Lexis, Morphology & Semantics
for English Language Teaching
The meaning systems of English words 3:
Paradigmatic Substitution
Syntagmatic Association
Semantic Field
The meaning systems of English words 3
• Structuralism in linguistics
– Paradigmatic relations
– Syntagmatic relations
• Componential analysis
– Binary semantic features
• kinship terms
• colour terms
– Semantic primes / primitives
• Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM)
• Semantic fields & sub-fields
• Universalism vs relativism
The meaning systems of English words 3
Structuralist linguistics
(Ferdinand de Saussure)
In language, there are:
• only differences
• no positive terms
( e.g. chess games )
The meaning systems of English words 3
Structuralist linguistics
(Ferdinand de Saussure)
In language, there are:
• only differences
• no positive terms

Don’t ask what a word means.
Ask what it does not mean.
The meaning systems of English words 3
Structuralist linguistics
Structuralism in linguistics:
 each aspect, component or part of a
language is related to, and depends
on, other aspects, components, or
parts of the language
 the structuralist perspective vs the
atomist perspective to language
The meaning systems of English words 3
Structuralist linguistics
WORDS
(unicorn)
SENSES
(concept of unicorn)
imputed /
assumed
THINGS IN
THE REAL WORLD
(?unicorns?)
The meaning systems of English words 3
Structuralist linguistics
sense relations
WORDS
(unicorn)
SENSES
(concept of unicorn)
imputed /
assumed
THINGS IN
THE REAL WORLD
(?unicorns?)
The meaning systems of English words 3
Structuralist linguistics
Sense relations studied in terms of:
– networks of words
– relations between words
– structural relations between words
The meaning systems of English words 3
Structuralist linguistics
Sense relations studied on the
basis of:
–informants’ intuitive judgements
• “native speakers” as informants
• competent native users as informants
• naïve informants
The meaning systems of English words 3
Paradigmatic relations
• paradigm:
– the set of items from which to choose one (for
the purpose of filling a slot)
• paradigmatic relations:
– the relations of contrast, or substitution,
between the items in a paradigm
– the value (i.e. significance / meaning) of a
visible, present item depends on the invisible,
absent items in the paradigmatic set
The meaning systems of English words 3
Paradigmatic relations: examples
bet
pet
met
net
wet
yet
bat
bet
beat
bit
boot
but
The cat sat on the
dog
pig
bird
mat
chair
bed
desk
The meaning systems of English words 3
Syntagmatic relations
• syntygm:
– the set of items which together form a syntygm
• syntagmatic relations:
– the relations of combination, or association,
between the items in a syntagm
– the value (i.e. significance / meaning) of a
visible, present item depends on the other
visible, co-present items in the syntagmatic set
The meaning systems of English words 3
Syntagmatic relations: examples
bet
pet
met
net
wet
yet
Thecatsatonthemat
The meaning systems of English words 3
Interdependence between
paradigmatic & syntagmatic relations
– syntagm: presence depends on
co-presence
– paradigm: presence depends on
absence
– conceptual priority of paradigmatic
relations over syntagmatic relations,
i.e. the absent over the present
The meaning systems of English words 3
Absences & presences:
a semantic analysis
The boy bites the dog.
The girl punches his toe.
The man kicks the bell.
The woman kisses the baboon.
The meaning systems of English words 3
Absences & presences:
a semantic analysis
The boy bites the dog (with his teeth)
The girl punches his toe (with her fist)
The man kicks the bell (with his foot)
The woman kisses the baboon (with her lips)
The meaning systems of English words 3
Componential analysis
- the analysis of the meaning of a
lexical word by decomposing it into
a number of core meaning
components (or semantic features)
The meaning systems of English words 3
Binary semantic features
woman: +human, +female
man: +human, +male
The meaning systems of English words 3
Semantic components
& binary features
(Assume there are only women and men in social life)
woman: +human, - male
man: +human, +male
The meaning systems of English words 3
Semantic components
& binary features
(Now there are 4 more items: boy, girl, mother & father)
woman: +human, - male, +adult
man: +human, +male, +adult
boy:
+human, +male, + child
girl:
+human, - male, + child
mother: +
father: +
The meaning systems of English words 3
Semantic components
& binary features
(Now there are 4 more items: boy, girl, mother & father)
woman: +human, - male, +adult
man: +human, +male, +adult
boy:
+human, +male, - adult
girl:
+human, - male, - adult
mother: +
father: +
The meaning systems of English words 3
Semantic components
& binary features
(Now there are 4 more items: boy, girl, mother & father)
woman: +human, - male, +adult
man: +human, +male, +adult
boy:
+human, +male, - adult
girl:
+human, - male, - adult
mother: +human, - male, +ascend
father: +human, +male, +ascend
The meaning systems of English words 3
MALE
mother
K
i
n
s
h
i
p
father
t
e
r
m
s
nephew
son
daughter
sister
brother
niece
aunt
uncle
cousin
ASCEND
DECEND
LINEAL
The meaning systems of English words 3
MALE
mother
-
K
i
n
s
h
i
p
father
+
son
+
daughter
-
sister
-
brother
+
t
e
r
m
s
nephew
+
niece
-
aunt
-
uncle
+
cousin
?
