Semantic space

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A semantic space is a domain of content words including broad definitions, which map onto a wide range of words in other languages. The phrase has become common to describe the meaning of Toki Pona words. It rests on a specific understanding of how words and meanings are related, which this article outlines.

Many existing dictionaries present a limited, discrete list of related translations within each Toki Pona word's semantic space, without giving a clearer sense of the size and shape of the underlying meaning. The semantic space explanation is meant to avoid misconceptions with these definition lists by describing "the range of possible meanings of a word."[1][2] lipamanka proposed and created a dictionary that describes semantic spaces in full prose.[3]

Overview[edit | edit source]

Semantics is the study of the meaning of things said using the language; it's opposed to syntax (the way the words of the language are put together to build larger structures like sentences) and pragmatics (the way the speakers of the language use it in context). It includes questions of sense, reference and inference. An individual word can be represented as a point in a space of many dimensions. It turns out that under the right circumstances these points can be mapped to words so that words that have similar meanings are also close to one another in this space; using this you can find synonyms of a given word by examining nearby points.

In Toki Pona one word can't be mapped to a single point in this abstract space; rather, each word covers an area in that space such that individual points are inside of it or outside of it.[citation needed…] The space each word covers doesn't have to be contiguous: it can be blotchy and broken up across multiple areas; and the spaces of two words can overlap with one another.[citation needed…] Mapping this area gives us the "semantic space" of a Toki Pona word.

Semantic size[edit | edit source]

Semantic size is occasionally mentioned to refer to how broad or narrow a word's meaning is. For example, kijetesantakalu takes up less semantic space than soweli.

Concreteness vs. abstractness[edit | edit source]

One element of most words' semantic spaces is the literal–figurative or concrete–abstract axis. The core of the semantic space will be a literal, concrete sense, with metaphorical, abstract extensions which may or may not be familiar to English speakers. This has also been expressed as the second quality in Atawans Guide on How To Make A nimi sin: "every toki pona word is tied to a physical process in some way."

References[edit | edit source]

English Wikipedia has an article on
semantic space.