Friday, 11 April 2014

Case of the Cool Conman: Semantic analysis

Identify the types of meanings present in the article  “Case of the Cool Conman”.  List down 6 examples of the types of meanings you found.  Explain their relevance to the overall message of the article.

by: Mafuzah Aris, Farha Sobry, Zuraini Mokhtar (1997)


Semantics is a study of the meaning of words and other parts of language.  Language without meaning is meaningless.  Therefore, the seven types of meaning in Semantics help the language in the article we have chosen to convey its meaning.  The seven types of meaning are conceptual meaning, connotative meaning, stylistic meaning, affective meaning, reflected meaning, collocative meaning and thematic meaning.  The article we have chosen is “Case of the Cool Conman” where a murder investigation is taking place at the scene of a murder.  Inspector Carter and Sergeant Graham are conducting the case and are questioning the only witness, James Creighton.  Towards the end of the article, Carter suspects that Creighton cooperates with the murderer to kill Montrose.  We have analyzed the article, looking at the seven types of meaning and enclosing them with six examples each.


Conceptual meaning means logical, cognitive, or denotative content.  It is based on two structural principles which are contrastiveness and constituent structures.  In this paper, the chosen words and phrases are analyzed in terms of their contrastiveness conceptual meanings.  Six examples of words or phrases occurred in the article which have been analyzed are shown in the table below:

a)    the scene of a murder+  place where a murder took place
b)    criminal+  human
+  illegal
+  does illegal activities or crimes
-   has moral
c)    victim of a theft+  human
+  a person being robbed
-   willingness
d)    nodded+  movement
-   disagreement
e)    unawares+  unexpected
-   conscious
-   warning
f)    grudge+  hatred
+  anger
-   kind
-   love


Connotative meaning refers to what is communicated by virtue of what language refers to.  In other words, it is the meaning above the conceptual meaning and it may vary according to culture, background or society.  Thus, connotative meaning can be subjective or unstable.

a)  smooth fellowslick, cunning, liar
b)  mystery mansolitude, peculiar, weird
c)   jailcriminal, law, punishment
d)  ...eyebrows to lift fractionallydiscover something, suspicious
e) ...had been shot neatly in the centre of his foreheaddone by a professional murderer
f)    the underworldgangsterism, illegal, criminals

The first example found in the article for the connotative meaning is ‘smooth fellow’ which has the connotative meaning of slick, cunning, and liar.  Creighton is described as a smooth fellow where he pretends to have nothing to do with the murder and that the murder does not disturb him at all.  The second example is ‘mystery man’ where its connotative meaning is ‘solitude’, ‘peculiar’ and ‘weird’.  Conceptually, ‘mystery man’ means ‘a stranger’ and ‘not a female’ but connotatively, ‘mystery man’ is often referred to someone weird and peculiar and always being solitude.  The next example is the word ‘jail’ which has the connotation of ‘criminal’, ‘law’ and ‘punishment’.  It gives the connotation that Lennie had been punished for a crime he committed.  Another example is the phrase ‘...eyebrows to lift fractionally’ which has the connotative meaning of ‘discover something’ and ‘suspicious’.  It must have been something that causes Sergeant Graham’s eyebrows to lift fractionally and obviously, it relates to the discovery of a clue from the body.  The fifth example is the phrase ‘...had been shot neatly in the centre of his forehead’ which means that the murder must have been done by a professional murderer or a professional gun user.  No ordinary man could have shot his victim so neatly in the centre of the victim’s forehead.  The last example is ‘the underworld’ which has the connotative meaning of ‘gangsterism’, ‘illegal’ and ‘criminal’.  In the article, Inspector Carter and Sergeant Graham have got the secret information regarding the murder of Montrose from the underworld people.


