THE MEANING OF A WORD

THE MEANING OF A WORD

 

Criterial and excluded traits can be diagnosed by means of entailment relations, between sentences: for instance, “animal” is a criteria trait of dog because It’ a dog entails It’s an animal; “fish” is an excluded trait of dog because It’s a dog entails It’s not a fish.

This utilizes the normality or abnormality of sentences of the form P, but Q.  for instance: 

It’s a dog, but it can bark. (odd)

It’s a dog, but it can’t bark.  (normal)

The sort of oddness in above sentence may be termed “expressive paradox”, since the expressive meaning carried by ‘but’ is inappropriate deployed.

Although we have distinguished five discrete statuses, it must be borne in mind that the reality being described is a continuum – any discreteness is an artifact of the definitions.  This is true even within the statuses that we have chosen to define by means of entailment.  Probably most speakers of English would accept both of the following entailments:

                It’s a triangle  entails It has three angles.

                Lesley is Arthur’s mother  entails Leslie is female.

But;

                It’s a bird does not entail It is adapted for flight.

(There are birds such as the ostrich and the kiwi which are not adapted for flight)

                It is a dog  does not entail It has four legs

(A dog may have a birth abnormality, or may lose a leg in an accident).

Semantic traits whose absence is regarded as a defect will be called canonical traits.  Canonical traits can be distinguished from non-canonical expected traits in a number of ways:

                ? The typical dog has four legs.

                ?Dogs typically have four legs.

                The typical bird is adapted for flight.

                Birds are typically adapted for flight.

                ? A dog that does not have four legs is not necessarily defective.

                A bird that cannot fly is not necessarily defective.

                ? What kinds of dog have only three legs?

                What kinds of bird are not adapted fro flight?

 

Canonical traits are not only to be found denoting living things.  Likewise, a command enjoining some action which was logically impossible, or which had already been carried out, or a lie that through ignorance on the part of the perpetrator turned out to be objectively true, can both be considered defective through the lack of a canonical trait.

The disadvantages of the adaptation of the contextual approach to word-meaning outlined:

1.        Any attempt to draw a line between the meaning of a word and ‘encyclopaedic’ facts concerning the extra-linguistic referents of the word would be quite arbitrary.

2.        There is no motivation for isolating ‘pragmatic meaning’ as a separate domain of lexical meaning.

 

(Lexical Semantics.  D.A. Cruse. Cambridge University Press. 1986)

About nuniktriyani

I'm an English teacher at Gandhi School, Ancol 😘
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