Re: Syntax Vs. Semantics

From: Jenkins, Nick (
Date: Mon May 27 1996 - 12:51:28 BST

What is the difference between syntax and semantics?

Symbols form meanings in the head of the person reading them, not in
themselves, so how can we comprehend symbol manipulation when it seems
to lack meaning? Symbols are manipulated by rules based on arbitrary
shape, and must therefore be interpreted in someone's mind. The rules
based on this arbitrary shape manipulation are known as syntax.
Semantics, however, are the meanings of the symbols themselves, and are
interpreted depending on the person reading them.

Whilst a word either does or does not exist, or necessarily mean a
specific thing (semantics), syntax has to be learnt. One way we do
this, Skinner suggests, is by speaking and either being rewarded when
we achieve correct syntax, and not being rewarded when we do not.
Eventually our minds are shaped grammatically by trial and error.
Chomsky suggested that children Learn syntax by listening to others and
then trying it out for themselves - again trial and error. He called
the knowledge required for the production and comprehension of
linguistic sentences `linguistic competence'. So syntax and semantics
are the two main levels of language comprehension. Both affect the
meaning of speech, but in different ways.

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