Semantics: Defining the Discipline

Semantics: Defining the Discipline

Semantics: Defining the Discipline

Semantics: Defining the Discipline


The subject of semantics has been appropriated by various disciplines including linguistic philosophy, logic, cognitive psychology, anthropological linguistics, and computer technology. As a result, it is difficult to define the study of semantics as an actual discipline without discovering what each field using a semantic approach to its subject matter has contributed to the understanding of what words mean. This volume is a result of those discoveries.

Primarily an introductory work, this volume outlines the approaches that various disciplines have taken to the subject, attempts to show their relationships and their limitations, and presents the more important aspects of each approach -- from psychosemantics to artificial intelligence -- using pertinent source material from psychology, philosophy, logic, linguistics, and sociology. For individuals coming to the study of semantics for the first time, or those who are interested in what the overall study may offer beyond their specialization, this volume will provide a helpful overview of the subject.


The word semantics is derived from the Greek semaino, meaning, to signify or mean. Semantics is part of the larger study of signs, serniotics. It is the part that deals with words as signs (symbols) and language as a system of signs (words as symbols).


Plato, in his Cratylus dialogue, discussed nouns as "names" -- for persons, objects, and, to some degree, actions (Jowett, 1875). Although naming is a basic, primitive, and necessary speech act, necessary for communications, it does not encompass nearly all of what words do and mean. Most simply understood, words are symbols (nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, verbals, and adverbs) representing objects (concrete or abstract), actions (physical or mental), or qualities (which may be called attributes, properties, or features), or they are symbols (prepositions, determiners, demonstratives, or conjunctions) that refer to the relationships among those entities.

Moreover, words used in various contexts change meaning and evoke different responses in those who hear or read them. In fact, the English Renaissance philosophers Baconand Hobbes were keenly aware of the uncertain dependence of words upon human perception. In sections 38-44 . . .

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