Semantics can be observed in both sign and sound languages. That is to say that language analysis should also include the language of the deaf.
If the expression “He is awake” is used, the hearer should understand what ‘he’ means (a male entity) and who the ‘he’ is. In this case, knowing that the reference is a male entity is of semantic knowledge, and working out who the ‘he’ is, is from pragmatic competence. Semantic knowledge and pragmatic competence are required by hearers to understand utterances they hear in a discourse. (Saeed, pg 22)
Logic and Truth
The concept of logic is important to semantics as it helps in the establishment of truth of statement. Truth means a correspondence with facts about state of affairs in the world.
Entailment shows that there are truth relationships between sentences which hold regardless of the empirical truth of the sentence. For example;
The anarchist assassinated the emperor implies that the emperor is dead. It can be said that a sentence p entails sentence q when the truth of the first p guarantees the truth of the second q, and the falsity of the first equally guarantees the falsity of the second.
Composite truth table of entailment
F T or F
T or F T
Presupposition as a property of Semantics
To propose something means to assume it. As below, “except she is married, she won’t have a dead husband”. A implies B
Semantics, as the study of meaning of expressions through language is concerned with how people respond to statements made by other people around them, or with whom they engage in communication. In discoursing semantics as a theory of language, one may try to answer the question, “Why did this person react this way after the other said this. A statement can mean different things to two different people; what is responsible for that? Why doesn’t every person respond equality to statements made to them? Such questions are what semanticists are out to answer. However, semantics tend to restrict meaning within the content of expression.
“I saw two boys sitting under the mango tree.”
Whatever the situation may be, the above statement is expected to be perceived equally by every hearer based on the collection of lexical items in the sentence. The imagery should be the same and whatever reaction the speaker expects from the hearer should not be changed if the two share the same linguistic competence – if they speak the same language and share the same dictionary meaning of every word they use.
“I saw my mother just now”
In the above statement, why would anyone expect that the person been referred to is a woman? This means that semantics analysers must involve other aspects of language use like phonology and syntax. There must be sheared knowledge on this two between speakers, which also mean that in a way, they speak the same language, and speaking the same language should mean having the same linguistic repertoire. A person who understands Hausa but not Yoruba will not understand words said to him in Yoruba, but he will understand those said in Hausa and will respond accordingly. This means that in discussing semantics, one has to include the place of phonology and syntax. Phonology is the study of the sounds of a language and how the sounds combine to form a meaning word. Syntax involves the study of how words are used together to form sentences used in communication. With the speakers understanding of the definition of the words he uses, he puts the words together guided by grammatical rules of the language.
Pragmatics as a linguistic approach to establishing meanings of expressions
It can be said that understanding the meaning of a proposition begins at the semantic level, where semantic analysis fails; Pragmatics comes in. This is because Pragmatics (and discuss analysis) fetches meaning below the surface. Pragmatics is concerned with meaning within context of use which can be user or situation related. For instance if a person says, “I will give you a job.” The hearer will examine the truth of the statement by finding out if the speaker is capable of carrying out what he has said.
As pointed out by Grifﬁths, Pragmatics involves the use of the linguistic tools brought together by semantics to succeed in meaningful communication. Pragmatics is about the interaction of semantic knowledge with our knowledge of the world, taking into account contexts of use. Examine this statement.
“You are not crying today”
Semantically, one may say that the person is simply not crying today; that is the immediate meaning according to the meaning of the individual words in the statement, but other questions could come out of that when pragmatically one can infer that the person has cried on other days; and the likely question could be why has the person cried on other days and would not cry today. What has changed about the person or the activity or the environment?
“Henry murdered his bank manager”
This statement entails that Henri’s bank manager is dead. Maybe the situation is that someone is saying that he is hoping to have a meeting with Henry’s bank manager.
It could mean that Henry has a record of murder. This situation may be that Henry is about to be given a special position in an organisation and there is the need to be sure that he has a good history of human relationship.
It could also mean that Henry is a dangerous person and we probably should beware of him.
In semantics, one has to consider a speaker’s semantic knowledge which is not an easy task. However, one can start by stating that the individual would know the definition of the words that are said (definitions theory). The meaning of the word must exist in the minds of the speaker and hearer of the language. In the same way there is need also to know what particular words mean in context. For instance, ‘it’s getting late’ will be different if said to a friend at a party. It would probably meaning, ‘let’s leave’. In some way, talking about pragmatics and discuss analysis is not different from talking about semantics.
