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12 aspects of semantic knowledge of any speaker that you should know

Semantics is a branch of linguistics that studies the meaning of language and tries to understand what meaning is as an element of language and how it is constructed by language, as well as interpreted, obscured and negotiated by speakers and listeners of the language. We, as speakers of a language, have an implicit knowledge about what has meaning in our language. In our description of what that knowledge is, there are at least twelve technical terms used as aspects of our semantic knowledge: polysemy, homonymy, anomaly; paraphrase; synonymy; semantic characteristic; antonymy; contradiction; ambiguity; adjacency pairs; implication and presupposition although it is not possible to expect that we can clearly define all the words that we know or use, but the obvious thing is that we can make our thoughts, feelings and intentions known to other speakers of the language and be able to understand what others say.

This skill requires the possession of a vocabulary and that we, as speakers, know how to pronounce each element of this vocabulary and how to recognize its pronunciation by other speakers. We know how to use production vocabulary in meaningful sentences and understand sentences produced by others. And of course we know the meanings: how to choose the elements that express what we want to express and how to find the meanings in what other people say.


We can know that a word is polysemic when it has two or more related meanings. In this case, the word takes one form but can be used to mean two different things. In the case of polysemy, these two meanings must be related in some way, and not be two completely unrelated meanings of the word, for example: bright (bright) and bright (smart). mouse (animal) and mouse (computer hardware).


Homophony is similar to polysemy in that it involves a single word form with two meanings, however a word is a homophone when the two meanings are not related at all, for example:

Bat (flying mammal) and bat (sports equipment).

Ballpoint pen (writing instrument) and ballpoint pen (small cage).


We know, in a general way, if something is significant or not in our language and we can say which of the following are significant in English.

Grace wrote a letter. 3b Henry smiled. 3c The grass laughed. 3d a wall that Harry painted.

We can see that 3a and 3b are significant for English speakers, while 3c and 3d are anomalous (examples of anomaly), it is generally accepted that they are correct, while sentence 3c seems to be significant and could acquire meaning in some stories or children’s stories. similar, whereas 3d is simply a sequence of words.


The following first and second pair sentences have essentially the same meaning and when they do not, as in the following sentences:

4th Agnes arrived before Ruth. 4b Ruth arrived before Agnes.

4c Agnes came home after Ruth. 4d Ruth came home later than Agnes.

Sentences that make equivalent statements about the same entities, such as 4a and 4c, or 4b and 4d, are paraphrases (of each other).


We generally agree when two words have essentially the same meaning, in a given context. In each sentence below one word is underlined. After the sentence there is a group of words, one of which can replace the underlined word without changing the meaning of the sentence.

5a Where did you buy these tools?

use buy release modify take

5b At the end of the street we saw two huge statues,

soft pink pretty huge original

Words that have the same meaning in a given context are synonyms, are examples of synonymy, and are synonymous with each other.


We recognize when the meaning of a sentence contradicts another sentence. The following sentences are all about the same person, but two of them are related in such a way that if one is true, the other must be false.

Edgar is married. 6b Edgar is quite rich.

6c Edgar is no longer young. 6d Edgar is single.

Sentences that make opposite statements on the same topic are contradictory.


We generally agree when two words have opposite meanings in a given context. We can choose from the group of words that follow 7a and 7b the word that is opposite to the underlined word in each sentence.

7a Betty cut a thick slice of cake. 7b The train leaves at 12:25.

shiny new smooth thin wet arrives leaves awaits turns

We see that two words that make opposite statements on the same topic are antonyms; are antonyms, examples of antonymy.

Semantic characteristics

We know that synonyms and antonyms must have some common elements of meaning to be respectively the same or different, but words can have some elements of meaning without being synonyms or antonyms, for example:

8a street lane path way house avenue 8b buy carry use steal acquire inherit

The common element of meaning, shared by all but one word in 8a and by all but one in 8b, is a semantic feature. We should all agree that in each of the previous word groups, 8a and 8b, all but one have something in common and we know which word does not belong.


