Jumat, 06 Maret 2009

The Semantic Structure Of Language

Deep and surface structure

Another way of looking at form and meaning is to think of them as surface structure and deep structure. One of the basic assumptions of this text is that there is a valid distinction between the deep (semantic) and the surface (Grammatical, Lexical, phonological) structure of languages. An analysis of the surface structure of a language does not tell us all that we need to know about the language in order to translate. Behind the surface structure is the deep structure, the meaning. It is this meaning that serves as the best for translation into another language.
A second basic assumption is that meaning is structured. It is no just an inaccessible mass. It can be analyzed and represented in ways that are useful to the translator. It is not ordered in the same way in which the surface structure must be ordered. It is a network of semantic units and relations may be represented in various ways. The convention which will be used in this text have been chosen for practical reasons. The main of the book is not to argue linguistic theory but to present tools which will help translators. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the procedures are based on two assumptions given above.
Semantic structure is more nearly universal then grammatical structure. That is types of units, the features, and the relationships are essentially the same for all languages. All have meaning components which can be classified as THINGS, EVENTS, ATTRIBUTES, or RELATIONS, for example. But not all languages has the same surface structure grammatical classes-some have conjunctions, others do not, some have prepositional phrases, others do not. Word classes differ from language to language. The four semantic classes listed above occur in all languages. Any concept occurring in any language will refer to either a THINGS, EVENTS, ATTRIBUTES, or RELATIONS.
Semantic propositions occur in all languages. They consist of concepts (grouping of meaning components) related to one another with an EVENT, THING, or ATTRIBUTE as the central concept. Many different ways could be used to represent a proposition. For example, the three concept-JOHN, HIT, and BALL-and the roles-agent (the one who does the action) and effected (the one effected by the action)-might be indicated by saying:

The agent, JOHN, HIT the affected, BAL
Or a diagram can be made as the follows:

The order does not matter. The meaning is not changed if the diagram were as follows:

BALL….affected…HIT.. agent…..JOHN
There are all short of conventions which could be used. Another would be set up a formula like this:

Agent: JOHN activity: HIT affected: BALL
For simplicity in presentation, we have chosen to express propositions with English surface structure forms, i.e. john hit the ball. This convention will be used throughout this text. For example, it is used in the following four propositions which are in sequential relation to one another.


John meet bill on the corner
John and Bill talked.
Bill left.
John left.
These four proposition can be encoded in any language with the surface structures of that language. In English, a number of alternate surface structure forms might be used:

John met Bill on the corner. They talked. Bill left. Then John left, too.
John met Bill on the corner and they talked. Then Bill left and John did too.
John met Bill on the corner. After they talked, Bill left and then John left.
John and Bill met on the corner to talk. When they finished talking, Bill left first and then John also left.
In semantic structure the only ordering is chronological. However, this chronological order does not need to match the order of words in the grammatical structure and is often different (skewed). The above propositions could also can be expressed in the following English form:
John left last, after he and Bill had met on the corner, talked, and Bill had left.

Anyone of the above would by considered an acceptable surface structure form with which to represent the four propositions. (It should be realized that this is a simplification of the matter in order to get across the general idea of the difference between deep and surface structure.)

Semantic units

The lexicon of the surface structure of a language is a classified by distribution in the grammar. The classification and number of word classes will depend on the distribution which the words have as the subject, predicate, object, etc., In the sentence. For example, if we say, ”The work is difficult,” the word work will classified as a noun in English grammar. This is simply because it is being used as the subject of a grammatical construction. Work, whoever, is something that one does; it is an EVENT which is an action. There is, therefore, a skewing between semantic classes and grammatical classes at this point.
The sentence ”The dog treed the cat,” is grammatically a subject, predicate, object (SPO) sentence concerning its order of grammatical units. But the semantic structure is considerable more complicated. The translation into another language may not be a simple one clause sentence. The reason is that the verb treed is another example of skewing between grammar and semantic. Tree, which is a THING, is being used as a verb. The EVENT which took place is caused to go up. The meaning of the sentence is that the dog caused the cat to go up into a tree or the dog chased the cat; therefore, the cat went up into a tree. There is a great deals of skewing between the grammar and the semantics.
The smallest unit in the semantic structure is a meaning component. Meaning component group together to form concepts. (these terms are defined more carefully in chapter 6.) meaning components and concepts are classified semantically into four principle groups-THING, EVENTS, ATTRIBUTES, and RELATIONS. THING include all animate beings, natural and supernatural and all animate entities (boy, ghost, angel, stone, galaxy, blood). EVENTS include all actions, changes of state (process), and experiences (eat, run, think, melt, stretch, smile). ATTRIBUTES include all those attributes of quality and quantity ascribed to any THING or EVENT (long, thick, soft, rough, slowly, suddenly, few, all). Finally, RELATIONS include all those relations posted between any two of the above semantic units (with, by, because, since, and, therefore, after, or).
In the examples given above, you will notice that for the English examples, only noun are used to illustrate THINGS, only verbs to illustrate EVENTS, only modifier to illustrate ATTRIBUTES, and RELATIONS are illustrate by preposition and conjunctions. In other words, in all of the examples given above there was a one-to-one correlation between semantics and grammatical structures . three was no occurrence of “skewing.”
Boy, which is a THING, ids a single item in English. However, it is made up of several meaning components –HUMAN BEING, MALE, and YOUNG. (HUMEN BEING, belong to the semantic class THINGS. MALE and YOUNG belong to the class ATTRIBUTES.) some languages also have a word which include these three meaning components in a single lexical item. However, others languages do not. Ndogo (Sudan) has a word dako which includes the meaning components MALE and HUMAN BEING. The word vi means YOUNG and, therefore, vi dako would be equivalent to the English word boy. How languages organize the meaning components into words and phrases is a characteristic of each language.
Generally speaking, the nouns and pronouns of the grammar refer to THINGS in the semantic structure, the verb of the grammar to EVENTS, etc. if there were no skewing, the relationship would be as follows:
THINGS……..nouns, pronouns
EVENTS……. Verbs
ATTRIBUTES…… adjectives, adverbs
RELATIONS…….. conjunctions, prepositions, particles, enclitics, etc.
In a simple sentence like, john called Mary, JOHN and MARY belong to the semantic class THINGS and are nouns in this particular sentence: CALLED is an EVENT semantically and a verb grammatically. The structure of the sentences that john, the agent, is the subject and Mary, the affected, is the object. There is no skewing between surface structure and semantic structure (presupposing that the un skewed form would have agent as subject and affected as object).
But in the surface structure of languages, there is a great deal of skewing. For example, in the sentence, “I heard john’s call,” call is a noun in the surface structure. But in this particular sentence, it represents a semantic EVENT, call. Semantically, there are two EVENTS and two PROPOSITIONS which are represented in the surface form “I heard john’s call.” The first preposition is john called and the second, I heard. It is possible to represent these two prepositions in English by saying, “john called me and I heard him.” This would not be skewed. However, if one says “I heard john’s call,” thus, expressing the two prepositions in a single clause rather then in two clauses, there is skewing. Discovering the semantic structure includes removing the skewing between semantic classes and grammatical classes.

