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Posts Tagged ‘semantics’

Linguistics - Semantics

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

The study of meaning is what semantics indicates and it targets the problem of understanding. It is the meaning of words, phrases or sentences.

It is used to interpret gestures, signs, symbols, facial expressions and body language. When it has to do with written language, though, semantics has to do with the structure of paragraphs, punctuation and content.

Studying semantics formally introduces the student to other subfields such as proxemics, pragmatics, and lexicology. However, semantics is better defined in its own field. Other related fields of semantic are reference, communication and semiotics. So it is more formally complex than any other model.

Due to this complexity, students that study semantics or meaning do differ from their determination of what that meaning is.

For example, if you were to say, “Cindy loves a milkshake,” the word milkshake could possibly be referencing the object itself because this is its actual exact meaning. However, it may also be referring to other metaphoric connection such as the hunger that Cindy has, which may be the implication of the speaker.
Conventionally, the view of formal semantics limits semantics to its exact meaning, and downgrades all metaphoric connections to pragmatics.
With semantics and finding the meaning of phrases, antonyms and synonyms are extremely important.
Semantics is viewed as truth conditions, which is what the world would think of what you say or do according to the knowledge that the world has about what you are saying or doing. This is determined by different cultures and languages.
It comes down to what inferences the person listening will draw from the semantics. It may also be how you deliver the sentence or word.

It is important how you apply semantics. For example, if someone should ask you, “Does every train from Washington DC to Florida make five stops along the way,” then there should be simple semantics specifics related to the question.

If the person being asked the question has knowledge of the answer, then the semantics would contain truth conditions if the answer was “yes, it has five stops along the way.” There could also be partial meaning where the train only stops twice and not five times.

Most semantics theory draw upon the assumption that a sentence is either proposed to be true or it is not true or possibly some truth is in it. Situations are what defines and identifies the truth.

Linguistics - Generative Grammar 2

Friday, June 19th, 2009

Generative grammar is a branch of theoretical linguistics developed by Noam Chomsky in the late 1950s. The main idea behind generative grammar is that language is developed according to innate, universal rules which are inborn endowments, not man-made ideas devised at an intellectual level. This explains why children absorb language, including grammar, in a short period of time, with little effort. The principles which enable people to communicate, Chomsky found, are deeply embedded within the brain and are so predictable, they can be quantified mathematically.

According to generative grammar, some linguistic constructs resonate within humans as being grammatically correct while others, in their essence, are ungrammatical. The four major categories in which universal linguistic similarities have been found are phonology (the study of sounds used in a language), morphology (the study of the formation of words), syntax (the study of sentence structure), and semantics (the study of the meaning of words). As it turns out, the linguistic constructs in various languages are, in fact, simply different ways of accomplishing the same things.

Generative grammar is not counterintuitive, given the fact that we all are part of the “family of man”. All the different flavors of humankind have basic linguistic traits in common which are more deeply embedded than the mores and folkways that separate us.

As a study of the underlying principles of human languages, generative grammar consists largely of empirically gathered observations of reality. These principles have been studied since Chomsky first researched them in the 1950s. While the theory has undergone many modifications over the years, its basic premises are widely accepted by the linguistic world as true.

For the language student, this is good news. On the surface, it might seem that some languages bear absolutely no similarity to one another. What do the languages of a !Kung bushman of the Kalahari Desert, a Tibetan Sherpa, a Midwestern American farmer, and a Chinese businesswoman have in common? Not much, we might be tempted to think. However, if these four people were sequestered in a room together, sooner or later, they would find ways to communicate. Furthermore, if they studied each others’ languages, they would ultimately find common ground amongst those languages, despite the obvious differences.

Thus, although the knowledge of generative grammar will not help the language student learn a language in any practical way, it could be a great encouragement to the student who feels like a stranger in a strange land. We people are all, in fact, brothers and sisters, and the fount of our speech rises up from a common wellspring.