Stylistic meaning means “What is communicated of the social circumstances of language use”.  It can help people to recognize the words or pronunciation as being dialected and also to recognize the social relationship between the speaker and listener.

a)    fellowinformal
b)    adversaryformal
c)    tip-offinformal
d)    elegantformal
e)    immaculateformal
f)    “Really, Inspector...”disdain, formal

The word ‘fellow’ has the informal stylistic meaning.  In a formal circumstances, people usually use the word ‘man’ rather than ‘fellow’.  In contrast, a formal word ‘adversary’ is used in the article which refers to ‘enemy’ or ‘opponent’.  ‘Tip-off’ is another informal word used by the writer which means ‘warning’ or ‘secret information’.  Another example is ‘elegant’ which is a formal word for ‘nice’.  The word ‘immaculate’ is also a formal word for the word ‘pure’, ‘clean’ or ‘without fault’.  The last example is “Really, Inspector...” which is disdain and formal expression.  The article is a semi-formal newspaper article, perhaps to suit the readers’ level of reading proficiency. Thus, that is why the writer uses formal as well as informal words in the article.


Another type of meaning in Semantics is Affective meaning.  Language use which has affective meaning reflects the personal feelings and emotions of the speaker or the attitude to something which is talked about.  Some examples found in the article are :

a)   “Then you’re a liar,”accusing
b)   “...but I can prove that you know who the murderer is.”confident, certainty
c)   “Nothing to do with me this time, Inspector.”denying a statement
d)   “Really, Inspector...”showing lack of respect
e)   Carter eyed him sceptically.disbelieve
f)   “But that’s not the point,”opposing, to change the topic

The first example, when Carter says “Then you’re a liar,” shows that he is rather angry and accuse Creighton for lying about not knowing who the murderer is.  The actual fact is that Carter believes he does.  “...but I can prove that you know who the murderer is,” indicates that Carter (as the speaker) is confident and certain about what he is saying - that Creighton knows who the murderer is.  The third example, “Nothing to do with me this time, Inspector,” shows the attitude of denying.  Here, Creighton is  denying that the assassination has any relation to him, though Carter has not said anything or accused him yet.  The following example, “Really, Inspector...” shows that the speaker, Creighton, is disdainful when Graham says that he is paid to kill Montrose.  The next example given, ‘Carter eyed him sceptically’ indicates disbelieve in Carter of Creighton’s statement that he had been robbed by the murderer.  Perhaps, Carter suspects that the robbery story is made up just to cover the truth - Creighton co-operates with the murderer to kill Montrose.  The final example is “...but that’s not the point,” contains affective meaning which shows Creighton is opposing and wants to change the subject.  Perhaps, he says it because he has something to hide from Carter and Graham.  In short, affective meaning in what is communicated of the feelings, emotions and attitudes of the speaker.


Reflected meaning arises in cases of multiple conceptual meanings when one sense of the word, phrase or sentence form part of a response to another sense.  This means that what is communicated by a speaker may have another meaning than the one intended.

a)  “...someone got to Montrose...”i)   someone had killed Montrose
ii)  someone had met Montrose
b)  businessi)   the activity of buying and selling goods and services
ii)  illegal activity
c)  unwoundi)   change attitude or pose
ii)  set oneself free from a posture
d)  rewardedi)   gave a meaningless expression
ii)  gave something as a positive reinforcement
e)  eyedi)   watched
ii)  looked at without believing
f)  pettyi)   little importance
ii)  showing that the mind is limited

The first example,  “...someone got to Montrose...”  as said by Lennie,  could mean that someone had killed him, or that someone had met or went to see him first before he could.  Lennie says it in such a way that this proves that perhaps he did not kill Montrose.  ‘Business’  which carries the meanings of an activity of buying and selling goods and services, or illegal activities that conmen do. The next example, ‘unwound’ also has reflected meaning.   It could mean the change of attitude of Creighton, or  he set himself free from an act or posture which he has been putting on.  Creighton ‘unwound’ himself because he is accused by Graham of being responsible for the death.  The following example, ‘rewarded (a look)’ by Carter to Graham could mean Carter gives a meaningless  expression to Graham, or he gives him the look as a positive reinforcement or token of appreciation.  Carter ‘rewarded’ the look because he has already known the information.   ‘Eyed’ in the article also has reflected meaning where it could mean watching Creighton, or looking at him without believing his words.  This shows that Carter has suspected Creighton is lying to him. The next instance,  ‘petty’ as used by Creighton to refer to the murderer, could mean of little importance, or having / showing that the mind is limited, narrow and ungenerous.  Perhaps Creighton belittles the killer to indicate that he does not know him and has nothing to do with him.   To conclude, the examples given indicates that words, phrases and sentences can have reflected meaning and thus, have more than one conceptual meanings.


