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Semantic structure in english

studies in functional and structural linguistics

in English
Jim Feist

John Benjamins Publishing Company


Semantic Structure in English

Studies in Functional and Structural Linguistics (SFSL)
issn 1385-7916
Taking the broadest and most general definitions of the terms functional and structural,
this series aims to present linguistic and interdisciplinary research that relates language
structure – at any level of analysis from phonology to discourse – to broader functional
considerations, whether cognitive, communicative, pragmatic or sociocultural. Preference

will be given to studies that focus on data from actual discourse, whether speech, writing
or other nonvocal medium.
The series was formerly known as Linguistic & Literary Studies in Eastern Europe (LLSEE).

For an overview of all books published in this series, please see

Founding Editor

Honorary Editors

John Odmark

Eva Hajičová

Charles University

Petr Sgall

Charles University

General Editors
Yishai Tobin

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Bob de Jonge

Groningen University

Editorial Board
Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald

James A. Matisoff

Joan L. Bybee

Jim Miller

Ellen Contini-Morava

Marianne Mithun

Nicholas Evans

Lawrence J. Raphael

Victor A. Friedman

Olga Mišeska Tomić

Anatoly Liberman

Olga T. Yokoyama

La Trobe University

University of New Mexico
University of Virginia

University of Melbourne
University of Chicago
University of Minnesota

Volume 73
Semantic Structure in English
by Jim Feist

University of California, Berkeley
Emeritus, University of Edinburgh
University of California, at Santa Barbara
CUNY and Adelphi University
Leiden University

Semantic Structure
in English
Jim Feist

John Benjamins Publishing Company



The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of
the╯American National Standard for Information Sciences – Permanence
of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ansi z39.48-1984.

doi 10.1075/sfsl.73
Cataloging-in-Publication Data available from Library of Congress
isbn 978 90 272 1583 3 (Hb)
isbn 978 90 272 6652 1 (e-book)

© 2016 – John Benjamins B.V.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, by print, photoprint, microfilm, or any
other means, without written permission from the publisher.
John Benjamins Publishing Company · https://benjamins.com

Table of contents

Chapter 1
1.1 Goals of the book  1
1.2Approach 1
1.3 Argument of the book  2
1.4 Plan of the book  5
Chapter 2
Semantic structures in the strata of English
2.1Introduction 7
2.2 Semantic structure in lexis  7
2.2.1 Paradigmatic lexical relations  7
2.2.2 Syntagmatic lexical relations  8
2.2.3 Words without paradigmatic or syntagmatic relations  9
2.3 Semantic structure in morphology  9
2.3.1 Semantic classes  9
2.3.2 Grammatical meaning  10
2.3.3 Dependency and modification  10
2.4 Semantic structure in syntax  10
2.4.1 Semantic structure of clauses: The figure   10
2.4.2 Semantic structure in groups  13
2.5 Semantic structure in phonology  14
2.5.1Introduction 14
2.5.2 Semantics of tonality   14
2.5.3 Semantics of tone  15
2.5.4 Semantics of tonicity  16
2.5.5 Semantics of rhythm  17
2.5.6 Semantic structure in phonetics  18
2.5.7 Discussion: Semantic structure in phonology  19
2.5.8 Conclusion: Semantics in the phonological stratum  21
2.6 Conclusion: Semantic structure in the strata of English  22



Semantic Structure in English

Chapter 3
Basis of semantic structure
3.1Introduction 25
3.2 The intention to speak  25
3.2.1 Main intention  25
3.2.2 Subordinate intentions  26
3.2.3Discussion  27
3.2.4Conclusion  27
3.3 Functions, as the formulation of intention  28
3.3.1Introduction 28
3.3.2 Expressive function  28
3.3.3 Interpersonal function  30
3.3.4 Ideational function  31
3.3.5Conclusion 31
3.4 Constraints on meaning  32
3.4.1Introduction 32
3.4.2 Linguistic constraints  32
3.4.3 Semiotic constraints   33
3.5 Conclusion: Basis of semantic structure  37
Chapter 4
Elements of semantic structure
4.1Introduction 39
4.2Preliminaries  39
4.2.1 Areas of meaning: Cognitive and linguistic meaning  39
4.2.2 Aspects of meaning  42
4.3 Dimensions of linguistic meaning  43
4.3.1Introduction 43
4.3.2 Quality dimension  43
4.3.3 Intensity dimension  43
4.3.4 Specificity dimension  44
4.3.5 Vagueness dimension  44
4.3.6 Basicness dimension  45
4.3.7 Viewpoint dimension  45
4.3.8 Boundedness dimension  45
4.3.9 Expectedness dimension  46
4.3.10 Salience dimension  47
4.4 Content meaning  47
4.4.1Introduction  47
4.4.2 Descriptive meaning  49
4.4.3 Affective meaning  52
4.4.4 Attitudinal meaning  56
4.4.5 Social meaning  58
4.4.6 Conclusion: Types of content meaning  59



