Category: Semantics

Semantics is the study of meaning in communication.

Command and Conquer

19 Jun 2010 In: Semantics, Syntax

“Obama Trusts Himself When All Men Doubt Him.”

Or so a news headline runs.

There may be doubts about Obama’s ability, but there is absolutely no doubt that both himself and him here refer to the same person, namely Obama. It is therefore bizarrely remarkable that we have to use two different words to denote the same concept. But on second thought, maybe they are not quite the same.

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Nothing left is right

8 Mar 2010 In: Etymology, Semantics, Sociolinguistics, Typology

I read a joke on Facebook, a witty play on words:

My left brain has nothing right,
My right brain has nothing left.

The wit obviously lies in intentionally confusing two pairs of homophones, namely left as a direction and left as the past participle of leave, and right as a direction and right meaning proper and correct.

After a smirk or two, my inquisitiveness compelled me to ask questions. Are these words homophones by chance, or are they actually related to each other somehow?

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Don’t misunderstand, this article has nothing against the church. Instead, it is about a line which I stumbled upon on a web site today, which read:

1. Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community.

churchThe line was claimed to be taken from a Church Bulletin, although my Christian friend found it questionable. But let’s say, if it was really from the Church Bulletin, why would it talk about those “who are sick of our church” anyway?  In fact, the funny thing about this sentence is that upon closer inspection, there can actually be two readings: one which is somewhat absurd (but perhaps more obvious at first glance), and, one which sounds more reasonable (and is thus probably the intended reading).

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I’m loving it!

12 May 2009 In: Semantics, Syntax

I'm lovin' it

When we learn English verbs, we usually spend a lot of time remembering when to use a certain tense A, and then when to use another tense B. However, few of us pay attention to when we should not use a tense A or a tense B. When we see “I’m loving you,” or “I have preferred this job” (note that it is different from “I would have preferred this job“), we say we should probably use the present simple in the first sentence, and the past simple in the second, instead of the present continuous and the past perfect respectively. But why not?

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Babylon is fallen

15 Nov 2008 In: Morphology, Semantics, Syntax, Typology
Tower of Babel in Babylon

Tower of Babel

♪♩♫ Joy to the world 
The Lord is come… ♫♩♪

Wait, wait. The Lord is come? Isn’t there something wrong? First, we know that come cannot be in the passive voice here, as come is an intransitive verb, it does not have an object, which basically means it cannot have a passive form. On the other hand, if it was in the present perfect tense, then the auxiliary used should have been “have” (has) instead of “be” (is). What is happening?

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