ASCEND
DECEND
LINEAL
The meaning systems of English words 3
MALE
mother
-
K
i
n
s
h
i
p
father
+
son
+
daughter
-
sister
-
brother
+
t
e
r
m
s
nephew
+
niece
-
aunt
-
uncle
+
cousin
+/-
ASCEND
DECEND
LINEAL
The meaning systems of English words 3
MALE
ASCEND
mother
-
+
K
i
n
s
h
i
p
father
+
+
son
+
-
daughter
-
-
sister
-
-
brother
+
-
t
e
r
m
s
nephew
+
-
niece
-
-
aunt
-
+
uncle
+
+
cousin
+/-
?
DECEND
LINEAL
The meaning systems of English words 3
MALE
ASCEND
mother
-
+
K
i
n
s
h
i
p
father
+
+
son
+
-
daughter
-
-
sister
-
-
brother
+
-
t
e
r
m
s
nephew
+
-
niece
-
-
aunt
-
+
uncle
+
+
cousin
+/-
-
DECEND
LINEAL
The meaning systems of English words 3
MALE
ASCEND
DECEND
mother
-
+
-
K
i
n
s
h
i
p
father
+
+
-
son
+
-
+
daughter
-
-
+
sister
-
-
?
brother
+
-
?
t
e
r
m
s
nephew
+
-
+
niece
-
-
+
aunt
-
+
-
uncle
+
+
-
cousin
+/-
-
?
LINEAL
The meaning systems of English words 3
MALE
ASCEND
DECEND
mother
-
+
-
K
i
n
s
h
i
p
father
+
+
-
son
+
-
+
daughter
-
-
+
sister
-
-
-
brother
+
-
-
t
e
r
m
s
nephew
+
-
+
niece
-
-
+
aunt
-
+
-
uncle
+
+
-
cousin
+/-
-
-
LINEAL
The meaning systems of English words 3
MALE
ASCEND
DECEND
LINEAL
mother
-
+
-
+
K
i
n
s
h
i
p
father
+
+
-
+
son
+
-
+
+
daughter
-
-
+
+
sister
-
-
-
+
brother
+
-
-
+
t
e
r
m
s
nephew
+
-
+
niece
-
-
+
aunt
-
+
-
uncle
+
+
-
cousin
+/-
-
-
The meaning systems of English words 3
MALE
ASCEND
DECEND
LINEAL
mother
-
+
-
+
K
i
n
s
h
i
p
father
+
+
-
+
son
+
-
+
+
daughter
-
-
+
+
sister
-
-
-
+
brother
+
-
-
+
t
e
r
m
s
nephew
+
-
+
-
niece
-
-
+
-
aunt
-
+
-
-
uncle
+
+
-
-
cousin
+/-
-
-
-
The meaning systems of English words 3
mother [
- MALE
+ASCEND
- DECEND
+LINEAL
]
? He is my mother.
? My mother and I were born on exactly the
same day, month and year.
? I brought up my mother.
? I introduced my mother to my parents.
The meaning systems of English words 3
(networkS of)
Colour terms
(Berlin & Kay 1969)
• Basic colour terms
– differ between communities at different
stages of development
– order of developmental stages
– ways of conceptually “cutting up” the
colour spectrum
• The spectrum of colours
the visible colour spectrum: http://www.o2mc.net/blog/index.php/2009/03/27/color-theory/
html colour names: http://www.w3schools.com/HTML/html_colornames.asp
The meaning systems of English words 3
(networkS of)
Colour terms
(Berlin & Kay 1969)
http://www.putlearningfirst.com/language/research/colour_words.html
(Accessed 14 June 2011)
The meaning systems of English words 3
(networkS of)
Mooncake terms
… lotus seeds paste
… lotus seeds paste with egg yolks
……
… !! ice-cream mooncakes !!
