Outline of Semantics
Forms of thought
Mapping meaning onto language
Prototypes and Stereotypes
(Word meaning and) longer expressions
Reference and Sense
sentence v.s. utterance
Discourse meaning: cohesion, coherence,
background knowledge, the cooperative principle
Yun-Pi Yuan 1
Forms of thought
• A thought may be compared to a cloud
shedding a shower of words.
• Mental representation:
Have you ever had the experience of
wanting to express a thought, but you
couldn't find the words for it?
• Language is NOT the basic form of
thought. (Then, what is?)
Yun-Pi Yuan 2
• Mental imageries:
A. sound images
B. visual images
D. movement—action patterns
Yun-Pi Yuan 3
• You can ―play‖ music in your head, no?
• Reading music
Yun-Pi Yuan 4
• ―Pictures in your mind‖
• How do you find your way home?
– ―see‖ the whole bus/car route home to school
• Remembering scenery: the apt. I stayed in
NYC, in Hsintien, and the one I stay now.
• Recognizing people: matching pictures
already in memory with what you see now.
• Painters: Michelangelo
• Matching colors; dressing.
Yun-Pi Yuan 5
• Doing math problems in your head.
(―Hsin Swan‖ 心算)
Yun-Pi Yuan 6
Movement (Action Patterns)
• How to tie knots, use tools, dance, write
Chinese calligraphy, tie your shoes, braid
hair, use chopsticks, etc.
• Books explained with pictures and words:
often easier just to follow pictures
– E.g., origami
Yun-Pi Yuan 7
Transfer among Different Forms of Thought
• Yes, we do it all the time:
e.g. We describe pictures in mind in words;
form pictures from words heard; put some
sort of process into math—then explain in
words; for dance draw pictures of steps, etc.
• Therefore, language is not the basic form of
thought. (And we don’t really know what it;
maybe these forms are all basic, & we have
some sort of code that allows us to convert
one to another).
Yun-Pi Yuan 8
• However, we’re interested here in semantics,
the study of meaning in language, so
basically we’re most concerned with how
meaning is represented in language, but
since we can convert one form of mental
representation to another, semantics is
related to all forms.
• Importance of meaning: the basic function of
language is communication
• Difficulty to define ―semantics‖ completely
Yun-Pi Yuan 9
Mapping Meaning onto language (1)
English, Chinese, & Spanish: He gave me a pen. (Nash 92)
Turkish: Babam bana topu verdi.
(father to-me ball gave)
actor recipient object action
(possessed by speaker) (definite) (past, 3rd person, singular)
(witnessed by speaker)
Hebrew: Aba natan li et ha kadur.
(daddy gave me the ball)
actor action recipient object definite object
(past, 3rd person, singular, masculine)
Yun-Pi Yuan 10
Mapping Meaning onto Language (2)
• None of these languages marks all the
possible elements of meaning or everything
we know (e.g., sex of the receiver, how
recently when the event occurred, how the
giving was done).
• All these could be marked in language and
each language chooses different aspects to
• So, semantic elements are lang. specific.
Yun-Pi Yuan 11
Mapping Meaning onto Language (3)
• Examples of ―possession‖:
A. my shoes
• can be thrown away when worn out, but other
people not likely to wear them
B. my chair
• but other people can sit in it
C. my nose
• has nothing to do with others, nor will I ―throw it
Yun-Pi Yuan 12
Mapping Meaning onto Language (4)
• Note the differences:
A. He has a big nose.
(―Have‖: I ―possess‖ something; more general
B. *He owns a big nose.
(You cannot own parts of your body; only
materials or object which you can give away
or buy/sell it, can be owned.)
C. He is the possessor of his big nose.
(―Possess‖—closer to ―own‖ than to ―have‖)
Yun-Pi Yuan 13
Mapping Meaning onto Language (5)
• How does a child learn semantics?