Table of contents vii

4.5 Grammatical meaning  61
4.5.1Introduction 61
4.5.2 Types of grammatical meaning  64
4.5.3 Dimensions of grammatical meaning  65
4.5.4Discussion  66
4.5.5 Conclusion: Grammatical meaning  67
4.6 Semantic classes  68
4.6.1Introduction  68
4.6.2 Basic classes  69
4.6.3 Discussion: Semantic classes  71
4.6.4 Conclusion: Semantic classes  72
4.7 Uses of meaning  72
4.7.1Introduction 72
4.7.2 Marked use  73
4.7.3 Defining and descriptive uses  73
4.7.4 Literal and figurative uses  76
4.8 Discussion: Elements of semantic structure  77
4.9 Conclusion: Elements of semantic structure  77
Chapter 5
Network structure
5.1Introduction 79
5.1.1 General introduction  79
5.1.2 Introduction to networks  80
5.2 Structure within a word’s meaning  80
5.2.1Introduction 80
5.2.2 Word senses as a structure of meaning types  82
5.2.3 Structure within descriptive senses  87
5.2.4 Structure within non-descriptive senses  92
5.2.5 Discussion: Compositionality of sense structure  93
5.3 Structure among word senses  95
5.3.1Introduction 95
5.3.2 Sense relations: Synonymy  96
5.3.3 Other sense relations  98
5.3.4 Variation in sense structure  99
5.3.5 Conclusion: Structure among word senses  107
5.4 Structure of sublexical meaning  108
5.4.1Introduction 108
5.4.2Dimensions  109
5.4.3 Elements and their sublexical relations  110
5.4.4 Elements’ external relations  112
5.4.5 Discussion: Structure of sublexical meanings  113
5.4.6 Conclusion: Structure of sublexical meaning  115


viii Semantic Structure in English

5.5 Networks in other strata  116
5.5.1 Networks in clause syntax  116
5.5.2 Networks in group syntax  118
5.5.3 Lexical network: Cohesion  119
5.6 Discussion: Network structures in English  120
5.6.1 Whole utterances as networks  120
5.6.2 Networks in imaginative English  121
5.6.3 Relations among one word’s various senses: Polysemy  121
5.7 Conclusion: Network structures in English  123
Chapter 6
System structure
6.1Introduction 125
6.1.1 General introduction  125
6.1.2 Introduction to system structure  126
6.2 System processes  127
6.2.1 Introduction: Grammatical meanings  127
6.2.2 Preliminary process: Obtaining content for the main procedure  128
6.2.3 Processes applying within words and groups  129
6.2.4 Processes applying within figures and figure complexes:
6.2.5 Processes applying to a whole figure  135
6.2.6 Discussion: System processes  137
6.2.7 Conclusion: Grammatical meaning  138
6.3 System procedures: Using the processes  138
6.3.1Introduction  138
6.3.2 Constructing hierarchic structures  139
6.3.3 Constructing network structures in morphosyntax  140
6.4 Discussion: System structure  140
6.4.1 Details not yet explained  140
6.4.2 Signs used for grammatical meaning  141
6.4.3 Grammatical meanings in figurative and other uses  141
6.4.4 Grammatical meaning as backgrounded meaning  142
6.4.5 Other views of grammatical meaning  143
6.5 Conclusion: System structure  144
Chapter 7
Hierarchic structure (1): Figures
7.1Introduction 147
7.1.1 Introduction to hierarchies in semantics  147
7.1.2 Introduction to figures  148