(networkS of)
Hotel terms
… !! a home away from home !!
The meaning systems of English words 3
(networkS of)
Mooncake terms
… lotus seeds paste
… lotus seeds paste with egg yolks
……
… !! ice-cream mooncakes !!
(networkS of)
Hotel terms
… !! a home away from home !!
( !! a potentially shocking idea for people from certain cultural experiences )
The meaning systems of English words 3
Semantic primes / primitives (Wierzbicka 1994 & before)
I, YOU, SOMEONE, SOMETHING, PEOPLE
(substantives)
THIS, THE SAME, OTHER
ONE, TWO, MANY, ALL
THINK, KNOW, WANT, FEEL
SAY
GOOD, BAD
BIG, SMALL
DO, HAPPEN
WHEN, BEFORE, AFTER
WHERE, UNDER, ABOVE
NOT, CAN, VERY
IF, BECAUSE, LIKE
(determiners)
(quantifiers)
(mental predicates)
(speech)
(evaluators)
(descriptors)
(actions & events)
(time)
(space)
(metapredicates)
(interclausal linkers)
The meaning systems of English words 3
Semantic primes / primitives (Wierzbicka 1996)
I, YOU, SOMEONE, SOMETHING, PEOPLE
(substantives)
THIS, THE SAME, OTHER, SOME
(determiners)
ONE, TWO, MANY, ALL
(quantifiers)
MORE
(augmentor)
THINK, KNOW, WANT, FEEL, SEE, HEAR
(mental predicates)
MOVE, THERE IS, (BE) ALIVE
(non-mental predicates)
SAY
(speech)
GOOD, BAD
(evaluators)
BIG, SMALL
(descriptors)
DO, HAPPEN
(actions & events)
WHEN, BEFORE, AFTER, A LONG/SHORT TIME, NOW
(time)
WHERE, UNDER, ABOVE, FAR, NEAR, SIDE, INSIDE, HERE (space)
NOT, CAN, VERY
(metapredicates)
IF, BECAUSE, LIKE
(interclausal linkers)
IF … WOULD, MAYBE
(imagination & possibility)
WORD
(words)
The meaning systems of English words 3
Semantic primes / primitives (Wierzbicka 2002 )
I, YOU, SOMEONE, PEOPLE, SOMETHING/THING, BODY (substantives)
THIS, THE SAME, OTHER, SOME
(determiners)
ONE, TWO, SOME, ALL, MUCH/MANY
(quantifiers)
GOOD, BAD
(evaluators)
BIG, SMALL
(descriptors)
THINK, KNOW, WANT, FEEL, SEE, HEAR
(mental predicates)
SAY, WORDS, TRUE
(speech)
DO, HAPPEN, MOVE, (BE) ALIVE
(actions, events & movement)
THERE IS, HAVE
(existence & possession)
LIVE, DIE
(life & death)
WHEN, BEFORE, AFTER, A LONG/SHORT TIME, FOR SOME TIME
(time)
WHERE/PLACE, HERE, ABOVE, BELOW, FAR, NEAR, SIDE, INSIDE
UNDER
NOT, MAYBE, CAN, BECAUSE, IF
VERY, MORE
KIND OF, PART OF
LIKE
(space)
(logical concepts)
(intensifier, augmentor)
(partonomy & taxonomy)
(similarity)
The meaning systems of English words 3
Semantic primes / primitives (Goddard 2008 Cross-Linguistic Semantics)
I, YOU, SOMEONE, SOMETHING/THING, PEOPLE, BODY (substantives)
KIND, PART
(relational substantives)
THIS, THE SAME, OTHER/ELSE
(determiners)
ONE, TWO, MUCH/MANY, SOME, ALL,
(quantifiers)
GOOD, BAD
(evaluators)
BIG, SMALL
(descriptors)
THINK, KNOW, WANT, FEEL, SEE, HEAR
(mental predicates)
SAY, WORDS, TRUE
(speech)
DO, HAPPEN, MOVE, TOUCH
(actions, events, movement, contact)
BE(SOMEWHERE), THERE IS, HAVE, BE(SOMEONE/SOMETHING)
(location, existence, possession, specification)
(life & death)
LIVE, DIE
WHEN/TIME, NOW, BEFORE, AFTER, A LONG/SHORT TIME, FOR
SOME TIME, MOMENT
(time)
WHERE/PLACE, HERE, ABOVE, BELOW, FAR, NEAR, SIDE, INSIDE
NOT, MAYBE, CAN, BECAUSE, IF
VERY, MORE
LIKE
(space)
(logical concepts)
(intensifier, augmentor)
(similarity)
The meaning systems of English words 3
Semantic primes / primitives
(Goddard & Wierzbicka 2014 Words & Meanings: Lexical Semantics Across Domains, Languages, and Cultures)
I-ME, YOU, SOMEONE, SOMETHING-THING, PEOPLE, BODY(substantives)
KIND, PARTS
(relational substantives)
THIS, THE SAME, OTHER-ELSE
(determiners)
ONE, TWO, MUCH-MANY, SOME, ALL, LITTLE-FEW
(quantifiers)
GOOD, BAD
(evaluators)
BIG, SMALL
(descriptors)
THINK, KNOW, (don’t) WANT, FEEL, SEE, HEAR
(mental predicates)
SAY, WORDS, TRUE
(speech)
DO, HAPPEN, MOVE, TOUCH
(actions, events, movement, contact)
BE(SOMEWHERE), THERE IS, BE(SOMEONE)’S,
BE(SOMEONE/SOMETHING) (location, existence, possession, specification)
LIVE, DIE
(life & death)
WHEN-TIME, NOW, BEFORE, AFTER, A LONG/SHORT TIME, FOR
