Summary required readings module 1  (Semántica inglesa USAL), Apuntes de Filología hispánica. Universidad de Salamanca (USAL)
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Summary required readings module 1 (Semántica inglesa USAL), Apuntes de Filología hispánica. Universidad de Salamanca (USAL)

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Asignatura: semantics, Profesor: Pilar Alonso Rodriguez, Carrera: Filología Hispánica, Universidad: USAL
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Required readings module 1

Introduction: Semantics as the study of meaning (p.9 – 13)

• Aspects of meaning in human languages

• Linguistic meaning: functioning and constituents

• Cognitive/contextual meaning: communication

• Potential/actual meaning of words, sentences, utterances, …

• Mental operations: structure, categorising ideas and experiences, …

• History of semantics

• Until 1970: all major development in semantics came from non-linguistic disciplines

De Saussure (20s) : language as an autonomous system consisting of abstractions and dichotomies

Structuralism: studying the smaller units of language through opposition (analytic procedure)

• Syntax is an aspect of parole: sentences cannot be contrasted (opposition) because they do NOT constitute a limited set

• Sentences are the creation of individuals through infinite combinations

• Semantics = highly conditioned by psychological and situational factors. Doesn’t fit into de Saussure’s linguistics

Bloomfield (30s) : behaviourism

• Meaning of a word = influenced by situation and context

• Behaviourism

• The only things that may be used to confirm or refute a scientific theory are interpersonally observable phenomena

• The only valid approaches to meaning: observation and experience (strong limitations on analysis)

• Links utterances to psychological stimuli or to stimuli present in the environment (words = substitutes of objects)

• No means to explain why in many cases such a direct relation between stimulus, utterance and reaction cannot be established

• Impossible to develop a theory of semantics

• Limited his studies to the formal features of language

Chomsky (50s – 60s) : generativist approach

• Goal: a theory of language universals

• Focus on syntax, analysed with methods of calculus and logic

1

Syntactic Structures (1957)

• Study a language as if every sentence could be derived/ generated from the grammar of that language by applying a given set or rules

• Well-generated sentences = grammatical, ill-formed sentences = ungrammatical

Transformations = all formal variations of a unique concept

■ Transformational rules alter the word order and produce functional changes

■ Necessary to distinguish deep and surface structure

• Deep: syntactic rules that generate the sentences of a language

• Surface: transformational rules that give sentences different phonological shapes

Aspects (1965)

■ Grammar in its broadest sense: syntactic, semantic and phonological rules

• Syntactic rules became more complex

• Introduction of lexical slots

■ Meaning is derived from within the deep structure of the sentence itself by means of the semantic rules of interpretation

■ Situational/contextual components were ruled out

Katz and Fodor (1963): attempts to develop a semantic theory founded on the principles of generativism

• Rules of syntax and the lexicon provide

■ Phonological representation

■ Semantic representation of a sentence

• Transformations only affect surface structure (phonological components)

■ Deep structure is generated by semantic rules that assign meaning to sentences

■ 2 types of semantic rules

Selection-restriction rules: affect lexical choices and their appropriateness in relation to other lexical terms

Categorial incongruity rules: restrict sentences which are affected by grammatical and semantic incongruity

2

■ Semantic rules = recursive and compositional

Cognitive semantics

Fillmore: case theory

• Elements are assigned semantic roles such as “agent”, “objective”, “instrumental”, …

Lakoff: natural logic

• Semantics of natural language can be studied through natural logic

• Combination of possible worlds semantics and model theory

• Last decades: recent approaches

■ Importance of meaning for all aspects of language investigation

Langacker

• Recognition of the crucial role of meaning in language use and linguistic studies

• Interaction among all language components and the need to treat them as closely connected

1.2 Formal semantics (p.25 – 38)

• Formal semantics

• Integrates different schools

■ Analytical orientation based on logical semantics

■ Logical semantics: studies organisation of rational thought

■ Logical analysis: normative (NOT descriptive)

• Interested in the rules alone, not how they work

Logical semantics: only study the meaning of declarative sentences

■ Sentences to make statements in processes of reasoning

■ Can be declared true or false

The proposition

The meaning structure underlying declarative sentences

• Propositional meaning

• Subject to truth-conditions

• Represented in a formal language: notations of logic

• Base of formal semantics

Generative grammar: syntax as independent system

3

• No attention for the actual meaning of sentences

• Exclusive interest in the formal and functional characteristics

• Disregard of the interpretation

Logical semantics: formal language

• No place for ambiguity/alternative interpretations

• Because language is propositional: evaluated as true or false

■ Formal semantics: synthesis

• Generative syntax: language = set of units and formation rules

• Logical semantics:

• Sentence meaning = propositional and truth-conditional (logical semantics)

