How brain structures and neuronal circuits mechanistically underpin symbolic meaning has recently been elucidated by neuroimaging, neuropsychological, and neurocomputational research. Modality-specific 'embodied' mechanisms anchored in sensorimotor systems appear to be relevant, as are 'disembodied' mechanisms in multimodal areas. In this paper, four semantic mechanisms are proposed and spelt out at the level of neuronal circuits: referential semantics, which establishes links between symbols and the objects and actions they are used to speak about; combinatorial semantics, which enables the learning of symbolic meaning from context; emotional-affective semantics, which establishes links between signs and internal states of the body; and abstraction mechanisms for generalizing over a range of instances of semantic meaning. Referential, combinatorial, emotional-affective, and abstract semantics are complementary mechanisms, each necessary for processing meaning in mind and brain. Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.