Principal semantic components of language and the measurement of meaning

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Abstract

Metric systems for semantics, or semantic cognitive maps, are allocations of words or other representations in a metric space based on their meaning. Existing methods for semantic mapping, such as Latent Semantic Analysis and Latent Dirichlet Allocation, are based on paradigms involving dissimilarity metrics. They typically do not take into account relations of antonymy and yield a large number of domain-specific semantic dimensions. Here, using a novel self-organization approach, we construct a low-dimensional, context-independent semantic map of natural language that represents simultaneously synonymy and antonymy. Emergent semantics of the map principal components are clearly identifiable: the first three correspond to the meanings of "good/bad" (valence), "calm/excited" (arousal), and "open/closed" (freedom), respectively. The semantic map is sufficiently robust to allow the automated extraction of synonyms and antonyms not originally in the dictionaries used to construct the map and to predict connotation from their coordinates. The map geometric characteristics include a limited number (,4) of statistically significant dimensions, a bimodal distribution of the first component, increasing kurtosis of subsequent (unimodal) components, and a U-shaped maximum-spread planar projection. Both the semantic content and the main geometric features of the map are consistent between dictionaries (Microsoft Word and Princeton's WordNet), among Western languages (English, French, German, and Spanish), and with previously established psychometric measures. By defining the semantics of its dimensions, the constructed map provides a foundational metric system for the quantitative analysis of word meaning. Language can be viewed as a cumulative product of human experiences. Therefore, the extracted principal semantic dimensions may be useful to characterize the general semantic dimensions of the content of mental states. This is a fundamental step toward a universal metric system forsemantics of human experiences, which is necessary for developing a rigorous science of the mind. © 2010 Samsonovich, Ascoli.

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Samsonovich, A. V., & Ascoli, G. A. (2010). Principal semantic components of language and the measurement of meaning. PLoS ONE, 5(6). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0010921

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