• Slobin Model (Nash 91)
KNOWLEDGE of the world
Parts of KNOWLEDGE marked in HUMAN LANGUAGE
Parts of KNOWLEDGE marked in language X
(language the child is learning)
Yun-Pi Yuan 14
Mapping Meaning onto Language (6)
• Semantics is concerned with the bottom two
parts of the diagram: universal semantics (2nd part
and the semantics of particular languages (3rd part
• The child first learns about the world, then
aspects that have to be marked in language in
general, and aspects that have to be marked in
• The child has to learn which aspects of situations
the grammar requires us to mark:
– Time, physical characteristics of objects,
psychological, physical, & social aspects of the people
involved & many other things . . . .
Yun-Pi Yuan 15
Mapping Meaning onto Language (7)
• The child’s problems of mapping meaning
A. Which aspects of knowledge of world would
likely to be marked?
B. Which aspects must be marked in a
C. How are they marked? (words; word order,
affixes, function words, …)
• So, we’ll look at various attempts to explain
how some aspects of our knowledge of
meaning are expressed in language.
Yun-Pi Yuan 16
• Word meaning including:
D. relational meanings (degree, direction)
E. reference and sense (take us into semantics
of longer expressions)
Yun-Pi Yuan 17
• Definition: more basic concepts/ideas that
cannot be “defined” any further; primitive
• Combinations of features: [+ -] (e.g., see Nash 94-95)
1. a universal element found in all langs.
2. similar to phonological features
B. Disadvantage: very limited application
Yun-Pi Yuan 18
Advantage 1: Universal
• While we may speak different languages,
we’re all humans with the same human
brain, & perceive the world with the same
e.g. [+HUMAN], [+ANIMATE], [+ROUND],
[+MALE], [+FEMALE], [+LIQUID],
[- MOVEABLE], etc.
Yun-Pi Yuan 19
Advantage 2: Similar to Phonological Features
• Psychologically similar to phonological
• Same kind of mental operation; from
phonology semantics, the use of [+ -]
• Phonemes: defined by its features
e.g. /p/=+consonantal, -voiced, +stop,
Yun-Pi Yuan 20
• Very limited application—do not work for
e.g. A. chair/stool/bench/bean bag
• Lead to idea of prototypes
• [activity: have some students draw a ―tree‖]
Yun-Pi Yuan 21
• Definition: a typical/ideal example (serving to
represent the whole class); an examplar
• Concept of prototype: helps to explain meaning
of certain words in terms of resemblance to the
• Eleanor Rosch’s experiments:
– A psychologist at the Univ. of California at Berkeley
– Carried out experiments in order to test the idea that people
regarded some types of birds as “birdier” than other birds, or
some vegetables more vege-like, or some tools more tooly
– Questionnaires passed to more than 200 psychology students
Yun-Pi Yuan 22
• A category name (e.g., fruit, vegetable, bird, clothing, etc.)
• About 50 examples for each category
• Rate how good an example of the category is, on a 7-point
• Results: surprisingly consistent
– Robin, sparrow, canary, dove, lark, parrot, owl, . . . peacock,
duck, . . . penguin, ostrich, . . . bat
– shirts, dresses, skirts, pajamas, bathing suit, shoes,
stockings, tie, hat, gloves
– pea, carrot, cauliflower, . . . onion, potato, mushroom
Yun-Pi Yuan 23
• Judgment not based on frequency of usage of
the word (though likely to have some effect)
nor on the basis of appearance or use
• People seem to have some idea of the
characteristics of an ideal examplar (in Rosch’s
words, a ―prototype‖). Then they match other
terms against the features of the prototype to
determine if it’s a member of the same
category (i.e., sufficiently similar to the
prototype, but not have to share all its
Yun-Pi Yuan 24
• a list of typical characteristics which describes
• more abstract representation of possible
• e.g. bird
• feathers, wings, beak, fly, lay eggs . . . .
