Understanding Semantics, Second Edition, provides an engaging and accessible introduction to linguistic semantics. The first part takes the reader through a step-by-step guide to the main phenomena and notions of semantics, covering levels and dimensions of meaning, ambiguity, meaning and context, logical relations and meaning relations, the basics of noun semantics, verb semantics and sentence semantics. The second part provides a critical introduction to the basic notions of the three major theoretical approaches to meaning: structuralism, cognitive semantics and formal semantics. Broad coverage of lexical and sentence semantics, including three new chapters discussing deixis, NP semantics, presuppositions, verb semantics and frames. Examples from a wider range of languages that include German, Japanese, Spanish and Russian. Companion website including all figures and tables from the book, an online dictionary, answers to the exercises and useful links at routledge.
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It contains 13 chapters, each with exercises and a list of further readings. A list of sections that have been added to this edition is provided in the preface. Austin and John K. The chapter covers three levels of semantic meaning: expression meaning, utterance meaning and communicative meaning. A further important distinction is made between lexical meaning i. Following a mentalist approach, the author establishes I-language i.
The first part deals with descriptive meaning and the relationship between meaning, reference and truth, and the second part covers non-descriptive meaning i. Meaning is defined as a mental description known as a concept. Although the chapter addresses three dimensions of meaning i. As such, it covers ambiguity at the lexical i. The lexeme is taken as the basic unit of analysis, defined by the constitutive properties involved in its interpretation: sound form, spelling, grammatical category, inherent grammatical properties e.
The notions of polysemy and homonymy with homography and homophony are defined and contrasted with reference to German and Japanese. Polysemy is emphasized as an abundant source of ambiguity and is followed by a fundamental discussion on the general vagueness of lexical meaning that allows for flexible adaptation in contexts of utterances CoUs. The author points out that vagueness need not involve polysemy and highlights cases of meaning shifts that allow different readings without polysemy, such as shifts by metonymy, metaphor and differentiation three important aspects of contextual ambiguity.
The deixis section covers definiteness, person, gender, number and social meaning in personal, possessive and demonstrative pronouns. Personal pronoun paradigms are compared across multiple languages, revealing three common strategies for using existing pronouns to achieve higher levels of formality. Definiteness is presented as the central phenomenon of determination.
To convey the idea of predication, or semantic function, the author provides as an example the following sentence, containing three referents i. He calls words that contribute to a predication, predicate terms i. The author shows how argument specification differs across the three word classes and describes the following main aspects of predication: predicate logic notation PL , thematic roles contrasted with verbal arguments and linking strategies i.
This chapter deals mostly with grammatical meaning, focusing on three general issues: diatheses, aspect and tense.
Mood and modality are deemed too complex for the purposes of this textbook. The author then shows how they interact with four types of verbal aspect: imperfective, perfective, perfect and prospective also visually represented [Figures 6. The chapter concludes with a cross-linguistic comparison of tense and aspect systems.
The author demonstrates why logical relations are not to be confused with meaning relations. While logic entails the truth conditions and denotations determined by meaning, meaning is not fully represented. Words and sentences can be logically equivalent and still differ in both descriptive and non-descriptive meaning. The author explains that the logical approach to meaning is useful to the semanticist because it provides concrete results that confirm close descriptive relationships between expressions.
The author insists that it is necessary to distinguish logical from conceptual meaning to fully understand the field of semantics. Additionally, the chapter covers the notions of opposition and lexical fields regarding meaning relations.
Lexical fields e. The structuralist approach is presented here in detail and not restricted to the field of semantics. The discussion focuses on the analysis of meaning by decomposition and begins with the original Saussurean notion of signs i. Wierzbicka To answer these, the author looks at cross-linguistic problems of translation due to conceptual and social differences and concludes that languages vary considerably. He goes on to say that once we are aware of the differences, we may then attempt to determine underlying commonalities that make languages comparable.
The author states that whereas structuralism focuses on describing meaning relations, cognitive approaches focus on meanings themselves. He presents the fundamental cognitive idea of meaning categorization, concentrating on Prototype Theory PT. According to the author, the most problematic issue is that the central idea of graded category membership is in conflict with the fundamental semantic phenomenon of polarization i.
He suggests revising it so that categories are not analyzed as having fuzzy boundaries, but rather boundaries that can be reset in any given context in a flexible way.
