SEMANTICS is derived from French word sémantique, applied by MICHEL BRÉAL (1883) to the psychology of language, from Greek semantikos “significant,” from semainein “to show by sign, signify, point out, indicate by a sign,” from sema “sign, mark, token; omen, portent; constellation; grave”. Semantics is the study of the meaning of words, phrases and sentences. Every language has the source of expression of meaningful ideas. This term refers to the study of meaning and the systematic ways those meanings are expressed in language.

The structure of a language expresses the meaning which exists in one’s mind. The idea may be conveyed through the written and spoken forms of a language. As semantics is the study of meaning in language and language is used to express meanings which can be understood by others. So, semantics is that level of linguistics analysis where meaning is analysed. It is the most abstract level of linguistics analysis since one cannot see or observes meaning as one can observe and record sounds. Meaning is related very closely to the human capacity to think logically and to understand.  Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics by JACK C. RICHARDS and RICHARD SCHMIDT defines Semantics as:

“The study of meaning. There are many different approaches to the way in which meaning in language is studied.”

A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics by DAVID CRYSTAL defines it as:

 “A major branch of linguistics devoted to the study of meaning in language.”

According to A Dictionary of Literary Terms by MARTIN GRAY:

“The study of the meaning of words: how words express their meanings, and how their meanings have changed in time.”

Componential analysis (feature analysis or contrast analysis) is the analysis of words through structured sets of semantic features, which are given as “present”, “absent” or “indifferent with reference to feature”. The method thus departs from the principle of compositionality. The componential analysis is a method typical of structural semantics which analyzes the components of a word’s meaning. Thus, it reveals the culturally important features by which speakers of the language distinguish different words in a semantic field or domain (Ottenheimer, 2006, p. 20). This is a highly valuable approach to learning another language and understanding a specific semantic domain of an Ethnography.

For Examples: man = [+ male], [+ mature] or woman = [– male], [+ mature] or boy = [+ male], [– mature] or girl = [– male] [– mature] or child = [+/– male] [– mature]. In other words, the word girl can have three basic factors (or semantic properties ): human, young, and female. Another example, being edible is an important factor by which plants may be distinguished from one another (Ottenheimer, 2006, p. 20). To summarize, one word can have basic underlying meanings that are well established depending on the cultural context. It is crucial to understand these underlying meanings in order to fully understand any language and culture.

 Linguistic semantics is also used by anthropologists called ethnoscientists to conduct formal semantic analysis (componential analysis) to determine how expressed signs—usually single words as vocabulary items called lexemes—in a language are related to the perceptions and thoughts of the people who speak the language.

Componential analysis tests the idea that linguistic categories influence or determine how people view the world; this idea is called the Whorf hypothesis after the American anthropological linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf, who proposed it. In the componential analysis, lexemes that have a common range of meaning constitute a semantic domain. Such a domain is characterized by the distinctive semantic features (components) that differentiate individual lexemes in the domain from one another, and also by features shared by all the lexemes in the domain.

“A treatment of lexical meaning in which the sense of each Unit is distinguished from those of others by the set of semantic feature components.”

 Such componential analysis points out, for example, that in the domain “seat” in English, the lexemes “chair,””sofa,””loveseat,” and “bench” can be distinguished from one another according to how many people are accommodated and whether a back support is included. At the same time, all these lexemes share the common component, or feature, of meaning “something on which to sit.” Thus, in the terms of Katz:

“The word is broken down into meaningful components which make up the total sum of the meaning in a word”

[ MALE ]









Word has been analyzed through this method in terms of a number of distinct elements or components of meaning. Names of Katz and Fodor are prominently associated with Componential Theory. They tried to describe words in terms of relatively small sets of general elements of meaning which some are also called ‘Universals’. Kinship terms, colour vocabulary, words for botanical and animal world easily lend themselves to this kind of analysis. Sex is one of the parameters in kinship terminology. So sets like mother-father, brother-sister and uncle-aunt are formed. The analysis of this kind allows us to provide definitions for all these words in terms of a few components as ‘man is = human + adult + male and so on’. This analysis is called Componential Analysis. Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics by JACK C. RICHARDS and RICHARD SCHMIDT defines Componential analysis as:

An approach to the study of meaning which analyzes the word into a set of meaning, components or semantic features.”

The meanings of lexemes are analyzed into components, which can then be compared across lexemes or groups of lexemes. The idea of dividing a lexeme into semantic components is like that of Distinctive Feature theory. Components have a distinguishing function. They serve to distinguish the meaning of a lexeme from that of other related lexemes and we show this through a matrix:

This shows that the semantic components [MALE] and [ADULT] serve to distinguish the meanings of these four lexemes. The semantic domain where Componential Analysis has successfully used ‘Kinship terminology’ where we need many semantic components to distinguish the kinship terms. Here we can add [ASCEND] and [DESCEND] components to show generation older or younger than the other and also [LINEAL] to show collateral descent. There are two broad types of components: those that serve to identify a semantic domain and that are shared by all the lexemes in the domain and those that serve to distinguish lexemes from each other within a semantic domain. The first type is called Common Component and the second one is called the Diagnostic Component or as in phonology a distinctive feature. For example, all jugs are containers have bottoms, open mouths and handles which are the common components, but if one jug is not round, but rectangular, so [SHAPE] will be the diagnostic component in the domain. There are also Formal Components related to form of the object and Functional Components related to the function the object plays i.e. sofas, chairs and bench can be described in terms of form and function. The presence of a component is represented by [+] the absence is marked by [-] and these are usually binary; but if the components may or may not be a presence, we describe them as [+/-]. This is so, as language is independent and universal. Katz says:

“Semantic components may be combined in various ways in different languages yet they would be identifiable as the ‘same’ component in the vocabularies of all languages”

Contributions to the Study of Meaning.
Componential analysis has a useful part to play in contributing to the
description of meanings of lexemes (Jackson, 2009: 91-92). Here are some of the contributions.
a. Understanding synonymy.
A pair of true synonyms will share the same set of semantic components. For example, adult and grown-up have the same components [+HUMAN] [+ADULT].
b. Establishing degrees of synonymy.

We may talk of looser synonymy where a pair of lexemes has some but
not all semantic components in common. For example, barn and shed
would be looser synonyms. They share components [BUILDING],
[STORAGE], but barn has an additional component of [FARM] and perhaps
that of [FOR CEREALS], while she has perhaps the additional component [HOUSE].
c. Understanding antonymy.
A pair of antonyms usually share all their components except one, e.g man and woman share the components [+CONCRETE], [+ANIMATE], [+HUMAN], but they are contrasted by the component [MALE].
d. Understanding the sense relation of hyponymy.
Hyponymy refers to the relation of inclusion of meaning, e.g. the fact that
the meaning of rat is included in the meaning of rodent.
e. Helping translator to produce an accurate translation.
Componential  Analysis determines the essential features of the meaning of lexical units, which is very useful in doing the translation (NIDA, 1975: 7).

In the end, one can say that these components or categories are not part of the vocabulary of language itself, but rather theoretical elements ‘postulated in order to describe the semantic relation between the lexical elements of a given language’. Within generative-transformational theory, the meaning is studied through semantic features where they deep structures of a sentence and the meaning of words used in that structure together represent the total meaning of the sentence features mention the permissible relationship among words e.g. that is a good hope. In order to carry out a semantic analysis, we put it as Hope and comprehensive meaning emerges.

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