Introduction to Semantics - University of Malta

LIN1180/LIN5082 Semantics Lecture 1 Albert Gatt Logistics Course tutor: Albert Gatt [email protected] Course assessment is by assignment: This year, this will take the form of a number of short questions. They will be made available in due course. Semantics -- LIN1180

Course website tt/home/teaching/ ml Visit this website regularly! Semantics -- LIN1180 Textbook and readings Course text This course will largely follow this book: Saeed, J. (2003).

Semantics. Oxford: Blackwell Many other texts suggested on the website. Several readings to be made available along the way. Semantics -- LIN1180 What you can expect from

me Web page will always be up to date Readings assigned per lecture relevant sections from the textbook other readings, usually available online Downloadable lecture notes in powerpoint format (available after the lecture) Semantics -- LIN1180 What is expected of you Check the website regularly for updates! Keep up by reading what is required.

Core readings are indicated on the website. You should read these before the lecture. Additional readings are also indicated. You should read these after the lecture. Hand in your work on time. Participate in lectures!!! Semantics -- LIN1180 Questions ? Semantics -- LIN1180 Part 1

What is semantics? Semantics -- LIN1180 Some things we know These sentences describe the same situation: The small blue circle is in front of the square. The square is behind the small blue circle.

We are also capable of verifying that both sentences are true in this particular situation. This is because we know what the world must be like in order for these sentences to be true. Semantics -- LIN1180 Some things we know We know that the following sentence can mean more than one thing (it is ambiguous): She drove past the bank. This seems to be related to our knowledge

of what bank denotes. Semantics -- LIN1180 Some things we know We also know that sentence two follows from sentence 1 (technically: sentence 1 entails sentence 2) 1. John murdered the president. 2. The president is dead. In this particular case, it seems to be related to the meaning of murder. Semantics -- LIN1180

Semantics Usually defined as that part of Linguistics that deals with meaning word meaning sentence meaning The remainder of this lecture will try to outline: Why this is of interest to the linguist What problems arise with this enterprise Semantics -- LIN1180

Grammar Grammar (in the linguists sense) is a characterisation of the knowledge of a speaker/hearer. We ask: when a speaker knows a language, what does she know exactly? The linguists task is therefore to characterise what it takes for a speaker/hearer to produce and comprehend her language. Semantics -- LIN1180 Semantics as part of

grammar Semantics is part of a speakers (listeners) linguistic knowledge. Therefore, semantics is part of grammar. Speakers have some internalised knowledge such that: They understand what other people mean They are able to say what they mean Semantics -- LIN1180 Knowledge of language is productive

Open any book How many of the sentences in it have you seen/heard before? Some, but certainly not all of them. But even if the sentences are completely new, you are still able to understand them. To characterise our knowledge of language, we need to characterise this ability people have to decode any new utterance, so long as it conforms to the grammar of their language. Semantics -- LIN1180 The problem of knowledge

Chomsky (1986) identified this as Platos problem: A lot of what we hear or say is new How do we manage to understand and produce such an infinite variety of things, even if weve never heard them before? This is the basic motivation for much linguistic work since the 1950s. Semantics -- LIN1180 The problem of knowledge Until the 1960s, the role of semantics in

grammar was somewhat obscure. What can semantics contribute which is not accounted for by other areas? syntax (phrase structure) morphology (word structure) phonology (sound structure) Semantics -- LIN1180 Katz and Fodor (1963) an early attempt to characterise what is required of a

semantic theory semantics takes over the explanation of the speaker's ability to produce and understand new sentences at the point where grammar leaves off (p. 172-3) K&F argued that syntax and phonology alone cannot give a full account of a speakers knowledge of language e.g. the sentences the man bit the dog and the dog bit the man are structurally identical, but differ in meaning (NB: K&F assume that syntax has no bearing on meaning as such)

Semantics -- LIN1180 Language and the world But in characterising knowledge of meaning, we also have the problem of distinguishing linguistic knowledge from world knowledge E.g. What is the meaning of the word man or ostrich? Is your knowledge of the meaning independent of your experience of the world? Are you born with an innate knowledge of such

words? Semantics -- LIN1180 Knowledge of language and the world semantics How do we account for the relationship between words and concepts? How do we decode the meaning of complex sentences? How is linguistic meaning related to the world?

Semantics -- LIN1180 concepts/ thoughts things & situations Knowledge of language and the world How do we account for the relationship between words and concepts?

How do we decode the meaning of complex sentences? How is linguistic meaning related to the world? Semantics -- LIN1180 lexical semantics sentential semantics lexical semantics & sentential semantics

The problem of knowledge In designing a semantic theory, we need to account for productivity We know a lot of words (thousands) and their meanings. This is our mental lexicon. We can create an infinite number of sentences, using grammatical rules of our language. The meaning of sentences is derived from the meaning of their component words and the way theyre combined. Semantics -- LIN1180

Compositionality The guiding principle to explaining the productivity of meaning is the Principle of Compositionality The meaning of a sentence is a function of the meaning of its component words and the way theyre combined. Often attributed to the philosopher Gottlob Frege.

