That is, although a word's meaning is arbitrary from the point of view of the real world, is is often somehow motivated by the system of the language it is a part of. In studying morphology we saw that the meaning of a word can often be deduced from knowing the meaning of its parts. Since words often originate from other words, a word very often has some historical reason for being the shape it is. Sometimes the origin or etymology of a word is completely transparent, as in the case of unknown from known , or discomfort from comfort.
Philologists this is a broader term for people who study language as well as anything created with language often make a distinction between meaning and concept. Concept is the totality of real world knowledge about an item, while meaning is a category of language. It is possible to know the meaning of the word without knowing everything about the concept referred to by that meaning.
For example, one can know the meaning of a word like diamond without knowing the chemical composition of the stone or that carbon and pencil lead are, chemically speaking, composed of the same substance. In other words, one can know the word diamond means a type of gemstone without understanding the full concept associated with that gemstone in the real world. Sometimes, however, meaning and concept cannot be so easily differentiated.
For instance, the meaning of many abstract words completely parallels the concept they refer to, as with the word tradition and the concept "tradition. Linguists have a second way of looking at the distinction between linguistic and real-world knowledge. They often discuss the difference between a word's sense and its reference. A word's sense is how the word relates to other words in a language Wittgenstein's "meaning" ; it's reference is how it relates to real world concepts.
The French word mouton refers to a sheep as well as to the meat of the animal as used for food the sense of the word combines two references. In English we have two separate words for each extra-linguistic reference. The sense of the English word sheep is limited by the presence of the word mutton in English. There are many such examples when comparing languages:.
Julius Caesar could not have split an infinitive if he had wanted to. Why had modals and progressives, or gerunds and final clauses, become so deeply associated within a single sentence? For the moment, let us look at one concrete example of how the system creates interdependencies among its rules and components. Yes—the language mavens. Did the study of our series modify our understanding of Middlemarch , then, or of the style of the bildungsroman? So it should be "give Al Gore and me a chance. T he purpose of language is to reveal the contents of our minds, says Julie Sedivy.
English uncle vs. Thus, the sense of a word concerns its linguistic boundaries in a particular language.
The reference of a word concerns which concepts it refers to in the real world. The distinction between a word's sense and its reference, or between linguistic meaning and real-world concept--difficult though this distinction may be to draw in many cases--is useful in comparing semantic categories across languages. Languages may divide the same set of real-world concepts in very different ways. The concept of blood relations offers a good example.
Each language has its own set of kinship terms to refer to one's parents' generation mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles. Discussing kinship terms from the point of view of real world concepts allows comparison across languages without bias in favor of the meaning categories of any particular language. Here is a comparison of kinship terms for aunts and uncles in English and Pitjantjatrara, an Australian language:. Another good example is provided by color terms. Every language has a set of basic color terms. But these color terms do not divide the color spectrum in the same place.
In other words, the extra-linguistic concept "color" is reflected in each language idiosyncratically. The linguistic division of concepts is in part arbitrary and idiosyncratic to each language, in part motivated by factors actually present in the real world. Extra-linguistic real world factors may result in universal tendencies in how languages divide up concepts. A second look at color terms illustrates this point. Berlin and Kay in Basic Color Systems , noted that the number of basic color terms may differ across languages. A basic color term is defined as one which cannot be said to be a part of the meaning of another basic term.
Yellow is a basic color term in English because it is not a type of red, green, blue, etc. Berlin and Kay found that some languages have only two basic color terms while others have as many as Berlin and Kay discovered that the number of color terms seems to be systematically related to the core color represented by the terms:. A few languages, including Russian, have 12 terms because in place of one generic term for blue, there are two words: Russ.
Subsequent research has shown that a minority of languages violate this scheme. The question arizes as to why color terms in languages should conform so universally to such a general pattern. Geoffrey Sampson, who wrote Schools of Linguistics , offers what might be a partial explanation. Physiologically, red is the most noticeable color to the eye; therefore, it is the first most likely to be represented after light and dark.
Distinctions involving yellow and green occur frequently in nature, whereas blue only naturally occurs in a few things: the color of some flowers, of bodies of water, the sky; the distinction between blue and other types of dark, therefore, is relatively unimportant to many aboriginal cultures and not as likely to be included in the language under specific terms. Discussing the meaning of words by breaking it down into smaller semantic components such as is called componential analysis. Noting how semantics is based on extra-linguistic categories, a group of linguists including the Polish-born Australian linguist Anna Wierzbicka have tried to reduce all meaning in language to a set of universal core concepts, such as tall, short, male, female , etc.
This finite set of concepts are then used universally, to describe the meanings of all words in all languages. This semantic approach to language structure has problems. The first problem is in deciding which concepts are basic and which are derived. Whatever language is used to label the concepts in the first place biases the semantic analysis in favor of the semantic structure of that lang.
A second problem is the old difficulty of distinguishing between sense and reference. The linguistic boundaries between conceptual features vary across languages. This is especially true with grammatical categories of meaning. Animacy in Russian and Polish objects , and Cherokee one plural ending from human, another for inanimate, and a different one for plants and animals. Attempts to reduce meaning in all languages to a limited set of conceptual categories existing outside of language have been unsuccessful.
Third, part of the reason the semantic universalists have been unsuccessful is that meaning is more than simply a reflection of real world categories. Meaning is a linguistic category rather than a real world category reducible to pure logic and perception. The role of semantics in language is often highly idiosyncratic. We have seen that semantic factors often serve as constraints on morphology and syntax.
Here are some more examples:. Idiosyncratic semantic constraints in the grammar result in reference being made using one form instead of another.
Logical constraints result in reference not being made at all. If a sentence is illogical, than all paraphrases are equally illogical. Thus, meaning is not merely a reference to concepts in the real world. It depends on linguistic factors in part unique to each individual language; meaning depends not only on the logical combination of real world concepts. The system of language cannot be described only in terms of extra-linguistic logic.
The purely linguistic side of meaning is equally evident when examining how words combine with one another to produce phrases. The set of restrictions on how a word may combine with other words of a single syntactic category is referred to as the word's collocability. Two words may have the same referent, and yet differ in their ability to combine with particular words. In English, the word flock collocates with sheep ; and school with fish , although both flock and school mean group.
Also, addled combines only with brains or eggs one must steam rice and boil water , blond collocates with hair , while red may collocate with hair as well as other objects. Idiosyncratic restrictions on the collocability of words and by idiosyncratic here I mean that part of meaning which is peculiar to language structure and not deriving purely from logic result in set phrases: green with jealousy ; white table vs. Every language has its own peculiar stock of set phrases. In English we face problems and interpret dreams , but in modern Hebrew we stand in front of problems and solve dreams.
In English we drink water but eat soup. In Japanese the verb for drink collocates not only with water and soup , but also with tablets and cigarettes. The first type of set phrase, the collocation , may be defined as "a set phrase which still makes sense": make noise, make haste. One simply doesn't say to produce noise or make swiftness , even though such phrases would be perfectly understandable. Since collocations still may be taken literally, they can be paraphrased using regular syntactic transformations: Haste was made by me, noise was made by the children.
Phrases whose words no longer make sense when taken literally are called idioms.
The semantic relations between words in idiomatic set phrases may be illogical to varying degrees: white elephant sale, soap opera, to see red, break a leg, small voice, loud tie, wee hours of the night. Also, true idioms cannot be paraphrased by regular means, because they do not participate in the regular syntactic relations of the language: John kicked the table--The table was kicked by John.