Table of contents

7.2 Figure structures  149
7.2.1 Introduction: Processes  149
7.2.2 Material-Process structure  150
7.2.3 Mental-Process structures  151
7.2.4 Relational-Process structures  152
7.2.5 Discussion: Figure structures  153
7.2.6 Conclusion: Summary of figure structures  154
7.3Processes 155
7.3.1 Introduction: Processes  155
7.3.2 Internal structure of Processes  155
7.3.3 Syntagmatic structure of Processes  156
7.3.4 Semantic class: Process  158
7.3.5 Conclusion: Summary of Processes  159
7.4Participants 159
7.4.1Introduction 159
7.4.2 Internal structure  160
7.4.3 Syntagmatic structure  160
7.4.4 Participant as semantic class  161
7.4.5 Discussion: Participant roles and “semantic roles”  161
7.4.6 Conclusion: Summary of Participants  162
7.5Circumstances 162
7.5.1Introduction 162
7.5.2 Internal structure of Circumstances  163
7.5.3 Syntagmatic structure of Circumstances  164
7.5.4 Semantic class of Circumstances  166
7.5.5 Discussion: Circumstances  166
7.5.6 Conclusion: Summary of Circumstances  168
7.6 Relations among Participant, Process and Circumstance  168
7.7 Structures larger than the figure  169
7.8 Discussion: Figures  170
7.8.1 Co-ordination and linearity  170
7.8.2Constructions  171
7.8.3Ergativity 172
7.8.4 Compositionality in figures  174
7.9 Conclusion: Figures  175
Chapter 8
Hierarchies (2): Groups and senses
8.1Introduction 177
8.1.1 General introduction  177
8.1.2 Introduction to groups  177




Semantic Structure in English

8.2 Entity groups  178
8.2.1Introduction  178
8.2.2Classifiers  180
8.2.3Descriptors  189
8.2.4Epithets  193
8.2.5Reinforcers  200
8.2.6Determiners  203
8.2.7Postmodifiers  205
8.2.8Heads  206
8.2.9 Entity group as a unit  211
8.2.10 Discussion of Entity groups  217
8.3 Process groups  222
8.3.1Introduction 222
8.3.2 The Finite  223
8.3.3 Grammatical auxiliaries  224
8.3.4 Modal auxiliaries  225
8.3.5 Negative as modifier  226
8.3.6Premodifiers  226
8.3.7 Postposed particles as modifiers  231
8.3.8 Heads of Process groups  232
8.3.9 Process groups as units  236
8.3.10 Discussion: Process groups  237
8.3.11 Conclusion: Process groups  239
8.4 Property groups  239
8.4.1Introduction  239
8.4.2 Property groups with Property heads  240
8.4.3 Headless Property groups: Prepositional phrases  242
8.4.4 Conclusion: Property groups  244
8.5 Words and morphemes  245
8.5.1 Internal structure  245
8.5.2 Syntagmatic structure  247
8.5.3 Semantic classes: Content meaning  248
8.5.4 Grammatical meaning in words and morphemes  249
8.5.5 Discussion: Compositionality of word senses  249
8.6 Discussion: Hierarchic structure in groups and senses  250
8.6.1 Language constraints  250
8.6.2 Semantic change  251
8.7 Conclusion: Hierarchic structure in groups and senses  252

Table of contents

Chapter 9
Hierarchic structure (3): Information structure
9.1Introduction 255
9.1.1 General introduction  255
9.1.2 Introduction to information structure  255
9.2 Relevance structure  258
9.2.1Introduction  258
9.2.2 Reporting structure  260
9.2.3 Loose structures  261
9.2.4 Topic-Comment structure  262
9.2.5 Conclusion: Relevance structure  265
9.3 Orientation structure: “Theme”  266
9.3.1Introduction 266
9.3.2 Classes of Theme  267
9.3.3 Themes occurring at ranks other than the figure  269
9.3.4 Discussion: Orientation structure  270
9.3.5 Conclusion: Orientation structure  271
9.4 Salience structure: Rheme  272
9.4.1Introduction  272
9.4.2 Salience within an information item  273
9.4.3 Salience of items within an information unit: Rhematic structure  276
9.4.4 Salience of information units in larger units  279
9.4.5 Conclusion: Salience structure  281
9.5 Discussion: Information structure  282
9.5.1 Relation of information structure to the bases and elements

of language  282
9.5.2Compositionality  283
9.5.3Case  284
9.5.4Cohesion  286
9.6 Conclusion: Information structure  287
9.6.1Summary  287
9.6.2 Conclusions drawn  288
Chapter 10
Other structures
10.1Introduction  291
10.2 Semantic units with indeterminate structure  291
10.2.1Introduction  291
10.2.2 Ideational function  292
10.2.3 Interpersonal function  292
10.2.4 Expressive function  294