• e.g., elephant
• gray, very thick-skinned, hairless, with a trunk and
two tusks, heavy (adult: weighing several tons)
Yun-Pi Yuan 25
• Words may differ +- a feature (e.g., man/boy,
man/woman). But, many sets of words differ, or may
be grouped, in other ways, including ―degree‖ and
• Degree: amount—contrast to +- of features
e.g., hot/cold, long/short, tall/short, hard/soft,
good/bad, wet/dry, beautiful/ugly
• Direction: buy/sell, come/go, give/receive,
• Note: A. ―father‖—also relational (in a different way)
B. ―kill‖ and ―hurt‖—cause and effect relations
(Nash 95, 96) Yuan
• Our examples of features for words like
―father,‖ ―kill,‖ ―hurt,‖ etc. seem to remain at
the word level. word meanings interact
• However, we have to use phrases and even
clauses (e.g., ―x causes y pain‖) to get at
• So, word semantics cannot be separated from
the semantics of longer units of language, to
which we now move reference & sense.
Yun-Pi Yuan 27
Reference & Sense (1)
• Reference and sense: applying to semantics of both
words and longer expressions
• Reference: dealing with the relationships between
language and the world (Nash 98); part of language that
refers to WHAT/Sth. (a real thing or person) in the world.
e.g. ―My son is in the beech tree.‖
(identify person) (identify thing)
the largest city in Taiwan
the students in the linguistics class
my husband, dragon, ghost, all your children will
Yun-Pi Yuan 28
Reference and Sense (2)
Sense: dealing with relationships inside the
language. Something in the head; ―extra
meaning‖ or an abstract idea—concerned with
relations within language itself; relations with
e.g. The moon was bright last night.
(reference, refers to a certain object)
My love is like the moon. (sense,
something more is involved in the phrase
―the moon‖ than just the object)
Yun-Pi Yuan 29
Reference and Sense (3)
• Sense but not reference: function words, such as and,
or, never, perhaps, otherwise, but. These make
connections between meanings of different units of
• Every expression that has meaning has sense, but
not every expression has reference.
• Same reference but different sense:
e.g. The evening star west. (sunset)
The morning star Venus east. (sunrise)
Same object (same reference) but different sense
(different aspect); different ways of referring to the
same thing (i.e., the planet you see at different time)
Yun-Pi Yuan 30
Reference and Sense (4)
• The same word can have more than one
sense (i.e., meaning). For example,―bank‖
a. I have an account at the Bank of Scotland.
b. We steered the raft to the other bank of the
c. The DC-10 banked sharply to avoid a crash.
d. The banks of dark cloud promised rain.
e. Who do you bank with?
f. Hospital blood banks have saved many lives.
Yun-Pi Yuan 31
Reference and Sense (5)
• Other examples:
my father/ the man who married my mother
(same reference? Could be different?
• Could have different reference
e.g. stepfather or illegitimate child
different senses, although refer to the same
person (=same reference)
Yun-Pi Yuan 32
Reference and Sense (6)
• Examples of reference/sense (Nash 99-100)
• When I said ―Turn in your homework,‖ I meant
the homework due today.
• When my niece said in Taiwanese that she
wanted a cup of ―te‖, she meant drinking
water, not tea.
• ―That’s the man!‖ ―Which man do you mean?
There are several men there.‖
• What does semantics mean?
• It’s hard to say exactly what love means.
• Partial means ―not complete.‖
Yun-Pi Yuan 33
Reference and Sense (7)
• In the above examples the first three
reference (use ―refer to‖); the 2nd three
examples sense (cannot use ―refer to‖)
• In every day conversation, the words
―meaning,‖ ―mean,‖ etc. are used to
indicate ―reference‖ sometimes, and
―sense‖ other times.
Yun-Pi Yuan 34
Sentence Meaning (1)
• Proposition= the basic idea/thought of the sentence;
events or states; say something about events/states.
• Proposition: predicate +argument(s) (Nash 19-20. 84+)
Aspect of entity, entity (some
quality, state, sort of thing)
activity, relation with
other entity/ things.
• A sentence can have more than one propositions.
– only linguistic element, without interpersonal meaning
– corresponds roughly to a complete independent thought
Yun-Pi Yuan 35
Sentence Meaning (2)
– sentence or propositional meaning only
– what speakers say or write; you can give the time,
date, place of an utterance
– includes: intonation, stress, patterns, gestures
– has propositional and contextual (or interpersonal)
Yun-Pi Yuan 36
• Definition: a unit of language (an abstract
thing, a part of language itself); a string of
words put together by the grammatical rules
of a language.
