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Subject: Semantics or pragmatics?
Question: Hello,

I was wondering which area of linguistics deals with perceived vs.
intended meaning of a word. For example, if I say the word
''socialism'', it has certain connotations for me, but my listener might
have very different connotations. Would that be semantics or

Thank you,


Reply: This is a bit fuzzy for a few reasons.

Semantics generally refers to literal meaning, and pragmatics to meanings beyond
the literal. However, you could have a legitimate argument on what the definition of
"socialism" entails, so that is semantics (and yet mixed with pragmatics if someone
uses the term to imply other concepts beyond socialism).

A less political example might be a term like "cynic" which in general discourse
means someone jaded or unoptimistic. A scholar of the Greek philosopy might use it
to refer to a practitioner of the original Cynic philosophy.

I think some more specific terms that might help would be

* frames or frames of reference - how someone metaphorically views the world.
Lakoff was a notable proponent of this concept as it relates to political discourse,
but it's not without controversy.

* genres/discourse styles/jargon - how groups/communities communicate with
each other. Drs may communicate one with with patients and another with a

Studies of political discourse do show that people of opposing points of view tend to
form distinct discourses (jargons/styles/pragmatics). In many ways, different
political parties can be analyzed as slightly different cultures. You would also have
to consider how a piece of text/speech was meant to be used. Often, the purpose is
to "motivate the base", but not always.

Hope this helps

Reply From: Elizabeth J Pyatt      click here to access email
Date: 18-Jul-2012
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Semantics or pragmatics?    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (23-Jul-2012)
  2. Re: Semantics or pragmatics?    Susan Fischer     (18-Jul-2012)

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