Semantics or the theory of meaning is a science that deals with the meaning of symbols , in particular the building blocks of natural languages that serve for communication , or words and sentences.
Main Currents in Semantics
The study of words is the oldest part of semantics, and includes component analysis and the study of semen and word fields and meaning at the morphological level, such as inflections and derivations , where morphemes as the smallest units of meaning are still studied. The sentence semantics was developed later and focuses on the meaning of larger syntactic units: phrases , sentences and, at the highest level, whole texts and discourses .
Meaning must be distinguished from the form in which it is expressed. Two sentences or words that have the same meaning, such as: John kisses Marie and Marie is kissed by John , are synonymous . If a single sentence can be interpreted in two or more different ways, it is ambiguous or polysemantic . An example of such a sentence is I saw the man with the binoculars , in which it is not immediately clear whether it concerns a man with binoculars around his neck, or observing a man from a distance with the help of binoculars.
Change of meaning plays an important role in historical linguistics . In combination with philosophy this is studied within semantics as conceptual history . The first basis for this part of semantics was laid in particular by Wilhelm Wundt and Antoine Meillet and later Stephen Ullmann . Since the end of the 20th century, attempts have been made to bring historical semantics more into line with cognitive linguistics .
Etymology and change of meaning are (partly) regarded as subfields within historical semantics.
The same rules apply to communication at a cross-cultural level as to communication within one’s own culture, for example when it comes to terminology and the creation of scientific models. One of the conditions is that people agree on certain concepts as well as on the associated (word) meanings. In order to avoid misunderstandings and conflicts, it is necessary for semantics to play a cross-culture role, which means that a bridge is built between the different ways in which words and concepts are interpreted by different cultures as a result of culture-bound semantics.
Semantics and Perception
In semantics one can distinguish between the core of a concept and the “gray zone” around it. This gray zone is all-encompassing, but contains several gray zones. These in turn are also fully comprehensive. What is essential for each individual zone is the ‘input’: the information gained through observations. Good perception can also lead to new insights (understanding) in humans , by focusing the consciousness on as many different perspectives (approaches). By deliberately giving several descriptions, a ‘versatile concept’ is obtained in the subconscious mind , which, depending on the situation, can be comprehensive. Consciously focusing on sensory perceptions (being extroverted ) thus increases the total concepts, each of which increases the conscious understanding again. Subsequently, certain ‘recognition points’ are consciously obtained through intuition . These must be consciously remembered and thus be the input for the potential to be formed. By always trying to increase the potential in a progressive sense, the essence will undoubtedly become clear in the long run. Likewise that of man, with regard to his ‘ Existence ‘. What results from the characterization of a living being as a human? What are the ethical positions regarding abortion and euthanasia ? Or even more trivial , what is the meaning of chair? Although not everyone thinks about it, given definitions of a chair can be very stereotypical. It is also given four legs in a number of authoritative dictionaries. However, in all cases it is the human consciousness (separately or better still together) that can give it ‘a certain twist’. In semantics, concepts are “split” into semen, sememen and semantems in order to arrange the corresponding concepts in a well-organized manner in reality.
Truth Functional Semantics
Truth-functional semantics was developed in 1944 by Alfred Tarski . Herein the meaning of a sentence is traced back to the truth, since the concept of truth is easier to grasp than the concept of sentence meaning. In this way, the concept of meaning becomes a function between language utterances and extra-lingual reality, and the truthfulness of language utterances forms a direct criterion for their meaning. In the model theoretical semantics will be this theory in more detail.
Semantics and related disciplines
Semantics versus pragmatics
In addition, the meaning of a language utterance must be distinguished from the communicative load it carries. Many sentences literally mean something different from what they mean: someone asking Can you give me the salt? is not interested or physically able are the salt to pass – this fact is in fact taken for granted – but just want to have the salt and give to know this by using the auxiliary verb to expressing a request. Meaning theory focuses on the literal meaning of sentences, pragmatics on the underlying communicative value.
