Lexical meaning: sense and denotation

I recently refered to some other sections Lexical meaning: homonymy, polysemy, synonymy and The diversity of meaning in 5th chapter Semantics of Lyons’ book Language and Linguistics. Let’s do the next section over, which is given the title seen above in this article’s heading. This section is solely related to what we got to know before as descriptive meaning.

“This involves at least two distinguishable components: sense and denotation. These terms are take from philosophy, rather than linguistics” (p. 151).

A relation between two lexemes is called a relation in sense and a relation between a lexeme and

“the outside world is related by means of denotation” (p. 152).

Both terms are interdependent. For language is the object which has to be examined by a linguist there are two facts to be emphasized in respect to the latter mentioned relation. It’s on the one hand

“that most lexemes in all human languages do not denote natural kinds”

and on the other hand

“that human languages are, to a very considerable extent, lexically non-isomorphic (i. e. they differ in lexical structure) with respect to sense and denotation” (p. 153).

According to Saussure

“lexemes that denote natural kinds do so incidentally” (ib.),

this somehow is an examplification of Saussure’s arbitrary principle. And related to the matter of sense another of Saussure’s principles is made use of, the principle of difference. For example in case of any

“incompatibility, and more especially oppositeness of sense, [which] is one of the basic structural relations in the vocabularies of human languages” (p. 155).

There are a lot more substitutional relations of sense like antonymy or hyponymy (cf. ib.) but

“[n]o less important are the many syntagmatic relations that hold between lexemes” (ib.).

Though we heard about syntagmatic relations before, when we refered to Eisenberg’s grammar and in particular the section on syntactical structures. He introduced four syntagmatic relations for the german language, called Rektion, Identität, Kongruenz and Positionsbezug. And to come to an end here, it’s left to say that one has

“to know what these several sense-relations are” (ib.)

if one would like to know the sense of a lexeme.

Lyons, John, 1984 (1981): Language and Linguistics. An Introduction. London et al.: Cambridge University Press

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