Semantic hierarchy

In surface structure, units are grouped into increasingly larger units in a hierarchy of grammatical structures. Morphemes (roots and affixes) units to form words, words unite to form phrases, phrases unite into clause, clauses into a sentence, sentences into a paragraph, paragraphs into discourse units of various kinds and these unite to form a text-story, letter, sermon, or whatever.
Although semantic structure is more of network of configurations. Each being part of a larger configuration, for the practical purposes of this book we will look at semantic structure hierarchically also. The smallest unit is meaning component. Meaning component unite into concepts, concept into propositions, propositions into propositional clusters propositional clusters into semantic paragraphs, semantic paragraphs into episodes, episodes into episode clusters, and these units unite to form larger units of the discourses. The structure is one of smaller groupings, uniting to form larger groupings . if there were no skewing between the semantic configurations and the grammatical structures then the relationship would be as follow:

Meaning component…………………..morpheme (roots and affixes)
Complex concept (concept cluster)……phrase
Propositional cluster…………………...sentence
Semantic paragraph……………………paragraph
Episode cluster…………………… …division
Semantic part ………………………….part

The above would be the units for a narrative type discourse. Different labels would be needed for the units above the propositional cluster for others discourse types. How many level of structure will depend on the text. A book may have several parts; whereas, a shorter text will consist only of a single episode.
As has already mentioned, and as we will point out in much more detail later, there is considerable skewing between semantic and surface structure and that is, of course, what make translation a challenge. The translator must study the surface structure of the source language to find the concepts, propositions, etc., of the semantic structure. Then, he has the task of constructing meaning from the semantic structure into the surface structure of the receptor language. To do that he must have also studied skewing of the receptor language grammar in relation to the semantic structure and know how to use this skewing to reconstruct meaning in a natural way in the receptor language.

The communication situation

One helpful way to look at the distinction between meaning and form (between deep and surface) is the way that Grimes states it (1975:114):

…it is desirable to make a distinction between those things in language over which the speaker can exercise choice and over which no choice is available to him. The former reflect meaning; as many linguists has pointed out, meaning is possible only when a speaker could chose to say something else instead. The latter are the more mechanical components of language, the implementation process by which the results of the speaker’s choices are expressed in a conventional from that permits communication with someone else.

B. the grammatical form may change without effectively changing the meaning. Below, a paragraph is given first with the grammar and semantic nearly matching. Here every event is realized by a finite verb, every participant by a noun, every relation by overt marker, etc. then three possible surface structures are given, keeping the meaning constant.


Yesterday John went to the town. Next John bough a car. Next John drove the car home. Next John showed the car to Mary. Therefore, Mary was very happy.


Yesterday John went to town and bough a car. He drove it home and showed it to Mary, who was very happy.
John bough a car yesterday when he went to town. Driving it home he showed Mary the car, which made her very happy.
John bough a car in town yesterday. Mary was very happy when he brought it home and showed it to her.

In the example above, the paragraph is first written with all the concepts, propositions, and propositional clusters given in full. Then the three surface, structure which follow are used to communicate the same meaning. In this three different rewrites:
a. What surface forms (specific words) are used to refer to John?
b. What surface forms are used to refer to car?
c. What surface forms are used to express the proposition next John drove the car home?
d. What surface forms are used to express the proposition Yesterday John went to town?
e. What surface forms are used to show the relationship between the two propositions John showed the car to Mary and Mary was very happy?

C. Using the deep structure propositions in B above, translate the information into a language other then English. Rewrite in two or three different forms, keeping the meaning the same.

D. Rewrite the followi9ng in English, changing the forms but keeping the meaning as constant as possible. Rewrite the paragraph several times. Use natural, clear English sentences. (such rewrites are called paraphrases because the same thing is being said in different way in the same language. A paraphrases changes the form but not the meaning)

The day was beautiful. It was 10 o’clock. Jane left the house. The house belonged to Jane. Next Jane drove the car to the post office. Next Jane stopped the car. Next Jane got out. Next Jane took a hold of the doorknob. The doorknob was on the door. The door was part of the post office. The door was locked. Therefore, Jane was frustrated. But Jane was not angry. Rather Jane was concerned. Jane wondered: is Mr. Smith sick?

E. Using the information given in the paragraph in D above, translate the story into a language other then English. Rewrite the paragraph several times using different forms each time.

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