Semántica inglesa

Semántica Inglesa (3º de Filología Inglesa, 2º semestre)
Unit 1. Utterances, Sentences and Propositions:
Utterance: it is the use of a particular speaker, on a particular occasion, of a piece of language. Every time we
use a piece of speech, we have an utterance and a physical event (you pronounce the utterance and you give a
special meaning depending on the way you pronounce it). If there is no communication function, then we
don't have any utterance.
• Pxgotmgt! (no communication function > no utterance)
• Hello (utterance > communication)
Sentence: it is a string of words put together by the grammatical rules of a language and it is an abstract idea,
so it is not physical, as the utterance, you don't have to pronounce it in order to be a sentence because it is a
conceptual structure. Furthermore, you can have an only sentence, but infinite utterances for that sentence (as
many as speakers pronouncing it).
Proposition: it is a part of the meaning of the utterance and it describes some state of affairs which involves
persons or things referred to by expressions in the sentence. They can have 3 illocutions (different meanings):
• Declarative: we refer to the truth of a sentence. I'm afraid that I'll have to ask you to leave.
• Interrogative: we don't refer to any truth of any utterance, we just make a question. Have you seen my
• Imperative: we force someone to act, we don't refer to any truth. Get out of here this minute!
When we talk about the propositional content of a sentence, we mean to the semantical meaning.
Basis of propositions: predicate (movement) + entities involved (agent). The proposition is the same, but there
are different meanings.
Summary: A single proposition could be expressed by using several different sentences and those sentences
can be uttered an infinite number of times.
Unit 2. Reference and Generic NP's:
Reference: it is the relation between language and the world.
Example: Touch your left ear
• your left ear is part of the world because is part of the body.
Variable reference: the reference of an expression varies according to the circumstances (time, place) and
according to the topic of the conversation in which the expression is used. It is the essence in the use of
language, we use small pieces of language in order to name as many things as we can imagine, but we need a
conceptual abstraction in order to use the language. It is necessary to know the circumstances. Recognizing
the relevance of the referent is very important to understand the language.
• The present Prime Minister (used in Britain in 1982) = Tatcher
• The present Prime Minister (used in Britain in 1944) = Churchill
Then we say that these sentences have a variable reference because they have different referents, depending
on time and place.
Constant reference: it is not possible because referenciality always varies, although sometimes we can
imagine that the reference is the same, as in the word moon (in the real world we only have one entity). This
element is the only one that fits in the concept, but we can imagine an invented world in which we can have 3
or 4 moons. Then we have variable reference again.
Sometimes we can have the same referent and 2 different expressions.
• the morning star (planet Venus)
• the evening star (planet Venus)
We got to distinguish between :
• Symbol (language, in mind)
• Concepts (in mind, they can be prototypes or stereotypes)
• Set: it belongs to the world (ideal where we represent all the different members that fit within the other 2
Categorization: it is the creation of patterns in the use of the language, it is very important to use the
language and it is a characteristic of humans (since we birth, we are categorizing things in our minds in order
to construct our world).
Referent: set > subset > referent.
1 thing is the real world and another very different is the conceptual structure (information within the mind),
where we can represent an imagined world (the triangle). Everything happens in our minds.
The word meaning: it is sometimes used to indicate reference (the action of assigning a referent for my
expression) and other times to indicate sense (the concept we are dealing with).
• When Albert talks about −his former friend− he means me (reference)
• Daddy, what does unique mean? (sense)
Mean + personal subject > intention (what I'm trying to say) = COMMUNICATION LEVEL.
Mean + no personal subject > abstract meaning = MEANING IN LANGUAGE.
Referring expressions: they are depending on the context, if we have or not a particular referent in mind.
Events can be referential, but not predicates. This is useful in indefinite noun phrases.
• A man was in here looking for you last night (referring expression)
• The first sign of the monsoon is a cloud on the horizon no bigger than a man's hand (non−referring
Ambiguity problems: sometimes we are not sure whether the expression is referential or not.
• John is looking for a car (it might mean that John searches a car in the street or that he wants to buy a
• Every evening at sunset a swan flew over the house (it could have been the same swan or not)
Equative sentences: whenever the 1st and the 2nd noun phrases are referring expressions and they are both
referring to the same person or thing, we have an equative sentence.
