Review of Meaning in Language
|Date: Mon, 19 Jul 2004 07:42:52 -0700 (PDT)
From: Sanjukta Ghosh
Subject: Meaning in Language: An Introduction to Semantics and Pragmatics
AUTHOR: Cruse, Alan D.
TITLE: Meaning in Language
SUBTITLE: An Introduction to Semantics and Pragmatics
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
Sanjukta Ghosh Sarkar, Guest Lecturer, Centre for Applied Linguistics
and Translation Studies, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad, India.
The book under review is one in the series of Oxford Textbook in
Linguistics written for advanced undergraduate or postgraduate students
of Linguistics. The book can also be used by the students of languages,
translation, psychology, philosophy and literature who are interested
in an overview of meaning not following any particular theoretical
framework. the author is conscious enough to avoid bias towards one
specific theoretical standpoint, though he himself admits that if at
all that is present in the work it is towards the cognitive semantic
position. Apart from the semantic notion of meaning, some basic
pragmatic issues related to contextualized meaning are the additional
features of the book.
The book is organized into four parts. Part I discusses a number of
general notions on meaning. This section has four chapters- the first
chapter sets the scene for the remaining part identifying language as a
means of communication. It briefly discusses different approaches in
the study of meaning taken in different fields like philosophy,
psychology, semiotics, neurology as well as linguistics. The second
chapter is a good overview of logical matters necessary for a linguist
ranging from propositions, predicates, logical relations between
propositions, properties of logical relations, sense, reference,
denotation and quantification.
Chapter 3 discusses different types and dimensions of meaning possible
in a language. Descriptive meaning is distinguished from the non-
descriptive one while classifying basic types of meaning. In dimensions
of descriptive meaning intrinsic dimensions such as quality, intensity,
specificity, vagueness, basicness and viewpoint are distinguished from
relative dimensions such as necessity and expectedness, sufficiency and
salience. Finally non-descriptive dimensions of meaning are very
Chapter 4 is on the notion of compositionality and its limits
discussing the cliches, metaphors and collocations.
Part II consists of maximum number of chapters devoted primarily to
lexical semantics, Chapter 5 is an introduction to lexical semantics
discussing its scope, different approaches of study as well as major
problems in the field.
Chapter 6 is on the contextual variability of word meanings. This
chapter addresses a question as the following: -- if there is a
significant difference in meaning of a word in two different contexts
how discrete those words are or whether they are antagonistic or
ambiguous. While discussing different sources of ambiguity lexical
ambiguity (homonymy and polysemy) is distinguished from non-lexical
such as syntactic and pragmatic ambiguity.
Chapter 7 is vital for understanding the standpoint of the author where
word meaning is regarded as conceptual in nature. This is the view
taken by cognitive linguists like Jackendoff where a complex conceptual
structure is proposed of containing primitive basic entities and
formation rules exactly as it happens in phonology and syntax. This
book postulates that syntactic structures are directly mapped onto
conceptual structures without an intermediate semantic structure. The
classical Aristotelian approach to categorization as well as standard
prototypical approach by Rosch (1973) are discussed in the chapter
while illustrating the nature of concepts.
Chapter 8 and 9 are on the paradigmatic sense relations of inclusion
and identity such as hyponymy, meronymy and synonymy at one side and
exclusion and opposition such as incompatibility, antonymy,
converseness and complementaries at the other side. Sense relations
following the cognitive linguistic position adopted in this book are
relations between concepts while according to Lyons, those are
relations between two lexemes.
Chapter 10 talks of the structure of the vocabulary of a language. One
important paradigmatic structure is branching hierarchy which is of two
types- taxonomic and meronymic hierarchy. Other significant structuring
is linear which includes bipolar and monopolar chains, grids, clusters
and other miscellaneous types.
Chapter 11 is on different non-literal meanings discussing thoroughly
metaphors and metonymy. Different approaches to metaphors are discussed
in the chapter treated in different theories of semantics (Lakoff 1990)
and pragmatics (Sperber and Wilson 1986). Metonymy is distinguished
from metaphors, patterns of metonymy are given with ample examples and
cognitive motivation of using metonymy are also considered.
Chapter 12 discusses the normal and abnormal co- occurrences of words,
types of abnormality such as semantic clash, pleonasm along with some
patterns of co-occurrence of words and reason behind them.
Chapter 13 is solely devoted to motivation, aims and some problematic
aspects of lexical decomposition. Starting with the classical
componential semantic analysis given by Louis Hjelmslev, the author
comes to the most recent proposal for reductive analysis by Anna
Wierzbicka (1996) based on some universal primitive indispensable
notions which are reflections of innate semantic capacities. Another
approach to componential analysis based on lexical contrasts and
similarities within the lexicon of a language has also been discussed
following French semanticist Bernard Pottier (1973). At the end of the
chapter discussing some of the demerits of componential analysis an
alternative to this, a method of meaning postulates, has been proposed.
