On the semantics of cup

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I explicate the characteristics of a metalanguage for semantics. Next, I review methods for identifying the semantic primes (primitives) which constitute the basic vocabulary of a metalanguage from the seventeenth century and the second half of the twentieth century as background to Anna Wierzbicka’s NSM. I offer a short critique of the ‘semantic primes’ of NSM and the more recent notion of those complexes of primes known as ‘semantic molecules’. However, I strongly endorse Wierzbicka’s favouring the anthropocentric cognitive approach to semantic analysis. I then turn to a detailed critique of Wierzbicka’s (1984) semantics for cup and make a lighter critique of Goddard’s (2011) version which, unlike Wierzbicka’s, holds closely to semantic primes and marks semantic molecules. I find both versions contain extraneous material and contrast them with versions from Labov (1973) and Katz (1977) as well as the OED before offering my own informal semantics of cup in Standard English.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMeaning, Life and Culture
Subtitle of host publication In conversation with Anna Wierzbicka
EditorsHelen Bromhead, Zhengdao Ye
Place of PublicationCanberra ACT Australia
PublisherThe Australian National University
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781760463939
ISBN (Print)9781760463922
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • semantic metalanguage, semantic primes, cupped hands, oblate hemispheroid, the purpose of semantic analysis

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