Cambridge Encyclopedia » Cambridge Encyclopedia Vol. 67

semantics - Logic and mathematics, Computer science, Psychology

meaning language word words

The study of the meaning system of a language. The word meaning has itself many meanings, and semantic approaches vary widely. In one view, meaning is the relationship between language and the external world (referential or denotative meaning), and semantics enquires into the precise relationship between a word and the concept it stands for. In another, it involves the mental state of the speaker, as reflected in a range of personal and emotional overtones (affective or connotative meaning). In a third, it refers to the social context in which language is used, and from which it derives part of its significance (contextual meaning). In a fourth, it refers to the sense relations which link words and phrases, by which we know, for example, that some words have the ‘same’ meaning (eg car, automobile), some have ‘opposite’ meaning (eg single, married), and some have an ‘included’ meaning (eg banana, included within fruit). Within linguistics, it is useful to distinguish between lexical meaning (the ‘dictionary meaning’ of a word), and structural meaning, which a form derives from its position and function in the grammatical system of the language. A considerable part of the present-day subject is devoted to the study of the meanings of expressions in terms of formal systems of analysis, or calculi (formal semantics).

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