• John Major is the Prime Minister (J.M. = P.M.)
Other definitions:
• Referent: the thing picked out by the use of that expression on a particular occasion of utterance. A
particular member of a set.
• Set: the complete set of all things which could potentially be the referent of a referring expression whose
head constituent is the predicate.
• Prototype: a typical member of an extension which is bound to social − cultural backgrounds. This must be
clear in order to understand any text and we have to know that language belongs to a community.
• Stereotype: list of the typical characteristics of things to which the predicate may be applied, it is the
conceptual structure, the definition of the referent. It is an ideal.
• Generic: reference to a whole set, when you're dealing with no particular things.
Generic NP's:
• Denotational status of generic NP's: we are talking about the stereotype in a set.
• The African elephant is difficult to domesticate > There is a species which can be properly called the
African elephant.
• Indefinite unmarked generics: we always mean to the whole set.
• Spiders are venomous > countable, that's why the subject is plural.
• Salt is hygroscopic > uncountable, that's why the subject is singular.
• Denying the synonymy between the generic a(n), and the article any which flags a non−referential NP: we
can make a true or a false sentence, taking into account these 2 generics.
• A man is taller than a woman > we mean the prototype. It's typically true that a man is taller than a
• Any man is taller than any woman > we also mean the prototype, but it's indubitably false.
Unit 3. Referential NP's and types of non−referential expressions:
Referential NP's: conventionally implicate the existence of an inference in which the NP falls within the
scope of an affirmative existential clause of the form.
• Several linguists spoke to a visitor from Mongolia (there are 2 ref. NP's: there were several linguists
and there was a visitor)
Non−Referential expressions (4 types):
1. The NP head falls within the scope of a negative that either asserts or implies the non−existence of the
• God does not exist.
2. The referent doesn't exist at the point of orientation of the utterance, but it is expected or predicated to come
into existence later: verbs of creation (make, build), the object is characterised of being an effect of the
• You make the toast and I'll make the tea.
3. The referent may / may not exist at the point of orientation, they are hypothesis: the speaker doesn't know
for sure the answer.
• Are there any eggs left? (they can be in the fridge or not, the speaker doesn't know it).
Being mistaken about the answer of the sentence doesn't mean that my expression is non−referential:
• Get the eggs out of the fridge.
• There aren't any.
4. Those which denote an unspecified subset of some set which is referred to: the referent is not a particular
one, but it is universal.
• Any dog will get upset if you kick it (is not a particular one, it's universal).
If−clauses: it doesn't have to be non−referential, we must consider the context.
• If there is a fish hook in his tummy, shouldn't we do something about it? (It can be a hypothesis or it
can be a fact, if we consider it).
Unit 4. Non−Verbal Predicates:
There are 3 types of basic predicates, which have primary and secondary functions: verbal, nominal and
• primary functions of the predicate:
Nucleus of a pred. > Vb.
Head of a NP > N.
Attribute > Adj.
Example: The old man died.
• secondary functions of the predicate:
Vb: head of an NP > The killing of the tiger
Adj: head of a VP > The dying man
Non−verbal predicates: with non−verbal predicates happen the same, most of all with copulative verbs, such
as to be. The basic predicate will always be the 2nd term.
• John is [a soldier] N
• John is [my best friend] N
Basic semantic relations of the predicate: The nucleus is a category which is not the verb, so the meaning
can change. But the basic semantic relations (they'll be different depending on the type) are:
• Adjectival / Bare Nominal > Property Assignment: John is president.
• Indefinite Term > Class Inclusion (classifying it): John is a nice boy.
• Definite Term > Identification: John is the winner / The winner is John
The verb to be is used as a grammatical device for carrying grammatical information. It doesn't matter the
time it expresses.
Example: the most important difference is that table is a physical object and meeting is not.
• The meeting is in room 315.
• The table is in the room.
Adpositional phrase: whenever we have it, we'll have a case of semantic relation.
• The chair is in the garden (locative, definite term > identification).
• It was a big mistake to visit him (event, indefinite term > class inclusion).
• The visit was a big mistake (event, indefinite term > class inclusion).
Predicate types (3 main types):
• Property Assignment (bare predicates):
John is nice (adj.).
John is president (bare−nominal).