According to Mey, (pg 12), Pragmatics is needed if we need a fuller, deeper and generally more reasonable account of human language behaviour.
Areas studied in pragmatics include:
- Her husband is dead
- She is married
Deixis can be personal (Personal or possessive pronouns: I/you/mine/yours), spatial (adverbs: here/there/now), or temporal deixis.
According to Stephen Levinson, “Deixis concerns the ways in which languages encode ...features of the context of utterance ... and thus also concerns ways in which the interpretation of utterances depends on the analysis of that context of utterance.” It is mostly referred to as “verbal pointing”, that is to say pointing by means of language. The linguistic forms of this pointing are called deictic expressions, deictic markers or deictic words. They are also sometimes called dexicals. They include pro-forms, adjectives, articles, possessive and personal pronouns and demonstrative pronouns.
This is an aspect of linguistic study proposed by J. L. Austin (1911-1960), which is examined in pragmatics study. However, the manner by which it is realized is of importance in Semantic and Discourse Analysis. This is because the three areas of study have interwoven relationship and task as far as meaning in conversation is concerned.
Speech act suggests that the act of speech in itself is an act performed by interlocutors, and it could influence other actions. When there is an utterance, what result is likely to be achieved?
Saying “I now pronounce you man and wife” can make marriage to take place if the situation meets the felicity conditions required.
Speech act theory is in three parts: locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary acts.
Locutionary acts refer to the action of speaking.
Illocutionary acts are the actions which are performed by the utterance, such as betting, advising, welcoming and warning.
Perlocutionary acts refer to the effects of the utterance on the listener. That is if an utterance is made, what follows from the person to which the utterance is addressed.
Pragmatics is a special area concerned with the study of the special process of getting meanings and the role it plays in the study of context.
If in an investigation explicit reference is made to the users of a language, then one assigns it to either the field of pragmatics or discourse analysis. If one abstracts from the user of the language and analyse only the expression and their designata, one is in the field of semantics.
Semantics, pragmatics and discourse analysis have semiotic relationship. Another way of saying it is distinguishing between sentence and speaker meaning. That is, words and sentences have a meaning independently of any particular use. So, semantics is concerned with sentence meaning, pragmatics is concerned with speaker meaning and discourse analysis is concerned with discourse.
The Gricean conversational maxims are the maxims of quality, quantity, relevance and manner.
Quality: speakers should be truthful, and should not say what they think is false, or make statements without evidence.
Quantity: a contribution should be as informative as is required for the conversation to proceed. It should be neither too little, nor too much.
Relevance: speakers' contributions should relate clearly to the purpose of the exchange.
Manner: speakers' contributions should be clear, orderly and brief and without ambiguity.
These are conditions that must be fulﬁlled for a performative to succeed. Whatever is said takes effect based on given conditions or the performatives end up not succeeding. Such performatives are said to be unfelicitous.
There must be a conventional procedure carrying a conventional eﬀect. For instance, qualifies a statement such as i pronounce you man and wife to achieve the result expressed in the words? The circumstances and persons must be appropriate to make the pronouncement valid.
The term Discuss Analysis first came into general use in 1952, following publication activities in the media environment. There was the need for establishing coherence in discourse and explicitness in sentence transformation to put texts in canonical forms. Works need to be related in terms of their point of discourse are placed together in columns.
Discourse is made up of sentences used by interlocutors, and through linguistic analysis people have a better understanding of how discussants get along. Novels, histories, arguments and other type of discourse are activities with their own character and convectional structures. Discussants draw on discourse knowledge to construct interpretations. They always share knowledge of previous activities surrounding their subject of discussion if the discourse must be a success. Discuss analysis is also a linguistic phenomenon that deals with meaning analysis but from above phonological and syntax level. Meaning is analysed based on background knowledge of the subject under discussion shared between the interlocutors. Now, a third party can only analyse the discussion.
Modes of discourse include narrative, descriptive, report, information and argument among others. They provide data for the discourse analyst.
There are linguistic correlates to the features of discourse. Knowledge of one’s language includes knowledge of forms and knowledge. It is a human activity with language at the centre. It is concerned with writing, conversation, communicative event and turns at talk.
Like pragmatics, it studies language beyond the sentence boundary. It aims at revealing socio-psychological characteristics of a person rather than text structure. Its study covers, sounds, gestures, syntax, style, rhetoric meanings, speech acts, turns and other aspects of interaction.
It may contain features such as non-standard forms, hesitations, slips, repetitions etc. frame analysis is a type of discourse analysis that asks what activities speakers are engaged in when they make an utterance.