• Rules to define what propositions are well-formed

■ Difference: semantically ill-formed Vs. ungrammatical

■ This criterion does not suffice to judge certain utterances: lack of contextualisation

• BUT study of sentences of natural language

• Ambiguity

• Complex interpretation

• Interpretation of semantic units

■ Given by the semantics of the system of the language

■ 2 types of semantic rules

• First type: interpreting each basic word in the language

Intentional interpretation: assigning to each word the meaning provided by the lexicon

Extensional interpretation: identifying the referent which corresponds to the lexical element in the outer world

• NOT free from problems: sometimes a ‘possible world’ is needed

• Second type: building the interpretation ofcomplex expressions from the interpretation of their constituents

• Result of applying both rules: a formalised model

• Basic concepts

The sentence

Basic unit of syntax

■ Equivalent to the proposition in logical semantics

• Proposition = object with an assigned truth-value

4

• Can only be either true or false, but never both

• Abstract meaning of a declarative sentence when used to make an assertion

• Equivalent to deep structure (generative grammar)

The proposition

■ Basic unit representing the abstract meaningful structure underlying the sentence

■ NOT accepted in logical semantics

• Only declarative sentences have propositional status

• Other types of meaning do not fit in: meaning is non-propositional

• Philosophy of language

• Devising complementary theories of meaning > pragmatics

• Austin and Grice

The utterance

■ Opposed to the notion of sentence

■ Real products of natural language processes/activities

• May not be syntactically well-formed (e.g. in casual conversation)

• Produced in real situational conditions: meaning depends on context!

■ The utterance isn’t necessarily grammatical but contextually appropriate

■ Utterance meaning

• Not only propositional

• Not always subjected to the true-false division

Lyons: utterance meaning consists of verbal AND non-verbal components

Non-verbal: prosodic or paralinguistic (e.g. tone, stress, gestures, …)

Verbal: Lyons accentuates grammatical meaning

• Not only lexical or propositional resources convey meaning

• Meaning can be grammatically encoded by modals, tenses, deictics, nominalisations, specific constructions, …

■ Personal, interpersonal and/or social interaction

■ Subjective component: feelings, beliefs, opinions, …

• Connotative nuances

Expressive meaning: subjective component

Descriptive/propositional meaning

• Revision of approaches to lexical meaning

5

• Lyons: differentiating meaning dimensions in study of lexical items

■ Denotation Vs. reference

Denotation (utterance-independent)

• Semantic relation between lexical item and class of entity it represents

Reference (utterance-dependent)

• Semantic relation between lexical item and specific instance of category

■ Sense

• Semantic relation between lexical item and other expressions of the same language which share some features of meaning

• Related to denotation

Componential analysis: sense as a network of meaning to build relations between semantically close items

• Lyons disagrees: decomposition of lexical elements proves that elements which seem similar may not always function as total equivalents

• Lyons: lexical items should be analysed individually

■ Study of meaning goes beyond the merely propositional

• Several cases of non-propositionally analysable language options

• Constantly used in normal everyday language

• Demonstrates the insufficiency of formal analysis

Lyons: the insufficiency of formal analysis

Thematic meaning = part of the sentence the language user chooses to present in the first place

• Starting point for his/her information

• Essential element in the organisation of information

Selecting one item over another to begin one’s utterance is meaningful!!

• Difference in meaning that escapes the propositional content

• Usually accompanied by changes in intonation and attitude

■ The same propositional meaning can be conveyed by different sentence structures

• Criterion to distinguish between semantic and pragmatic aspects

Semantic: aspects of utterance meaning which are expressed through the structure of sentences

Pragmatic: everything that is not semantic aspect

• E.g. Sometimes much of the content in utterances is not expressed through language

6

• Mutual understanding comes from standard situational knowledge

• Context, common sense, general knowledge of the world

• This should be studied as pragmatics

■ Both semantic and pragmatic components affect meaning and understanding as part of the communicative process

1. Prototype Theory and other cognitive approaches to conceptual categorisation (p.43-46)

• Philosophical theories as a basis for formal semantics: conceptual categories in the classic Aristotelian way

• Based on the principle of discreteness

■ Reality is viewed as consisting of discrete units/sets of units

Conceptual categories

■ Are identified by defining the sufficient number of the necessary features which characterise them

■ Correspond with entities/objects existing in reality and with their properties and relations they establish

• Conceptual categories

= sets that are characterised by necessary and sufficient conditions on the properties of their members

• Complex conceptual categories

= characterised by bundles of features whose properties are shared by all entities in the category

• Description involves identification of their most typical features!!

• Experimental cognition

• Concept of conceptual category = inadequate with many conceptual categories used by human beings

Wittgenstein: family resemblance

■ E.g. ‘game’ could be analysed only through recognition of features which are shared by other concepts representing certain related activities

■ Based on family resemblance = members of a category are classified according to the similarity existing among them

■ BUT some conceptual categories resist direct association

• E.g. conceptual categories as a part of real utterances: ‘She is quite a cold person.’

