Propositions, [Nice1951] 046-0070



(X) semantics t Term and 1 omaln. The term semantics la used toy many linguists to denote exclusively the "substance” of ling 1stic content as opposed to Its form, or is even confined to facts of In parole. Its pic© in linguistics would then toe that of an auxiliary science such as phonetics# This would remain a mere question of terminology If there were any . well-recoraised term answering to phonemic« in the way that semantics is r"-Ae to answer to phonetics, to ©note the science a ; linguistic content as established on principles of relevance analogous to those applied in phono- louar* ut there la no such term# Such attempts as those to distinguish between semasiology and semantics have generally been mad© toy scholars not yet familiar with newer structural principles and have In any case had little influence on current usage# Now when a "case vide" $*23 XøJTik W $# $#■ £ or Ik$$* onX'!^' too likely to be filled toy some already existing notion which does not belong here at all. We find expllclty 1 the works of some scholars, implicitly In those of many ore, the equation * phonematics*phonetics - morphology* semantics • This unhappy compartsm is a fruitful source of error, not least with linguists who would toe the last to recognise the equation as re- presenting thier view. Instances could I« cited from >/orks proceeding rom any of the principle linguistic schools# An independent linguistic branch dealing with the semantics of la lan^ue 'remains therefore to T® founded. The jueatlons with xrliich it will toe concerned are at present dealt with tinder the heading of morphology or dismissed as mere affairs of "substance", so far os they have even re e®ived at t ention• The missing discipline will bear the sore relation to morphology on the one side as phonematics does on the other. Morphology, so far from toeing irrelevant, will have a decisive role in the Identification of units {the same role that it plays, though often without explicit recognition, in the If ©ratification of phonemat 1c units). But hist as the phoneantlc a/stem, once established in conformity with the principles of relevance, can be treated independently of morphology, so also can the "semematic" system, without prejudice to the solidarity of the dif- ferent levels* It Is this system that semantics is used for below.

(2) ©mantles and orphology. Morphological categories are not, as such, a fit o Meet for soman- tic analysis, ‘io '.set up a semantic scheme for the propositions or the tenses of a language, taken in isolation, is much 111® setting up a phonemic system for these categories, apart from the general phonemic system of the language concerned. The logical absurdity is in tooth cases the -same. This is not to say hat morphology Is Irrelevant to semantics. orphe* mic Certify is a valuable clue to the discovery of su logical Identities beneath superficially different meanings, ut is never a proof that there is, or ever was, such an identity.


3/51 The assumption of such Identities way hinder that of others* for Instance it is conceivable that one meaning of a preposition might be identical with one meaning of a verbal aspect, when all the differences automatically consequent on the other units In the com1lnotions eoncer- ned were accounted for* The same semantic units may occur* like the same phonemes_in a great variety d^rpr^wloglcal' calories. 3?f we berln be attributing to each category Its am single and unique role, the way to the discovery of 3uch i entities is e fectively closed* This la the error of pa rad Igmat le at omisr. * It is usually accompanied by the error of syntagmatlc ato lam, the assumption that the meaning of a syntagm {after all contextual accidents have been deducted) is ne- cessarily accounted for completely by the meanings of the individual morphemes and of their sequence. It is forgotten that the method of commutation, which serves to demonstrate a relevant distinction of meaning, cannot serve to localise this distinction at one point of the chain* That the chain cannot be split up Into a series of discrete units follows from a form of cumul seldom or never mentioned under that heading* Cumul is understood to consist of indivisible algnlfinnta answering to divisible signifies. This presents no difficulty. *ut the position is usually more complex * we have rather a morpheme A In whic i the semantic units al, a2 etc, may be localised, a morpheme B with units bl, b2 etc*. In & syntagra B yielding also the units c, d, e which cannot be loca- Used In either A or S Independently, nor yet In the pattern of their combtnat on, but la spread in indeterminable proportions over each* We may succeed in reducing these units by putting the burden on the lln- guistlc context, but the fact of a orpheme-divis ion does nothing to assure that this reduction is possible* In brief, neither ayntagmatic nor paradigmatic divisions In »nor- phology are a guarantee of semantic division. Ml argument© to the con- trary move in a circle* (J) Semantics and -yntax* In the older linguistics syntax and semantics tended to be confused* In the newer linguistics they tend to be contrasted* »either tendency Is justified. : e deal only with the latter* In a much simplified form, the view may be stated as follows t "Two definitions of the adjective are conceivable. The one is syntactic} the adjective is defined by Its normally presupposing a substantive in the soste ayntagm, by Its subordination to the substantive etc* &ubatan- tlve and subordination are also lefined syntactically (e.g, subordination is proved by the inability of a unit to enter the same combinations as the syntogm of which it Is part)* The other definition would be semen- tie * the adjective normally expresses an epithet, Bat this criterion Is either secondary, or quite irrelevant”* :uch a statement is acrepto le. “ © adjective can ot be defind *e- mantically, for the simple reason that It Is not a semantic unit. It can be defined syntactically slnee all units {Including the phonemes) can be defined syntactically. And since It belongs to no single 11- guistlc plane, but to the Janus-faced class of signs, It can not be ©fined on any of these planes, but only In terns of syntax, as appli- caMe to all planes. But the notion of a contrast between syntactic and semantic defi- nitIons is quite falsej since there are also semantic units, and these are capable of a double definition, on© syntactic and the other semantic! just -s the phoneme are capable of a double definition, without any- body having spo Isen of a contrast between phone mica and syntax, {F©r



