INTRODUCTION The study of Jane Austen’s Emma from the semantics’ point of view is of a high importance

INTRODUCTION The study of Jane Austen’s Emma from the semantics’ point of view is of a high importance


The study of Jane Austen’s Emma from the semantics’ point of view is of a high importance, because it provides with the opportunity to think clear about the discipline of semantics, connotation vs denotation, symbol, lexical, signs, synonymy vs antonymy, encoding semantic changes, inductive reasoning vs deductive reasoning, language of thought and figures of speech, meaningness vs meaningless, polysemy, signification vs significance, referent vs reference and the philosophy of language.

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In order to understand how semantics works within this piece of literature, we must acquaint ourselves with one of the major feminist writers, Jane Austen and the subliminal messages which are not easily perceived. Perhaps the best description of style in Emma is that it is quietly subtle.

The present study is a critical perspective of the semantic approach in the novel. Emma, as Jane Austen’s literary work hides a curious trend. The research is divided into three parts as follows. The first chapter sets the theoretical background of semantics. On the one hand it refers to semantics as the study of the meanings of words and sentences. Semantics deals with the relations between signs and what they refer to.
On the other hand, it aims to achieve a desiderated effect on the hearers or readers particularly through the use of words.

The second chapter deals with general notes on word usage. After the plot overview, as a survey of the English literature, the study refers to the use of vocabulary of Emma, by means of reference, meaning, denotation and connotation.

The last chapter deals with the literal and the subliminal meanings encoded by the keywords used in the novel. It focuses on the way Austen uses in order to maximize the effect of subliminal meanings. One may interpret the novel and discuss the phychological, social and the moral issues addressed in it.

In conclusion, the present research seeks to focus on understanding the way in which words are used in order to convey deep meaning and greater emotion. It also deals with choices about the hidden meaning of certain pieces of the vocabulary, as each utterance may carry different meanings for readers.


1.1 The discipline of semantics
The term semantics is taken from the Greek word seme, meaning sign. The are many ways to define the word meaning. The most pertinent definition is that meaning represents the function of signs in language. The matter of meaning has been represented an interest for philosophers for thousands of year, even if it was invented in the 19th century. Linguists discuss the difference between a word’s sense and its meaning.

One may wonder what is the field of semantics about . The aim of semantics is to discover why meaning is more complex than simply the words in a sentence. It will ask questions such as: ” What are the semantic relationships between words and sentences?”
The discipline of semantics is of a high importantce for the simple fact of definition.. Semantics represents the branch of linguistics and logic concerned with meaning.
It is known that language comprehension involves two processes: extracting the meaning of words and drawing various types of inferences based on information that is not voiced in the text we analyze.

This field consists of a number of branches and subbranches including: formal semantics, which deals with the rational aspects of meaning, sense, reference, implication and logical form. Another branch is represented by the lexical semantics, which studies word meanings and word relations. Conceptual semantics deals with the cognitive structure of meaning.

According to Yule(1995:4), semantics tries to explain how words connect to things. It deals with the study of the relationships between linguistic structures or shapes and entities in the world. Indeed, meaning is a part of language.

The semantic approach brings out the relationship between meaning and form, which represents the perceived arrangement of words in sentences. One of the most important theme in contemporary semantics is that meaningful units combine to form larger significant units and the process ends with understanding the sentences. Thus, whatever meanings are, one may be interested in literal meaning. People can amplify or develop a complex universe of numerous abstract objects that can serve as meanings of the linguistic expressions.

One thing is for sure: semantics is the study of meaning in language. The semantic approach includes the study of how meaning is constructed, interpreted and clarified.

If I am to place the field of semantics within linguistics and see what that implies, I will begin with the fact that semantics is a component of linguistics of the same kind as grammar or phonetics.

If language is regarded as a communication system, a message with a set of signs will be associated . The message carries the meaning and its signs are represented by the symbols of the written text or the sounds of language. There are numerous examples of communication systems; some examples are: traffic lights or animals which make noises to communicate.

In language, both the sign and the message are complex. For that reason, human language differs from other ‘languages”. One important aspect is that meanings depend upon context, hearers and speakers.

If a reader reads twice the text of Emma, the novel will carry different meanings for him or for her in both instances. For this reason, we may say that a text carries countless meanings.

