Conceptual Semantics is the method of understanding the way in which meaning is created in a person’s mind, and detailing this framework in formal linguistic way. Ray Jackendoff is the primary pioneer of the strategy and has written thoroughly on this topic (e. g. Jackendoff 1983, 1987, 1990, 1992). The Mentalist Postulate, as detailed by Jackendoff is ‘signifying in natural vocabulary is an information structure that is psychologically encoded by human beings'(Jackendoff 1988: 122), where describing meaning consists of the information of mental representation. To Jackendoff, there is no distinction between interpretation and conceptualisation, leading to ‘an overall psychological framework, integrating it not only with linguistic theory but also with ideas of conception, cognition, and mindful experience’ (Jackendoff 1990:2).

Jackendoff argues that in order to explore conceptualization, a decompositional method is necessary to be able to analyse Conceptual Semantics. At the bottom of this level, it is the conceptual structure, the mental representation where it includes the rules of the combinations and the primitive conceptual elements used to build meaning (with constraints). To Jackendoff, Conceptual Structure allows this theory to see interpretation as no object:

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‘Conceptual structure is not part of vocabulary per se-it is part of thought. It is the locus for the knowledge of linguistic utterances in framework, incorporating pragmatic things to consider and “world knowledge”; it is the cognitive composition in terms of which reasoning and planning happen. ‘ (Jackendoff 2002:417)

Jackendoff concludes that eventually ‘layers of structure whose devices cannot individually serve as possible expression meanings’ are discovered, meaning that a couple of technical primitives are necessary in order to understand Conceptual Semantics, as the natural terms is not simplistic enough. Thus, Jackendoff recognizes a set of general semantic categories (section 1). While there are advantages following this framework, there are also disadvantages (section 2), reflecting how meaning is built through Conceptual Semantics.

Section 1

In his work, Jackendoff indentifies a set of common semantic categories where at the conceptual level, a phrase is made from these semantic categories due to the necessity to stand for lexical semantic information to comprehend Conceptual Semantics. Included in these are, but are not limited to: Event, State, Thing, Journey, Place, Property and Time. These categories can be described as conceptual ‘parts of conversation’, which forms the semantic content that the sentence expresses. Consider the following sentence: Bill gone into the house with a comparison between your syntactic composition (1a), and the conceptual framework (1b).

(Jackendoff 1992: 13)

[S [NP Costs] [VP [V travelled] [PP [P into] [NP the house]]]]


Similar to the elements of conversation such as Noun, Verb and Adjective, the ontological categories can be constituted into major groups based on meaning. Additionally, each one of the major syntactic categories can be aligned to the ontological categories; ‘the NPs Costs and the home correspond to Thing slot machine games in the conceptual composition, the verb went corresponds to the function slot machine game, the prepositional term in to the house corresponds to the road slot’.

Comparatively, it is comparable to phonological analysis with Jackendoff attracting parallels to both systems. Within phonological research, words are decomposed into a tier of phonemes to phonological features. For his platform, Jackendoff argues that meaning can be acquired through by analysing it through the layers, with a result much like phonological research. As these layers are would have to be understood deeper, the semantic components are developed like the analysis of phonology. Event and Condition will be the basic conceptual situations within the ontological categories, and (1b) is a simple example of a meeting utterance. These semantic categories can be labeled into different formulaic rules, as seen below:

Figure : Source: Ray Jackendoff Semantic Constructions p. 42

These form the basis of how the Conceptual Structure performs. Jackendoff also notes that we now have parallels to verbs go, be and keep (which falls under the ontological category of Event) and the

prepositions to and that falls under State) and these falls under four sub-categories which Jackendoff dubs as semantic domains: spatial location, temporal location, property ascription and possession. There are also Jackendoff’s semantic features, such as [┬▒BOUNDED] which further shows the decompositional process. It could be seen that Jackendoff gives close focus on the theory that ‘word meaning is made of word meaning’ as attention is attracted after lexical semantics.

Section 2

The Conceptual Framework continues to be relatively in its early stages of development, and so is still a rather controversial theory. The platform allow interesting cable connections to be made between seemingly unrelated meanings, but it addittionally draws focus on the arbitrary nature that the Conceptual Framework draws upon. It really is difficult to state how effective the Conceptual Structure effectively captures how humans create interpretation. After all, Conceptual Semantics is a hypothesis; a proposed theory. As such, there will be arguments from both sides of the problem.

The main criticism of Jackendoff’s Conceptual Structure is its primitives. They are really highly abstract, and while they allow fascinating connections to be produced, it is unclear to how cognitively believable these links are. Gross argues in his critical piece ‘The Aspect of Semantics: On Jackendoff’s Arguments’ of Jackendoff’s idea in Foundations of Words is that his mentalist approach to semantics is riddled with unfound philosophical assumptions. Additionally it is unclear the actual sufficient amount is, and whether there ever before would be a final group of primitives. It is because it is very hard to justify and validate the required amount of the primitives and can effect with the whole premise falling aside. Alternatively, one can simply choose to dismiss these issues, but then be offered several other issues. However Jackendoff argues that fretting about this issue shouldn’t be a matter as he expresses, giving an analogy to science:

‘My answer is that one probably can’t inform, but that should not be considered a matter for be anxious. The decomposition of all chemicals into ninety-two primitive elements was a major breakthrough at the end of the nineteenth century. But over the course of the twentieth century these primitives were further decomposed Each level of decomposition described more about the type of subject and increased new questions of its; and each step was cause for enjoyment, not discouragement. ‘ (Jackendoff 2010: 14)

In Jackendoff’s work, he does not deny the possibility that the primitives he proposed can be decomposed further into smaller conceptual models, ‘such as the proposed decomposition of Path and Place into dimensionality and directionality features’. To Jackendoff, if science allowed primitives to flourish, why should semantic primitives be cared for any in another way? Jackendoff also claims:

‘ an isolated primitive can’t ever be justified; a primitive makes sense only in the framework of the overall system of primitives where it is inlayed. With this provisco, however, I believe a particular choice of primitives should be justified on the grounds of its convenience of expressing generalizations and detailing the distribution of the info. That’s, a proposed system of primitives ought to be the subject to the usual scientific standards of analysis. ‘ (Jackendoff 2010: 13)

Another question is whether or not Conceptual Framework is widespread, or if it is language-specific.

The systematic approach of Jackendoff’s Conceptual Linguistics is its strongest point in displaying how effective it demonstrates signifying in utterances. Primitives are developed because of the similar domains it is derived from, and the semantic domains are used to stand for the contextual information of this is.

The need of relating the formalist method of utterances and the every day terms is also questioned as

This reply might not satisfy everyone, since it generally does not tell us which generalizations

are psychologically real and which are merely artefacts of the

analysis. One possible way of constraining the generalizations is to look for

ones that there may be some independent linguistic evidence. For instance,

Jackendoff’s proposal that verb iterativity as illustrated in (16) above and

nominal plurality are varieties of a single conceptual feature, PL, might be

supported by the actual fact that some languages instantiate this with an identical

morphological category. In Siraya, for example (Austronesian, Taiwan;

extinct), reduplication had these very functions (Adelaar 2000). Another

might be to look for psychological or simply neurological research to support

the analyses developed in Conceptual Semantics.

Section 3

Jackendoff does try to elaborate on the mental capacities of the brain through his extensive studies and research, creating a framework to support his ideas on the Conceptual Semantics.


The Conceptual Structure continues to be a blooming notion, with an interesting outlook on interpretation and exactly how it relates to the build of thought. Jackendoff uses