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Ray Jackendoff’s

Conceptual Structure

- Alumna: Soto Tania
Yackendoff’s Conceptual Structure

The semanticist Ray Jackendoff has developed a decompositional theory of meaning called Conceptual Semantics. According to this theory describing meaning involves describing mental representations. In other words, meaning in natural language is an information orconceptual structure that is mentally encoded by human beings.
Jackendoff believes that sentence meaning is constructed from word meaning. Therefore, semantic representations should involve semantic components. These components are primitive elements which combine to form units at the level of grammar. Also, they help to characterize semantic relations: both lexical relations and sententialrelations like entailments. The label entailment is used to recognize a speaker’s intuitions that if the sentence “a” is true then so “b” must be; or to it another way, just from hearing sentence “a”, we know automatically “b”.

E.g.: a. Tom assassinates the president.

b. The president died. (Entailment)

Rule: X killed Y entails Y diedThere are many similar but distinct rules for lots of other pairs:
a. X lifted Y entails Y rose
b. X gave Z to Y entails Y received Z
c. X persuaded Y that P entails Y came to believe that P

So, according to Jackendoff there is a generalization:
“All such cases share the schema X cause E to occur entails E occurs.”
This means that there is a semantic element CAUSE whichoccurs in many lexical items and which, as a result, produces many entailment relations.

Note: It’s important to bear in mind that semantic components form part of our cognitive structures; this means that they play a role in our thinking and by identifying them correctly we are establishing meaning.

Jackendoff’s work identifies a list of universal semantic categories, or concepts,which include: Event, State, Material Thing (or Object), Path, Place and Property. At the level of conceptual structure a sentence in build up of these semantic categories. The two basic conceptual situations are Event and State.
E.g.: 1- John went into the house.
1. a [S [NP John] [NP [V went] [PP [P into] [NP the house]]]] syntactic structure1. b [Event Go ([Thing John], [Path to ([Place in ([Thing house])])])]) conceptual structure

In sentence (1.b) we have an event which have three main semantic categories: the motion itself (went); which is then composed of two further categories: the entity or Thing moving (John) and the trajectory or Path (into) followed by the entity. This Path may have adestination or Place (the house) where the motion ends.
Also, we can represent (1.b) as a tree structure, where a mother node tells us the type of constituent, the left most daughter stands for the function and the other daughters are its arguments:


Jackendoff’s conceptual structure has a syntax of its own: semantic categories are built up from simplerelements by rules of combination. The conceptual structure in (1.b) is formed by such rules of combination. The elements GO, TO and IN, which describe movement, direction and location, act like functions in a semantic algebra, combining elements to form the major semantic categories. Thus the overall Event in (1.b) is formed by Go combining a Thing with a Path to form an event of a particular type:something moving in a direction. The category Path is formed by the element TO, combining with a Place to describe the direction (or trajectory) taken by the object. Lastly, the Place is formed by IN, called a place-function, combining with an entity (or Thing) to describe an area inside the object which serves as the destination of the movement. This conceptual structure can be paraphrased as “John...