Semantics -- LIN1180 Part 2 Semantics in relation to other components of grammar Semantics -- LIN1180 Meaning and grammar (I) In some theories, such as Generative grammar, the language faculty is divided into modules: phonology

syntax semantics This view emphasises distinct roles played by different components. There is a separate component for meaning, completely unrelated to syntax or phonology. Semantics -- LIN1180 Is this view tenable?

It seems clear that some grammatical facts must take meaning into account. Open is a change of Jake opened the door. state verb. The door opened. Kiss is not a change The girl kissed Steve. of state verb. ?Steve kissed. It looks like the meaning of the verbs affects

their syntactic behaviour! Semantics -- LIN1180 Meaning and grammar (II) An alternative view, found for example in Cognitive Grammar, argues that meaning is inseparable from the other components. In this framework, people often argue also that linguistic knowledge and encyclopaedic knowledge phonology cannot be separated. syntax semantics

Semantics -- LIN1180 Part 3 What should a semantic theory look like? Semantics -- LIN1180 An example situation So did you like the food? You made great black coffee.

Semantics -- LIN1180 Requirements for our theory (I) What kinds of knowledge do you need to understand a reply such as you made great black coffee: Word meaning: black, coffee, great, make Phrasal and sentence meaning (Compositionality): black + coffee (great

+ --black + coffee) + (make + PAST) Semantics LIN1180 Requirements for the theory (II) You also need to consider contextualised meaning: The pronoun you means person of unspecified gender whom the speaker is addressing Only makes sense in a context where there is

an interlocutor Semantics -- LIN1180 A first attempt The task: Design a theory that will explain a speakers semantic knowledge, i.e. Word meaning Sentence meaning The solution (take 1): Suppose we just claimed that meaning is

about knowing dictionary definitions Semantics -- LIN1180 Problem 1: Circularity Knowing the meaning of a word = knowing the definition E.g. coffee = a beverage consisting of an infusion of ground coffee beans We need to know the meaning of the words making up the definition (infusion, coffee beans)! This involves giving further definitions

Where would this process stop? The problem here is trying to define word meaning using other words Semantics -- LIN1180 Problem 2: World knowledge vs. Linguistic Knowledge Suppose you think of coffee as: black, hot, bitter Suppose I think of coffee as: black, hot, ground from coffee beans, grown in Brazil Which of the two conceptions is correct? Which of these aspects belongs to language,

and which are encyclopaedic knowledge? How much do we need to agree on in order to understand each others uses of the word? Semantics -- LIN1180 Problem 3: Individual differences Suppose we agree that coffee is typically black. We might not agree precisely on the true meaning of the word black:

How dark must something be to qualify? When does black become dark brown? People often differ on the boundaries This doesnt seem to stop them understanding each other Two possible goals of a semantic theory: to identify aspects of meaning independent of individual variation to account for how speakers manage to understand each other even where there is such variation Semantics -- LIN1180

Interim summary Thinking of meaning as definition is problematic because: 1. Definitions are linguistic, and so their components will themselves need definition. Therefore, we need to try to formulate our account of meaning without recourse to words. Semantics -- LIN1180 2. People

wont necessarily agree on The need for a metalanguage To meet these problems, we need to characterise linguistic meaning independently of words: This involves using a semantic metalanguage A way of translating meaning into a form that is language-neutral. We might assume that speakers have a stock of concepts in their heads E.g. the meaning of coffee is the concept

COFFEE The concept is not tied to its English usage. A Maltese speaker has the same concept when she uses kaf Such concepts might be argued to exist in a speakers mental lexicon Semantics -- LIN1180 Problem 4: Context The phrase you made great black coffee seems to acquire new shades of meaning in different contexts: Youre a hopeless cook, but at least, the

coffee was OK You completely failed to impress me Are such context-dependent effects part of semantics? Semantics -- LIN1180 Semantics vs. pragmatics Many linguists make a distinction between Literal/conventionalised meaning core meaning, independent of context This belongs to semantics proper Speaker meaning & context What a speaker means when they say something,

over and above the literal meaning. This and other contextual effects belong to pragmatics NB. The distinction between semantics and pragmatics is not hard and fast Is the context-dependent meaning of you a matter for semantics or pragmatics? Semantics -- LIN1180 Summary Semantics is part of linguistic knowledge This is productive and systematic

Compositionality of meaning helps us to explain how people can interpret a potentially infinite number of sentences Theories of linguistic meaning must account for distinctions between: Linguistic knowledge and world knowledge Literal meaning vs contextualised or non-literal meaning Semantics -- LIN1180 Next lecture Mainly introducing some of the core

concepts that semanticists use in their analysis: Utterances vs sentences vs propositions Sense and reference Semantics -- LIN1180 Questions ? Semantics -- LIN1180

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