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Semantics is the study of meaning in language. This definition includes "meaning" in several senses, such as dictionary definitions (i.e., what, in the world, a word refers to). But, more importantly, semantics "is the study of the way in which words and sentences convey meaning in everyday situations of speech or writing" (Crystal 100). The study of how words mean is important because language has an extraordinary influence on the manner in which people think. A discussion of types of words and expressions (equivocal words, euphemisms, language used in particular subject areas, language that obscures meaning) demonstrates how language can shape our world and influence the way we think about it. A brief look at the idea of E-Prime shows how careful attention to the influence of language can help people to think more clearly by making them refer to experience first and then describe experience using language, rather than allowing language to shape our perceptions of experience.

In the early part of this century a linguist and anthropologist named Edward Sapir and his student Benjamin Lee Whorf developed a hypothesis about the relationship between language and thought. They believed that language determined thought and that the distinctions of meaning inherent in one language did not occur in any other language. In its strongest form this hypothesis is no longer considered likely to be valid. But a weaker version, which is quite widely accepted, says that "language may not determine the way we think, but it does influence the way we perceive and remember, and it affects the ease with which we perform mental tasks" (Crystal 15). Yet, as the range of examples demonstrates, language seems to have a deeper effect than even the very broad one that Crystal allows. If we consider only the effect of powerful metaphors, such as Muir's example of the interconnected web of life on earth, we can see how such a metaphor can both "profo...

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Semantics. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 16:06, October 09, 2015, from