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[Summary] Semantics

Tuesday, January 17, 2017 5:16 PM

Semantics is the study of meaning in human language.

Lexical Semantic Relations

Words and phrases can enter into a variety of semantic relations with each other. Here are the six lexical
semantic relations we need to know:

1. Synonymy
Synonyms are words or expressions that have (roughly) the same meaning in some or all contexts.
Some examples:
Youth // adolescent
Automobile // car
Remember // recall
Little // small
Words are rarely perfect synonyms - it's very rare to have two words or phrases with absolutely
identical meanings. Vacation and holidays may be interchangeable in particular contexts (I spent
my vacation/holidays in the Maritimes), but their meanings are not always identical. For example,
Christmas and Canada Day are holidays, but they are not necessarily part of one's vacation.

2. Antonymy
Antonyms are words or phrases that are opposites with respect to some component of their
meaning. Some examples are:
Dark // light
Boy // girl
Hot // cold
Up // down
In // out
Come // go
There are two subclasses of antonyms: gradable antonyms and absolute (non-graded)
antonyms. Antonyms from the former category could be placed on a scale. One example is hot //
cold. It could be hot, warm, tepid, or cool. Absolute antonyms has absolute differences. You're
either in one or the other. Alive // dead are absolute antonyms. You can either be dead or alive -
there is no inbetween.

3. Polysemy
Polysemy occurs where one form of a word has two or more related meanings. Examples include:
Word Meaning a Meaning b
Bright "Shining" "Intelligent"
To glare "to shine intensely" "to stare angrily"
A deposit "minerals in the earth" "money in the bank"

4. Homophony
Homophony exists where words sound the same but has two or more entirely distinct meanings.
Homophones do not require identical spellings.
Word Meaning a Meaning b
Light "Not heavy" "Illumination"
Bank "a financial institution" "a small cliff at the edge of a river"
Club "a social organization" "a blunt weapon"

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Club "a social organization" "a blunt weapon"
Pen "a writing instrument" "a small cage"

4. Hyponymy
Hyponyms are words that belong in a general category. Think of "____ is a member of ____".
Dogs are a member of animals.
Androids are a member of phones.
5. Partonymy
Partonyms are words that have a part/whole relationship. Think of "____ is part of ____"
Fingers are a part of the hand.
The flagellum is a part of the cell.

Sentential Semantic Relations

Like words, sentences have meanings that can be analyzed in terms of their relation to other meanings.
There are three relations - paraphrase, entailment, and contradiction - that we go over in this class.

1. Paraphrase
Two sentences that have the same meaning are said to be paraphrases of each other. These
following pairs of sentences are examples of paraphrasing:
The police chased the burglar. // The burglar was chased by the police.
I gave the summons to Erin. // I gave Erin the summons.
It is unfortunate that the team lost. // Unfortunately, the team lost.
Paul bought a car from Sue. // Sue sold a car to Paul.
The game will begin at 3:00 p.m. // At 3:00 p.m., the game will begin.
Each pair of paraphrase sentence has to be very similar in meaning. It would be impossible for one
sentence to be true without the other also being true. For example, if it is true that the police
chased the burglar, it must also be true that the burglar was chased by the police.

2. Entailment
When the truth of one sentence guarantees the truth of another sentence, we say that there is a
relation of entailment. Sometimes, this relation is mutual (as in, the truth of either sentence in the
pair guarantees the truth of the other), but other examples are asymmetrical. Some examples of
asymmetrical entailment are below:
The park wardens killed the bear. // The bear is dead.
If it is true that the park wardens killed the bear, then it must also be true that the
bear is dead. However, the reverse does not follow since the bear could be dead
without the park wardens having killed it.
Prince is a dog. // Prince is an animal.
Similarly, if it is true that Prince is a dog, then it is also true that prince is an animal.
Once again, the reverse does not hold: even if we know that Prince is an animal, we
cannot conclude that he is a dog. He could be anything like a horse or a cat.
3. Contradiction
Sometimes, if one sentence is true, then another sentence must be false. This is what we call a
contradiction. For example:
Charles is a bachelor. // Charles is married.
If it is true that Charles is a bachelor he can't be married.

