Chapter 5 Semantics
The First Week
Meaning as concept
Meaning as behavior
Meaning as context
Meaning as truth conditions
5.1 Definition of Semantics
Semantics is the branch of
linguistics which studies meaning
(1) Even Einstein could have solved the
It is not a good example to take in the
question of semantics.
Because this meaning study of the sentence
actually spills over into pragmatics, rather
than semantics. Semantic study of meaning
does not concern extra or external elements.
5.2 Approaches to Meaning
The definition of meaning differs from
theories to theories, from linguists to
Here are some of the important
interpretations of meaning:
5.2.1 Meaning as naming
This view that the meaning of an
expression is what it refers to, or
names, is often called referential
theory or naming theory.
It was proposed by the ancient Greek
According to this theory, the linguistic
forms or symbols, in other words, the
words used in a language are taken to be
labels of the objects they stand for. So the
meaning of a word is just the for the object
or referent in the real world.
Problems with the theory:
1. This theory seems applicable to
nouns visible in the world only.
2. There are nouns which denote
things that do not exist in the real
5.2.2 Meaning as concept
Ogden and Richards suggested a model---
semantic triangle (Figure1) illustrating the
view of meaning as concept.
It is also called conceptual approach which
believes the meaning of a linguistic
expression is the concept, or idea or
impression formed in the mind.
Figure 1: Semantic Triangle
(the word) (the object)
Comments on the theory:
There is no problem with the theory. It is
the perfect theory in the field.
We may testify this by the process of
children’s language acquisition.
5.2.3 Meaning as behavior
This theory was proposed by the American
linguist L. Bloomfield by the well-known
story of Jack and Jill.
The theory believes that the meaning of a
word is defined by observable behaviors.
Or the meaning of a linguistic expression
relies on or comes from the consequences
of the behaviors triggered by the
expression, which clearly draws on
S r…………….s R
Problems with the theory:
IfJack had fetched some water for Jill, the
meaning of “I’m thirsty” turned up as “She
wants to drink water rather than eat the
apple”. The decoding went on the wrong
tracks. The theory failed to explain this
5.2.4 Meaning as context
The theory was proposed by British
linguist John R. Firth.
The theory believes that the meaning
depends on both of the linguistic and
Ex.1. I don’t like her. She’s tall and thin
and moves like a crane.---impression of
Ex.2. I do like her. She’s tall and thin and
moves like a crane.---impression of
Two kinds of context
Tow kinds of context are recognized: a
linguistic context and a situational context.
Every utterance occurs in a particular
spatio-temporal situation. Each utterance
is limited by various factors of the
situational context. These factors include:
Factors that limit the meaning of
(i) the setting (formal, informal,…)
(ii) the speaker and hearer (relationship,
(iii) the activities they are engaged in at the time
(iv) the presence or absence of other
participants (relationship, position…)
(v) the presence of various external objects and
The linguistic context alone is the weaker form of
5.2.5 Meaning as truth conditions
The meaning of a word or expression is
determined by the truth conditions of the
word, Such an approach to meaning is
called truth-conditional theory\semantics.
S is true if and only if P. S is a sentence; P
is a set of conditions guaranteeing the
truth of S.
Peter is married.
The meaning of the sentence comes out
this way: There is an individual called
Peter, a social institution called marriage,
and Peter is involved in the state of
Theproblem with the theory is it is only
employed to declaratives. Can you smoke
has no truth condition, or truth value.
I.Define the following terms briefly:
(2) naming theory
(3) behaviorist theory
(4) conceptual theory
2. Explain the semantic ambiguity of the
following sentences by providing two or
more sentences that paraphrase the
multiple meaning. Example: She can’t
bear children can mean either She can’t
give birth to children or She can’t
(1) He waited by the bank.
(2) We bought her dog biscuits.
(3) He saw her drawing pencils.