English Language & Literature

Critically Examine the Approaches to the Study of Semantics

Critically Examine the Approaches to the Study of Semantics


Semantics, the area of linguistic study that concerns itself with the study of meaning is a complex aspect of language study. It studies meaning and up till now, no one has been able to come up with satisfactory definitions of “the meaning of meaning”. Other complexities surround the study of semantics but for this study, we will critically examine the approaches to the study of Semantics. This will be done with a view of enlightening readers on these approaches.

1.0 Introduction

It has been duly noted that the study of meaning in language has interested not only the linguists but the philosophers, psychologists, scientists, anthropologists, and sociologists. Scholars have long puzzle over what words mean or what they represent, or how they are related to reality. They have at times wondered whether words are more real than objects, and they have striven to find the essential meanings of words. It has also been debated that meaning can be approached from different angles. Indeed knowledge about semantics has been cumulative, developing from the earliest times to the modern period. This means that the study of semantics can be carried out on a historical basis. This can be done by focusing on the following approaches:

• Traditional Semantics

• Behavioural Semantics

• Structural Semantics, and

• Generative Semantics

1.1 Traditional Semantics

Traditional semantics is associated with the work of such great philosophers as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Many others came after these philosophers. Their preoccupation was on the nature of human language itself. One of the oldest views, found in Plato’s dialogue Cratylus, is that the signifier is a word in the language and the signified is the object in the world that it “stands for”, “refers to” or “denotes”. Words, that is to say, are “names” or “labels” for things.


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