xii Semantic Structure in English

10.3 Semantic units with multifunctional structure  295
10.3.1Introduction  295
10.3.2Holophrases  295
10.3.3Ideophones  299
10.3.4 Discussion: Semantic units with multifunctional structure  300
10.3.5 Conclusion: Semantic units with multifunctional structure  301
10.4 Semantic units with field structure  301
10.5 Semantic units with wave structure  304
10.5.1Introduction  304
10.5.2 Wave structure in information  304
10.5.3 Wave structure in aesthetics and emotion  306
10.5.4 Conclusion: Wave structure  306
10.6 Discussion: Other structures  307
10.7 Conclusion: Other structures  307
Chapter 11
Realisation (1): Interpersonal functions
11.1Introduction  309
11.1.1 General introduction  309
11.1.2 Introduction to realisation  310
11.2 Realising the Expressive function  312
11.2.1Introduction  312
11.2.2 Holistic realisation of Expression  312
11.2.3 Phonological realisation of Expression  313
11.2.4 Phonetic realisation of Expression  314
11.2.5 Lexical realisation of Expression  315
11.2.6 Conclusion: Realisation of Expression  315
11.3 Realising emotion and attitude  316
11.3.1Introduction  316
11.3.2 Conveying emotion by phonology and phonetics  316
11.3.3 Conveying emotion by lexis and syntax  317
11.3.4 Conveying attitude  318
11.3.5 Conclusion: Conveying emotion and attitude  319
11.4 Establishing personal and social relations  319
11.4.1 Establishing personal relations  319
11.4.2 Establishing social relations and social status  320
11.4.3 Discussion: Personal and social relations  320
11.4.4 Conclusion: Personal and social relations  321
11.5 Guiding hearers’ use of meaning  321
11.5.1 Introduction: Realisation of grammatical meaning  321
11.5.2 Guiding hearers’ overt response  322
11.5.3 Guiding hearers to syntagmatic structure  323
11.5.4 Guiding hearers to information structure  324


Table of contents xiii

11.5.5 Guiding the hearer’s attitude to content: Irrealis  330
11.5.6 Discussion: Guiding hearers  332
11.5.7 Conclusion: Guiding hearers  333
11.6 Provoking imaginative responses  333
11.6.1Introduction  333
11.6.2 How imaginative responses are provoked  334
11.6.3 Discussion: Provoking imaginative responses  337
11.6.4 Conclusion: Provoking imaginative responses  337
11.7 Discussion: Realisation of interpersonal meanings  338
11.8 Conclusion: Realisation of interpersonal functions  339
Chapter 12
Realisation (2): Ideational function
12.1Introduction  341
12.1.1 General introduction  341
12.1.2 Introduction to ideational realisation  341
12.2 From intentions to words  343
12.2.1Introduction  343
12.2.2 Unmarked realisation into words  344
12.2.3 Marked realisation into words  348
12.2.4 Conclusion: From intentions to words  349
12.3 Syntacticisation (1): From words to groups  350
12.3.1Introduction  350
12.3.2 Grouping the words  351
12.3.3 Structuring the group  352
12.3.4 Ordering the group  356
12.3.5 Signalling the group structure  357
12.3.6 Discussion: Syntacticisation into groups  360
12.3.7 Conclusion: Syntacticisation into groups  360
12.4 Syntacticisation (2): From groups to clauses  361
12.4.1Introduction  361
12.4.2 Structuring the units  361
12.4.3 Ordering clause units  365
12.4.4 Signalling the structure  366
12.4.5 Conclusion: Syntacticisation into clauses  367
12.4.6 Grouping figures in a clause complex  367
12.5 Physical realisation  368
12.5.1Introduction  368
12.5.2 Realisation in sound  369
12.5.3 Realisation in writing  371
12.6 Discussion: Realisation of ideational function  372
12.6.1 How we conceptualise realisation  372
12.6.2 Incongruent realisation: Grammatical metaphor  372


xiv Semantic Structure in English

12.6.3Construal  373
12.6.4Statives  373
12.6.5 Domains offering alternative realisation  374
12.6.6 Comparison between morphosyntactic layers  376
12.7 Conclusion: Realisation of ideational meaning  376
12.8 Conclusion: Both forms of meaning realisation in English  378
12.8.1 Relation between the two forms of realisation  378
12.8.2 Sequence of steps  380
12.8.3 Realisation strategies  381
12.8.4 Adequacy of realisation as a semantic concept  382
12.8.5 Constraints on realisation  383
12.8.6 Looking forward  384
Chapter 13
13.1Compositionality  385
13.1.1Introduction  385
13.1.2 Full compositionality  386
13.1.3 Limited compositionality  387
13.2 Word classes  388
13.2.1Introduction  388
13.2.2 Needlessness and unworkability  388
13.2.3 Lack of explanatory power  389
13.2.4Support  391
13.2.5Discussion  392
13.2.6Conclusion  393
13.3Prototypes  393
13.3.1Introduction  393
13.3.2 Needlessness of prototype theory in English grammar  394
13.3.3 Unworkability of prototypes in grammar  395
13.3.4 Confusions in acceptance of prototypes  395
13.3.5 Conclusion: Prototypes  398
13.4Lexicon  399
13.5Systematisation  401
13.6 Minor topics for discussion  402
13.6.1Semiotics  402
13.6.2 Distinction between descriptive and referential use  402
13.6.3 Distinction between grammatical and content meaning  403
13.6.4 Distinction between cognitive and linguistic areas of meaning  403
13.6.5 Formalisation of linguistic description  404
13.6.6 Concept of classes  404
13.6.7 Philosophical tradition in linguistics  405

