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Semantics is a branch of linguistics and logic concerned with meaning. Semantics is an area of study within the school of linguistics, a part of the Social Sciences.

This learning resource starts out at a secondary level and proceeds into a university undergraduate level.

Considering the immensity of knowledge that has been accumulated and written down in semantics, this resource is just getting off the ground.


Main source: Notations

Notation: let the symbol Def. indicate that a definition is following.

Def. "[a] system of characters, symbols, or abbreviated expressions used in an art or science or in mathematics or logic to express technical facts or quantities"[1] is called notation.

Notation: let the symbols between [ and ] be replacement for that portion of a quoted text.

Notation: let the symbol ... indicate unneeded portion of a quoted text.

Sometimes these are combined as [...] to indicate that text has been replaced by ....


Main source: Universals

Def. a "characteristic or property that particular things have in common"[2] is called a universal.

"When we examine common words, we find that, broadly speaking, proper names stand for particulars, while other substantives, adjectives, prepositions, and verbs stand for universals."[3]

Such words as "entity", "object", "thing", and perhaps "body", words "connoting universal properties, ... constitute the very highest genus or "summum genus"" of a classification of universals.[4] To propose a definition for say a plant whose flowers open at dawn on a warm day to be pollinated during the day time using the word "thing", "entity", "object", or "body" seems too general and is.

To help with definitions, their meanings and intents, there is the learning resource theory of definition.

Def. "[t]he state of being, existing, or occurring; beinghood", from Wiktionary existence, is called existence.

Def. empirical reality; the substance of the physical universe, from the Dictionary of Philosophy; 1968, is called existence.


1.a: an "independent, separate, or self-contained existence",
1.b: "the existence of a thing as contrasted with its attributes", or
2. "something that has separate and distinct existence and objective or conceptual reality",

is called an entity.[5]

Def. "[a]n existent something that has the properties of being real, and having a real existence", from Wiktionary entity, is called an entity.


1.a: "a separate and distinct individual quality, fact, idea, or [usually] entity",
1.b: "the concrete entity as distinguished from its appearances",
1.c: "a spatial entity", or
1.d: "an inanimate object distinguished from a living being"

is called a thing.[5]

Def. a thing that represents or stands for something else is called a symbol.

“[D]efinitions are always of symbols, for only symbols have meanings for definitions to explain.”[4] A term can be one or more of a set of symbols such as words, phrases, letter designations, or any already used symbol or new symbol.

In the theory of definition, “the symbol being defined is called the definiendum, and the symbol or set of symbols used to explain the meaning of the definiendum is called the definiens.”[4] “The definiens is not the meaning of the definiendum, but another symbol or group of symbols which, according to the definition, has the same meaning as the definiendum.”[4]

Semantic model[edit]

Main source: Semantic model

An example of a semantic model can be found on the following page: semantic model.


Main source: Cognitivism

"Cognitive semantics is part of the cognitive linguistics movement. Semantics is the study of meaning. Cognitive semantics holds that language is part of a more general human cognitive ability, can therefore only describe the world as it is organised within people's conceptual spaces.[6] It is implicit that there is some difference between this conceptual world and the real world. The main tenets of cognitive semantics are:

  1. that grammar is a way of expressing the speaker's concept of the world;
  2. that knowledge of language is acquired and contextual;
  3. that the ability to use language draws upon general cognitive resources and not a special language module.[6]"[7]


Main source: Discourses

Def. "basic systems of fundamental social cognitions and organizing the attitudes and other social representations shared by members of groups" are called ideologies.[8]

"[I]deologies have at the same time been defined in sociological or socio-economic terms, and usually related to groups, group positions and interests or group conflicts such as class, gender or 'race' struggles, and hence to social power and dominance as well as their obfuscation and legitimation."[8]

"'[D]ominant ideologies', in the exclusive sense of ideologies of a 'dominant' group, or ideologies imposed by a dominant group, are special cases of ideology, and not characteristic of all ideologies".[8] "[W]e assume that not only dominant groups, but also dominated groups have ideologies that control their self-identification, goals and actions."[8]

"[T]he level of meaning and reference plays a central role" in discourse.[8] "Cognitive representations of attitudes and models may directly map onto semantic representations".[8] "[I]t is largely through meaning that ... syntax, phonology or graphical structures, are affected by ideology"[8].