• Meanings of a sentence come from only
within the language, independent of context.
Yun-Pi Yuan 37
• What speakers say or write: you can give the time, date,
place of an utterance (including intonation, stress, patterns
• An event in the world which can be thought as an example of
a sentence, or of part of a sentence (e.g., a phrase or a word)
• Definition: the meaning of an utterance comes from both the
language & the context & from features of language (e.g.
intonation, stress, gestures)
• Different functions in context:
statement of fact thanks apology
explanation tease promise
denial request, compliment
e.g. Mr. Nash likes tea. (Nash 20)
predicate (shows relationship)
Yun-Pi Yuan 38
Sentence Meaning (3)
• Propositional meaning (sentence) vs.
interpersonal meaning (utterance)
• Proposition (Nash 84-85) vs. utterance (Nash
• e.g. ―The book is open.‖—accusation
―Tom opened the book‖— defense against
Yun-Pi Yuan 39
Sentence Meaning (4)
• Examples of utterance:
―Can you open the window?‖—mother to
―Is your homework ready?‖
–student student (=can I copy it?)
–teacher students (=now, turn it in)
• Meaning of utterances based on the context
(depending on the interactions of the
speakers and their relationship).
Yun-Pi Yuan 40
Sentence Meaning (5)
• Sentence vs. utterance
e.g. He loves her.—sentence
―He loves her.‖—utterance who are they?)
(in a movie/novel; with context) (with knowledge
of reference of
• Expressions without propositional meaning, only
interpersonal meaning: e.g. Hello, Goodbye, pardon,
Hey, Hooray ( something like verbal gestures); (Nash
Yun-Pi Yuan 41
Sentence Meaning (6)
• Utterance meaning has to be
determined from the context (intentions
of speaker/hearer, their relationship; the
time, place, roles)
• Sentence meaning (propositions) is
independent of context.
Yun-Pi Yuan 42
Sentence Meaning (7)
Utterances Sentences Propositions
Can be loud or quiet
Can be grammatical
Can be true or false
In a particular
In a particular
language Yun-Pi Yuan 43
Sentence Meaning (8)
Utterances Sentences propositions
Can be loud or quiet + - -
Can be grammatical + + -
Can be true or false + + +
In a particular + - -
In a particular + + -
Yun-Pi Yuan 44
Sentence Meaning (9)
– A concrete thing; an event
– Can be spoken or written, context involved
– An abstract linguistic unit or structural form
– An abstract unit (including linguistic content)
– Flesh + frame
– Ideas, concepts; very loosely structured thinking
– Flesh only
Yun-Pi Yuan 45
Proposition, Sentence, & Utterance (1)
• Family tree relationship:
sentence sentence sentence
utterance utterance utterance utterance utterance utterance
Yun-Pi Yuan 46
Proposition, Sentence, & Utterance (2)
• A single proposition could be expressed by
using several different sentences (e.g., ―He
killed Jane,‖ or ―Jane was killed by him‖) and
each of these sentences could be uttered an
infinite number of times.
• ―I do.‖ = a sentence, but can be uttered
several times different utterances
– Elizabeth Tayor married several times. Every time
when she said, ―I do.‖ a different utterance.
Yun-Pi Yuan 47
Proposition, Sentence, & Utterance (3)
physical actions mental processes
abstract semantic entities
actions [e.g. utterances]
Yun-Pi Yuan 48
• Language longer than a sentence; naturally
spoken or written language in context
– Paragraphs, conversations, interviews, etc.
• Important at many levels: syntax +
morphology; meaning; discourse structures—
the structures of units longer than a sentence.
• Textbook e.g.: (Nash 101)
The monster danced with Yang Li-Hua. He
enjoyed it. She didn’t.
– It shows meaning & syntax have to be analyzed
in units longer than a sentence.
