Semantics; the meaning of Language

The branch of linguistics that deals with the study of meaning, changes in meaning, and the principles that govern the relationship between sentences or words and their meanings” or “The study of the relationships between signs and symbols and what they represent”

Semantics is the research of the meaning and connection within the signifiers of Semiotics; concentrating on the uses of words, phrases, signs themselves and symbols. Linguistic semantics is the form of study taken in regards to how humans express themselves through language, whether it is through verbal, written, or programmed language.

Richard Montague, an American philosopher and mathematician wasn’t the first of the linguists that saw Semantics as a subgenre of language study; Noam Chomsky, an American linguist was another, and was the founder of “generative grammar” and studied the usage of formal language during the 1950s,  but became the founder of “Montague grammar”, this was founded in the 1970s.

Montague grammar was a progression of understanding the relationship between human language, the verbal tongue and “formal language”, which is seen in computers (using programming languages; codes, and algorithms – a form of calculate instructions processed on computers). It used the basis of logic to express the idea that formal language and human language were one of the same, to be treated the same.

He is quoted saying  “There is in my opinion no important theoretical difference between natural languages and the artificial languages of logicians; indeed, I consider it possible to comprehend the syntax and semantics of both kinds of language within a single natural and mathematically precise theory. On this point I differ from a number of philosophers, but agree, I believe, with Chomsky and his associates.” from the book he released in 1970, Universal Grammar

This theory was then split into separate topics; situation semantics, a form of linguistic study, founded in the 1980s by John Barwise and Jon Perry, two American philosophers, logicians and linguistics; and generative lexicon,  a decade later was the successful sub-genre of the grammar study, continuing on into the 21st century, was constructed by James Pustejovsky, an American theologist of modern language, and professor of computer science.

Situation Semantics was the deliberate construction of reasoning in language and intertwining it with the origin of common sense, bringing it into real life situations. Natural language processing a combined learning on the relationship between computers and human language (written and verbal) uses or used situation semantics as its basis to help understand the connection.

–The thesis of NLP follows on from the original concept of Montague grammar, trying to comprehend the relationship between computer and the human dialect.

Generative Lexicon (GL), the more successful branch of Montague grammar is the finding of composition within natural language. It was also an inquiry on the stature of language, the limited boundaries of it. Pustejovsky, in one of his books on the subject, released in 1995 asks the question: “How is it that we are able to deploy a finite number of words in our language in an unbound number of contexts?” – This query, made by Australian comedian Carl Barron.

Carl Barron conjures up the subject of language, as a whole. Questions the different meanings of the verbal language using the same sounding word, which construes with James Pustejovsky’s inquiry. The first statement made is between 0:17-1:53, speaking of the differed names given to commercialized objects, Barron using flip-flops as an example. From 3:02-5:19, it is the break down of where words originated from, why people use certain sounds for a particular word or number, and Carol cleverly, but in a comedic way gives an alternative, giving the audience funny scenarios in the process. This links the studies of semantic situations and generative lexicon together; breaking down the usage of words, the various meanings of one word or number into real life situations.

Irish comedian, Dylan Moran is another to question the structure of language; namely in his 2009 stand-up in Sydney, Australia What It Is. A clip from part 4, from 2:05 – 3:30 expresses, from Moran’s quiet observation of people the initial meaning behind a simple phrase, or phrases. He goes on to discuss the recycling of theatrical phrases that it is still used in modern-day, between 3:53 – 4:39. This can be said for anything that is occurring in the 21st century, the appropriation of fashion, words, art; a re-hash of a generation and twisting it to suit the current generation.


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