Learning objectives: After you have studied the lecture you should able to:
1)define the term semasiology;
2) speak about the problem of defining the term
3) explain the essence of a) the referential approach to the problem of defining the meaning b) the functional approach;
4)express your own appreciation of the problem under analysis.
5) give (draw) a basic triangle (E.g.: The shop houses 15-ton crane; A naked conductor ran along the car).
The brunch of lexicology, that is devoted to the study of meaning is known as Semasiology.
Semasiology (from Gr . semasia - "signification") deals not with every kind of linguistic meaning only. This does not mean that we need not pay attention to the grammatical meaning. On the contrary, grammatical meaning must be taken into consideration in so far as it bears a specific influence upon lexical meaning.
The main objects of semasiological study are as follows: semantic development of words, its causes and classification, relevant distinctive features and types of lexical meaning, polysemy and semantic structure of word, semantic groupings and connections in the vocabulary system, i.e. synonyms, antonyms, etc.
Meaning is one of the most controversial terms in the theory of language.
An exact definition of lexical meaning becomes especially difficult due to complexity of the process, by which language and human consequence serve to reflect outward reality. Since there is no universally accepted definition meaning we shall give a brief survey of the problem as it is viewed in modern linguistics. There are 2 approaches to the problem: 1) the referential approach, which formulates the essence of meaning as the interdependence between words and things or concepts they denote; 2) the functional approach, which studies the functions of a word in speech. This approach is (sometimes described as contextual) based on the analysis of various contexts.
The essential feature of the first approach is that in distinguishes between the three components, connected with meaning:
1) the sound form of the linguistic sign (sign or symbol);
2) the concept underlying this sound form (meaning; thought or reference).
3 ) the actual referent, i.e. the part or the aspect of reality to which the linguistic sign refers (thing meant).
The best known referential model of meaning is so-called "basic triangle", which may be represent in a simplified form:
Concept (meaning, thought, referent)
Sound form referent (thing meant)
As we can see from the diagram, the sound form of the linguistic sign, for instance [kot] is connected with our concept of a small which it denotes, and though it with the referent, i.e. the actual thing. The common feature of the referential approach is the implacation that meaning in some form or other connected with referent.
Let us examine the interrelation between:
1-Meaning and sound form
The sound-form of the word is not identical with, its meaning namely [kot] is the sound form, used to denote a bed for a child
There are inherent connections between this sound form, used to denote a bed for a child. There are inherent connections between this sound form and the meaning of the word "cot", but they are conventional and arbitrary. We may prove it by comparing the sound-forms of different languages, conveying one and the same meaning, cf. English [kot] and Russian [krovatka]. On the contrary, the sound-cluster [kot] in the English language is almost identical to the sound form in Russian language possessing the meaning
2-Meaning and concept
When we examine a word, we see that its meaning, though connected with the underlying concept is not identical with it. To begin with, concept is a category of human cognition. Concept is the thought of the object that singles out its essential features. Our concepts abstracts and reflect the most common and typical features of the different objects and phenomena of the world. Being the result of abstraction the concepts are thus almost the same for the whole of humanity. The meanings of worlds, however, are different in different languages. In other words, words expressing identical concepts may have different semantic structures in different languages. The concept of "a building for human habitation” is expressed in
English by the word house, in Russian by the word дом, but the meaning of the English word is not identical with that of the Russian as house does not possess the meaning of "fixed residence of family or household", which that of the Russian as house does not possess the meaning of the Russia word дом; it is expressed by another English word, namely home.
The difference between meaning and concept can also be observed by comparing synonymous words and word-groups expressing the same concepts, but possessing linguistic meaning, which is felt as different in each of the units under considerations:
Big - large;
To die - to pass away - kick the bucket - join the majority;
Child - baby-babe-infant;
Daddy - father - governor - etc.
3-Meaning and referent
To distinguish meaning from the referent, i.e. from the thing denoted by the linguistic sign is of the utmost importance. To begin with, meaning is a linguistic phenomenon whereas the denoted object or the referent is beyond the scope of language. We can denote one and the same object by more than one word of a different meaning. For example, an apple can be denoted by the words apple, fruit, smth, this, etc. So far as all these words have the same referent.
Thus meaning is not to be identified with either of the three points of the triangle. It is closely connected, but not identical with sound-form, concept or referent. Yet even the linguists, who accepted this view disagree as to the nature of meaning. Some of them regard meaning as the interrelation of the three points the triangle within the framework of the given language, but not as an objectively exiting part of the linguistic sign.
Others and among them the outstanding Russian scholar Smirnitsky A. I. understand the linguistic sign as a two-facet unit. They view meaning as "a certain reflection in our mind of objects, phenomena or relations that makes part of the linguistic sign - its so called inner facet, whereas the sound-form functions as its outer facet" The outer facet of the linguistic sign is indispensable to meaning and intercommunication. Meaning is to be found in all linguistic units and together with their sound-form constitutes by linguistic science. The linguistic signs studied by linguistic science.
The great stumbling block in referential theories of meaning has always been that they operate with subjective and intangible mental processes. The results of the semantic investigation therefore depend to a certain extent on "the feeling of language" and cannot be verified by another investigator analyzing the same linguistic data. So, semasiology has to rely too much on linguistic intuition and unlike other fields of linguistics (phonetics, history of language) does not posses objective methods of investigation.
Functional approach to Meaning
In recent years a new and entirely different approach to meaning has appeared in structural linguistics. This approach maintains that a linguistic study of meaning is the investigation of the relation of sign to sign only. In other words, they hold the view that the meaning of a linguistic unit may be studied only through its relation to other linguistic units and not through its relation to either concept or referent. Thus, the meaning of the 2 words move and movement is different because they function in speech differently. Really, they occupy different positions in relation to other words. (To) move can be followed by a noun
(move the chair), preceded by a pronoun (we move), etc. The position occupied by the word movement is different: it may be followed by a preposition (movement of smth) preceded by an adjective (slow movement) and so on. As the distribution ("the position of a linguistic sign in relation to other linguistic signs) of the 2 words is different they cone to the conclusion that not only they belong to different classes of words, but that that not only meanings are different too.
It follows that in the functional approach meaning may be viewed as the function of distribution: 1) semantic investigation is confined to the analysis of the different or sameness meaning; 2)meaning is understood essentially as the function or the use of linguistic signs.
Relation between the 2 approaches
When comparing the two approaches in terms of methods of linguistic analysis, we may see that the functional approach should not be considered an alternative, but rather a valuable complement to the referential theory. It is only natural that linguistic investigation must start by collecting an adequate number of samples of context. Once this phase had been completed, it seems but logical, to pass on to the referential phase and try to formulate the meaning thus identified. There is absolutely no need to set the two approaches against each other; each handles - its is side of the problem and neither is complete without the other.