Linguistic Semantics

Linguistic Semantics

Linguistic Semantics

Linguistic Semantics

Synopsis

This volume is a comprehensive, up-to-date, and readable introduction to linguistic meaning. While partial to conceptual and typological approaches, the book also presents results from formal approaches. Throughout, the focus is on grammatical meaning -- the way languages delineate universal semantic space and encode it in grammatical form. Subjects covered by the author include: the domain of linguistic semantics and the basic tools, assumptions, and issues of semantic analysis; semantic properties of entities, events, and thematic roles; language and space; tense, aspect, and the internal structure and temporal ordering of events; modality, negation, and the epistemology of the speaker; and modification and attribution. In contrast to most current treatments of semantics, this book is accessible to the beginning student of semantics and linguistics and also useful to the advanced practitioner. A textbook and reference work in a single volume, it can be used in a number of disciplines: psychology, computer science, and anthropology as well as linguistics.

Excerpt

Linguistic Semantics got its real start some 30 years ago, when I used to take a break from baseball practice and puzzle over the warning on a sign bolted to the nearby school building: "Anyone caught damaging this property shall be called a disorderly person." "Well," I thought, "that's not much of a punishment, is it? If that's all they mean . . ." Who is anyone? Is a policeman, or a dog, anyone? Must you be caught in the act? If I spit on the building, has damaging occurred? What is this property, the building, or the sign itself? If I am far away from this property, and it is then no longer this property, but that property, does the issue change? When is shall, and who does this name-calling? And, of course, what is a disorderly person, and what does it matter to be called something like this? I never did anything to the building, but I did wonder about what all this could possibly signify.

In large measure, this anecdote typifies what this book is all about: linguistic meaning. What do expressions represent? Does the meaning depend on who says the expressions and the context in which they are said? Why does meaning take certain forms? Could it all have been said otherwise?

The importance of linguistic meaning is its connection to comprehension. The gist of my puzzlement with the warning sign is that I was trying to understand it. I wanted to match my model of the world with the model of the world that was somehow "behind" the expressions written on the sign. This predicament is one of the basic human paradoxes: How can we ever make sense of another person's words when they reflect experiences we never, nor can ever, have? Conversely, how can we presume to talk to another person when what we say is merely symptomatic of our private worlds? How can anyone else get the meaning of our expressions and understand us? These problems are compounded by the fact that . . .

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