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121 Semantics



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  1Semantics:Meaning relationships between words. How are words stored in the brain?Dictionaries and meanings: Are definitions a good representation of the meaning of a word?If not, is this important, given how one normally uses a dictionary?What about storage?First, ask about the number of words that an individual knows. Then discuss howwords might be stored in the head. Number of words:How are words stored in the speakers' heads?How many words do you know?Webster's Third International Dictionary has 460,000 entries-the higher guesses are 250,000 for college students-more conservative guesses are roughly 50,000Retrieval speed:Is  fleen  a word in English?What about  zimp ?Structure:Let's start off with a question that has a rather obvious answer: Is our mentaldictionary structured the same way a desk dictionary is? Is it alphabetized? To find out thestructure of their mental dictionary, ask them to do a simple word association test:Sample:Word presented:Responses (amongothers):My analyses: (not put on board at first)blackwhite, redantonym; member of same class of objectsabovebelowantonym-relationalkittencat, yarnhyponym, superordinate; associationfruitapple, grapeshyponym, superordinatewarmmilk, cozy, coldassociation; synonym: antonym-gradable(continuum)alivedeadantonym-binary (dichotomy)sofacouch, comfortablesynonymmanwomanantonym-binary (dichotomy)Note that the items are not similar in structure, not what one would find next to theseentries in the dictionary, and thus are stored in terms of associations, rather than in terms of structure. As the lecture continues, the examples the students have used in this wordassociation task will be used to illustrate the topics that I will bring up later. Synonymy .ãDefine it.ãIllustrate it.True synonymy is relatively rare, if not nonexistent. Sometimes words have thesame sense but have different social values (registers), e.g. spit   and expectorate .  2The words sofa  and couch  might be as close as possible to synonyms, although Isuspect for many speakers a regional difference exists.  Antonymy .ãWork off list generated by the word association task.ã warm  and cold  , black   and white , and above  and below. ã antonyms are relatively similar, with the opposition typically limited to aspecific difference in one or perhaps two characteristics.Among the types of antonymy are (1)    binary antonymy . E.g. dead   and alive  arebinary in the sense that the truth value of one excludes the truth value of the other. (2)Another category is gradable antonyms such as the cold   versus hot   continuum. It isobvious that temperatures are gradable. (3) A third kind is relational antonyms, whichcompare the same relationship but from different points of view: above  and below .Categories and members: the    superordinate and the  subordinate .The pair fruit and grapes represents a category and an example of a category. Thisis referred to as  hyponymy . That is, the meaning of one word is included in the meaningof another. That is, to give one example,  fruit is a hyponym of  food  ; for anotherexample, grapes  is the hyponym, while  fruit   is the superordinate term.Note that the relationships include hierarchies within hierarchies, including multiplelevels of associations. The level of generalization at which we function depends upon whatwe are doing. Certainly, in language acquisition, the more basic terms tend to beintroduced before the more specific. On the other hand, there is a level of generality that isappropriate for the occasion. It is striking for someone to use a term that is inappropriatelyspecific or inappropriately general; for example, I am starving. I only had a little food forlunch borders on the too general, while I am starving. I only had a small Macintoshapple and some imported French brie for lunch is too specific. Texts are particularlyinteresting with respect to level shifting.    Polysemy and    homophony .    Polysemy , of course, refers to entries in the dictionary that are stored as variantsof the same word, implying that we are talking about the same word with interrelatedmeanings.    Homophony  refers to different words with coincidentally identicalpronunciations.[distinguish fortuitous homophony from lexicologically interesting polysemy]Use Fred Gwynne’s The King Who Rained  plant  n.  [ < L.  planta , a sprout] 1. a living thing that cannot move voluntarily, hasno sense organs, and synthesizes food from carbon dioxide. 2. a soft-stemmed organismof this kind, as distinguished from a tree or shrub. 3. the machinery, buildings, etc. of afactory, etc. — vt. 1. to put into the ground to grow 2. to set firmly into position. 3. tosettle; establish. 4. [Slang] to place (a person or thing) in such a way as to trick, trap, etc.  Dictionary definitions : The nature of dictionary definitions: sense (denotation),connotation, register (social), collocational status  3Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language. Warner BooksPaperback edition. 1983.lurk-extremely hard to define“1. to stay hidden, ready to attack, etc. 2. to move furtively”furtively: “done or acting in a stealthy manner, sneaky”assassinate-specific characteristics“to murder as assassins do”bird-proto-typical nature of the definition[n < OE. bridd  , young bird] any of a class of warm-bloodedvertebrates with feathers and wingsSummary.The structure of the mental lexicon. Words and their meanings.Synonymy.Categories and members: the Superordinate and the subordinate.Polysemy, homophony.The nature of dictionary definitions.sense (denotation), connotation, register (social)  4Possible assignment: True synonyms (again)?Think of three synonyms for the word  jerk ; i.e. three other wordsthat could be substituted for  jerk,  as in  He's being a real jerk about this assignment. (A)Think about the meaning that you assign these words, and defineeach in terms of  sense ,  connotation and    register . In what parts does yourdefinition for one match the others? How are they different? Can theybe substituted or each other in all contexts? (One quick check: can youuse them all if the person you’re talking about is female, i.e. She's being a real jerk aboutthis assignment.)(B)Ask one male, one female, and one older person for other synonyms.On what parts do you agree, and on what parts do you disagree? Do thesedisagreements fall along any particular social lines, such as gender, agegroup, etc.?(C)Are these words true synonyms?Explain why or why not.
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