Both Saussure and Chomsky made a distinction between language (langue) and speaking (parole). The latter made a point between competence and performance (Chomsky, 1965). In the study of literature, the writer may not mean what readers would mean. The most useful distinction was made by Lyons( 1977:643). He made the distinction between sentence meaning and utterance meaning. The former is related to the grammatical and lexical features of a sentences, while the latter includes the secondary aspects of meanings related to context.

Semantics represents a wide subject within the general study of language. I think that the most general concept which denotes the field of semantics is interpretation. This concept may be intensional or extensional. The intensional interpretation refers to the meanings which are attributed to expressions. It refers to the concept as a whole. For example, the concept of Philippe VI incorporates the associations of: France, emperor.
The extensional interpretation establishes the counterpart of the concept in the world, may it be real or just a possible one. The extension of the same concept Philippe VI refers to a particular historical person. Thus, a semantic discourse should be both intensional and extensional, that is about meanings and reference.

1.2 The scope of semantics
In this subchapter I shall try to highlight the various aspects of semantics. It was previously suggested that language might be considered as a communication system with the signifier and the signified. Establishing the relationship and nature of these two remains a basic problem.Children learn many words by the process of naming what their parents give them or they pronounce names for a bus, a train, a horse, when seeing them in a book or the objects in real life. Later, we feel the need to talk about sequence of words, with noun phrases, a grammatical identity. In this case, it will be used the term expression.

Another important distinction is made between denotation, which indicates the class of things, persons, being represented by the expression and reference, which indicates the actual things, persons, in particular context. Still, there are nouns expressing creatures that don’t exist, e.g fairy, unicorn. In this case, one may distinguish between the world of fairy tales and the real world. Other nouns do not refer to physical objects, they are abstract things: love, hate, nonsense. There aren’t any objects to be named by these nouns.

When referring to literature, it is useful to think of texts as sign systems. Once more, semantics focuses on the relation between words, signs, phrases and symbols and what they stand for.

Meaning plays an essential part in language in general and in literary texts, in particular.

The novel Emma is a very faithful and detailed picture of the social culture and interaction of people in the early 19th century. It consists of 55 chapters. The book tells the story of a young woman in England who plays her town’s matchmaker. When attempting to match up her friend with the Reverend Elton, Emma stars to run into complications. The novel deals with cases of mistaken intensions of love and its central character, Emma realizing the one person she truly loves.

The plot begins with Emma returning from the wedding of her governess, Miss Taylor, who is now to be called Mrs.Weston. Emma is very sad at the loss of her friend to marriage life, but she fancies that she predicted the match between her governess Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston. She then realizes that she is a destined match maker and after being introduced to Harriet Smith, whom she finds pretty and without high expectations, Emma decides to test skills.

We can say that Emma Woodhouse has the world at her fingertips. She’s young, pretty and smart; she also happens to be the reigning queen of her village’s social scene.Emma, who is almost 21 years old lives with her widowed father on their estate Hartfield. Emma’s older sister Isabella has married John Knightley . They are the proud parents of four children and they live in London.
Perhaps out of boredom, Emma decides to arrange a match for Harriet Smith. She disapproves of Mr. Robert Martin who is a farmer and she tries instead to get Harriet and Mr.Elton matched. The relation between social status and marriage leads to severe suffering for other characters. Frank Churchill must hide his engagement to Jane Fairfax, who is an orphan. His wealthy aunt would disapprove their engagement.

The novel ends with the marriage of Emma and Mr. Knightley and that of Mr.Martin and Harriet.
2.2 Word usage
There have been numerous studies of Jane Austen’s Emma, especially on hey vocabulary use. One may regard Austen as one of the most renowned novelist in literature, particularly in English literature.

Emma presents the story of a young woman who has some limitations: economic security, social standing and her own twisted comprehension of the world. Emma learns to overcome her limitations. The only way to do this is by developing self understanding.

Caldas-Coulthard and Moon (2010) reveal that Austen’s women are characterized in terms of their physical appearance. There is a high frequency of such adjectives as “pretty”, “beautiful”, “lovely”, which are used in collocation with allusion to women. Regarding men, the references are modifiedby adjectives related to importance, such as: “key”, “great”, “main”.The difference proclaims the patriarchal ideological conviction in British society.