Table of contents

Chapter 14
14.1Introduction  407
14.2 Nature of meaning  407
14.2.1Introduction  407
14.2.2 Symptomatic meaning  408
14.2.3 Semiotic meaning  409
14.3 Nature of semantic structure  410
14.3.1Introduction  410
14.3.2 Analytical view of semantic structure (1): Structures of units  410
14.3.3 Analytical view of semantic structure (2): Structures in a medium  412
14.3.4 Functional view of semantic structure  412
14.3.5 Conclusion: Nature of semantic structure  413
14.4 Stratification of the semantic structure  413
14.4.1 Introduction  413
14.4.2 Semantics  414
14.4.3 Lexical items  414
14.4.4 Morphology  415
14.4.5 Morphosyntax  415
14.4.6 Information structure  419
14.4.7 Phonology and graphology  419
14.4.8 Phonetics  421
14.4.9 Discussion: Stratification  422
14.4.10 Conclusion: Stratification  422
14.5 Contribution to semantics  425
14.6 Further research  425


Chapter 1



Goals of the book

The primary goal of this book is to set out the semantic structure of English.
“Semantic” here is contrasted with “syntactic” and “phonological”, and also with
“pragmatic” (concerned with “meaning” which relies on social conventions such as
the Gricean maxims, and on inferences from them). “Semantics” means “to do with
studying what is expressed in language”, which includes “meaning” and “significance”;
that meaning of the term will be refined later in the book. It is not the study of propositional or truth-conditional meaning alone, but the study of significance and meanings that are “coded” in linguistic items and structures, be they truth-conditional or
not (Hansen 2012, p. 233). “Structure” is also taken widely, having a range of applications, as it does in syntax. In particular, it includes the abstract sense in which social
structure, for example, is thought of as consisting of class and other relationships; and
it includes the more concrete sense in which we may itemise individual structures.
The study of semantic structure is to be linguistic. That will exclude sociolinguistics, conversation analysis, and discourse analysis, and paralinguistic features (e.g.
volume, tone of voice, speed and voice quality). The book also excludes “dynamic”
semantics, dealing with the building of a whole text, utterance by utterance, as in
Discourse Representation Theory; see Kamp and Reyle (2011), for instance. Further,
the study will be limited to English, although my knowledge of French and my reading about other languages indicates that what is true of English semantic structure is
true widely.
Researching this book has led me to change my understanding of language, particularly in how it carries meaning, and in how meaning is structured in expression.
A secondary goal of the book is therefore to persuade readers to adjust their understanding if necessary – crucially, perhaps, in how they understand “semantics”
and “syntax”.

Approach to language. The book will treat language as it exists in use; meaning will be
taken as contextual, and the argument will be empirical, citing utterances as evidence.
Language is assumed to be functional: each utterance is presumed to have a cognitive, personal or social function, which may be deliberate or only semiconscious; and