7

• Association between symbol and meaning is NOT arbitrary

• WE actually assign meaning to this expression drawing from our own experience of the world through perception

• EVEN THOUGH the semantic reference holding between both ends of the lexical unit (= meaning + perception) is indirect

• Metaphorical projection

E. Rosh: prototype theory

■ ‘70s: experimental research, and so more realistic than classical categorization

■ Studies

Internal structure of categories

• Our ability to interpret and organise experience

• How we assimilate, store and implement experience

• How experience relates to our “mental dictionary”

■ All of these operations are carried out in terms of categories

Categorisation = basic cognitive function that we perform automatically and unconsciously

• Everything we experience is recognised and classified because they share certain traits and thus, is a member of a certain category

• HOWEVER, we do not have a category for every object/experience/ action

• A large portion of categories designate abstract entities

• Represented by the most representative example of the category

• Association with a prototype

A prototype = example which is often the most familiar to us

• The 1st image in our head when a given category is mentioned

• Usually compromises the most common and necessary properties that distinguish a category

• More easily and rapidly recognised

• Responsible for the identification and categorisation of other less familiar members of the category

• Prototypes are NOT universal

■ Proximity to the prototype

Central members Vs. peripheral members

• Principle of ‘goodness of example’

Cognitive economy

8

• Categories and prototypes to store and classify conceptual information and instances effortlessly

■ Different types of concepts = different categorisation mechanisms

• Concepts whose qualities form a continuum

• E.g. shades of a colour

• Arranging their properties around continuous variables

• Vague concepts whose meaning is not assessed in absolute terms

• Categorised through graded membership

• Establishes to what degree a certain instance fits into a category by matching it with other possible realisations of that category

Hierarchical organisation

• Different types of related concepts occupy different levels depending on their scope

Superordinate level: the more general class of things (e.g. animal)

Basic level: differentiates members in a category (e.g. dog)

• The level from which people start to conceptualisation and classification of experience

• Where most human interaction with the environment takes place most efficiently

• Important for the organisation of knowledge: most knowledge we have about members of category concentrates here

• Acquired first in infancy and most productive linguistically

Subordinate level: more difficult to distinguish between members (e.g. Terrier)

2.4 Cognitive semantics (p.56-61)

• Introduction

• Late 70s

• Origin

■ Reaction against objectivist cognition

• Objectivist cognition views meaning as based on

• The relationships symbols hold between themselves

• The relationships symbols hold with entities in the world

• Objectivist cognition: mental processes as algorithmic

• Formal manipulations of abstract arbitrary symbols

■ Result of findings in cognitive psychology

• Basic concepts 9

Human experience (i.e. human interaction and understanding of the world) = basis of thinking processes

■ Mental concepts make use of image schemas based either on

• The perception we have on ourselves and our environment

• Our imaginative capacity to project concrete experiences onto abstract domains of conceptualisation and thought

■ These image schemas

• motivate many language symbols and expressions

• are not necessarily abstract or arbitrary

■ Cognitive processes are not algorithmic

• The theory of conceptual metaphor

Lakoff, Johnson and Turner

■ Theory of metaphor

■ Lakoff

• Strong conviction about cognitive theory and the formal approach to meaning

• Profound revision of his views because of Rosh’s prototype theory

• Lakoff’s theory of cognition

■ An attempt to explain the different steps of conceptualisation of experience, focusing mainly on metaphorical conceptualisation

■ Our cognitive system consists of

Basic level concepts

• Correspond to discontinuous categories present in the natural environment

• Easily distinguishable from each other

• Of objects, actions and properties

• No internal structure

• Directly meaningful

Basic image schemas/experiential structures

• More abstract or complex areas of experience

• Non-finitary external structure

• Don’t correspond to discontinuities in the outer world (like basic level concepts)

• Based on our own perception

10

• Schemas demonstrate that abstract reason is founded on 2 types of cognitive procedures

■ Reason based on bodily experience

■ Different mental processes which project our knowledge and conceptualisation of concrete, well-structured domains of experience onto more abstract (usually more complex) spheres

• Examples

■ Container schema (Johnson)

• How we deal with much of our daily experience in terms of containers

• Use of particles (in/out, out of, out from, …)

• How abstract and concrete aspects are conceptually treated as if they were actual containers

■ Part-whole schema: e.g. a family is conceptualised as a whole where spouses are parts. Hence, divorce = splitting up

■ Link-schema: e.g. in interpersonal relationships, we make connections and break social ties

Imaginative mental processes: forming abstract cognitive models which involve conceptual operations and projections

• Categorisation and schematisation (see previous reading)