Literary critics discuss Austen’s use of irony and a few attempts are concerned with her word choices. Page (1972) affirms that the novel Emma is full of abstract nouns and Booth (1991) also confirms Jane’s preference for abstract nouns. Both critics suggest that in Austen’s case abstract nouns are used to depict trustworthy and predictable characters from superficial or comic ones.

Stokes(1991) offers a more detailed presentation of Austen’s lexical choices. The critic argues that Emma contains four major groups of words, being grouped in four categories related to: spirit: ” ardour”, “vivacity”, manners: “elegant”, “civil”, intelligence: “discernment”, “accomplishment” and temperament: ” disposition”, “amiable”. All these words invite readers to observe the clash between reality and appearance.

The concept of keyness represents a starting point in the semantic approach. In a text, keywords are used ‘unsually’ when compared with other texts. For example, the definite article “the” is the most frequent word in the novel Emma. Still, can we state that it marks Austen’s writing style? But when comparing Austen’s novel with others’ texts, we learn that the definite article doesn’t turn up as a keyword. When it comes o the word “very” which has a lower frequency than that of the definite article “the”, we learn that Austen used it significantly more often that other authors.

Beyond all references, keywords are fundamental in Emma and they can suggest further examination.

The concept of cluster refers to a repetitive string of continual word forms, such as: ” I am sure that” or “you do not”. Clusters unveil both grammatical and lexical relationship among words. They are important in creating textual meanings.

It is difficult to explain the semantic contribution of the modal verbs “could” and “must” in Emma. We all know that verbs are used for various purposes, including expressing obligation, politeness, probability or permission. Some of the most frequent clusters in Emma are: ” you must have thought” , “I do not”and “she could not say”. These function words are essential to the style of Austen’s writing.

The most significant style markers of the novel Emma are presented; the list starts from the item with the highest degree of keyness: be, very, not, she, her, could, every, herself, must, such, any, been, however, sister, feelings, to and have.

In other words, the drawing out of key semantic words confirms the uniqueness of Austen’s writing style. The key words, the clusters would shed light on the density of some words that may undergo hidden meanings.

There follows the list of semantic fields in Emma, starting with the highest degree item of keyness: degree boosters with the sample words in the semantic field: so, very, much, the key semantic field represented by likely, with the sample words: would, could, might. The field of thought and belief is represented by think, believe, felt. The strong necessity or obligation is given must, should and obliged. The key semantic field represented by like has dear, like, affection as sample words in the semantic field.

The following list refers to the grammatical categories in the novel with their sample words. The first category is given by the noun of title which is represented by Mr, Miss, Mrs. The modal auxiliary comes next with sample words: could, would, might and the list ends with the third-person objective personal pronoun as a grammatical category,being represented by him, her, them.

All correlations suggest that the items are characteristic of Austen’s Emma. Such categories can be arranged together in six groups that mark the style of the novelist.

The first group consists of words which comprise the keywords:”any”, “every”, “very”. They are related to a high degree as semantic fields-“entire”, “maximum”.
The second group consists of modal auxiliary verbs, which comprise “must”, “could” as key words, with the semantic fields “likely” and “strong necessity or obligation”.

The third group comprises the auxiliary have and be with the items:”be”, “been”, “have”.

The next group contains words related to women: “she”, “her”, “herself”-pronouns.

The following group consists of words related to family relationships; these words comprise the keyword “sister” and the key semantic field “kin”.

The last group refers to the words which are closely related to internal states of mind “feelings” and the semantic fields “belief”, “thought”, “respected”, “content”, “expected”.

Burrows(1986) studied the modal auxiliary verbs in great detail. One may treat these verbs as properties of the speech of characters. A proper example is Mr Kinghtley who has a strong sense of morality.

Modal auxiliary verbs represent the features of some characters’ speech and they become style markers of the novel Emma. Two modal verbs <must and could> will be discussed in some detail because they are listed as keywords in Emma.
The modal verb could is found to occur 3599 times in all six novels. I think it is used repeatedly in the novel to convey characters’ inability to do something. The modal “could not” is used in collocation with verb of cognition, perception and speech. The density of this “could not” reflects the difficulty the female protagonists have in expressing their thoughts or understanding certain matters. The main problem Austen’s protagonists encounter is the inability to see through things or speak up. Emma has to learn to perceive the distinction between reality and appearance.