Turn-taking in Discourse Analysis refers to a conservational situation where one person speaks, and another listens. It notes that speakers have a way of knowing when ones turn in a discussion is over and it’s someone else’s turn to speak. This exchange of turns is indicated by certain actions or linguistic means like pausing, intonation and phrasing. Through eye contact, nodding of the head, feedback such as ‘hmm’, yeah etc. the speaker can tell whether or not a listener is paying attention, and the type of listener response a speaker gets can affect how the person speaks or the person’s level of willingness to continue.
These refer to the automatic sequences of responses in conversation. This true reflection of the participation if discussant, even though some responses may not be spoken out. They consist of a first and second part contributed by the two speakers.
Sam: Hello! Bill: Hi!
Sam: How are you? Bill: I’m fine.
Sam: See you! Bill: Bye!
This is an aspect of discuss analysis which accounts for the effect of the face threatening act. It is also an important area of consideration in Pragmatics. ‘Face’ and ‘face-threatening acts’ are an aspect of discourse analysis that captures consequential expressions in discourse aided by the sociolinguistic variables which interact in an on-going discussion.
Politeness is the expression of the speaker’s intention to mitigate face threats carried by certain face threatening acts toward another person. To save face has to do with showing politeness. It can be achieved through the following:
Hedging: Er, could you, er, perhaps, close the, um , window?
Pessimism: I don't suppose you could close the window, could you?
Indicating deference: Excuse me, sir, would you mind if I asked you to close the window?
Apologizing: I'm terribly sorry to put you out, but could you close the window?
Positive face is the consistent want of an individual to put up an acceptable personality. It seeks to minimize the threat to the hearer’s positive face. This act is threatened when the speaker does not consider the feelings and mood of his hearer. The use of insults and impolite rebuke can threaten positive face. They are used to make the hearer feel comfortable.
Negative face refers to the speaker’s total freedom to act, not necessarily considering the reaction that may follow from the hearer. Threat to the hearer’s positive face is not minimized.
Bald on-record strategy does not try to minimize the threat to the hearer’s face.
These are the short words use like oh, well, but, and, ‘and’ that break our speech into parts and show how the parts relate.
‘Oh’ would prepare the hearer for a surprise. ‘But’ would prepare the hearer for a contrary conclusion to the earlier part of a discourse. These words are used not necessarily according to their dictionary meanings.
Genres of discourse
Genres of discourse include political discourse, media discourse, science, business, education etc.
Political discourse analysis is a field of discourse analysis which focuses on discourse in political forums such as debates, speeches, and hearings. It involves exchange of reasoned views that may aim at resolving handling societal problems.
Media discourse is carried out in media platforms. It could be through the print or electronic means. It includes interaction between media practitioners and the audience they address. It could also be an aired interaction between two or more people provided for audience hearing and viewing participation.
Discuss analysis helps to cement cross-cultural understanding by analysing discuss as used in different cultural settings. For instance, complimenting in India is a way of saying that one wants to be given the item. In Nigeria, it is not so. A Nigerian may say to an Indian woman, “I love your hat, your shoes are beautiful, and your wrist watch too.” The Indian may wonder why the Nigerian would want her (the Indian) to give all that out; and conclude the Nigerian must be very covetous. The knowledge of discourse analysis will enable a resolve of this possible misinterpretation.
- Speech act theory
- Felicity conditions
- Conversational implicature
- The cooperative principle
- Conversational maxims
- Phatic tokens
Establishing meaning is a complex process. The study of meaning is multifaceted in the sense that utterances can be given several meanings depending on various situations affecting their use. This gives rise to the need to have different approaches to the study of meaning resulting to the introduction of Semantics, Pragmatics and Discourse Analysis. Obviously, the three areas of linguistic study have a lot in common even as they retain their areas of focus that distinguishes them. It can be said that a successful conclusion on the issue of meaning cannot be reached without bringing the three linguistic fields into play.
Discourse & Society. Sage. London. Newbury Park and New Delhi, vol. 4(2): 249-283. 1993.
Griffiths, Patrick. An Introduction to English Semantics and Pragmatics: Edinburgh University Press. Edinburgh. 2006
Mey, Jacob L. Pragmatics: An introduction:2nd Edition. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2001.
Saeed, John I. Semantics: second edition. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2003.
Smith, Carlota. Mode of Discourse, the Local Structure of Texts. Cambridge University press: Cambridge. 2003.
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