Yun-Pi Yuan 49
• Examples of different discourse structures
b. composition (longer organization)
c. book (chapter…)
d. story—typical structure: chronological
e. sonnet, 五言絕句，七言絕句，七言律詩
B. apartment descriptions:
American vs. Chinese
Yun-Pi Yuan 50
• In conversation, discourse grows between
speakers—many ―discourse pairs‖
– Greeting/greeting; Q/A; compliment/reply (accept
or reject); complaint/apology, etc. (interpersonal
meaning obviously involved here)
• Conversation: casual/classroom/ ordered
church ritual, graduation, wedding ritual,
Yun-Pi Yuan 51
• Some important elements in discourse:
cohesion, coherence, background knowledge,
the co-operative principle
– ―the ties and connections which exist within
– Something which exists in the language
– Two kinds of links:
• Grammatical Text: a piece of spoken or
• Lexical written language.
Yun-Pi Yuan 52
• Examples of cohesion: (Yule 140)
pronouns, (e.g. he, my, I , it); lexical
connections (e.g. Lincoln convertible—the
car—the convertible); general connections
with shared meaning elements (e.g.
fortune—sold—pay); relationship marker (e.g.
―however‖); tense—first 4 sentences: past
tense, last one: present—a different time.
Yun-Pi Yuan 53
• Cohesion: the grammatical and/or lexical
relationships between the different
elements of a text. This may be the
relationship between different sentences
or between different parts of a sentence.
A: Is Jane coming to the party?
B. Yes, she is.
There is a link between Jane and she, also
between is… coming and is.
Yun-Pi Yuan 54
• The relationships which link the meanings of
utterances in a discourse or of the the sentences in
• These links may be based on the speakers’ shared
knowledge (background knowledge)
e.g. A: Could you give me a ride home?
B: Sorry, I’m visiting my sister.
There’s no grammatical or lexical link between A’s Q
and B’s reply, but the exchange has coherence,
because both A and B know that B’s sister lives in
the opposite direction to A’s home.
Yun-Pi Yuan 55
• Coherence: that the text makes sense—
coherence achieved more by people than by
texts (than by language itself)—we expect
coherence—we ―try to arrive at an
interpretation which is in line with [our]
experience of the way the world is‖ (Yule 141).
• Generally, a paragraph has coherence if it’s a
series of sentence that develop a main idea
(i.e., with a topic sentence and supporting
sentences which relate to it).
• An example of coherence without cohesion (Yule
Yun-Pi Yuan 56
• A cohesive text, without coherence (Yule
• Coherence: sth. Which exists in people
(experience of the world); beyond linguistic
knowledge (i.e., beyond knowledge of the
world, of how conversational interaction
• Obviously, there’s something else involved
[what is it?] in the interpretation of a
conversation, except the information
expressed in the sentences.
Yun-Pi Yuan 57
• It is clear that language users must have a
lot of knowledge of how conversational
interaction works which is not simply
• This leads us to Conversational Interaction
(e.g., turn-taking, pauses, see Yule 143-
144 read on your own) and Background
Knowledge and Co-operative Principle.
Yun-Pi Yuan 58
• Examples (Yule 146-47)—inference, build-up,
first two sentences: Who is John?
How’s he traveling? (plane? boat?)
3rd sentence : Who’s John? (How traveling?)
4th sentence: Who’s John?
5th sentence: surprise
• We create what the text is about (not just the
text does this), based on expectations of what
normally happens (=background knowledge).
Yun-Pi Yuan 59
The Cooperative Principle (1)
• In conversation participants are assumed (by
others) to be cooperating. (Yule 145-146)
• Four Maxims: set out by Grice (1975)
Quantity: as informative as is required; no
more, no less.
Quality: Don’t say something you believe
to be false or something you don’t
Relation: Be relevant.
Manner: Be clear, brief, and orderly
Yun-Pi Yuan 60
The Cooperative Principle (2)
• These are the normal expectations:
• e.g., expectations about Quantity: ―To make a
long story short,‖ ―I won’t bore you with all the
• Quality: ―As far as I know‖; ―Correct me if I am
wrong‖; ―I think‖; ―I feel‖; ―It’s possible that…‖
Yun-Pi Yuan 61
The Cooperative Principle (3)
• The 4 maxims and the whole principle
allow interpretations (see Yule 145 bottom)
Carol: Are you coming to the party tonight?