Must represents the other modal verb that are placed among keywords in Emma. It is used in the characters’ speculations about certain people or states of affairs. It contributes to the description of the characters’ inability to understand some matters or people. Must indicates that the characters do not have a clear idea about other characters, people around them.

Could and must serve as evidence that accounts the fact that Emma tends to be lacking in physical action, but the novel is full of the speaker’s portrayal, which comprises the characters’ thoughts and presentation of their conversation.

It can be said that the pattern of modal verbs contributes to the interpretation that Jane Austen deals with differences between appearance and reality.

Charlotte Bronte denounces Jane Austen and she says that Austen paints a very fine garden, but she also warns us to step out the gate and she’ll show us the world.

Readers may wonder about the rooms in the houses and what really happens behind the characters’ closed doors, actually the shadows that Jane Austen’s protagonists project.

In Emma, Jane Austen uses different perspectives as experimental tools for readers.The language in this novel works at multiple levels and it is effective for more decorative and complex purposes. At a glance, this novel seems to be a story about everyday life in Highbury, but if we take a look beneath the surface at the history of writers and writing, one would perceive that Austen labels many essential issues to women. For this reason Austen becomes a feminist of her time.
Virginia Woolf states that women feel, see and value differently than men and because of this they write differently; by doing that they are true to themselves and their experience.

The concept of patriarchy is essential to understanding the social dynamics in English history. The head of the family is the father and he assumes full authority. Thus, some dilemmas of women’s lives would be: What should they expect from marriage?
The words related to a high-degree are the most characteristic of Emma. Both their density and degree of keyness reflect their greater significance.

The strong density of these words constitutes an exaggerated discourse. The exaggeration encourages readers to feel that that they are reading cannot be interpreted at true consideration. If we take an excerpt from the novel, the one which shows what the protagonist thinks about Harriet Smith, who is an orphan from the lower class, one may observe Emma’s strong satisfaction, the recurrence of high-degree words, especially that of “so”: “very engaging”, “much pleased”, “so superior”, “so artlessly”, “so far”, “so pleasantly”, “so proper”. This excerpt from the novel is rich in hyperbolic words. It can thus be said that the density of high-degree words is a marked exaggeration which betrays insensibility, insincerity.

It takes several readings before we realize how subtly we are invited to imagine how the protagonist looks to some of the other characters in the novel.

Austen’s characters deliver speeches that contain an open meaning.
Mr Knightley observes the word game the major characters play; the novel is full of puzzles and games.

Misunderstandings result from the characters’ speeches and we as readers may feel the need to explain them. At first, they occur in order to avoid the characters from understanding for which person each one has affection and feels attracted. The problematic pattern is that nobody is forthright and honest about their feelings. Misunderstandings create many confusions as rumours are spread and incorrect assumptions are made throughout the novel.

The ending declares the characters’ true feelings, once the secrets are revealed; the rumours are put to rest and readers deal with a happy ending.

There are several different ways Austen uses in order to get us to read through Emma. The innovations reveal both the character’s feeling and comically her profound ignorance of her own feelings.

The protagonist Emma may seem very compassionate and kind on the surface, but her admiration for Harriet’s manners that suggest greatfulness, may raise doubt in some readers’ minds.

The understanding of irony requires more than the recognition of high-degree words. Jane Austen makes use of irony and satire and at a glance, readers can observe that the novel is carefully structured around puzzles, games and wordplay, which represent the major theme of misperception . Their mysterious meaning leaves open space for interpretation. It’s the protagonist Emma who reads love, romance between the lines of numerous social interactions, on the one hand and it’s the riddles, games and wordplays which carry out the disguised messages of romantic intentions.

The people in the novel are leisured fellows, whose main activity is social talk. This is exactly Austen;s intention-raising conversation to an art form. What is more, the characters seem to judge each other according to how good they are at delivering speeches.

One may find other types of discourse in the village of Highbury: the comfortable talk of Isabella and her father Mr Woodhouse, the impressive words and sighs, when courting Mr Elton.

Jane Austen uses her heroine to mock the society; the protagonist becomes a critic and mimic expert. She succeeds in interpreting reality and converting meanings.

