Semantic theories

Trimis la data: 2010-03-21
Materia: Engleza
Nivel: Facultate
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Language is not only an instrument of communication. It is far more than this - it is the means by which we interpret our environment, by which we classify or "conceptualize" our experiences, by which we are able to impose structure on reality, so as to use what we have observed for present and future learning and understanding. Leech considers language, in its semantic aspect, as a conceptual system. Not as a closed, rigid, conceptual system which tyrannizes over the thought processes of its users, but as an open-ended conceptual system, one which "leaks", in the sense that it allows us to transcend its limitations by various types of semantic creativity.

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The first question which arises in whether language is a single conceptual system, or whether there are as many conceptual systems as there are languages. Although much of present-day thinking has tended to hypothesize a universal conceptual framework which is common to all human language, common observation shows that languages differ in the way they classify experience. A classic instance of this is the semantics of colour words.

English (according to Berlin and Kay, Basic Color Terms, 1969) has a range of eleven primary colour terms (black, white, red, green, yellow, blue, brown, purple, pink, orange and grey), whereas the Philipine language of Hanunoo (according to Conklein, Hanunoo Colour Categories, 1955) makes do with four.

Conceptual boundaries often vary from language to language. Languages have a tendency to impose structure upon the real world by treating some distinctions as crucial, and ignoring others. The way a language classifies things is sometimes blatantly man-centred. Semantic relativism and semantic universals are two conflicting points of view in relation to meaning. Both theses concern the relation between the structure of language and the structure of the universe.

They represent in fact two different ways of interpreting the relation between the universe, as experienced by man, and language as a tool of expressing that experience. Ever since ancient times it has been maintained that the structure of language reflects more or less directly the structure of the Universe as well as the universal structure of the human mind (Mounin, 1963: 41). This was taken to be a precondition of interlingual communication as well as of the act of translation.

In terms of Hjelmslevian distinction between substance and form of the content, it was agreed that there may be different ways of segmenting substance, and an even richer variety in its form but the content itself, the world of experience remains basically the same. The axiomatic character of the statement which relates the structure of language to the structure of the universe as reflected in man's mind, ceases to be commonly agreed upon when one begins to consider the nature of this relationship.

Wilhelm von Humboldt in the first half of the 19th century, and many philosophers and linguists after him, assigned language a much more active role, regarding it not as a passive carrier of thought, but, in a very direct way as a moulder of it. In their opinion, language imposes upon thought its own system of distinctions, its own analysis of objective reality.

These ideas remained unheeded by linguists until the advent of European structuralism. The key idea in Saussurean linguistics namely that language signs have no meaning or "value" outside the system to which they belonged, fits perfectly the principle of linguistic relativism. Trier and particularly Hjelmslev consider that each language structures reality in its own way and by doing so, creates an image of reality which is not a direct copy of it.

Language is the result of the imposition of same form upon an underlying substance.Quite independently, and emerging mainly from current observation in linguistic anthropological research on Amerindian languages, conducted by Fr. Boas, similar ideas were expressed by E. Sapir and B. L. Worf in America. Linguistic determinism has come to be often referred to as the Sapir-Worf hypothesis. For Sapir (1921) and Worf (1956) objective reality is an undifferentiated continuum which is segmented by each language in a different way.

We obtain a vision of nature, of reality which is by and large pre-determined by our mother tongue. Each language is a vast system of structures, different from that of others in which are ordered culturally all forms and categories by means of which the individual not only communicates but also analyzes nature, grasps or neglects a given phenomenon or relation, in means of which he molds his manner of thinking and by means of which he builds up the entire edifice of his knowledge of the world.
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