The last chapter of part II is a recent addition in the second edition
on a completely new way of looking at the meaning in lexical semantics
known as dynamic construal approach. This is the most interesting
chapter and discards the earlier notions of meaning taking a use-based
approach of meaning. The basic tenet of dynamic construal approach is
that it does not hold the view that words have a permanent meaning
assigned to them, rather meanings emerge in actual use as a result of a
process called construal using purport or conceptual content and some
conventional and contextual constraints as the raw materials. Meaning
in this sense is highly context-dependent. The author also discusses
some applications of dynamic construal approach in connection to sense
boundaries, sense relations and construal of oppositeness.
Part III consists of only one chapter on grammatical semantics where
meaning of major grammatical categories such as number, gender,
animacy, tense, aspect, voice and modality are discussed. This chapter
also includes a section on adjectives and their properties as well as
types; nature of quantifiers and negative polarity items.
Part IV consisting of three chapters is on some of the most important
topics of pragmatics such as reference and deixis, speech acts and
conversational implicatures. Chapter 16 opens up the discussion with
reference, taking Searle's (1969) position that it is not an inherent
property of an expression, but rather is located in speech act. The
discussion revolves around three kinds of reference: direct, indirect
and generic. The second part of the chapter is on deixis concentrating
on its five types- person, spatial, temporal, social and discourse
The next chapter is a small but complete account of Austin-Searle-based
speech act theory.
The last chapter is on Grice's theory of conversational implicatures
and some post-Gricean works in pragmatics. This includes the Politeness
principle of Leech and the Relevance theory of Sperber and Wilson. On
the whole, part IV serves as a concise introduction to some of the most
discussed issues and theories of pragmatics.
The book contains very useful exercises at the end of the chapters,
which makes it an extremely good textbook. The simple and transparent
language of the book also makes it enjoyable throughout.
The book is enriched by its coverage of lexical semantics (total 10
chapters) which is generally not found in an introductory general
semantics textbook. Lexical semantics had been a field of interest for
psycholinguists for a long time and recently computational linguists
have also become interested in this field, especially those working on
Wordnet. This book will prepare the aspiring students of those fields
with an elegant discussion on the main issues as well as the current
trends in the field of lexical semantics. The dynamic construal
approach which has given a new direction to lexical semantics reminds
one of the later Wittgenstein's (1958) work. This approach certainly
hopes to blur the boundary between semantics and pragmatics, and opens
up the possibility of viewing the meaning of a linguistic unit with
reference to a larger unit. The significance of paradigmatic relations
between the words, the issue related to the selection of speaker's
meaning is found to emerge as the prime concern in tomorrow's
semantics. Certainly, the cognitive theory of meaning will get a boost
with this introductory textbook.
Austin, J. L. (1962). How to Do Things with Words. Oxford: Clarendon
Grice, H. P. (1975). 'Logic and Conversation'. In Cole and Morgan
Jackendoff, Ray. (1983). Semantics and Cognition. Cambridge, Mass: MIT
Jackendoff, Ray. (1990). Semantic Structures. Cambridge, Mass: MIT
Lakoff, George and Johnson, Mark. (1980). Metaphors We Live By.
Chicago: Chicago University Press.
Leech, G. N. (1983). Principles of pragmatics. London: Longman.
Lyons, John. (1977) Semantics. 2 vols., Cambridge; Cambridge University
Pottier, Bernard. (1974). Linguistique generale. Paris: Klincksieck.
Rosch, E. H. (1973). 'Natural Categories', Cognitive Psychology 4, 328-
Searle, J. R. (1969). Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of
Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sperber, Dan and Wilson, Deirdre. (1986). Relevance: Communication and
Cognition. Oxford: Blackwell.
Wierzbicka, Anna. (1996). 'Explorations in semantic theory'. In Sebeok
Wittgenstein, L. (1972). Philosophical Investigations. trans. G. E. M.
Anscombe. Oxford: Blackwell.
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
The reviewer has done her Ph.D. on 'Syntax-Pragmatics Interface of
Bangla' from the Centre for Applied Linguistics and Translation
Studies, University of Hyderabad, India and currently is a guest
lecturer in the same centre. Her primary research interests include
syntax, pragmatics and their interface studies along with a broader
research area of cognitive linguistics. She works in a framework called
substantivist linguistics developed by Alan Ford, Rajendra Singh and