Lara: I’ve got an exam tomorrow.
– Lara assumed to be relevant + informative
(quantity): exam tomorrow study tonight no
party tonight (relying on background knowledge)
– Imagine: she replies: ―Linguistics is interesting.‖
• Just a brief introduction to Discourse—many
more elements involved, very complex.
Yun-Pi Yuan 62
– the set of all the words & idioms of any language
– a mental system which contains all the information a
person knows about words
• Q: Do the lexical items (words) of a language have
some sort of overall structure/organization like
phonology, morphology, and syntax have?
• No; not reducible to rules—instead a listing of
meanings—different from other aspects of language;
not predictable from overall rules.
• What’s the exact nature of a unit for definition?
That is, what is a lexical unit (a word)?
Yun-Pi Yuan 63
• Dictionary entry is not exactly what we think of
as a word. It’s really a paradigm: an example
of all the forms of a word, used to represent
the whole set.
child (the word listed; ―head word‖)—
represents child, child’s, children, children’s
take—take, takes, taking, took, taken.
• Some sets include only one member: how, yet,
Yun-Pi Yuan 64
• How is the paradigmatic form chosen?
• e.g. find a new word in the dictionary:
• ritualistic look up what?
• larger look up?
Yun-Pi Yuan 65
• The paradigmatic form is the unmarked form: the
form which does not seem ―special‖ in any way; the
form that seems most ―basic‖, that has nothing added
(phonemes, sounds, morphemes).
e.g. child: child’s, children
―How old is she?‖ the normal Q (Which is acquired first?)
Yun-Pi Yuan 66
• Markedness: the theory that in the languages of the
world certain linguistics elements are more BASIC,
NATURAL, and FREQUENT (these elements are
unmarked; less basic, natural, frequent elements are
A. Singular/plural nouns:
car—cars (plural derived from singular in English, so
singular=unmarked; plural = marked)
B. S-V-O sentence: I dislike such people.
O-S-V sentence: Such people I dislike.
Which is marked and which is unmarked?
Yun-Pi Yuan 67
• Marking may be a basic principle for
assigning universal (and possibly innate)
values to certain kinds of features
Yun-Pi Yuan 68
C. Frequency: more frequent = ?
e.g. falling intonation vs. rising intonation
D. Common: more common = ?
(more specific = marked)
e.g. dog vs. bitch
E. Distribution: unrestricted (or less restricted
in degree) =
e.g. How tall is John? vs. How short is John?
(also, which is more natural?)
Yun-Pi Yuan 69
• Markedness theory applies at all levels:
e.g. /p, t, k, s, n/ unmarked consonants
/v, z, Q, ð/ more marked (less common)
B. lexicon: e.g. dog vs. bitch (marked)
C. morphology: e.g. car vs. cars (marked)
D. syntax: e.g. active vs. passive (marked)
Yun-Pi Yuan 70
• Discourse: e.g. politeness
too polite unmarked too informal
(marked) Could you lend (marked)
me a pencil?
Would you be so Without saying
kind just let me anything, just
borrow your grasp the pencil.
pencil for a
Yun-Pi Yuan 71
• Unmarked elements: easier to acquire
• Marked elements: more difficult to acquire
• Some experimental evidence shows that
teaching marked forms can lead to faster
acquisition of both marked and unmarked
forms, but teaching only unmarked forms
won’t help students learn marked forms.
Yun-Pi Yuan 72
• Judging markedness still mostly by intuition
(but, can we trust that?)
• Which is marked?
Yun-Pi Yuan 73
• On markedness: Yule 125 D (i)
• small/big, short/long, wild/tame,
cheap/expensive, near/far, many/few,
early/late, dangerous/safe, good/bad,
fresh/stale, easy/difficult, strong/weak,
thick/thin, wide/narrow, full/empty
Yun-Pi Yuan 74