Finish Line

As we wind up the semester, it is natural to reflect back on the course description for ‘lexical semantics’:

“Lexical Semantics,” informally speaking, is the study of the meaning of words. Both “meaning” and “word” are actually extremely challenging concepts to understand, so much of the class will be devoted to unpacking these two concepts. In the process, we will overview various dimensions of meaning, how meaning is structured within words, and, conversely, how the context in which a word occurs interacts with its internal meaning. We will also consider relationships that exist among words and among elements out of which words are composed.

Our course description raises many questions, and I look forward to your attempts to answer them . . .

• What are problems with the concept “word,” and why is it not used as a technical term in and of itself?
• How do we analyze the internal contents of words?
• How is the meaning of a word represented?
• What are some properties about the way the meaning of words is represented?
• How do we explain how words are related to one another?
• What do we know when we know a word, in addition to its meaning?
• What do we have to learn when we learn a word? What properties of words don’t we learn?
• What other information is there besides information provided by the meaning of the words we use?

I will be constructing our final test this week, partially in response to your feedback in this blog space. The test will contain three types of questions. Part I will be in an objective format. I’m interested in your understanding of concepts like “listeme,” “function,” “content,” “argument,” “semantic feature,” “synonymy,” “antonymy,” “hyponymy,” “semantic rule as opposed to syntactic rule,” and the relationship of word meaning to overall information. Here is a sample question:

Parker and Riley (Linguistics for Non-Linguists) point out in their textbook that “linguists have been unable to agree on exactly how many and which features constitute the universal set of semantic properties.” Which of the following features for the word “dog” looks most problematic, from the perspective of the argument over what constitutes a member in the universal set of features. That is, which of the following features would most likely not be a member of the set of semantic features we are born with?

1. [-human] 2. [+canine] 3. [+living] 4. [+countable]

Part II will concern your ability to problem solve, to carry out a linguistic analysis. I might ask you to look at a set of data, evaluate generalizations about the data, and then to test the generalizations against additional data, somewhat in the spirit of our work comparing Harley’s and Plag’s analysis of affixation.

Finally, part III of the test will be a question that you yourself write and answer in essay format. This question should serve as a platform for you to reveal an important theme in our course. The ensuing treatment of the theme should involve both a conceptual and technical dimension. You should connect to the class discussion, but you should also touch upon material in the reading that we haven’t discussed in class or in our blog space. You should reveal some ability to use the technicalities of the discipline and to open new ground, while making some sense out of it.

Plan on approximately 20 minutes for each part. Bring paper to class, but you will need to leave your reference material and class notes at home. Be prepared, you don’t want the wheels to come off ’round the final curve!