Semantics


Semantic components vs. meaning postulates

Componential analysis (feature analysis) describes the meaning of lexemes through structured sets of semantic features, thus it can be used to specify the semantic similarities and differences between members of a lexical field. Based on phonological methods of investigation, componential analysis operates on the assumption that it is possible to describe the whole lexicon of a language with a limited inventory of features. The meaning of a word is conceived as a bundle of (binary) semantic features (semantic primitives) that allow a 'yes(+)/no(-)' characterization and are believed to be universal. Componential analysis has been criticized for various problems, for example with respect to the selection, status and universality of components.

As an alternative, the approach of so-called meaning postulates is based on the idea that word meaning can be described by means of entailment relations. A meaning postulate establishes semantic constraints between different expressions that can be formulated with the help of meaning relations such as synonymy or hyponymy. Thus, by virtue of the meaning of a sentence like Bachelors are unmarried, the meaning postulate For all X, if X is a bachelor, then X is unmarried can be derived. Compared with componential analysis, meaning postulates can be formulated without assuming the existence of universal semantic features.


Exercises on semantic components