What is a "semantic component"?

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Heather Garey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Language is made up of components or building blocks that are used to make meaning. The building blocks of language are: phonemes, morphemes, lexemes, syntax, and context. These components or building blocks are used with grammar, semantics, and pragmatics to create meaning. Let us break all this down. 

A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound that does not have meaning by itself. Think of the letters of the alphabet and each individual sound they make. 

A morpheme is a linguistic unit that has meaning, such as the word "dog" or the suffix "-ing."

A lexeme is a base or root word, along with all its inflected forms.  

Syntax refers to the rules used to construct full sentences. For instance, a sentence needs to have a subject and a verb. Every language has a different set of rules for syntax. For instance, in English, we put the adjective before the noun (a beautiful car). In Spanish, the adjective comes after the noun (The car beautiful). 

Context refers to the way in which meaning is conveyed. It includes body language, vocal tone, punctuation (in writing), and all other nuances of language that contribute to meaning. 

The semantic component of language is where meaning is interpreted. This is also the level of language where figures of speech are found. The semantic component of language goes beyond what the words mean individually. It encompasses idioms, vernacular or slang, and other types of figurative language. This is the part of a language that is often so difficult for non-native speakers. For instance, we know, as native speakers, that the phrase "Cat got your tongue?" means "Why are you being so quiet?" A non-native speaker, who is not aware of that cultural reference, might take that phrase quite literally. 

Hope that helps! Language is complex and fascinating. 

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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A semantic component is a combination of words, also known as a "composite of lexical units" that attends to the meaning of such word combination and is interchangeable as long as it retains the same meaning.  In not so many words, a semantic component is the part of a word that deals with its meaning, and not with its morphology (word form), or syntax (word placement).

Therefore a semantic component, when it is interchangeable it is known as a "common" semantic component, or a "shared" semantic component. For instance the words humanity and mankind are interchangeable and refer to the same thing because they share the same semantic component.

When they are not interchangeable, it is used to contrast two separate words with similar meanings. For example, when you refer to something as "neutral", you are automatically placing weight in its meaning and differentiating it from words such as "partial, impartial, or agreeable and disagreeable".

Hope this helps!

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