Semantic Structure in English

language itself is seen as functional in the evolutionary sense of being adapted to a
beneficial result, representation of knowledge being one of the functions – only one
of them. Language is also seen as functional in the further sense that it involves operations, with “input” of some sort, and the “output” of speaker utterances or hearer
The approach to language is also semiotic, rather than logical (to do with thinking). That seems necessary to deciding what “meaning” is, since conceptions of it
vary widely. The fundamental sense of “meaning”, according to the Shorter Oxford
English Dictionary (“SOED” hereafter), entails being expressed “by a sentence, word,
dream, symbol…”; that is, meaning is the meaning of a sign. (I have adopted in my
own thinking, as a rule of thumb, the maxim, “No sign, no meaning”.) Further, we
need to be conscious of the nature of linguistic signs; we should not assume that all
signs are symbols, giving full expression or representation of the meaning; the SOED
definition quoted just above says, more fully, that meaning is “…expressed or indicated by a sentence…”; signs may be mere indications of the meaning. Finally, the
semiotic approach reminds us that meaning in its broad sense may include intention;
the SOED definition of the fundamental meaning of “mean” as a verb reads, “Have as
one’s purpose or intention…”.
Approach to studying language. The aim of studying language is taken here to be not
only description but explanation. By analogy, it may be explanatory in studying the
speech organs to consider not only their anatomy, but their function, their mode of
operation, and their development. Similarly, in studying the semantic structure of
speech, it may be explanatory to call on psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics and development studies – of both language itself and children’s use of it. The explanation
should, moreover, be comprehensive – complete.
Because there is no consensus on the nature of semantics, we should be particularly careful of assumptions – for example, the incompatible assumptions made by the
various approaches listed by Koptjevskaya-Tamm (2012), in which meaning is either
(1) decomposable, descriptive and absolute, or (2) non-composable and denotational,
or (3) always associated with a certain construction.
I have accordingly tried to avoid commitment to particular theories and systems
of description. The approach taken is in fact close to Systemic Functional Grammar in
syntax, as in Halliday (2014), and to Cruse (2011) in semantics. Readers who distinguish between semasiological and onomasiological approaches should note that the
approach here is semasiological – concerned with how language carries meaning, not
with what words assigned to particular meanings.


Argument of the book

Content of the argument. The nature of syntactic structure will be familiar to readers,
perhaps as a hierarchy represented in tree diagrams, or as dependency structures. The

Chapter 1.  Introduction

nature of phonological structure is also clear, with a hierarchy of units from intonation groups down through metrical feet to syllables and phonemes. But there is, to
my knowledge, no overall structure of semantics presented in the linguistic literature.
Three uses of “semantic structure” may be noted. To Langacker, it is conceptual structure, without any distinction between concepts and meaning (1987, p. 99);
there is an “unequivocal identification of meaning with concepts”( 2005, p. 164); other
cognitive linguists take much the same view; so does Jackendoff (1972). Croft (2001,
pp. 19–21 in particular) refers to both “semantic structure” and “semantic structures”
in constructions; but such structure is not distinguished from the syntactic structure
which determines the construction; semantics is in effect simply conceptual for him,
also. In also these instances, “semantic structure” is conceptual relations, such as those
between entities and properties predicated of them, or those of a “semantic field”, i.e. a
group of concepts or things in the same cognitive domain. Evans (2009) sees semantic
structure as consisting of cognitive representations which are specialised for use in
language (2009, p. 42), but does not explain what kind of structure it is, or what specific structures there are; the only distinctions he gives are between concepts such as
MATRIX, DURATION, and EVENT, which are not specialised for language.
Moreover, those discussions of semantic structure do not even include the semantic structure of the relationships among synonyms, antonyms and so on. (Those
relations are not usually thought of as semantic structure, but as “lexical relations”,
for example.) We need an account that integrates those elements into a comprehensive structure, and provides a rationale for the integration. The main argument of the
book, then, is that semantics in English does have structure, and the substance of the
book is an exposition of what that structure is.
Form of the argument. Since there is no generally accepted structure or set of data, the
argument here cannot be simply deductive, or inductive. Instead, it will work from
accepted specific understandings, such as the fact that the relation of modifier to head
is semantic as well as syntactic, and from data introduced for the purpose. It will then
work by inference and generalisation from those bases, using other concepts, used in
some fields or approaches to linguistics but not used universally. Although the conclusions may be new, and in some cases contrary to conventional views, it is intended
that both the starting points and the argument from them be all conventional and
Development of the argument. The argument of the book begins, then, from the relations among synonyms and antonyms. Clearly, they are often related by having the
same conceptual meaning, or by being distinguished by their concepts. However, the
differences are sometimes not conceptual; famous and notorious, for example, both
denote the concept, ‘well-known’; they differ only in that they express different attitudes to being well known – favourable and unfavourable. Words like lovely and
horrible generally have no conceptual meaning, but are meaningful: we must allow
for emotive meaning. Those three forms of meaning – conceptual, attitudinal and
emotive – may be grouped as content meanings; but some meaningful words have no



