UNIVERSITY OF EAST SARAJEVO Vladimir Ž. Jovanović
ENGLISH DEPARTMENT SEMESTER I
INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY OF ENGLISH 10
Semantics is a branch of linguistics which is concerned with meaning in language. It
studies the meaning of words, phrases and sentences in language and the various types of
meaning in language. In language we can detect different kinds of meaning due to the
simple fact that it does not serve only for the purpose of passing information: conceptual,
associative, figurative, iconic, etc.
10.2 Conceptual vs. Associative meaning.
Conceptual meaning (Denotative) is the direct, primary, or literal meaning of a linguistic
unit. It is the central factor in linguistic communication, without which communication by
means of language would be almost impossible. All words have conceptual meaning
E. g. mother - female parent of a person, dog - a domestic animal of the canine family
Canis familiaris, hearth – fireplace, Sun - a star.
Associative meaning (Connotative) refers to the particular associations related to a
particular word. This kind of meaning is not given in dictionaries. It is the communicative
value of an expression over and above its purely conceptual content.
E. g. mother - love, care, tenderness, dog - faithfulness, friendship, hearth – home, Sun -
They are particular of a community and can vary in respect to time, culture and person: fire
has different associations for Eskimos and for Africans.
E. g. Socialist society (in which everyone is a comrade) > Sa kakvom si to damom bio
sinoc? - Nije to bila nikakva dama, to je bila moja zena!
10.3 Semantic features.
The theoretical basis of componential analysis, as an approach to the study of the meaning
of words, is that the total conceptual meaning of a word can be seen in terms of a number
of distinct elements or components of meaning, also called semantic features.
The particularity of componential analysis is that it treats components in terms of binary
opposites, out of which we can choose only one to explain the word. The opposites are
marked usually with + for presence and - for absence of the component in question. The
word man can be said to combine the sense-components HUMAN, ADULT and MALE,
while the word woman would combine the components HUMAN, ADULT, FEMALE. The
only difference in the components male and female respectively.
Componential analysis seems to be a very useful tool for the study of meaning as long as
we are dealing with simple, single dimension concepts. In practical application of
componential analysis it is advisable to start with the most general atomic concepts, for
instance, ANIMATE / INANIMATE, divide ANIMATE into HUMAN / NON-HUMAN, NON-
HUMAN into ANIMAL / PLANT, divide ANIMAL into WILD /DOMESTIC...
boar + ANIMATE teacher + HUMAN son +HUMAN
+ ANIMAL + ADULT -+ ADULT
+ DOMESTIC + EDUCATOR + MALE
+ PORCINE - STUDENT + OFFSPRING
Despite the promising start, componential analysis has never had any real practical
application, and seems to have no wider domain of analysis that kinship terms and general
concepts. The problem is that no real effect can be achieved without precise enough sense
? + FOR SITTING UPON
+ WITH LEGS
+ WITH A BACK
+ WITH ARMS
+ FOR ONE PERSON
Is this a chair or an arm-chair? How can we perform the analysis of obnoxious and
disgusting pointing out that these two are different words?
Synonymy means sameness of meaning. In other words, when two words are closely
related in terms of meaning, we say that these two words are synonymous. This is the case
with words such as deep / profound, freedom/liberty, big/large, etc.
The term is used to identify this lexical relation, but it doesn't mean that words should be
interchangeable in all possible contexts. If they are, it is the so-called 'total synonymy'
which is extremely rare in language. There are no two words in a language which could be
used in all situations. The economy of language would not allow it.
Synonymy is particularly present when words of similar meaning belong to different dialects
of a language faucet – tap or when they are used in different styles pop off - die - pass
away, when they do not normally substitute/replace one another.
It is a lexical relationship that pertains to 'oppositeness of meaning'. An antonym is a word
with a meaning opposite to the meaning of another word: good – bad. It doesn't have to
mean destructively opposite like friend/ foe, but also like male/ female. What is more, there
are many words in language that do not have antonyms: desk.
There are two types of antonyms:
1) GRADABLE antonyms are usually pairs of adjectives that can be graded (compared in
terms of quality), like wide, very wide, wider than... The negative of one does not
automatically imply the other.
big – small hot – cold happy - sad
2) NON-GRADABLE antonyms are pairs of complementary adjectives like where the
presence of one sense excludes the other. We cannot compare complementary adjectives,
and the negative of one does automatically imply the other (the presence of one excludes
alive – dead married – single awake - asleep
Hyponymy is a relationship existing between specific and general lexical items in that the
meaning of the specific is included in and by the meaning of the more general term. It is a
lexical relation that implies class membership of related words (co-hyponyms) to which a
superordinate (higher level) term can be imposed (hyperonym).
There are hyperonyms which can include many hyponyms:
building: house, mansion, hospital, school, museum, factory, cottage, shack, hut, bridge...
fruit: apple, orange, fig, pear, peach...
There are hyperonyms which are limited in range of hyponyms:
sheep: ram, ewe, lamb fowl, poultry: cock, hen, chicken, goose, duck, drake, biddy
It is a relation that involves words that have the same form but different meanings.
Homonyms are pairs of unrelated words that have one form but different meaning. This
phenomenon is the source of large quantity of puns and word-play.
pupil (student) - pupil (eye)
bank (river) – bank (financial institution)
There are two subtypes:
1) HOMOPHONES are words with the same pronunciation, but different spelling and
meaning: jeans – genes, threw – through, I – eye, write - right
2) HOMOGRAPHS are words which have the same spelling, but different or the same
pronunciation and meaning: can - can (tin), v. wind - n. wind, v. bear – n. bear, v. read - pp.
This term consists of two words poly + semion which mean 'many' and 'sign', and
determines a word having more than one sense and we can trace back those to the same
origin. In other words, polysemy involves words with the same form which have related
mouth - a part of a human head foot - a part of the human body
- estuary - bottom area of a mountain
- cave's entrance
When two words are homonyms, they are presented as separate entries in dictionaries,
mole, bank, long, but when the relation is that of polysemy, the words will be given under
the same entry, as words with multiple meanings that are related by extension: head, leg,
Metonymy is such a lexical and semantic relation of words in which one word representing
a single characteristic is used instead of another which is used to identify a more complex
entity. Metonymy is, actually, substituting a word for another word closely associated with it.
The relation between the two can be the one involving
a) container-content He drank the whole bottle. Pojeo je dva tanjira supe.
b) whole-part He has finally got a roof over his head
c) representative-symbol Belgrade wants to continue negotiations.
"The Pentagon", a building, to refer to the organization that occupies it, the U.S.
Department of Defense.
"The White House" for the President of the United States and his administration, by the
same token as above.
Collocation means co-occurrence (mutual expectancy) of two or more words in the same
context according to which we can deduce a part of the meaning of a word. As J. R. Firth
has said “You shall know the word by the company it keeps". Certain words tend to appear
with particular words more often than with others. This is true of words such as salt and
pepper, table and chair, but also pretty and woman, or baby. Our understanding of the
meaning of words or phrases depends a great deal on the context in which these appear.
Corpus linguistics is interested in discovering the commonest types of collocations or the
frequency of appearing of words in language on the basis of analyzing language corpora –
large collections of language extracts.