Word-meaning and sentence-meaning

Elinor K. Charney

A theory of semantics is presented which (1) defines the meanings of the most frequently occurring semantic morphemes (‘all’, ‘unless’, ‘only’, ‘if’, ‘not’, etc.), (2) explains their role, as semantically interdependent structural-constants, in giving rise to sentence-meanings, (3) suggests a possible approach to a sentenceby-sentence recognition program, and (4) offers a feasible method of coordinating among different language systems synonymous sentences whose grammatical features and structural-constants do not bear a one-to-one correspondence to one another. The theory applies only to morphemes that function as structural-constants and their interlocking relationships, denotative terms being treated as variables whose ranges alone have structural significance in sentencemeaning. The basic views underlying the theory are: In any given sentence, it is the particular configuration of structural-constants in combination with specific grammatical features which produces the sentencemeaning; the defined meaning of each individual structural-constant remains constant. The word-meanings of this type of morpheme, thus, must be carefully distinguished from the sentence-meanings that configuration of these morphemes produce. Sentence-synonymy is not based upon word-synonymy alone. Contrary to the popular view that the meanings of all of the individual words must be known before the sentencemeaning can be known, it is shown that one must comprehend the total configuration of structural-constants and syntactical features in a sentence in order to comprehend the correct sentence-meaning and that this understanding of the sentence as a whole must precede the determination of the correct semantic interpretation of these critical morphemes. In fact, the structural features that produce the sentence-meanings may restrict the possible meanings of even the denotative terms since a structural feature may demand, for example, a verbal rather than a noun phrase as an indispensable feature of the configuration. Two or more synonymous sentences whose denotative terms are everywhere the same but whose structural configurations are not isomorphic express the same fundamental sentence-meaning. The fundamental sentence-meanings can be explicitly formulated, and serve as the mapping functions to co-ordinate morphemically-unlike synonymous sentences within a language system or from one system to another. The research goal of the author is to establish empirically these translation rules that state formally the structural characteristics of the sentence configurations whose sentence-meanings, as wholes, are related as synonymous.
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Proceedings of the Annual meeting of the Association for Machine Translation and Computational Linguistics
25-26 August
Denver, Colorado
Cite (ACL):
Elinor K. Charney. 1963. Word-meaning and sentence-meaning. In Proceedings of the Annual meeting of the Association for Machine Translation and Computational Linguistics, Denver, Colorado.
Cite (Informal):
Word-meaning and sentence-meaning (Charney, EarlyMT 1963)
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