Beyond conversation, the writer supervises and examines behaviour; her charaters are frequently watching, commenting, judging and gossiping. The challenge belongs to readers who need to learn to become very skilful ones of behaviour. Austen often uses words such as: disagreeable, agreeable, amiable or opinion which share moral and social values. Frank Churchill is described as being an “amiable young man”. Mr Kinghtley states that Frank can be amiable only in French. Repeating the concepts is a special attribute of the novel; the fine and precise fluctuations in the word usage suggest how to distinguish between false and true benefits and values.

In learning to distinguish between true and false values Austen makes use of delicate fluctuations and her protagonist gains self-understanding and social appreciation.

In Emma, words expressing opinion and time substitute for truth. What this means is that Emma teaches readers the fundamental skills of reading people, of interpreting them and of knowing when to remodel our own opinion.

It is interesting to note that this novel relies densely on irony. The discrepancy between one thinks and he/she actually is and the coincidence form what we call the situational irony. One notable example example of situational irony is the Harriet’s portrait created by Emma. By means of adjectives, we learn about Emma’s ideas of beauty. Irony is when Emma views herself to be an amazing matchmaker, although she’s too naive. She causes troubles for herself and for others.

Jane Austen is a master of irony and the novel Emma becomes a masterpiece with intense tension of irony.

Some of the effects of irony are: it generates curiosity, it teaches moral and practical lessons and it leads to the development of Emma’s character through the eyes of the reader.

The analysis of Austen’s novel Emma works at multiple levels. On the one hand, it’s the vocabulary and the meaning of words Austen uses. We can include the artistic and stylistic devices,synonymy, antonymy, hyponymy, the types of reference: the definite one is rendered by the definite article , being used to stand for clarity and singleness of the elements. The indefinite reference, which is used thoughout the novel, comprises the idea of possessiveness, according to Tandon Bharat (2003). Both articles play stylistic role in the utterances comprised in the novel.

The subliminal messages within this novel are countless. Austen’s society presents realities of women which have less freedom than men, especially when it comes to freedom for experimentation. The rules are very strict for them. Thus Emma Woodhouse possesses a favoured lifestyle with the opulence of independence. Her level of power and manipulation allows her to deconstruct the stereotype image of women. She manages to break away from the traditions. The lower women in the novel Jane Fairfax, Miss Bates ask for pity, compassion.

The freedom of speech allows Emma to interfere in the affairs of other characters, in order to manipulate. She becomes her town matchmaker-a self-appointed role taken on.

One may consider this a rebellion against the absence of relevant admission, appreciation and profit women used to have in society.

One thing is for sure: Austen’Emma shows hesitation toward the corresponding role of women and men. Emma feels the need to control the others’ speeches and the male discourse. I can affirm that the protagonist tends to monopolize the discourse and the men’s opportunity to speak. She uses discourse to influence and change the other characters’ opinion and belief.

Jane Austen creates a literary language out of the natural language which is useful to our inquiry. There is a variety of

Jane Austen tries to tell us that all secrets can lead to false assumptions, which at their turn may lead to misunderstandings and rumours. One may learn that misunderstandings and rumours stand in the way of true happiness.

The semantic approach has tried to direct our attention to high-degree words. It has led us to see that the items used by Jane Austen are deliberately chosen to create and hint at hidden meanings between lines in Emma.

Jane Austen created great novels which have always attracted lots of attention and interpretation. The novelist has an important place in English literature.

Emma is an expressive text, whose meanings aren’t conveyed straightforwardly through the words that stand on the surface of the text.

This research is purposed to describe the literal and subliminal meanings in the utterances used in the novel Emma by Jane Austen. It enables us to examine how words behave in the novel. The study has provided a set of findings that are useful for the semantic approach of Jane Austen’s Emma.

By means of puzzles, riddles and charades, the novel Emma conveys important information about life in Highbury. Emma, Mr Knightley are interested in interpreting the puzzles and clarifying their relationship to reality.

The novel Emma is a playful work and the study of the change of meaning can be really fascinating.

In learning more about semantics, we acquire knowledge, we learn about ourselves and how we think.

Tandon, Bharat (2003): Jane Austen and the Morality of Conversation, London: Anthem Press.


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