Friday, April 15, 2005


In general, semantics (from the Greek semantikos, or "significant meaning," derived from sema, sign) is the study of meaning, in some sense of that term. Semantics is often opposed to syntax, in which case the former pertains to what something means while the latter pertains to the formal structure/patterns in which something is expressed (e.g. written or spoken).

Definition of Semantics, From the Wikipedia.


Thomas said...

What about semiotics and semiology? Where does these phenomenons fit in? =)

Andy said...

Whoa! I don't need any more S-words -- semantics and syntax are enough: as soon as I start trying to think about how the brain, jaw, tongue, eyes, ears, larynx, lungs, fingers (etc) make language work via speech/writing/sound (all through evolution), it gives me a headache. It's one of those everyday miracles that we lose sight of, and take for granted amidst our more pressing (if trivial) daily concerns.

If only I were younger, I'd read Chomsky properly, and Pinker, and Saussurre, and join in the politically-charged debates.

But I feel old, and stupid, so I may just go on marvelling, and focus on the things I'm good at.

Torill said...

Hold on Andy, don't panic! The question thomas asks is pretty much about the same S word, just slightly different semantics. So: Semiotics and semiology is for most practical purposes the same. It is the distinction between whether you are in the tradition of Pierce or Saussure. But in both cases it addresses the sign, the sema. Semantics addresses the meaning of the sign, but semiotics/semiology addresses both form and content, denotation and connotation. We can't just say that semantics covers the connotation, between a sign can have more connotations than meanings, as several connotations are irrelevant to the meaning. This is why semantics is so complicated, as it searches for the meaning of the sign, but meaning is always contextual.

And I have been a lecturer for far too long. I am getting tics in the form of long explanations of complex concepts. Can it be lectourettes?

Andy said...

Semantics about semantics...eek.

No, I'm fine, really. Language is mind-bogglingly amazing (now there's a term I never heard when I was at university!)

I am still getting to grips with the meta-problem of brain/mind. Once I am ready for the actual content of your post, I'll come back. :-)

I always have to do 'big picture' first...

btw - your english language explanations of complex things are very clear and 'like a native'. Impressive!