Semantics: The Analysis of Meaning
How can we describe the meaning of different words?
Semantic features
Semantic Features
Semantic Features
Identify the features (1)
Semantic roles
Semantic Roles
Semantic roles
Lexical relations
Prototypes (a first, typical or preliminary model of something, especially a machine, from which other forms are developed or
Homophones and Homonyms
Category: lingvisticslingvistics

Linguistics semantics

1. Semantics: The Analysis of Meaning



- Semantics is the branch of linguistics
that deals with the study of meaning,
changes in meaning, and the principles
that govern the relationship between
sentences or words and their meanings.
- It is the study of the relationships
between signs and symbols and what
they represent.
- (Semantics definition and meaning | Collins english dictionary)


- An understanding of semantics is
essential to the study of language
acquisition (how language users acquire
a sense of meaning, as speakers and
writers, listeners and readers).
- It is also essential to the study of
language change (how meanings alter
over time).


- It is important for understanding language in
social contexts, as these are likely to affect
meaning, and for understanding varieties of
English and effects of style.
- It is thus one of the most fundamental
concepts in linguistics.
- The study of semantics includes the study of
how meaning is constructed, interpreted,
clarified, obscured, illustrated, simplified,
negotiated, contradicted, and paraphrased.

5. Meaning

- To understand language we need to know
the meaning of words and the morphemes
that compose them. We also must know
how the meanings of words combine into
phrases and sentence meanings. Finally, we
must consider context when determining
- The study of the linguistic meaning of
morphemes, words, phrases, and sentences
is called Semantics.


- The study of how context affects
meaning is called Pragmatics.
- For example, the sentence "It's
cold in here" can be interpreted in
certain situations as "close the

7. Meaning

• Conceptual vs. associative meaning
• Denotative vs. connotative meaning
• conceptual/denotative= literal use of the
• Associative/ connotative= different
associations with the conceptual meaning
• E.g. needle= ‘thin, sharp, steel, instrument’
is associated with ‘pain’, ‘blood’ or ‘illness’
• Other examples: night- rose?

8. How can we describe the meaning of different words?

• Three types of semantic analysis:
Semantic features
• ‘roles’ they fulfill
Semantic roles
• ‘relationship’ with other words
• words as ‘containers’

9. Semantic features

• Syntactically correct sentences but semantically odd.
• The hamburger ate the man.
• My cat studies linguistics.
• The table listens to the radio
• This relates to the conceptual components of the words
‘hamburger, cat & table’
not human.

10. Semantic Features

• Semantic properties: The components
of meaning of a word.
• Meaning as collection of
properties/features typically with two
possible values (+ / -)
• Example of componential analysis:
baby is [+ young], [+ human],

11. Semantic Features

12. Identify the features (1)

(a) widow, mother, sister, aunt, maid
(b) widower, father, brother, uncle
[+ human]
The (a) and (b) words are
The (a) words are
[+ female]
The (b) words are
[+ male]
2. (a) bachelor, paperboy, pope, chief
(b) bull, rooster, drake, ram (бык, петух, селезень, баран)
[+ male]
The (a) and (b) words are
[+ human]
The (a) words are
The (b) words are
[+ animal]

13. Semantic roles

• Words are described according to the roles
they fulfill with the situation described in a
• The boy kicked the ball
• verb
indicates action
• Boy
performs the action= agent
• Ball
undergoes the action= theme
• The NPs describe the role of entities (people
or things) involved in the action, i.e. they
have certain semantic (or thematic) roles.

14. Semantic Roles

• Agent= the entity that performs the action
• Theme= the entity that undergoes the action
• Experiencer= one who perceives something
• Instrument= an entity used to perform an
• Location= the place where the action happens
• Source= the place from which an action
• Goal= the place where the action is directed

15. Semantic roles

• John is writing with a pen
• Mary saw a mosquito on the wall
theme location
• The children ran from the playground to the pool
• The boy opened the door with a key
• The dog bit the stick
• With a stick, the man hit the dog.

16. Lexical relations

• What is the meaning of ‘big’?
• ‘Large’ or the opposite of ‘small’
• What is the meaning of ‘daffodil’?
• A kind of flower
• Analysis in terms of lexical relations- explain the
meaning in terms of the relationship with other
• Synonymy
• Antonymy
• Hyponymy
• Prototype
• Homophones and Homonyms
• Polysemy

17. Synonymy

• Synonymy: words that have the same meanings or
that are closely related in meaning
• E.g. answer/reply – almost/nearly – broad/wide –
buy/purchase – freedom/ liberty
• ‘sameness’ is not ‘total sameness’- only one word
would be appropriate in a sentence.
• E.g. Sandy only had one answer correct on the test.
(but NOT reply)
• Synonyms differ in formality
• E.g buy/purchase – automobile/car

18. Antonymy

• Antonymy: words that are opposites in meaning,
e.g. hot & cold.
• Types
• Gradable= not absolute, question of degree
• Hot & cold – small & big
• Non-gradable:
• Dead & alive – asleep & awake
E.g. happy/sad

19. Hyponymy

• Hyponymy: Words whose meanings are
specific instances of a more general word, i.e.
one thing is included (kind of) in another
• e.g. cats and dogs are hyponyms of the word
• In this case cats and dogs are co-hyponyms
share the same ‘superordinate’
• Other e.g. daffodil & flower / carrot &
vegetable / ant & insect

20. Hyponymy

21. Prototypes (a first, typical or preliminary model of something, especially a machine, from which other forms are developed or

• Canary– dove– duck –flamingo –parrot-
• The best example that belongs to a bird
is ‘robin’, but what about ‘ostrich’ and
• Prototype: Characteristic instance
• Furniture – chair is a better example
than bench or stool.
• Clothing – shirts more than shoes

22. Homophones and Homonyms

• Homonymy: A word which has two or more
entirely distinct (unrelated) meanings,
• e.g. bank: ‘financial institution’ ; ‘of a river’.
• Bat: ‘flying creature’ or ‘used in sports’ - бита
• Race: ‘contest of speed’ or ‘ethnic group’
• Homophony: Different words pronounced the
same but spelled differently,
• e.g. two, to and too.
• Flour and flower
• Meat and meet
• Right and write

23. Polysemy

• Polysemy: A word which has multiple meanings related
by extension,
• e.g. bright: ‘shining’ ; ‘intelligent’
• ‘Head’ of the body and the person at the top of a company.
• ‘Foot’ of a body and of a mountain and of the bed or chair.
• ‘Run’ a person runs, the water runs

24. Metonymy

• What do you think about these sentence?
• He drank the whole bottle.
• The White House announced. (king-crown)
• I gave her a hand. (whole-part)
• A word substituted for another word with which
it is closely associated e.g. bottle is used for
• Metonymy is "a figure of speech in which an
attribute or commonly associated feature is
used to name or designate something." A short
definition is "part for whole."

25. Collocation

• Words tend to occur with other words.
• E.g. table/chair
• Butter/bread
• Salt/pepper
• Hammer/ nail

26. Bibliography

• Cruse, D. Alan. (2011). Meaning in Language: An Introduction to Semantics and
Pragmatics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 3rd edition.
• Lyons, John. (2008). Linguistic Semantics: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
• Palmer, Frank. (1976). Semantics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2nd
• Saeed, John I. (2008). Semantics. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. 3rd edition.
• Semantics definition and meaning | Collins english dictionary. Collins dictionary.
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