Further Semantic Notions

1. Connotation
A connotation is a term used to describe the set of associations that a word's use can evoke.
Additional meanings a word has beyond its central, core meaning. Can be linked to emotional
associations and social, cultural aspects. For example:

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associations and social, cultural aspects. For example:
Emotional associations: the word dog may evoke fear (or happiness).
Social, cultural aspects: redneck (negative connotations); vagrant (neutral) vs. homeless

2. Denotation / Referential Meaning

Contrary to a connotation, denotation is a relationship between words and the things they stand
for, ie., the relationship between a word and a real-world object. It's the emotion-free bare bones
of meaning. These are very useful for proper nouns. Some example of denotations:
Pete Sampras -> Tennis player.
Italy -> South Europe country.
However, some words, such as unicorn and phrases such as the present king of France which have
no referents in the real world even though they are far from meaningless. In addition, expressions
such as the Prime Minister of Canada and the leader of the Conservative Party, both of which refer
(in 2010, at least) to Stephen Harper. Although these two expressions may have the same referent,
it's wrong to say they mean the same thing.

3. Extension and Intension

Intension indicates the internal content of a term or concept that constitute its formal definition.
They're the defining properties of a word - the concepts it evokes. Extension indicates its range of
applicability by naming the particular object is denotes. Extension captures what denotations
would be referring to, while intension refers to the meaning that follows the word.
Phrase Extension Intension
Capital of Alberta Edmonton City where government resides
Unicorn None Horse-like animal
Stanley Cup champions (2010) Chicago Blackhawks Winners of NHL championship
Dogs Fido, Lassie, Rover Animal

Every word has an intension, but not every word has an extension. In addition, the extension of a
term may change; the intension does not.

Componential analysis
In some cases, a concept can be broken down into smaller items of meaning that help us not only
understand that concept, but relate it to other, similar concepts. This is the basis for componential
analysis. Componential analysis is used to analyze the meaning of words into more basic semantic
features. These semantic features are things whose meaning is so obvious you do not have to define
them further. Some examples of componential analysis:

Consider the semantic features, [human] and [male]. Each of these properties are either present (+) or
absent (-). With that in mind, we can describe both man and woman as: [+human, +male] and [+human, -
male], respectively.

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We can group entities into natural classes - ie., groups that share a set of features. Man and boy could be
grouped together as [+human, +male] while man and woman could be put in a class defined by the
features [+human, +adult].

Some problems with componential analysis:

Some words don't need to be specified for a particular feature
Example: Edmonton is specific by itself.
Componential analysis is useful for things like broad terms but less useful for specific
We may have to proliferate features to make some distinctions
It's not very useful for abstract concepts.
There is no simple set of +/- features we can apply that give us a simple relationship
between color terms such as "red", "blue", "green", "yellow", "purple", and "orange".
These terms operate on a continuum

Some words have boundaries (people are not certain about membership in such a category)
Ex. Mammals:
Whales is a bad example of mammals - people often confuse it. Thus there are varying degrees of
membership. This is known as graded membership. A prototype is the best example of most typical
member of a set (ex. Rambutan -> fruit)

A metaphor is an extension of the use of a word beyond its primary meaning to describe the referents
that bear similarity to the word's primary referent. It is the understanding of one concept in terms of
Spatial metaphor
Emotions: In high spirits, down in the dumps
Health: in top shape, health declining
Body metaphor
Heart of the matter
Face your problems
Use of prepositions with more abstract concepts
Out of your mind
In love
Under the influence of

Lexicalization => concepts that are represented in a language as single words.

A single word

Grammaticalization => concepts that are expressed in a language as affixes or functional categories.
Not a single word

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