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Semantics is the study of meaning, usually in language. The word "semantics" itself denotes a range of ideas, from the popular to the highly technical. It is often used in ordinary language to denote a problem of understanding that comes down to word selection or connotation. This problem of understanding has been the subject of many formal inquiries, over a long period of time. The word is derived from the Greek word σημαντικός (semantikos), "significant", from σημαίνω (semaino), "to signify, to indicate" and that from σήμα (sema), "sign, mark, token". In linguistics, it is the study of interpretation of signs or symbols as used by agents or communities within particular circumstances and contexts. Within this view, sounds, facial expressions, body language, proxemics have semantic (meaningful) content, and each has several branches of study. In written language, such things as paragraph structure and punctuation have semantic content; in other forms of language, there is other semantic content.
The formal study of semantics intersects with many other fields of inquiry, including proxemics, lexicology, syntax, pragmatics, etymology and others, although semantics is a well-defined field in its own right, often with synthetic properties. In philosophy of language, semantics and reference are related fields. Further related fields include philology, communication, and semiotics. The formal study of semantics is therefore complex.
The word semantic in its modern sense is considered to have first appeared in French as sémantique in Michel Bréal's 1897 book, Essai de sémantique'. In international scientific vocabulary semantics is also called semasiology. The discipline of Semantics is distinct from Alfred Korzybski's General Semantics, which is a system for looking at the semantic reactions of the whole human organism in its environment to some event, symbolic or otherwise.
साचा:Cleanup In linguistics, semantics is the subfield that is devoted to the study of meaning, as inherent at the levels of words, phrases, sentences, and larger units of discourse (referred to as texts). The basic area of study is the meaning of signs, and the study of relations between different linguistic units: homonymy, synonymy, antonymy, polysemy, paronyms, hypernymy, hyponymy, meronymy, metonymy, holonymy, exocentricity / endocentricity, linguistic compounds. A key concern is how meaning attaches to larger chunks of text, possibly as a result of the composition from smaller units of meaning. Traditionally, semantics has included the study of sense and denotative reference, truth conditions, argument structure, thematic roles, discourse analysis, and the linkage of all of these to syntax.
Formal semanticists are concerned with the modeling of meaning in terms of the semantics of logic. Thus the sentence John loves a bagel can be broken down into its constituents (signs), of which the unit loves may serve as both syntactic and semantic head.
In the late 1960s, Richard Montague proposed a system for defining semantic entries in the lexicon in terms of lambda calculus. In these terms, the syntactic parse of the sentence above would now indicate loves as the head, and its entry in the lexicon would point to the arguments as the agent, John, and the object, bagel, with a special role for the article "a" (which Montague called a quantifier). This resulted in the sentence being associated with the logical predicate loves (John, bagel), thus linking semantics to categorial grammar models of syntax. The logical predicate thus obtained would be elaborated further, e.g. using truth theory models, which ultimately relate meanings to a set of Tarskiian universals, which may lie outside the logic. The notion of such meaning atoms or primitives is basic to the language of thought hypothesis from the 70s.
Despite its elegance, Montague grammar was limited by the context-dependent variability in word sense, and led to several attempts at incorporating context, such as:
In the Chomskian tradition in linguistics there was no mechanism for the learning of semantic relations, and the nativist view considered all semantic notions as inborn. Thus, even novel concepts were proposed to have been dormant in some sense. This traditional view was also unable to address many issues such as metaphor or associative meanings, and semantic change, where meanings within a linguistic community change over time, and qualia or subjective experience. Another issue not addressed by the nativist model was how perceptual cues are combined in thought, e.g. in mental rotation.
This traditional view of semantics, as an innate finite meaning inherent in a lexical unit that can be composed to generate meanings for larger chunks of discourse, is now being fiercely debated in the emerging domain of cognitive linguistics and also in the non- Fodorian camp in Philosophy of Language. The challenge is motivated by:
A concrete example of the latter phenomenon is semantic underspecification — meanings are not complete without some elements of context. To take an example of a single word, "red", its meaning in a phrase such as red book is similar to many other usages, and can be viewed as compositional. However, the colours implied in phrases such as "red wine" (very dark), and "red hair" (coppery), or "red soil", or "red skin" are very different. Indeed, these colours by themselves would not be called "red" by native speakers. These instances are contrastive, so "red wine" is so called only in comparison with the other kind of wine (which also is not "white" for the same reasons). This view goes back to de Saussure:
and may go back to earlier Indian views on language, especially the Nyaya view of words as indicators and not carriers of meaning.
An attempt to defend a system based on propositional meaning for semantic underspecification can be found in the Generative Lexicon model of James Pustejovsky, who extends contextual operations (based on type shifting) into the lexicon. Thus meanings are generated on the fly based on finite context.
Another set of concepts related to fuzziness in semantics is based on prototypes. The work of Eleanor Rosch and George Lakoff in the 1970s led to a view that natural categories are not characterizable in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions, but are graded (fuzzy at their boundaries) and inconsistent as to the status of their constituent members.
Systems of categories are not objectively "out there" in the world but are rooted in people's experience. These categories evolve as learned concepts of the world — meaning is not an objective truth, but a subjective construct, learned from experience, and language arises out of the "grounding of our conceptual systems in shared embodiment and bodily experience". A corollary of this is that the conceptual categories (i.e. the lexicon) will not be identical for different cultures, or indeed, for every individual in the same culture. This leads to another debate (see the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis or Eskimo words for snow).
English nouns are found by language analysis to have 25 different semantic features, each associated with its own pattern of fMRI brain activity. The individual contribution of each parameter predicts the fMRI pattern when nouns are considered thus supporting the view that nouns derive their meaning from prior experience linked to a common symbol.