• Identification / Classification (referential predicates):
This is a bulldog (classification). If we haven't got 2 referential objects, identification is impossible.
That dog over there is Fido (identification).
• Location / Possession / Time (relational predicates): it depends on the case that marks the predication, it is
very easy.
I met her in London at 5 o'clock (satellite).
The book was written by Shakespeare (argument).
Our representative in London is Sheila (restrictor > the one in London).
With non−verbal predication it would be:
• Sheila is in London: semantic relation > location.
• The meeting was at 5: semantic relation > time.
• This book is by Shakespeare: semantic relation > agency.
Unit 4. Structure of the Clause, Layers:
Structure of the clause: it is a complex abstract structure in which several levels of semantic organization
have to be distinguished.
The underlying class structure (in order to be expressed): semantics. We need expression rules, which depend
on each of the languages. They are logical relationships between entities within a particular expression and
they have different levels of analysis, corresponding to the difference of structures.
Layers: the structure and construction of the clause: from more general to more detailed. By using
anaphoric relation, these levels are units themselves, because we see examples from each of them (anaphoric
Example of anaphoric reference:
John kissed Mary, but Peter didn't see it > it refers to the 2nd order entity.
John asked Peter to help him > him refers to the 1st order entity.
• The clause: the speech of act, the intention or the way of expressing of the speaker. Is the result of the other
3 layers.
• The proposition: information about the speech act, a possible fact.
• The predication: everything that applies here, belongs to the state of affairs, to the 1st level.
• Terms and predicates: this is the deepest one, the predicate frames.
Predicate frames: Inside the layer of terms and predicates there are 4 predicate frames or entities.
• First Order Entity: it's a physical object which can be located in a space and can be touched. It exists
within a place and it has physical characteristics.
John saw the tiger: first order entity, it's physical object observed.
• Second Order Entity: it is an event which can be located in place, in time, it is an action happening.
We can only evaluate it in terms of reality, considering that something can be located in an invented
world (fairytales).
John saw the killing of the tiger: second order entity, it's an action.
John prepared his homework: second order entity, he is acting, though this is an abbreviation.
• Third Order Entity: it cannot be located because it is an abstract object, a cognitive entity which can
be denied, believed, considered or forgotten. We evaluate them in terms of true / false.
• Fourth Order Entity: studied in pragmatics, it is the speech act. They can be uttered and understood −
particular place and time − .
Example of ambiguity:
• John saw the painting of a monk: it can be a physical object (1st order entity) or an event (2nd order
entity). As a 2nd order entity, it can have 2 meanings, either the monk painted something, or
somebody painted a monk.
Selectional restrictions:
We need to know the quantitative and the qualitative characteristics of the verbs and also to represent the
selectional restrictions, this means that the verbs need some objects:
(We must recognize the level and apply the correct characteristics of that level)
• Nuclear predication: predicate + terms (1st level) > objective information.
• Core predication: nuclear pred. + operators (encode grammatical meaning, aspectual info) + satellites
(lexical meaning) (2nd level) > objective information.
• Extended predication: core predication + operators + satellites (3rd level) > subjective information.
• (We don't see this at this level). The act of speech (4th level) > subjective information.
Predication operators:
They are expressed in sentences by grammatical means:
First level operators: the information of the 1st level modifies the predication and if we apply someone, we
would have another meaning. The negation is also at the 1st level:
• Perfective / Imperfective > I was reading / read the paper.
• Comparative > John is taller than Peter.
• Negation: it modifies the predication > kind: unkind.
Second level operators:
• Tense operators: they tell us about the event time (past, present, future).
• Some aspectual operators (we don't need to study them).
• Objective mood operators: descriptions of the characteristics of events (the 1st and the 2nd levels).
• Polarity operators: positive / negative in respect to the whole event, at the 2nd level.
Example: I went / didn't go to the movie
Example: Possibility + Past e1 [lay (the hen) (an egg)] ( 2: garden)
1 2 core predication location
The extended predication, considering this info in real language, it would be this sentence: The hen could've
laid an egg on the garden.
Different satellites in different levels:
• 1st level: manner (of performing the activity) > objective.
• 2nd level: location of the state of affairs (SoAs) > objective.
• 3rd level: attitude / evaluation of the speaker > subjective.
• 4th level: any information that tell us about the speech act itself > subjective.
