I had a class today in an introductory linguistics course and some of the concepts are not clear to me.

First, what is the difference between semantics and pragmatics.

For example: A: "Did you have a good time yesterday" B: "I fell of the stairs and had to leave the party too early"

What is the difference between semantical analysis of this conversation to pragmatical analysis of this conversation.

Second: In Frege's theory of sense and reference. What is the the meaning of reference?

For example, a statement like: "God is nature and Nature is God"

I understand that there are two senses in this statement. One is "God" and one is "Nature".

But, is there a reference here at all? I mean, some people will not agree that God is nature. Some people will not agree that God exists at all. So, can the two senses "God" and "Nature" point to the same object if not everyone agrees that this object exists?


If we raise issues concerning the people who are communicating, that's doing pragmatics. If we don't need to raise such issues, we can stick to discussing semantics. In your example, if I were to ask if the "you" in what A says actually referred to person B, I would be raising a pragmatic concern.

Reference concerns individuals, while sense goes beyond that concern to consider how we figure out things about individuals. If I tell you I saw a unicorn nibbling at some lettuce in my garden this morning, you might be inclined on a referential semantic analysis to say that was false, but if you want to take into account that in some imaginary worlds, such things might happen, you might explore the sense of the term "unicorn" for me. Did it have a single horn, and so on? Perhaps I am commencing a story for you about a world where unicorns do exist.

The possibility that various worlds can be populated by various individuals prompts some semanticians to describe the senses of terms, i.e. concepts, as being functions telling you for various worlds what individuals the terms refer to in those worlds.

  • 1
    This is a duplicate question, so please consider moving your answer to the other question.
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 28 '16 at 22:55
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    @curiousdannii, I don't see why I should care whether it's a duplicate question. I'm a linguist, not a cop.
    – Greg Lee
    Mar 28 '16 at 23:40
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    It's only that this question will get very few views once it's closed and the other will get more. It's more helpful for everyone if all the answers are collected in the one place. Nothing about being a cop.
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 29 '16 at 1:25

To ask about Nature and God is like talking about Unicorns: already a mistake. Semantically, we should reject such talk, for it is illogical (= wor(d/th)less); pragmatically, however, we do answer, and cannot but. The question asks itself and will not go away however I might. I tried to point at things but reference wouldn't do. When you take a bicycle apart none of the parts seem to make sense.

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