What Theories in Semantic can teach you about Linguistics

Theories in Semantic defines meaning in its own way.There are many good number of semantic Theories.

Traditional approach:

Linguistics and earlier scholars of language often had very clear ideas about the importance of meaning and the need for its study. There were, to begin with, numerous preconceptions and false ideas about the nature of meaning and hindered clear thinking, but which it was difficult to get rid of because of their separable ancestry. One was the tendency to identify words and things to think meaning were somehow concrete entities words Would be called ‘dirty’, ‘dangerous’, beautiful’, and so on. Instead of the objects or events being referred to. This conception goes back to “Plato. To the old philosophers such as Plato and Socrates, the semantic relationship was that of naming of significant’. This traditional view of the relationship between name and things is customarily represented by the triangle of ‘signification,’ sometimes referred to as ‘the semiotic triangle’:



Sound    signifier

Thing      signified

Thought significant

Analytical or ‘Referential’ Approach

The traditional approach gave birth to the analytical approach. An important analytical approach is the one by Saussure. Saussure’s theory of meaning is based on speech word relationship. Saussure uses the analogy of a sheet of paper whose one side is sound, the other thought, and therefore thought cannot be divided from sound nor sound from thought Linguistics then operates on the borderland where the elements of sound and thought combine; their combination produces a form not a substance The sound, is the – signifier’, the thought is the ‘signified’ and the thing signified is the significant There is no direct relationship between word and the things they ‘stand for the word symbolize a thought or reference which in turns refers to the features of even we are talking about. We know that the three sounds dogs we use in speech refer to the four legged, domestic animal form an arbitrary or conventional symbol. The dog, the living creature that we see with our eyes, we may call the reverend and the picture of it that we have in our minds as we speak, whether a memory picture or one actually seen at the moment may be called image.

Image= symbol=Referent.

The symbol (name or significant) is the phonetic shape of the ‘world, the sounds which make it up and also other acoustic features such as accent. The reference (sense of thought), put in universal terms without obligating oneself to any psychological doctrine, is ‘the information which the name (symbol) conveys to the hearer’ whereas the thing’ (significant or referent) is the non-linguistic feature or event we are talking about. The letter, as “we have seen, lies outside the linguists province. According to the Referential definitions meaning is a reciprocal and reversible relation between name and sense. It can be investigated by starting from either end: But one can start from the name and look for the sense or senses attached to it, as linguist does all alphabetical dictionaries: but one can also start from the sense and look for the name or names connected with

The Referential theoreticians wish to confine themselves to formal meaning because the contextual-or functional level of language is difficult to describe rigorously and scientifically. The analytics or referential approach seeks to grasp the essence of meaning by resolving it into main components.

Language Teachers Love to Know Theories of Semantics

According to the theory, there is no direct connection between words and the things they stand for the word symbolizes a thought or reference which in its turn refers to the feature or event we are talking about.

This approach has its weaknesses too. IT Gives an account of how the word acts on the hearer hut .seems to neglect the speaker’s point of view For the hearer, the sequence of events will be different and reverse Hearing the word, say, dog, he will think of a dog; and thus understand what the speaker was saying And this will make him pronounce the word. There is therefore ‘a reciprocal and reversible relationship between name and sense which Stephen calls meaning: if one hears the word one will think of the thing, and if thinks of the thing one will nay the word. The choice of terms is, of course, of secondary importance as long as the analysis itself is accepted The analytical approach ignores this reciprocal and reversible relationship between sound and {sense.

Furthermore, by excluding the referent the nonlinguistic feature or event referred to, .semantics will fall prey to an extreme esoteric formalism. The structuralists are unwilling to assume that prior to the utterance of linguistic form, there occur within the speaker a non-physical process a “thought, concept, image, feeling, act of will, or the like. and that” the hearer, upon getting the sound waves, goes through an equivalent mental process’) According to Bloomfield, human utterances are connected with certain situations and accompanied by certain responses. By Bloomfleld’s modification too is untenable which virtually equates response’ with the ‘referent. It takes no account of the innumerable cases where the thing referred to is not present at the time of speaking not to mention Statements about abstract phenomena. According to Bloomfield then how will a person understand a statement about an earthquake million of miles far away, if he understands the meaning of a term by corresponding something in the hearer’s memory? Lastly, referential theories of meaning inspired by the old metaphysic of body and soul. Hence they need to make to make a provision for multiple meaning and should remember that words are not associated with situations alone, they, are also associated with other words.