"Discourse semantics [deals with] conceptual meanings or intensions ... [and] referents or extensions, as is the case for formal and philosophical semantics"[8].

Theoretical semantics[edit]


1. "the study of meanings:"
1.a: "the historical and psychological study and the classification of changes in the signification of words or forms viewed as factors in linguistic development",
1.b: "a branch of semiotic dealing with the relations between signs and what they refer to and including theories of denotation, extension, naming, and truth"
2.a: "the meaning or relationship of meanings of a sign or set of signs; [especially]: connotative meaning"
2.b: "the exploitation of connotation and ambiguity (as in propaganda)"

is called semantics.[5]

Def. "the branch of linguistics devoted to the investigation of linguistic meaning, the interpretation of expression in a language system."[9] is called semantics.

Starting with universals and ontology, where the word "semantics" is in category 543. MEANING[10], a definition of semantics using concepts from categories lower in number than 543 may be as follows:

Def. the knowledge of the nature of ideas transferred among entities is called semantics.

Every word after Def. and before "is called" has its most popular category of usage less than 543.

Semantics in the brain[edit]

Per the learning resource, semantics in the brain: "The study of semantics in the brain is a branch of psycholinguistics that incorporates the understanding of semantics and the neurological structures that are involved.".

Theory-based semantics[edit]

From the learning resource on theory-based semantics: "Theory-based semantics is a phrase used by Richard L. Ballard to describe knowledge representations that are based on the premise that the binding element of human thought is "theory," and that theory constrains the meaning of concepts, ideas and thought patterns according to their associative relationships.".


Main source: Meanings

Def. "the thing one intends to convey [especially] by language" is called meaning.[5]

Def. "[t]he symbolic value of something", per Wiktionary meaning, is called meaning.

Def. "[t]he significance of a thing", per Wiktionary meaning, is called meaning.

Def. "[t]he objects or concept that a word or phrase denotes, or that which a sentence says", per Wiktionary meaning, is called meaning.

Semantics "provides the rules for interpreting the syntax which do not provide the meaning directly but constrains the possible interpretations of what is declared."[11]

On the basis of dictionary definitions, what is the difference between a 'body', an 'entity', an 'object', a 'thing', and a 'phenomenon'?

The categories for synonymy and most common usage place 'body' in "3. SUBSTANTIALITY"[10], 'entity' in the same, 'object' in "651. INTENTION"[10], 'thing' in "3. SUBSTANTIALITY"[10], and 'phenomenon' in "918. WONDER"[10]. A slightly less common use of 'phenomenon' is in category "150. EVENTUALITY"[10]. For the word 'object' a slightly less common or popular meaning is in category "543. MEANING"[10]. The closest category of meaning or synonymy for 'object' to category 1. is category "375. MATERIALITY"[10].

Of each of these words, 'entity' uses the word 'existence', category "1. EXISTENCE"[10] in each definition. 'Entity' may be thought of as the most general of these terms because its meanings are the closest to category 1. The farthest from category 1. on the basis of conceptual meaning and synonymy is the word 'object' in category 375. A tentative order is 'entity' > 'phenomenon' > 'object' by generalness, or by preciseness (perhaps more description is needed beyond only existence) 'object' > 'phenomenon' > 'entity'.

'Thing' (category 3.) has the word 'entity' in three of four meanings and 'object' in the fourth. The second most popular meaning of 'thing' is in category 375.

'Body' (category 3.) has 'mass' and is closer to 'substantiality' in common usage than 'thing', and neither word has a synonym closer in meaning to 'existence'. The second most common meaning of 'body' is category "203. BREADTH, THICKNESS"[10].

This suggests a hierarchy such as 'entity' > 'body' > 'thing' > 'phenomenon' > 'object' by generalness, where 'existence' is the most general word; or, 'object' > 'phenomenon' > 'thing' > 'body' > 'entity' by preciseness.

The choice of general order is 'entity' > 'source' > 'object' > 'phenomena'.