SOME TIME, MOMENT
(time)
WHERE-PLACE, HERE, ABOVE, BELOW, FAR, NEAR, SIDE, INSIDE
NOT, MAYBE, CAN, BECAUSE, IF
VERY, MORE
LIKE
(space)
(logical concepts)
(intensifier, augmentor)
(similarity)
The meaning systems of English words 3
Semantic primes / primitives
CODIFI-able “A Language’s”
Concretely as: word / word-parts
DISCOVERed:
“semantic primes”
DISCOVER:
the alphabet of this
“mental language”
ASSUME: the human mind  its innate “language”
See: http://www.griffith.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0015/453201/Wierzbicka_2011_Common-Language-of-All-People.pdf
The meaning systems of English words 3
Semantic primes / primitives
Sky
• this is something very big
• people can think of this something like this:
– this something is above all
– this something is far from people
Sea
•
•
The meaning systems of English words 3
Natural Semantic Metalanguage
Order
• I say this: I want someone to do something
• I think this:after I say this order, someone does this
something
• I think this:because I say this order, someone will do this
something
Ask
•
•
The meaning systems of English words 3
Natural Semantic Metalanguage
Order
• I say this: I want someone to do something
• I think this: after I say this order, someone does this
something
• I think this: because I say this order, someone will do this
something
Ask
• I say this:
• I don’t think this:
I want you to do something
because I say this, someone will do this
something
The meaning systems of English words 3
Natural Semantic Metalanguage
lie
“X lied to Y” =
X said something to Y;
X knew it was not true;
X wanted Y to think it was true
The meaning systems of English words 3
Natural Semantic Metalanguage
sad
“X is sad” =
X feels something;
sometimes a person thinks something like this:
something bad happened;
if I didn’t know that it happened
I would say: I don’t want it to happen;
I don’t / can’t say this now
because I know: I can’t do anything;
because of this, this person feels something bad;
X feels something like this
The meaning systems of English words 3
Natural Semantic Metalanguage
mother
“X is my mother” =
before now, I was very small;
at that time, I was inside X;
at that time, I was a part of X;
because of this, people can think something like
this about X:
X wants to do good things for me;
X doesn’t want bad things to happen to me
The meaning systems of English words 3
Natural Semantic Metalanguage
colour terms
“X is red” =
when people see things like X they say
of them: this is RED
“X is yellow” =
when people see things like X they say
of them: this is YELLOW
The meaning systems of English words 3
Natural Semantic Metalanguage
dark/light & black/white
“It is dark” =
at some times people can’t see much
(because the sun is not in the sky);
at this time it is like this
“It is light” =
at some times people can see many things
(because the sun is in the sky);
at this time it is like this
The meaning systems of English words 3
Natural Semantic Metalanguage
dark/light & black/white
“It is dark” =
at some times people can’t see much
(because the sun is not in the sky);
at this time it is like this
“X is dark” =
at some times people can’t see much
(because the sun is not in the sky);
when people see things like X they can think of this
The meaning systems of English words 3
Natural Semantic Metalanguage
dark/light & black/white
“It is light here” =
at some times people can see many things
(because the sun is in the sky);
at this time here it is like this
“X is light (in colour)” =
at some times people can see much (because the sun is in the sky);
when people see things like X they can think of this
The meaning systems of English words 3
Natural Semantic Metalanguage
dark/light & black/white
“X is black” =
when people see some things they say of them: this is BLACK
X is like this
at some times people can’t see much