Metaphor

■ Lakoff and Johnson

■ Our conceptual system contains conventional metaphoric mappings/projections

• Permits the transfer of qualities of a concept/ image schema in source domain on concept/ image schema in target domain

• Allows projection of conceptual structure in physical domain to more abstract/complex domains

■ Metaphorical projections enable construction of complex concepts and general categories using basic concepts and image schemas

■ Question of thought, NOT of language

• Same metaphorical mapping can underlie different linguistic expressions

• Deeply rooted in our cognitive system

11

• Reflect cultural (sometimes universal) ways of conceptualisation

• Part of our conceptual organisation

• Highly-structured and fixed system

Metonymy

■ Seen as complementary to metaphorical thinking processes

■ A conceptual projection whereby 1 experiential domain (target) is partially understood in terms of another (source) included in the same common experiential domain (Barcelona)

■ Transpose qualities and meaning associated with a part of a given conceptual domain to the totality of the very same domain

■ E.g. The part for the whole

Counterfactuals

■ Influence on reality

■ Allow a number of interpretations based on

• Different kinds of inferences

• Contextual factors

■ Normally, these interpretations are resolved in context

■ E.g. a non-existent reality

Mental spaces

■ Partial cognitive structures

■ Develop in the minds of the participants of communication

• Created when we use language!

• To connect reasoning and experience

■ Fauconnier

• These domains are activated by language but are not language themselves

• They are cognitive

• Connect language – world

■ Conditioned by context and pragmatics

■ Internally structured by frames and cognitive models

■ Externally linked by connectors

12

Focusing

■ Intervenes in the construction of discourse

■ Language user selects the point of view and the elements to focus on

Figure and ground shifting (Talmy, Saeed)

■ Connected with focusing

■ Figure = entity that either

• Stands out in some way from the background

• Is made to stand out by the language user

Scanning (Langacker)

■ The way in which information is presented

■ Sequential scanning

• Description is done sequentially as part of a process

• More likely to involve verbal description

■ Summary scanning

• Description is presented as a complete unit

• Usually connected with nominal description

Blending

2.4.2 Blending theory (p.62-69)

• Cognitive semantics

Turner and Fauconnier

■ Blending theory

■ Conceptual integration network model

• Profound revision of formal semantics

■ Lakoff disapproved of objectivism in which meaning and language are seen as mathematically precise

■ Cognitive theory:

• Meaning is categorical, NOT referential

• Cognitive operations (e.g. metaphor) are part of everyday language

• Cognitive operations are essential to conceptualising the world

• Blending

• Definition

13

■ Earlier: The creation of a new superordinate category to cover 2 parallel hyponyms/ subordinate categories related initially by a metaphorical mapping

• Involves the creation of a third mental space

• A new reality with qualities inherited from both input conceptual domains may emerge

■ After a deeper study:

• Differentiation

• general notion of knowledge domain

• notion of mental space

Fauconnier

• Meaning projections work at an intermediate level

• In the mind of the language users attending to cognitive and linguistic clues

• Conceptual structure of the related elements does not coincide completely with that of the knowledge domains to which they belong

• 2 nominal poles create 2 different mental spaces

■ Source domain

■ Target domain

• Cognitive projections between these 2 spaces

Blending = central cognitive operation that connects concepts from both spaces and creates a new blended mental space of subsequent inferences

• Accounts for

■ Conventionalised projections between spaces

• More susceptible to generalisations

• E.g. LOVE IS A JOURNEY inherits the structure of LIFE IS A JOURNEY but in the former there are 2 travellers and their relationship is a vehicle

■ The more creative individualised constructions

• Blending

■ Is prerequisite to any other cognitive process

■ Is subliminal to the vast majority of our thinking processes

• When blending is no longer operative (or not considered as such) and the 2 domains are seen as separate and independent

■ The instances become polysemic

The four space model

14

■ Blending presupposes 4 mental spaces

• A source space (input 1)

• A generic space

• Contains the skeletal information shared by both concepts

• Enables the target to acquire the qualities of the source

• A blend

• A target space (input 2)

■ Generic space and blend are central spaces where conceptual and/or linguistic transformations take place

• Only contain those aspects of the domain relevant for each specific case

Conceptual projection:

• Fluent transfer of meaning and conceptual structure among all 4 spaces

• Allows for all kinds of conceptual complexities

• Permits the analysis of online meaning constructions and other more settled conventional types

■ Proved to be prior to the one-way metaphorical projections

• HOWEVER, these projections are still valid

• Grady, Oakley and Coulson: co-existing alternative

• Employed when the metaphorical projections are highly conventionalised/ non-creative

• Transfers between knowledge domains are straightforward and automatic

• No need for mental spaces to be created for the occasion

Conclusion: blending theory is most effectual and valuable in the consideration of online creative meaning of whichever type

15

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