The author deems it superior to the binary feature approach for allowing non-binary features e. Represented by matrices and graphs of nodes and arrows, frames depict chunks of knowledge and signal relationships between concepts involved. With these, we can account for regular meaning shifts and compounds as referential node shifts.
Here, meaning is treated as a matter of reference and truth conditions, with a focus on composition rather than decomposition. The author begins by illustrating the idea of compositional meaning using the Chinese numeral system. Then, taking an English fragment, he demonstrates how formal semantic analysis works: by translation into formal language i. He attests that deriving truth conditions from the formal apparatus settles important semantic questions at the sentence level but cautions that it does not account for actual meanings of natural language expressions.
Therefore, he introduces Possible-World Semantics PWS as a way to generate a complete account of the input-output characteristics of the language system. However, because PWS accounts only indirectly for descriptive meaning and not at all for non-descriptive meaning, the author concludes that the mentalist approach, advocated throughout the book, is superior because it describes the language system itself i. It also has downloadable pdf versions of figures and tables for use in teaching, presentations, term papers, etc.
Additionally, instructors can download answers to the chapter exercises. Similarly, although the organization of topics is not necessarily apparent based on the chapter titles, it is clear that the organization is very well thought out. Concepts are introduced in such a way that each new one constructively builds on previously covered concepts. Additionally, the chapter exercises provide opportunities for students to apply concepts in hands-on ways that both help solidify concepts and introduce students to some possible research methods.
There is no set model for how the author presents concepts; rather, with much thought and planning, he tailors each chapter according to what he deems most productive. For example, with simpler concepts e. And with more complex concepts e. The use of examples is also productive in a similar way.
Rather than providing new examples for each concept introduced, the author strategically recycles examples to allow readers to access specific knowledge previously attained in the textbook. The use of linguistic terminology in the textbook is well thought out as well, and impeccably consistent. The author conscientiously and explicitly either selects a term that exists in the literature or provides a new or modified one, clearly defending each choice.
And in the common event that multiple terms for particular concepts can be found, they are provided usually in a footnote to help prevent any possible confusion.
However, one potential shortcoming is the way the mentalist approach is spread throughout without a clear recap to help students understand where, exactly, it fits in among the main approaches described. It would be appropriate to include this at the end of Chapter Although the book is intended for an undergraduate-level introduction to semantics, it is rather advanced and could also serve well at the graduate level.
For undergraduates especially, prior linguistic knowledge, specifically in syntax, and perhaps experience in some other fields would be advisable in order to prepare students for many aspects of the book. For example, Chapter 7 would require at least some training in fields that apply the concept of logic in order for students to make much sense of the content. It would also be advisable to prepare students ahead of time and explain the key purposes of applying logic among other complex notions to semantic studies.
Frames, concepts, and conceptual fields. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.. Basic Color Terms. Their Universality and Evolution. Dowty, David R. Word Meaning and Montague Grammar. Dordrecht: Reidel. Jackendoff, Ray. Conceptual semantics. Levin, Beth. English Verb Classes and Alternations. A Preliminary Investigation. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Wierzbicka, Anna. Semantics: Primes and Universals. She is currently writing her dissertation on universals of semantic change from a cognitive perspective, with a particular focus on the Spanish language.
Her research interests include semantics, cognitive linguistics, and diachronic variation and change. Page Updated: Jan
Understanding Semantics (Sebastian Lobner)
It contains 13 chapters, each with exercises and a list of further readings. A list of sections that have been added to this edition is provided in the preface. Austin and John K. The chapter covers three levels of semantic meaning: expression meaning, utterance meaning and communicative meaning. A further important distinction is made between lexical meaning i. Following a mentalist approach, the author establishes I-language i. The first part deals with descriptive meaning and the relationship between meaning, reference and truth, and the second part covers non-descriptive meaning i.
Understanding Semantics. This series provides approachable, yet authoritative, introductions to all the major topics in linguistics. Ideal for students with little or no prior knowledge of linguistics, each book carefully explains the basics, emphasising understanding of the essential notions rather than arguing for a particular theoretical position. Understanding Semantics offers a complete introduction to linguistic semantics. The book takes a step-by-step approach, starting with the basic concepts and moving through the central questions to examine the methods and results of the science of linguistic meaning.