Example containing the 4 levels:
Honestly (4th), you certainly (3rd) danced beautifully (1st) yesterday (2nd).
speech act core evaluation manner satellite location
Type of predication satellites:
− 1st level:
• Additional participants associated with the SoA (beneficiary, Company)
• Means and Manner (instrumental, manner, speed, quality)
• Spatial orientation: it forms a block with the predicate (direction, path, source) I went to the museum > 1st
lev, spatial orientation.
John answered the question wisely > 1st lev, manner.
− 2nd level:
1. Spatial scenario: location of the SoA (the places, the event to a particular location) I went to the museum in
Madrid > 2nd lev, spatial scenario.
2. Temporal scenario (time, frequency, duration)
3. Relations with another SoA: circumstance (cause, condition)
4. Cognitive scenario (reason, purpose)
Examples of Personal Opinion:
• In my opinion, John is a fool (3rd level, subjective).
• Fortunately, we found him immediately (3rd level, subjective).
• Wisely, John didn't answer the question (3rd level: I consider it wise, that he didn't answer,
Examples of Speech Act:
• John forgot to warn Peter (statement)
• Did John forget to warn Peter? (question)
They are different at the 4th level, but at the 3rd level they are the same, they have the same info.
Illocutionary satellites:
It is the manner of speaking, the intention, a comment on the manner of speaking.
Style disjuncts: frankly, in brief, to put it paradoxically
− Frankly, John answered the question frankly. (John's manner of speaking)
(How I consider the action)
− Could you call me a taxi?. Can you call a taxi FOR ME? (1st level)
− John came to Madrid with Mary (John and Mary came to Madrid)
direction company
Unit 5. Aspectuality:
A number of different semantic distinctions are connected by this general level.
• Situational aspect: the type of SoA as designated by the predicate frame: Aktionsart or Mode of Action.
We can define a typology of predicate frames considering this notion: the idealization of different types of
• Viewpoint aspect: Perfectivity / Imperfectivity.
• Phasal aspect: about the part in the development of the predication (we don't see it).
• Quantificational aspect operators: quantification of the predication (we don't see it).
1. Situational Aspect:
We can have 2 types:
• Aspect (aspectual information):
• perfective I ate (closed)
• imperfective she used to read (the predication is open)
• Aktionsart (situational aspect) > semantic value internal to the lexical item. The meaning, the nature of the
• state [− dyn] the substance is red.
• process [+ dyn] the substance reddened.
2. Viewpoint Aspect:
• Perfective: (my viewpoint is outside, I see things with their limits) > complete / bounded / closed /
invisible / external viewpoint > it presents a situation as a single unanalysable whole from the point of view
of the reference point. It has ending points, the events are temporarily bounded and it includes assertions in
future or imperative. Sometimes the perfective form is grammatically unmarked and we need to know the
whole meaning because the meaning is distributed.
• I read the paper (from the beginning till the end).
• Get that kid (assertion in the future).
• Imperfective: (my viewpoint is inside, I can't see things completely) > incomplete / unbounded / open /
visible / internal viewpoint > it looks at the SoA from an internal point of view, it can be intruded because it
isn't an unanalysable whole. It can describe temporary events (unbounded) and it may focus on the
beginning, continuation or ending of the activity.
• While I was reading the paper, something strange happened (description of something going on).
• I used to read the paper in the morning (temporary event, habit, unbounded).
Secondary predication: perfective vs. imperfective. The secondary predication is independent for aspect,
whereas the first predication is in both cases perfective and marks the time of the whole sentence:
I saw him crossing the street > imperfective (we don't know if he finished crossing it).
I saw him to cross the street > perfective (we see the complete action).
Bounded / Unbounded situations in time: bounded elements have a terminal boundary element, an unbounded
element has a time of beginning, but it has an ending. Unbounded elements are additive and homogeneous. If
we have a [− dyn] predicate, it is always unbounded.
• John run a mile > bounded (the whole predicate) > John run 2 miles.
• Lee sings songs > unbounded (additive + homogeneous: songs + songs = songs).
• Lee sings 5 songs > bounded (non−additive + non−homogeneous > song + song = 2 songs).