3/31 instance In many systems the vowel may be defined, as against the consonant, '-'7 Its non*pre supposltIon of another unit - a syntactic do* finit Ion - or by Its acoustic features. In the Trubetakoyan style). These semantic units have at yet -een isolated from the speech* continuum, not because this is impossible, nor even because it la diffi* cult, but rather because the climate of structural linguistics is oppo* sed to the question being raised, hen these units have ’een isolated it will be found that they have their own syntax, and that they have their own syntax, and that they have their definitions in terms of this syntax $ hat they are definable ©xtena tonally as well as intens ionally, and haven structure worth Investigating for its own sake, (4) The structural deficit on of semantic relations. Structural semantic® is governed by the same general principles as prone-lea, and in particular by the principle of relevance, "fence if two connected semantic "uvits” stand in complementary distribution (thus never answering to a distinction of expression) they must be regarded vs variants of a single semantic unit. or instance the relations "possessor of (an object)" and”agent of (a process)" between which the difference is' automatically regulated by the meanings of ill© semantemes to which the relation apllles, are varia ts of the same/ semantic unit. (Both variants occur 1 nominal combinations, only the second in actor-action phrases, an! so on. it is not of course asserted that these are the only relations holding between the terms in question).

The structure of semantic relations, apart from their complexity* is similar to that of phonetic relations. Hence the same terms can bo used, and illustrated first from, the phonemic plane, where we have three principle relations :

(1) Two asymmetric rel tlons (ArB Is incompatible with BrA) * (a) A rotation with equipollent poles * ar-..rieuce. (Equipollent, since an Isolated ms it is both be fore ar«l arte r aero. (b) A relation with privatively contrasted poles i prominence (usually actual1sed by stress-differences as her-een syllables, or by differences of sy11abicity as between phonemes). (Pri- votive, since an isolated unit i "more prominent, than” the surrounding seros)• (li) One symmetric relation * juncture (open, closed ©to.) (ArB-8rA)(

•Juncture seems always to be privative t an isolated unit has open juncture with surrounding zero. (fence open juncture is the u marked pole of the opposition« »* return to the semantic relation cited above. This relation is obviously asymmetric. It can also be described as privative, since the terms most normally in isolation (o.g. impersonal v r'bs) are proeoeeftve and not agental, other ter a 'being neither. The relation thus comes the heading of "prominence". (Though its definition is purely structural, the term answers wen enough to our instinctive feeling that the pre* dieate is mere prominent than the subject, that the object possessed rather than the possessor is the '’centre of attention" in gonitival constructions, and so on. But it must be not d again that such terms as predicate and genitive do no belong to this level of analysisj they have semantic relevance but no -emantie status)*

ut it Is obvious that a te m such as prominence is Insufficient


3/^1 to define the elation in uestlon (which for want of a name may be called "participation”)| for the are many other semantic relations answering to the »am© definition * in fact superordination in syntax (as usually understood) normally answers to prominence in semantics. Many other »true* tur&l terms lie ready to hand for the »arrowing of the definition t irons- itiv© and intransitive in the logistic sense, commatattonal and permute** tionaJL In the glossemat1c senses, and so on* (For instance the relations expressed by thø cases arc normally perr ratable, not eorcrutc: lol# Such terms have however hardly yet been exploited for the structural deftni- tlon of relations, In the field of linguistics* It Is not only In richness that the semantic relation® exceed the phonemic* To take again the relation whose variants have been united under the common label of "participation”; it wil* be easy to find this cam© relation expressed by a stem-rorphame, moot commonly of the type have * ut then in th group "A has X" two analysis will be necessary i on the one hand there is the relation of participation between A, and the group has X (as in any other verbal group)t on th© other hand there is th same relation between A and X, the verb itself cumulating the semata of participation and other relations. These analyses (ArX end ArYX, In which have plays the roles of g and X respectively) are con- trail Ictory. These contradictory analyses must not h® confused with merely in- different analyses (for instance it i indifferent wl-ether w© regard an inflect ion as affecting a mm or a whole nominal group)« Analyses are Indifferent 'when the whole system can To described with equal eco- nomy and completeness one way or the other, “tit here- neither analysis can be deduced from the other and both are necessary for a complete description of linguistic relations* The principle of non-contradictory analysis, røhich (though often some sacrifice of realism) may be maintained in phonemies, breaks down at th© start on examination of the semantic system*