Semantics Definition in linguistics is very hot debate. We will describe here those definitions that has been said by famous linguist around the world. Proper understanding of this concept will help you in future.
In linguistic terminology the word semantics is used to designate the science of word-meaning. The term, however, has acquired a number of senses in contemporary science. Also, a number of other terms have been proposed to cover the same area of study, namely the study of meaning. As to meaning itself, the term has a variety of uses in the metalanguage of several sciences such as logic, psychology, linguistics, and more recently semiotics.
All these factors render it necessary to discuss on the one hand the terminology used in the study of meaning and on the other hand, the main concerns of the science devoted to the study of meaning.
One particular meaning of the term semantics is used to designate a new science, General Semantics, the psychological and pedagogical doctrine founded by Alfred Korzybsky (1933) under the influence of contemporary neo-positivism. Starting from the supposed exercise upon man’s behaviour, General semantics aims at correcting the “inconsistencies” of natural language as well as their tendency to “simplify” the complex nature of reality.
A clearer definition of the meaning (or meanings) of a word is said to contribute to removing the “dogmatism” and “rigidity” of language and to make up for the lack of emotional balance among people which is ultimately due to language. This school of thought holds that the study of communicative process can be a powerful force for good in the resolution of human conflict, whether on an individual, local, or international scale. This is a rather naïve point of view concerning the causes of conflicts (G. Leech 1990: XI). Yet, certain aspects of the relationship between linguistic signs and their users – speakers and listeners alike – have, of course, to be analyzed given their relevance for the meaning of the respective signs.
Also, that there is a dialectic interdependence between language and thought in the sense that language does not serve merely to express thought, but takes an active part in the very moulding of thought, is beyond any doubt.
On the whole, however the extreme position adopted by general semanticists as evidenced by such formulations as “the tyranny of words”, “the power of language”, “man at the mercy of language”, etc. has brought this “science” to the point of ridicule, despite the efforts of genuine scholars such as Hayakawa and others to uphold it.
In the more general science of semiotics, the term semantics is used in two senses:
- theoretical (pure) semantics, which aims at formulating an abstract theory of meaning in the process of cognition, and therefore belongs to logic, more precisely to symbolic logic;
- empirical (linguistic) semantics, which studies meaning in natural languages, that is the relationship between linguistic signs and their meaning. Obviously, of the two types of semantics, it is empirical semantics that falls within the scope of linguistics.
The most commonly agreed-upon definition of semantics remains the one given by Bréal as “the science of the meanings of words and of the changes in their meaning”. With this definition, semantics is included under lexicology, the more general science of words, being its most important branch.
The result of research in the field of word-meaning usually takes the form of dictionaries of all kinds, which is the proper object of the study of lexicography.
12 Universal Semantics Definition that has been Said BY experts You Must Know.
The term semasiology is sometimes used instead of semantics, with exactly the same meaning. However since this term is also used in opposition to onomasiology it is probably better to keep it for this more restricted usage. Semasiology stands for the study of meaning starting from the “signifiant” (the acoustic image) of a sign and examining the possible “signifiés” attached to it. Onomasiology accounts for the opposite direction of study, namely from a “signifié” to the various “signifiants” that may stand for it.
Since de Saussure, the idea that any linguistic form is made up of two aspects – a material one and an ideal one -, the lingistic sign being indestructible union between a signifiant and a signifié, between an expression and a content. In the light of these concepts, the definition of semantics as the science of meaning of words and of the changes in meaning, appears to be rather confined. The definition certainly needs to be extended so as to include the entire level of the content of language. As Hjelmslev pointed out, there should be a science whose object of study should be the content of language and proposed to call it plerematics. Nevertheless all the glossematicians, including Hjelmslev continued to use the older term – semantics in their works.
- Prieto (1964) calls the science of the content of language noology (from Greek noos – “mind”) but the term has failed to gain currency.
Obviously, a distinction should be made between lexosemantics, which studies lexical meaning proper in the traditional terminology and morphosemantics, which studies the grammatical aspect of word-meaning.
With the advent of generative grammar emphasis was switched from the meaning of words to the meaning of sentences. Semantic analysis will accordingly be required to explain how sentences are understood by the speakers of language. Also, the task of semantic analysis is to explain the relations existing among sentences, why certain sentences are anomalous, although grammatically correct, why other sentences are semantically ambiguous, since they admit of several interpretations, why other sentences are synonymous or paraphrases of each other, etc.
Of course, much of the information required to give an answer to these questions is carried by the lexical items themselves, and generative semantics does include a representation of the meaning of lexical elements, but a total interpretation of a sentence depends on its syntactic structure as well, more particularly on how these meanings of words are woven into syntactic structure in order to allow for the correct interpretation of sentences and to relate them to objective reality. In the case of generative semantics it is obvious that we can speak of syntactic semantics, which includes a much wider area of study that lexical semantics.