Semantic parameters for a typology of SoAs:
In order to create them a typology, we need to consider all these characteristics (parameters):
1. +/− Dynamic [+/−dyn]:
• [−dyn] term: means that the entities involved will remain in the same state at all points of time and
they don't combine with speed satellites.
− The substance was red (it's not a process, it doesn't change the state).
• [+dyn] term: means that there's a process, a change all through the duration of the SoA. There's an
activity going on. We can use speed satellites.
− The substance reddened (quickly) (process and changing of the state).
2. +/− Control [+/−con]: having a controller means that one of the terms volitionally controls the 2nd one.
There's an entity that controls either a situation or an action.
• John opened the door [+con] > John is the controller of the action.
• The substance reddened [−con] > The substance doesn't control the action.
To check if we have a control predication, try to insert with directives to try to control the situation. All
expressions which designate an order / request from A to B require that which is ordered / requested, in
control of B.
• John, open the door! [+con] > John is the controller of the opening.
Promises: only to check if the expression is [+con].
• John promised to open the door [+con].
• The clock promised to keep ticking [−con].
Satellites: only used with [+con] expressions.
• Call me a taxi [+con] > beneficiary.
• John cut down the tree with an axe [+con] > instrumental.
3. +/− Telicity [+/−tel]: this is related to boundness / unboundness. A [+tel] expression is fully achieved,
reaches a natural terminal point and is bounded. It's the nature of the term which determines the telicity.
• John was painting [−tel] > unbounded: action not fully achieved.
• John was painting portraits [−tel] > unbounded: additive and homogeneous.
• John was painting a portrait [+tel] > bounded: additive and homogeneous, both terms are bounded.
Actions and processes can be telic: transition between 2 states, if something changes the state, the expression
would be [+tel].
• Mary ran to the store in an hour [+tel] > direction, source, path (1st lev.).
• Mary ran for an hour [−tel] > we don't know for how long.
Ways of checking telicity:
• almost: John almost ran in the forest [−tel] (he didn't do it) / the marathon [+tel] (he made the effort,
but he couldn't finish) . with this word, we sometimes have cases of ambiguity. Being [+tel]
• and [+mom] means that almost behaves at one point (not accomplishing, never doing the action).
When it's [+tel] and [−mom], almost can mean either beginning or end.
• asserting at every point of the action that something has been done: John is painting [−tel] (at every
point of the action I can assert that he has painted) a portrait [+tel] (I cannot assert that he has painted
a portrait at every point of the action).
4. +/− Momentaneous [+/−mom]: [−mom] are situations and [−tel] events conceived as having unlimited
duration (they go on forever), they are extended. [+mom] are those of limited duration (until the end point is
reached), they are punctual.
• John started / continued / ended painting the portrait [−mom].
Under certain conditions [+mom] events can be combined with aspectual verbs (one by one).
• The bombs finished exploding (series of explosions).
• John pushed the cart [−tel]
• John pushed the cart away / over the bridge / aside [+tel]
Unit 6. Typology of Predications: interrelation between the parameters [+/−dyn], [+/−tel] and
Examples of each of the SoA types:
Semantics: Mock Exam (February, 2001).
Semantic parameters: (3 points): Describe the semantic parameters and the type of event (mode of
action, activities, ) that characterise the predication in the following sentences.
• His face reddened.
• I pushed open the door.
• She is hearing funny noises in the attic.
• He fell asleep in no time.
• His staff shall receive instructions.
• John lives in London.
• This boy resembles his father.
• John paints water−colours.
• They went to Chicago.
• Last night he drank red wine.
• The wheel was spinning.
• This box contains cigars.
Are the NP's below referential? Answer Y or N. Explain. (3 points)
• Captain Segura reserved a photograph on the desk:. A heap of smashed metal which had once been a car.
And this? : A young man's face in the flashlights: a man's foot touching his shoulders. Do you know him?.
• We had a call from P. Sanchez about a man who had broken into his house with vague threats.
• I could have made a beautiful woman very happy with a necklace of rubies.
• No such profits, of course, were possible for the little man in the streets.
• You've been writing his elegy like a bad novelist preparing an effect.
• I just picked up in case I had to hit someone.
Define the semantic relations that characterise the non−verbal predicates in the following sentences,
and underline the predicator (2 points):
• John is a teacher.
• My mother is the woman in the corner.
• He's very good at his work.
• The meeting will be at three o'clock.