The Distributional Approach

The distributional analysis of meaning is the structural treatment of linguistic meaning. To facilitate a scientific study of meaning some linguists recommend to study meaning as a phenomenon isolated from outside world of human experience, that is to say, the meaning of a word is to be understood as the range of its occurrences in sentences consisting of other words. Just as there are probably no words exactly like in meaning in .all contexts, so there will probably be no two words in   any language sharing exactly the same lexical Environment (distribution).

This approach studies meaning as syntagmatic relations (collocation) and paradigmatic relations (sets). It Vises statistical methods and computer techniques (the mechanical collection and sorting of data), considerable precision and exhaustiveness in the study of semantics. But the distributional approach to meaning fails to ‘save the phenomena.’ Meaning is everywhere understood an involving the relation of language to the rest of the world, and meaningfulness is an important part of any definition of language. So this approach is inadequate as a complete treatment of meaning.

Meaning of words in dictionary entries is derived on the basis of their relation to the whole of human experience on the basis of extra-linguists criterion and unsystematized commonsense. For this reason some linguists have tried In redefine or reconsider meaning in so far as it is relevant to linguists as equivalent to distribution That is to say, the meaning of a word as far as concerns the linguist within the strict confines of this subject, is to be understood as the range of its occurrences in sentences consisting of other word?. Just as there are probably no words exactly alike in meaning- in all contexts, so there will probably be no two words in      any language sharing exactly the ‘same lexical environment (distribution)

Operational (Contextual or Functional) Approach

In the 1950s, a new and entirely different conception of meaning began to take shape inside and outside linguistics. It received its most pointed and most, provocative formulation in L. Wittgensten’s Philosophical Investigations,. It emphasized purely-operational character of scientific concept like length ‘time’, or energy’. The contextual theoreticians said that that meaning or concept was a set of operations: ‘the true meaning of a word is to be found by observing what a man does with it or not he says about so the meaning of a word is its use in language from this emerged substitution method. And Firth defined the word as a lexical substitution counter’ so, the words were to be studied “according to their functions, in the contexts they occurred. As a matter of fact, the operational theory is concerned with meaning in speech, the referential with meaning in language.

The functional approach Treats words as tools. It incorporates the speaker and hearer the actions they are performing at the time and various external objects and events. It studied meaning in space and time along’ with not only the relevant objects and actions taking place at the particular time, but also  depicts the shared knowledge  by the speaker and hearer of what has been said earlier. It must also be taken to include the tacit_ acceptance by the speaker and hearer of all the relevant conventions, beliefs and presuppositions taken for granted’ by the members of the speech-community to which the speaker and hearer belong. In terms of contexts of situation the meaning of utterance includes both, reference’ (denotation) of individual words and the meaning of the whole sentences. So it deals with the total utterance as a whole. We can see differences of personal status of living, family, friends and social relations, degrees of intimacy, relative age, and other such factors, irrelevant to the considerations of sentences as the expression of logical propositions are it! Dealt with under

This approach of the context of situations:

Meaning in language is therefore not a single relation or a single relation or a single sort of relation on, but involves set of multiple and various relations between the utterance and its parts and the relevant features and components of the environment, both cultural and physical, and forming part of the more extensive system of interpersonal relations involved in the existence of human societies”

Hence sentences are brought into multiple relationships with the irrelevant components of the environment, Language is studied functionally J.R. Firth has suggested a typical outline context to bring the utterance and its parts into relationship with the following categories:

The relevant features of participants (person, personalities)

  1. a) The verbal action of the participants.

(b) The non-verbal/ action of the participants. ,

C  The effect of the verbal action

Since words may overlap with others in their possible contexts, as does house with hut, home, etc it is better to deal with sets of words, rather than with individual word alone. In such study the words, which fall into a context or set of contexts are referred to as an associative field

by Abdullah Sam
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