Semantics versus semiotics
The study of the meaning of signs and symbols is a science closely related to semantics: semiotics. Semantics can be considered as part of semiotics.
Semasiology / Onomasiology
Semasiology is a sub-discipline within semantics and describes meanings based on symbols. The study in the opposite direction – that of words or symbols with meaning as the starting point – is known as onomasiology.
A picture dictionary or a dictionary in which lemma ‘s meaning to be arranged is essentially onomasiologisch nature. Also, the word field theory has a onomasiological component.
The term semantics was introduced within semiotics by Charles W. Morris . Since then, a distinction has been made in semiotics between pragmatics and semiotic syntax or syntactics , although the distinction between the latter concept and syntax in general is somewhat controversial.
A major sister discipline of linguistic semantics is the formal semantics, in which the meaning of formal languages such as propositional logic , the predicate and modal logic is studied. Intention and the associated dimensional semantics, the semantics of the possible worlds, play an important role in modal logic.
The meaning of a formal sentence can be expressed in logical expressions. The relationship between meaning and reality is established with the truth values of Boolean algebra : the meaning of a sentence is characterized by all the circumstances in which that sentence is true. The logical expressions also allow (valid) reasoning or presuppositions , in which all logical consequences of a sentence can be derived. For example, if the proposition I am not a man is true, this automatically means that the proposition Not everyone is a man is also true. Contemporary formal semantics can largely be traced back to Gottlob Frege and Ludwig Wittgenstein .
In a broader sense, formal semantics refers not only to logic , but to everything to do with the definition and use of formal languages in a variety of fields. An example is a modeling language that is used for recording information in computers, in a declarative language or the programming of computers. Formal semantics is widely applied in computational complexity theory . With even further extension, the concept of formal semantics is even used as a hyperonym for everything to do with the semantics of natural and formal languages.
Application of semantics in non-linguistic contexts
In information theory semantics is understood to mean ordered sequences of information. A series of coincidental events can contain a great deal of information in this context and yet be semantically insignificant.
In sociological systems theory , semantics refers to the collective knowledge that a social system has at its disposal. This generally involves socially meaningful representations that have emerged from the standardization of experiences, thoughts, actions and reasoning.
The theory of meaning is an old movement in philosophy . In philosophy, meaning theory traditionally focuses on concepts and concepts, but in more recent philosophy also on sentences or entire texts. In the majority of theories the meaning of a sentence or word is anchored either in perception or in truth conditions.
An important turn in conceptual semantics is Ludwig Wittgenstein ‘s insight that the elements that fall under a concept should not be seen as a coherent set, but as a complex set of objects with family resemblances : there is nothing that includes all the things we call play . are right, but there are several features that many of the games have, but not all.
Some key concepts in semantics:
- the denotation is that in reality to which a word or phrase refers
- the connotation is the remaining value expressed by that word or phrase the
- truth conditions of a sentence are all the circumstances under which that sentence is true
Since the important distinction between signficant / significaat ( signifiant / signifié ) on the one hand and referent on the other was made by Ferdinand de Saussure , and the distinction between connotation and denotation was elaborated by Gottlob Frege , philosophical semantics has become strongly intertwined with both linguistic semantics and the semiotics. Within this sub-area of semantics, cognitive significance , informational significance and pragmatic significance are now further distinguished.
Semantics also occupies a central place within analytic philosophy . For a time, philosophy of language was understood to mean only semantics, until usage theory and linguists such as Ludwig Wittgenstein clarified the distinction from pragmatics.
Within industrial design we talk about the semantics of shapes . This means that (part of) an object can let the user know by its shape what function it fulfills or what the user can do with it. For example, a cylindrical knob with grooves on the side is understood as a rotary knob, while other knobs show by their shape that it can be pressed or moved.
The Semantic Web refers to the expansion of the World Wide Web via embedding added semantic metadata , the use of semantic data modeling techniques, such as Resource Description Framework (RDF) and Web Ontology Language (OWL).