Semantic representation

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Semantic representation is an abstract (formal) language in which meanings can be represented.

Opinions differ about whether semantic representation is sufficient or necessary, about its form and about how it relates to syntactic representations. Mentalistic, representational theories of meaning claim that a mental semantic representation is necessary to account for the fact that language users grasp meanings. Denotational theories of meaning, on the other hand, claim that meaning can only be explicated in terms of denotations in the world. Semantic representation can take the form of a structure of semantic features (in the Katz-Fodor-semantics and in Jackendoff's conceptual structure) or formulas of a logical system. In the theory of Generative semantics, semantic representations were identified with syntactic deep structures. In almost all other theories, semantic representations are an autonomous level of representation related to deep structure, surface structure and/or LF. See meaning theories.


Utrecht Lexicon of Linguistics


  • Chierchia and McConnell-Ginet 1990. Meaning and grammar, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.
  • Jackendoff, R. 1983. Semantics and cognition, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.