Semantic Structure in English

content, as with utter and sheer, in “utter rubbish” and “sheer nonsense”. They intensify the word they modify; that is certainly their significance, although it may not be
what we usually call “meaning”; since it is significance, semantics must account for it.
Those words are “grammatical items” or “functional items”; they contrast with “content items”; since the latter have content “meaning”, can we not say that the former
have “grammatical meaning”? In the first stage of the argument, then, we see a structure of types of meaning; and simple, relatively obvious observations lead naturally
to an unfamiliar, and perhaps uncomfortable, conclusion – that there is such a thing
as grammatical meaning (with the relation of meaning to function, and of the connection between grammatical relations and grammatical meaning yet to be clarified).
Further reflection leads to the familiar fact that word meanings have an internal
structure, sometimes thought of as definitions, as in dictionaries, and sometimes as
lists of features, as when the meaning of stallion is represented as HORSE + ADULT +
MALE. Those conceptual elements are used in many words, and are related in various
ways; they must be seen as constituting a network, which has nodes with many links
each. Networks are a major semantic structure in English.
The relation between syntax and semantics has been controversial, but there is
now general agreement that the relation between them is very close, and approximates interdependence. There is a semantic structure “underlying” the syntax, or
“embodied” by it, or “interpreted” from it; its relations are not those of Subject, verb
and Object, but must parallel them, perhaps as “semantic roles”. However we describe
the elements of the structure, it must have the same form as the syntactic structure,
namely a hierarchy – which constitutes a second major semantic structure in English.
It is now widely agreed that English has “information structure” or “information
packaging”; but its place in grammar is not agreed. However, it seems to be clearly a
matter of content rather than of syntax; we conclude that it either is semantic, or has
an important relation to semantics. Our account of semantic structure must find a
place for it.
That provides a very brief outline of the argument of the book. It begins, I believe,
from familiar and accepted premises; it will end with some conclusions that will be
similarly unsurprising, but with some others that are likely to seem controversial or
even strange. That is particularly because of detail which has been passed over so far.
The following questions to be answered will give the flavour of the detail. What is
the semantic significance of being a Subject? In what different ways can the meaning
of an adjective modify the meaning of its head word? If we allow grammatical meaning, what is its nature, and what is its structure? Can semantics resolve the apparently
syntactic arguments about the difference between Complements and Adjuncts, for
example? Expression of meaning in words is sometimes called “coding”, but what does
it entail beyond a one-to-one conversion, like coding the letter S into Morse code as
dots and dashes? The substance of the book lies in such detail, rather than in the argument outlined above.

Chapter 1.  Introduction

The aim of the book, then, is to set out an orderly explanation of the structure
of meaning in English, with those and other questions resolved, and comprehensive
enough to find a place for all that is valid in present semantic thinking.


Plan of the book

Outline. The book has been planned to make the argument easy to follow, and to be
persuasive. For example, unfamiliar concepts are presented through examples and
through use, with abstract definition delayed until the concept is clear. The important
generalisations are given after the empirical detail on which they are based, rather
than being given first, without context.
Thus, Chapter 2 surveys familiar knowledge of English, looking for relatively obvious instances of semantic structure, building up some of the concepts and technical
terms that will be used throughout later chapters, and – perhaps most important –
bringing out phenomena that need explanation through semantic structure.
Chapters 3 and 4 formalise the concepts introduced in Chapter 2, and add others,
building the foundation for the remainder of the book. Chapter 3 deals with the basis
of semantic structure in the intentions from which meaning rises, and in the functions which it serves. Chapter 4 outlines the elements from which semantic structure
is built, such as the types of meaning (see above), conceptual elements of meaning,
and the dimensions which define them. Chapter 5 discusses the network structure
built up by those elements and dimensions, chiefly in senses and their relations.
Chapter 6 explains the processes which restructure the elements of the network into
the other main semantic structure, the hierarchy which parallels the syntactic hierarchy. Chapters 7 and 8 set out the nature of that hierarchic structure, from the clause
level down to the level of senses and their constituents. Chapter 9 sets out the nature
of information structure, similarly. Chapter 10 deals with other, less used structures.
That completes the analytical explanation of semantic structure; it is complemented
in Chapters 11 and 12 by a discussion of the structure of realisation; that is, the way
in which specific messages are formulated out of the vast multi-dimensional network
of potential meaning, formed into words, organised into utterances, and delivered
in speech or writing. Chapter 13 discusses implications from the previous chapters
which are relevant to our understanding of linguistics, but outside the narrow scope
of the book. Chapter 14 summarises and draws conclusions.
Conventions observed. Concepts are printed in SMALL CAPITALS. Meanings are printed
in single quotation marks – ‘……’. Words and phrases being discussed as utterances
are printed in double quotation marks – “……” – whereas words being discussed as
words in the language are printed in italics. That avoids the clumsiness of continually
saying “the word ‘table’” and “the meaning ‘table’,” but can cause its own difficulty
when the reader must keep in mind that “Table is…” (i.e. the word is…) does not
mean the same as “ ‘Table’ is…” (i.e. the meaning is…). Initial capitals are used where



Semantic Structure in English

needed to distinguish technical from general terms, as in “The Subject of the sentence…” and “….a subject for investigation”.
Quoted utterances are put on a new line as numbered examples when they are to
be given some discussion, but are otherwise run into the text.

