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Senin, 10 September 2012

Semantics (The Nature of Semantics and The Meaning of Meaning)


A.     Background Problem
With regard to the teaching of semantics, many semantics teachers find difficulty in deciding what to teach in their semantics classes. They have the opinion that concepts such as connotative meaning, social meaning, affective meaning, collocative meaning, thematic meaning, meaning changes of words, synonymy, antonym, polysemy, homonymy, homophony, and homograph are the primary materials of semantics classes. While those concepts are necessary materials of semantics and are usually taught, teachers of semantics must be well aware that they are not the primary materials of semantics. They are secondary materials. This paper describes the main materials of semantics which consist of word meaning, sentence meaning, and utterance meaning.
B.     Problem Formulation
1.      In semantics there are three meaning type, they are word meaning, sentence meaning and utterance meaning. What the meaning of them?
2.      What is the definition of the meaning of meaning?
C.     Aim Of Writing
1.      To explain three types of meaning.
2.      To explain the meaning of meaning.


A.     The Nature of Semantics
Based on Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, semantics is the study of the meanings of words and phrases. And the meaning of words, phrases, or systems: the semantics of the language.
Semantics is Study of meaning, one of the major areas of linguistic study (Britannica concise encyclopedia). The study of meaning of words, and the relation of signs to the objects to which the signs are applicable. (philosophy dictionary)
Semantics is a subfield of linguistics that is traditionally defined as the study of meaning of (parts of) words, phrases, sentences, and texts
Semantics deals with:
a.       Words meaning,
b.      Sentence meaning and
c.       Utterance meaning

1)      Word Meaning
Language is used for communication. In communicating, speakers or writers communicate meaning to listeners or readers. The nature of the meaning of a word is its referent. The referent of a word can be an object, an event, a state, a process, or an action here in this world. Word meaning can also said lexical meaning (Lyons, 1985): the meaning of lexemes depends upon the of sentences in which they occur. Words → things: this view is found in the Cratylus of Plato (427-347 bc). Words “name” or “refer to” things. It works well for proper nouns like London, Everton Fc and Ford Fiesta. It is less clear when applied to abstractions, to verbs and to adjectives - indeed wherever there is no immediately existing referent (thing) in the physical world, to correspond to the symbol (word).
Example of word meaning:
1.      Photosynthesis: a process of making food by plant using co2 and sunlight.
2.      Door: thing, made from wood.
3.      Run: action, moving use legs, going faster than walk.

hen is          : [ + animate, + animal, + biped, + female, + avian ]
cow is        : [ + animate, + animal, + quadruped, + vertebrate, + mammal,
+ bovine ]
boar is        : [ + animate, + animal, + quadruped, + vertebrate, + mammal,
+ porcine, + male ]
hot is          : [ a state of having a high temperature ]
to sew is     : [ an action of working with a needle and thread ]
drizzling is : [ the process of raining in small drops ]
a party is    : [ an event of the gathering of persons, by invitation, for
pleasure ]
Three areas of word meaning:
1.      Conceptual meaning
2.      Semantic components and
3.      Semantic field

2)      Sentence Meaning
The conceptual meaning of sentence studied through the principle of referent and principle of structure (Devitt and Sterenly, 1999). The meaning of sentence is the product of both lexical and grammatical meaning (the meaning of the constituent of lexemes and of the grammatical constructions) (Lyons, 1985).

