- Date: 1893
- a : the historical and psychological study and the classification of changes in the signification of words or forms viewed as factors in linguistic development
- b (1) : semiotic (2) : a branch of semiotic dealing with the relations between signs and what they refer to and including theories of denotation, extension, naming, and truth
- 2 : general semantics
- 3 a : the meaning or relationship of meanings of a sign or set of signs; especially : connotative meaning
- b : the language used (as in advertising or political propaganda) to achieve a desired effect on an audience especially through the use of words with novel or dual meanings
Semantics is the study of meaning, usually in language. The word "semantics" itself denotes a range of ideas, from the popular to the highly technical. It is often used in ordinary language to denote a problem of understanding that comes down to word selection or connotation. This problem of understanding has been the subject of many formal inquiries, over a long period of time, most notably in the field of formal semantics. In linguistics, it is the study of interpretation of signs or symbols as used by agents or communities within particular circumstances and contexts. Within this view, sounds, facial expressions, body language, proxemics have semantic (meaningful) content, and each has several branches of study. In written language, such things as paragraph structure and punctuation have semantic content; in other forms of language, there is other semantic content.
The formal study of semantics intersects with many other fields of inquiry, including proxemics, lexicology, syntax, pragmatics, etymology and others, although semantics is a well-defined field in its own right, often with synthetic properties. In philosophy of language, semantics and reference are related fields. Further related fields include philology, communication, and semiotics. The formal study of semantics is therefore complex.
Semantics is sometimes contrasted with syntax, the study of the symbols of a language (without reference to their meaning), and pragmatics, the study of the relationships between the symbols of a language, their meaning, and the users of the language.
The word semantic in its modern sense is considered to have first appeared in French as sémantique in Michel Bréal's 1897 book, Essai de sémantique.
In international scientific vocabulary semantics is also called semasiology.
The discipline of Semantics is distinct from Alfred Korzybski's General Semantics, which is a system for looking at the semantic reactions of the whole human organism in its environment to some event, symbolic or otherwise.