Chapter 2

Semantic structures in the strata of English

Purpose and approach of the chapter. Like Chapter 1, this chapter prepares for the rest
of the book. It examines the strata of English, identifying some semantic structures
to be described fully later, identifying structural and conceptual elements which will
aid that description, and noting some things that need further explanation and some
that have no familiar explanation at all. The approach is exploratory, looking for representative instances, leaving comprehensive treatment to later chapters. The purpose
is thus to persuade readers fully that the book is needed, and to indicate what they
can expect in the following chapters. Phonology has been given more space than the
other strata, because its semantic significance is much less known, and to allow later
chapters to draw on its explanations.
Arrangement. The remaining sections deal in turn with the strata of lexis, morphology, syntax, and phonology, in relation to semantics. There is no developing argument;
rather, points are made independently, and the conclusion will be general.


Semantic structure in lexis
Paradigmatic lexical relations

We begin the study of semantic structure in lexis by considering the words that fit into
paradigms of alternatives – sets of synonyms, antonyms and so on. Comparing closely
related lexical items such as sob, whimper, weep, keen, and blubber shows that word
meanings seem to be built up from elements. For example, all those words include ‘to
manifest pain, misery or grief ’ (SOED, on weep); sob adds the element ‘convulsively’,
and whimper adds ‘feebly’ and ‘intermittently’. That analysis shows that weep has a
general sense, and that the other senses are more specific. That is a general pattern;
senses differ on the dimension of “generality” or “specificity”. Dimensions will be important in setting out semantic structure.
Those conceptual elements do not exhaust the differences between synonyms,
however. We use weep in formal contexts, and blub and blubber in informal ones, in my
judgement at least – SOED does not specify their usage. That is part of the significance
of the words, though it may not feel natural to say that it is part of their “meaning”.


Semantic Structure in English

We use whimper and blubber to convey disapproval: attitudinal “meaning” is another
aspect of words’ significance. Finally, to keen has Irish “connotations”, which must be
accounted for somewhere in our description of meaning. Among other relations, each
of the synonyms considered has its antonyms; and weep is a hyponym for the others.
The book will argue that these forms of significance are indeed part of meaning, and
will be referred to as “types” of meaning.
The types and dimensions of meaning make “planes” on which word senses are
related, additional to the conceptual elements. The natural term for such for such a set
of patterns on several planes is “network”, which is one of the fundamental semantic
structures of English.


Syntagmatic lexical relations Grammatical and content items
When we compare words in their syntagmatic arrangement, a more familiar distinction quickly arises, the distinction between “lexical” or “content” words and morphemes, and “functional” or “grammatical” ones. It is not obvious whether that is a
semantic contrast, or a contrast between semantics and grammar. Nor is its nature
made clear in the literature: lexical and grammatical items are said to constitute classes, but the classes overlap, with many words belonging in both. The book will distinguish between content meaning and grammatical meaning, as types of meaning. They
need thorough examination; for example, prepositions and conjunctions link chunks
of content, so is grammatical meaning structural? What do content meaning and
grammatical meaning have in common? It will be argued that grammatical meaning
is fundamental to semantic structure. Semantic classes
If we consider repeating patterns, as in such utterances as “Roses are red; violets are
blue; sugar is sweet, and so are you”, it seems obvious that meanings belong to semantic classes – of “entities” (‘roses’, ‘violets’, ‘sugar’) and “properties” (‘red’, ‘blue’, ‘sweet’).
“Events” (‘ran’, ‘broke’, ‘fell’) are an obvious addition. Is and are are not so straightforward – do we need to posit a relationship class? Semantic classes and cognitive classes
Problems emerge very quickly, however. Relationships are so different from the members of the other three classes, which are clearly based on the way we experience the
world directly, that we must enquire whether the classification is valid. Second, it
seems doubtful that there should be semantic classes of kinds of things, such as flowers, grasses, weeds and so on; those are horticultural classes, and part of our knowledge of the world, not of grammar; so we need to resolve the nature of being semantic,
including the relation between the linguistic (e.g. semantic) and cognitive (e.g. horticultural). Since the classes of things, properties and so on support the classes of

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