SEMANTICS AT GLANCE


A. THE DEFINITION OF SEMANTICS
Semantics is derived from Greek – Sema or Semantikos (makna) which means “to signify” (memaknai). In technical terminology semantics can be simply defined as the study of the meaning of linguistic expressions. It typically focuses on the relation between signifiers (direct reference), such as words, phrases, signs (“tanda”) and symbols (“lambang”-indirect reference), and what they stand for. By using the assumption that semantics is an inseparable part of the study of meaning, then it can be concluded that semantics is an inseparable parts to the study of linguistics. The same as sounds and structural construction, the element of meaning has its own level or position in structural analysis. The clear-cut relation among them is: (a) in the early stage, language is an abstract sounds which refer to particular symbols, (b) those symbols is a set of system which has particular relations and rules, and (c) those set of symbols having particular relations and rules associate to a particular meaning (Palmer, 1981:5).

B. THE HISTORY OF SEMANTICS
In 384-322 AD, Aristoteles, the Greek thinker was the first thinker who was the first time used the term “meaning” in the definition of “the smallest unit which has meaning”. Plato in 429-347 AD in his work Cratylus elaborated that those sounds of a language implicitly contained particular meaning. At this ancient time, Both Aristotles and Plato had not explained about the crystal clear definition among etymology, the study of meaning and the study of words or morphology.
In 1825, Reisig, a German linguist, described the new concept of grammar which consist of three main elements, that is (1) Semasiology, the science of signs, (2) syntax, the study of sentence, and (3) etymology, the study of word origin and its relation to the change of form and meaning. At that moment, the term of semantics had not been used in general. Stephen Ullman said that this period of growth is called underground period.
The second period of the development of study of semantics was signified by the work of Michel Breal (1883), a Frenchman, by his article entitled “Les Lois intellectuelles de langage”, at that time, even though Bread did not clearly elaborate about semantics as the new field of linguistic study, as Reisig, he stated semantics as the pure-historical science. In other words, the study of semantics at that time had too much emphasis on the element of extra-linguistics, like the change of meaning, the background of that change, the relation of the change of meaning and logics, psychology or other criteria. The classic Breal’s work on semantics at the end of 19th century was his “Essai de Semantique”.
For further reading click here SUMMARY MATERIALS FOR THE LECTURE OF SEMANTICS PART ONE

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