Example of sentence meaning:
Tom is very tall, consists of Tom with a referent of an individual with conceptual features of [ + animate ], [ + human ], [ + male ], [ + adult ], [ + potent ], [ + unique ] and with a functional category of is very tall is the predicate with is as a word that shows tense and concord, very as an adjunct, and tall as the verb that shows a state of more than average height. Tom is very tall consists of three lexical words with three referents. Tom is an individual with the above conceptual features, very is an adjunct with a referent of ‘of high degree’ and tall as the main verb with a referent of ‘a state of more than average height’. The word ‘is’ does not have a lexical meaning. It is a word only to show inflection, tense and concord. The meaning of Tom is very tall is Tom is very tall or Tom is not short.
3)      Utterance meaning
In communication, the meaning of an utterance is not only determined by the conceptual meaning of the sentence but also by paralinguistic features such as stress, pitch, intonation, juncture, body movements, head movements, hand gestures, eye-contact, and the distance between the interlocutors
Example of utterance meaning:
1.      "You're a well-behaved group of students!"
If uttered to a group of misbehaving students by their teacher, will be understood to have a "meaning" which is the opposite of that of the sentence uttered.
2.      A: "Wanna go to a movie tonight?,"
B: "I’ve got a physics exam tomorrow."
You will undoubtedly take him/her as rejecting your invitation even though the sentence uttered makes no explicit reference either to a movie or to what he/she might be doing tonight. Suppose on the other hand, your roommates were to call his/her tutor and say "I've got an exam tomorrow." in that context, what is being said might be understood as a request for help with the exam.

B.     The Meaning of Meaning
Richard’s theory of the meaning of meaning, meanings do not reside in words; but they reside in people, because words mean different things to different people in different situation. Words will mean one thing in a certain context and mean another thing in a different context. This is why it is so important to study the context to get a better understanding of the meaning.
A simple example:
·        Sherwin t. Wine states that the word "meaning" has a multitude of meanings. When people ask, "does life have any meaning,?" they are not always asking the same question. Often discussions and arguments about the meaning of life are meaningless because the participants do not realize that they are trying to address different issues. The result is a waste of time.
There are four distinct questions that are subsumed under the query
"Does life have any meaning?"
1.      "Do I live in a just world in which I will be rewarded for doing good and punished for doing evil? And, even if not, will my suffering serve a good purpose?"
2.      "Will I live forever? Or is my life temporary and ephemeral?"
3.      "Do I have an assignment from God or, from the universe? If so, what is it?"
4.      "Are my desires and my expectations compatible with my power? Or is life an inevitable story of continuous frustration and disappointment?"

Richard’s Semantics Triangle
The relations between the triangular corners may be phrased more precisely in causal terms as follows:
1.      The matter evokes the writer's thought.
2.      The writer refers the matter to the symbol.
3.      The symbol evokes the reader's thought.
4.      The reader refers the symbol back to the matter.
The symbol refers to the linguistic elements (word, sentence, etc.), the referent refers to the object in the world of experience, and thought or reference refers to concept.
The symbol or a word signifies “things” by virtue of the “concept associated with the form of the word in the minds of the speaker of the language, and the concept looked at from this point of view is the meaning of the word. e.g. The dog over there looks friendly. The word “dog” i directly associated with a certain concept in our mind, i.e. what a “dog” is like, but it is not directly linked to the referent (the particular dog) in this particular case.

The meaning of meaning theory has two perspectives:
1.      Scientific perspective:
a.       Simple , easy to understand, can be tested in our everyday life,
b.      Has practical application that this theory can clear cut misunderstanding in everyday life communication
c.       Does not only present  problem , but also give solution  
2.      Humanistic perspective:
a.       Understand people because of their differences of their past experiences and personal background
b.      Show how important  people meaning is and not just the words they say
c.       Warns us to think about how the other person is going to react before we speak


Semantics is a very broad field to teach and learn. It is, therefore, of great importance to pinpoint the basic materials that students must learn. With reference to word meaning, the conceptual meaning, semantic components, and semantic fields of words are essential. In terms of sentence meaning, the principle of referent and principle of structure, kinds of predicates, and sense relations are important to understand the meaning of sentence. As for utterance meaning, kinds of utterances, utterances as speech acts, cooperative principle and conversational implicates and logical implications are necessary to understand the meaning of utterances. If semantics teachers always give a top-priority to these areas of meaning in their semantics teaching, they may be happy because they are doing the right thing.


A.S Hornby, 2000, Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English
Sixth Edition, New York: University Press

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