Different Types of Meaning in Semantics | Linguistics

What is Meaning?

Semantics deals with the study of meaning. The verb ‘mean’ has multiple meanings in the dictionary. The meaning of an expression is a function of the meaning of its parts and the way they are put together. Sometimes, we need to see meaning within the framework of an academic or scientific discipline; called compositional meanings.

Types of Meaning

There are various types of meanings depending on various aspects. Taking into account certain non-linguistic aspects of meaning, Geoffrey Leech (1981) lists six different types of meaning.

  1. Denotative meaning / linguistic meaning / descriptive meaning / conceptual meaning/ dictionary meaning
  2. Connotative meaning / associative meaning
  3. Social meaning / stylistic meaning
  4. Emotive meaning / affective meaning
  5. Reflected meaning /collocative meaning
  6. Thematic meaning

Now we will discuss each type of meaning briefly.

Linguistic/ Denotative Meaning

Linguistic meanings are known by various terms like: denotative meaning, logical meaning, cognitive meaning, dictionary meaning, or conceptual meaning. Denotative meaning refers to the definition of a word given in the dictionary.

The aim of denotative meaning is to provide the semantic representation of a given phrase or sentence using the configuration of abstract symbols and contrastive features. It helps to distinguish the particular meaning of a sentence from all other possible meanings of the sentence.

Connotative/ Referential Meaning

Connotative meanings include physical characteristics, psychological and social properties (sociability, maternal instinct) of the referents based on certain social viewpoints. Connotative meanings are generally peripheral.

Connotative/referential meanings are concerned with the real-world experiences, an individual associates a word to a referent with the expressions an individual uses or hears in a specific culture or region. The connotative meanings of a word vary according to culture, historical periods and experience of the individual.

Social Meaning

Social meanings are those meanings that occur in a specific society and reveal the social background of the speaker. Other features of social meanings may disclose something concerning the social relationship between the speaker and the hearer.

Social meaning of a phrase or sentence may differ from its conceptual meaning because of some social factors. It is society that determines meaning of a word based on multiple individual and social factors like the social class of users or the degree of formality. For example, wojk658rds having meaning for living place vary according to the society: domicile (very formal), residence (formal), home (general), abode (poetic).

Affective Meaning

“Affective meanings reflect personal feelings of the speaker including the attitude to the listener or to the content of the talk” (Leech, 1981). These are often explicitly conveyed through the conceptual or the connotative content of the words used. Social norms of politeness may vary from society to society e.g. interjections, like Aha! And Yippee! that show emotions. Other factors like intonation or tone of voice may vary meanings of a word. While using such factors, we communicate attitude and feelings unintentionally irrespective of any other kind of meaning.

Reflected and Collocative Meaning

Collocative meanings consist of the associations of a word based on account of the meaning of words which tend to occur in its specific environment, e.g. affection and fondness share the similarity in the meaning. But both words may be distinguished by the range of nouns with which they co-occur or collocate.

Thematic Meaning

Thematic meaning is mainly a matter of choice between alternative grammatical constructions. In other cases, thematic meanings may be stress and intonation rather than grammatical construction that highlights the information in one part of a sentence.