(because the sun is not in the sky);
when people see things like X they can think of this
“Y is white” =
when …
Y…
at …
when …
The meaning systems of English words 3
Natural Semantic Metalanguage
dark/light & black/white
Chinese term for night:
hei ye: dark/black night
(cantonese: hak ye)
Chinese term for day:
bai tian: white day
(cantonese: baak tin)
The meaning systems of English words 3
Natural Semantic Metalanguage
green
“X is green” =
in some places many things grow out of the ground;
when one sees things like X one can think of this
[ speakers of English – these “many things”
mentioned: grass, leaves, fresh vegetation ]
The meaning systems of English words 3
Natural Semantic Metalanguage
Welsh: gwyrdd
“X is gwyrdd” =
in some places many things grow out of the ground;
at some times there is water in these places (e.g. rain)
when one sees things like X one can think of this
[ speakers of Welsh: “gwyrdd things” are relatively
lively & fresh greens; can also be bluish-green ]
The meaning systems of English words 3
Natural Semantic Metalanguage
Blue
“X is blue” =
at some times people can see the sun above them in the sky;
when people see things like X they can think of this
+
The meaning systems of English words 3
Natural Semantic Metalanguage
Blue
“X is blue” =
at some times people can see the sun above them in the sky;
when people see things like X they can think of this
+
in some places there is much water;
when people are far from these places they can see this water;
when people see things like X they can think of this
The meaning systems of English words 3
Semantic fields
the total vocabulary in English
(the mental lexicon)
fields of words with shared
components of meaning
sub-fields of words with closely shared
components of meaning
 sub-sub-fields of words with more
closely shared components of meaning
The meaning systems of English words 3
Semantic fields/sub-fields
vehicles
trains
cars
The meaning systems of English words 3
Semantic fields / sub-fields
vehicles
taxis
trains
cars
The meaning systems of English words 3
Semantic fields / sub-fields
vehicles
public transport
trains
taxis
cars
The meaning systems of English words 3
Semantic fields
the total vocabulary in English
(the mental lexicon)
fields of words with shared components of
meaning

lexical fields
The meaning systems of English words 3
teacher
preacher
entertainer
taxi driver

friend counsellor specialist 
LECTURER  lectures

singer
disc jockey
standup comedian
teaches talks
The meaning systems of English words 3
Universalism vs relativatism
Core sense components:
– (most likely universal)
natural, in-born
vs
– (most likely relative)
cultural, nurtured
Semantic fields
– universal to all language communities
vs
– relative between different cultures
The meaning systems of English words 3
The semantic field of verbs for ordering food & drinks in a restaurant
(a casual example): English & Cantonese
English words for
ordering food and drinks
in a restaurant:
order (a glass of wine)
ask for (the menu)
request …
HK Cantonese words for
ordering food and drinks
in a restaurant:
叫 jiao (giu): cry, make noise
嗌 yi (ngaai): cry, shout
點 dian (dim): point, select
寫 xie : write
The meaning systems of English words 3
Nature of Word Meaning
Three major perspectives:
referential:
word meaning = referring to / naming things
structuralist:
word meaning = sense relations between
words
cognitive / mentalistic:
word meaning = mental concepts for construing
realities
The meaning systems of English words 3
• Structuralism in linguistics
– Paradigmatic relations
– Syntagmatic relations
• Componential analysis
– Binary semantic features
• kinship terms
• colour terms
– Semantic primes / primitives
• Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM)
• Semantic fields & sub-fields
• Universalism vs relativism
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