Theory of meaning[edit]

"The central question a linguistic theory of meaning must address is that of how finitely many lexical meanings can be systematically combined to yield indefinitely many sentential meanings."[9]

"What words mean is a matter of the systematic effects they have on the semantic (and pragmatic) properties of (utterances of) sentences containing them, properties like entailments, presuppositions, incompatibility, and perhaps some kind of implicatures."[9]

"The ultimate test of any proposed word meaning must be its contribution to the meaning of sentences containing it and the meaning-relations among such sentences."[9]


Main source: Latency

Def. underlying or implied meaning is called latency.[10]

“Latent content is more subtle and intuitive by determining the underlying or implied meaning.”[12] "Latent content is less reliable because it is open to interpretation".[12]


Main source: Meaninglessness


1: having the state, condition, quality or degree, of "no meaning",
2: having the state, condition, quality or degree, of "no assigned function in a language system"

is called meaninglessness.[5]

Inconsistent metrics are meaningless. "The problem with inconsistent metrics is that it leads to comparisons that are useless. Teams cannot be compared with one another, and changes cannot be selected for implementation because the impact of those changes will be unknown."[13]

"One organization would compare product teams with what seemed like a single, common metric. Upon closer examination, it was determined that teams were measuring differently. The metric became meaningless for cross-team comparisons. Worse, the goal of trying to establish best practices from the better performing teams became impossible because it was unclear which teams were actually performing better."[13]

"Before choosing metrics that determine what decisions and changes should be made, ensure that consistency is enforced. Software tooling is one way to enforce this if everyone uses the same tools, but tooling is only one part of the puzzle."[13]

"When we fail to find meaning, it creates a void within, which is felt as anxiety, depression, despair, confusion and the deeper experience of anomie (meaningless-ness) (Esping, 2010)."[14]

"[S]ometimes people experience meaninglessness counter this with work, relationships, and building a sense of self".[15]

"Paradoxically, Frankl believed that this very sense of anomie - that one's life is meaningless, is evidence of how fundamental our need to find meaning is. The awareness of anomie becomes a felt need, which motivates the desire to find and create meaning in life (Frankl, 1959)."[14]


Main source: Hypotheses
  1. Semantics may have multiple meanings based on the symbols, grammar, and context.
  2. Each meaning of semantics should be isomorphic with any other.

See also[edit]


  1. "notation, In: Wiktionary". San Francisco, California: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. August 29, 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-02. 
  2. "universal, In: Wiktionary". San Francisco, California: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. May 28, 2014. Retrieved 2014-06-04. 
  3. Bertrand Russel (1912). Chapter 9, In: The Problems of Philosophy. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Irving M. Copi (1955). Introduction to Logic. New York: The MacMillan Company. pp. 472. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Philip B. Gove, ed (1963). Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, Massachusetts: G. & C. Merriam Company. pp. 1221. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 William Croft & D. Alan Cruse (2004). Cognitive Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-451-66770-0. 
  7. "Cognitive semantics, In: Wikipedia". San Francisco, California: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 16 May 2014. Retrieved 2014-08-07. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 Teun A. van Dijk (April 1995). "Discourse semantics and ideology". Discourse & Society 2 (2): 243-89. doi:10.1177/0957926595006002006. Retrieved 2011-11-03. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Gennaro Chierchia, Sally McConnell-Ginet (2000). Word Meaning, In: Meaning and Grammar: An Introduction to Semantics. Boston: Massachusetts Institute of Technology. pp. 431-500. ISBN 0-262-03269-4. Retrieved 2011-11-29. 
  10. 10.00 10.01 10.02 10.03 10.04 10.05 10.06 10.07 10.08 10.09 10.10 Peter Mark Roget (1969). Lester V. Berrey and Gorton Carruth. ed. Roget's International Thesaurus, third edition. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company. pp. 1258. 
  11. Jerome Euzenat (2007). Ontology Matching. Berlin: Springer-Verlag. pp. 36. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 Vanessa Maria Erwin (December 2009). Cultural Assimilation: Case Studies of the Experiences of Post-War GI Brides. Des Moines, Iowa, USA: Drake University. pp. 243. Retrieved 2011-11-16. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Chungw (April 13, 2009). "Inconsistent metrics are meaningless". Wikiversity: 1. Retrieved 2012-11-02. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 Jay-bird (November 28, 2011). "Motivation and emotion/Book/Growth through adversity". Wikiversity: 1. Retrieved 2012-11-02. 
  15. John Bessa (December 8, 2011). Counseling/Personality class notes, In: Wikiversity. pp. 1. Retrieved 2012-11-02. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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