give a piece of your mind
• Paraphrases often do not retain the idiomatic meaning
but there are exceptions
– The FBI kept tabs on radicals
– Tabs were kept on radical by the FBI

Introduction to Computational Linguistics