When some sentences have double meanings, they can be interpreted in two ways. We are aware of this fact that there must be two-way interpretations, such as the following.

9a Marjorie doesn’t care about her parakeet. ((he doesn’t like it; he doesn’t take care of it)

9b Marjorie took the sick parakeet to a small animal hospital. (small animal hospital; small animal hospital)

One of the aspects of how meaning works in language is ambiguity. A sentence is ambiguous when it has two or more possible meanings, but how does ambiguity arise in language? A sentence can be ambiguous for any of the following reasons:

Lexical ambiguity: A sentence is lexically ambiguous when it can have two or more possible meanings due to polysemic words (words that have two or more related meanings) or homophones (a single word that has two or more different meanings).

Example of a lexically ambiguous sentence: Prostitutes appeal to the Pope. This sentence is ambiguous because the word ‘appeal’ is polysemic and can mean ‘ask for help’ or ‘are attractive to’.

Structural ambiguity: A sentence is structurally ambiguous if it can have two or more possible meanings because the words it contains can be combined in different ways that create different meanings.

Structurally ambiguous sentence example: Enraged cow insults farmer with ax. In this sentence, the ambiguity arises from the fact that “with an ax” can refer to the farmer or the act of wounding performed (by the cow) “with an ax.”

Adjacency pair

When a question and an answer, or any two expressions, can go together in a conversation and the second is obviously related to the first, they constitute an adjacent pair.

10a When was the last time you wrote an article?

Ten minutes ago. Last Tuesday. Very nice. Around noon. I think it was the first of June.

10b There is a new movie in Studio 21 tonight.

I have heard that. What’s it called? When did it open? I also. Are you sure it’s a comedy?

The ability to deal with adjacent partners is considered part of any speaker’s implicit knowledge.


We are aware that two statements can be related in such a way that if one is true, the other must also be true, as in the following implication examples.

11th There are apples in the fridge.

11b There is fruit in the fridge.

11c The ladder is too short to reach the ceiling.

11d The ladder is not long enough to reach the ceiling.

We assume that 11a and 11b are roughly the same garden, the truth of 11a implies the truth of 11b, that is, if 11a is true, 11b must also be true. Likewise, assuming the same ladder and roof, the truth of 11c implies the truth of 11d.

There are two types of linking: mutual linking and asymmetric linking. In mutual bonding, each sentence must be true for the other to be true, e.g. Ex..: John is married to Rachel ‘and’ Rachel is John’s wife ‘,’ Chris is a man ‘and’ Chris is human ‘, whereas in asymmetric implication, only one of the sentences must be true for the other to be true, but that sentence can be true without the other sentence necessarily having to be true, for example: ‘Rachel is John’s wife’ implies ‘John is married’ (but John is married does not imply that Rachel is his wife), ‘Rachel has two brothers’ implies ‘Rachel is not an only child’ (but that Rachel is not an only child does not imply that Rachel has two brothers) .


We know that the message conveyed in a sentence can presuppose other knowledge. For example, if 12a is accepted as true, 12b-12e must also be accepted as true.

12a Evan usually drives his Toyota to work.

12b There is a person named Evan.

12c Evan works.

12d There is a Toyota that belongs to Evan.

12. Evan knows how to drive a car.

The meaning of sentence 12a presupposes what is expressed in 12b, c, d, and e. The latter are assumptions of 12a. Note that a presupposition does not establish the truth of anything. Sentence 12a is significant as it is, but it is true only if there is a person named Evan, who works and owns a Toyota, etc. The sentence is presented as if there is a person named Evan.

In summary, the 12 terms above are introduced to show the latent knowledge that we have about our language, the general implicit knowledge that we have about the meaning in our language. We can deal with them successfully, we differ considerably and the circumstances differ considerably, depending on the way in which individuals behave in a given situation or context, it does not necessarily indicate what is our deepest competence, there are personality factors that involve such as the willingness to cooperate, memory, attention, recent experience that greatly influences our performance.

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