Collocative meaning refers to “What is communicated through association with words which tend to occur in the environment of another word”.  Which means that a word is associated with another based on the environment of the other word. There are several examples of collocative meaning in the article.

a) inspectori)   police station
ii)  badge
iii) guns
b) underworldi)  criminal
ii)  gun
iii) murder
c) dead mani)  coffin
ii) grave
d) conmani)  underground
ii) jail
e) shoti)   gun
ii)  murderer
iii) criminal
f) jaili)   court
ii)  police
iii) prisoner
iv) criminal

The first example is the word ‘inspector’. The word ‘inspector’ relates to Inspector Carter who is investigating the murder and has to be present at the scene of the crime. The environment surrounding the word ‘inspector’ are the ‘police station’, ‘badge’ and ‘gun’. The ‘police station’ and ‘badge’ are to show authority and the obligation to protect the society. The ‘gun’ can be linked to the murder weapon of the murder case. The second example is the word ‘underworld’. The ‘underworld’ is where the gangsters have a place as a  hideout. Collocatively, the word ‘underworld’ is associated with ‘criminal’, ‘guns’ and ‘murder’. The third example is the word ‘dead man’. The ‘dead man’ is the victim of the murder. ‘Dead man’ collocates with ‘coffin’ and ‘grave’. The next example is the word ‘conman’. The ‘conman’ is associated with ‘underground’ which is the place of the gangsters. It is also associated with ‘jail’ because conman is a person who tricks people to gain money and deserves to be punished in jail. Another example is the word ‘shot’. The shot from the gun took the life of Montrose. The ‘shot’ is collocatively associated with ‘gun’, ‘murderer’ and ‘criminal’. The last example is the word ‘jail’.  ‘Jail’ can be related to the punishment the murderer deserves for justice. ‘Jail’ is normally associated with ‘court’, ‘police’,  ‘prisoner’ and ‘criminal’.


Thematic meaning means “What is communicated by the way in which the message is organized in terms of order and emphasis”. It simply means the theme or message a word, phrase or sentence is trying to emphasis. The theme of the article is mainly about murder investigation. The words and phrases ‘suspect’, ‘witness to the crime’, ‘detectives’, ‘He came out of jail yesterday ... with a grudge’, ‘dead man’ and ‘ ... body on the floor ...’ are related to the overall theme. The word ‘suspect’ can be linked to the  theme investigation because Inspector Carter is investigating the murder case and  suspects  Lennie as the murderer. But he cannot prove anything yet. The phrase ‘witness to the crime’ leads to Creighton who is the witness and does not want to admit that he knows who the murderer is. The ‘detectives’ can be linked to the theme because they help to carry out the investigation to find out who the murderer is. In the sentence ‘He came out of jail yesterday ... with a grudge’ can be assume that Lennie had something against Montrose and  the intention of harming him. A meeting between Lennie and Montrose is planned to kill Montrose as can be inferred in ‘ ... an attempt was to be made on Montrose’s life’. The phrase ‘ ... body on the floor ...’ is related to the overall theme whereby it refers to the victim of the murder who is Montrose. Montrose was nicely shot in the middle of the forehead in the club and the investigation of the murder case starts.


In conclusion, there are seven types of meaning occurred in the article chosen.  They are conceptual meaning, connotative meaning, stylistic meaning, affective meaning, reflected meaning, collocative meaning and thematic meaning. Language users use these meanings frequently without even realizing.   These meanings occur in words, phrases and sentences.  Meaning in language is very important that language without meaning is meaningless.


Longman Group UK Limited. (1987). Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. England: Longman Group UK.

Hafriza. Mass Lecture. Semantics: Words without meaning is meaningless. (11 March 1997).

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