Meaning (linguistics)

Meaning (linguistics)

In linguistics, meaning is what is expressed by the writer or speaker, and what is conveyed to the reader or listener, provided that they talk about the same thing (law of identity). In other words if the object and the name of the object and the concepts in their head are the same. But out of these three only two can be verified or falsified, namely the object itself, its referent (may be in different languages), the concepts are not. Hence the inferred from the objects and the concepts are expressed by words, phrases or sentences in semantics that are to be agreed on by the speakers. Clearly, this also calls for an agreement or synchronization of the other two elements, the concepts and the objects. Objects may be shown as pictures, and concepts may be defined by providing various verbal clues.

Meaning is inferred not only from the verbal form, but from the current context. It assumed that some intended meaning is present by the writer or speaker in pragmatics in the message, which is then interpreted in terms of the knowledge of the listener or reader. The knowledge of the audience will determine how much or what he/she understands from the message. Besides, the more he knows, the more options he has to see different senses to the messages. This does not mean that he is more prone to misunderstand the message than the one who is familiar with one sense only - which is the objective of all participants in a communication situation. But it may not be case, if they want to cover up the message before outsiders. They may even choose to use non-linguistic devices. Therefore the intent and the message of the sender of a malevolent practitioner (with respect to the outsiders, or the counter-interested parties) will remain "cryptographic", which means that it will be open to many interpretations so that the tracker may get lost in trying to figure out what the message is about. Human creativity (for bad causes as well) is unlimited.


The sources of ambiguity

Ambiguity means confusion about what is conveyed, since the current context may lead to different interpretations of meaning or sense. The reasons must be clear. It is about breaking the rule of identity.

Pragmatic meaning

Pragmatics studies the ways that context affects meaning. The two primary forms of context important to pragmatics are linguistic context and situational context. In applied pragmatics, for example, meaning is formed through sensory experiences, even though sensory stimulus cannot be easily articulated in language or signs. Pragmatics, then, reveals that meaning is both something affected by and affecting the world. Meaning is something contextual with respect to language and the world, and is also something active toward other meanings and the world.

Linguistic context becomes important when looking at particular linguistic problems such as that of pronouns. In most situations, for example, the pronoun him in the sentence "Joe also saw him" has a radically different meaning if preceded by "Jerry said he saw a guy riding an elephant" than it does if preceded by "Jerry saw the bank robber" or "Jerry saw your dog run that way". Linguistic context is how meaning is understood without relying on intent and assumptions.

Situational context would to the extent possible refer to every non-linguistic factor that affects the meaning of a phrase. Nearly anything can be included in the list, from the time of day to the people involved to the location of the speaker or the temperature of the room. An example of situational context at work is evident in the phrase "it's cold in here", which can either be a simple statement of fact or a request to turn up the heat, depending on, among other things, whether or not it is believed to be in the listener's power to affect the temperature.

Semantic meaning

In logical or formal Semantics the study of meaning is conveyed through signs and language. Linguistic semantics focuses on the history of how words have been used in the past. General semantics is about how people mean and refer in terms of likely intent and assumptions. These three kinds of semantics formal, historical, and general Semantics are studied in many different branches of science, but the three main types are not always carefully distinguished from each other, and consequently how meaning is studied may vary. Understanding how facial expressions, body language, and tone affects meaning, and how words, phrases, sentences, and punctuation relate to meaning are also examples of what Semanticists study.

Philosopher John Stuart Mill during the 19th century defined semantic meaning with the help of words like "denotation" and "connotation".[1] Mill defined denotation to mean reference and allowed that words, collocations, and sentences could do the referring or denoting. Today denotation means the normal or traditional use of a word. Connotations are associations which people make with words. The original use of "meaning" as understood early in the 20th century by Lady Welby, happened after her daughter had translated the term "semantics" from French.

Conceptional meaning

Languages allow information to be conveyed even when the specific words used are not known by the reader or listener. People connect words with meaning and use words to refer to concepts. A person's intentions affect what is meant. Meaning as intent goes back to Anglo-Saxon and is still today associated with the German verb "meinen" as to think or intend.

Objectified meaning

Objectified semantics examines the ways words, phrases, and sentences can have meaning without considering particular situations or the real intentions of speakers and writers. This type of semantics is contrasted with communication-focused semantics where understanding the intent and assumptions of particular speakers and writers is primary.

Objectified semantics (following Gottlob Frege) usually divides words into their sense and reference. The reference of a word is the thing it refers to: In the sentence "Give the guy sitting next to you a turn", the guy refers to a specific person, in this case the male one sitting next to you. This person is the phrase's reference. The sense, on the other hand, is that part of the expression that helps us to determine the thing it refers to. In the example above, the sense is every piece of information that helps to determine that the expression is referring to the male human sitting next to you and not any other object. This includes any linguistic information as well as situational context, environmental details, and so on. On the other hand, following J.S. Mill, sense is often called connotation and reference denotation. Furthermore, in semantics outside of both linguistics and philosophy, denotation normally means the primary use of a word and connotation means the associations made with the word, including value connotations which indicate whether the author is praising or criticizing what is denoted or referred to.

In objectified semantics there are at least four different kinds of sentences. Some of them are truth-sensitive, which are called indicative sentences. However, other kinds of sentences are not truth-sensitive. They include expressive sentences, "Ouch!"; performative sentences, such as "I baptise you"; and commandative sentences, such as "Get the milk from the fridge". This aspect of meaning is called the grammatical mood. Idealized meaning has value when attempting to understand how words are normally used, while non-objectified or practical meaning is normally employed especially in particular situations and where irony, satire, and humor are central..

Among words and phrases, different parts of speech can be distinguished, such as noun phrases and adjectival phrases. Each of these have different kinds of meaning; nouns typically refer to entities, while adjectives typically refer to properties. Proper names, which are names that stand for individuals, like "Jerry", "Barry", "Paris," and "Venus," are going to have another kind of meaning.

When dealing with verb phrases, one approach to discovering the way the phrase means is by looking at the thematic roles the child noun phrases take on. Verbs do not point to things, but rather to the relationship between one or more nouns and some configuration or reconfiguration therein, so the meaning of a verb phrase can be derived from the meaning of its child noun phrases and the relationship between them and the verb.


Ferdinand de Saussure described language in terms of signs, which he in turn divided into signifieds and signifiers. The signifier is the sound of the linguistic object. The signified, on the other hand, is the mental construction or image associated with the sound. The sign, then, is essentially the relationship between the two.

Signs themselves exist only in opposition to other signs, which means that "bat" has meaning only because it is not "cat" or "ball" or "boy". This is because signs are essentially arbitrary, as any foreign language student is well aware: there is no reason that bat couldn't mean "that bust of Napoleon over there" or "this body of water". Since the choice of signifiers is ultimately arbitrary, the meaning cannot somehow be in the signifier. Saussure instead defers meaning to the sign itself: meaning is ultimately the same thing as the sign, and meaning means that relationship between signified and signifier. This, in turn, means that all meaning is both within us and communal. Signs mean by reference to our internal lexicon and grammar, and despite their being a matter of convention, that is, a public thing, signs can only mean something to the individual - what red means to one person may not be what red means to another. However, while meanings may vary to some extent from individual to individual, only those meanings which stay within a boundary are seen by other speakers of the language to refer to reality: if one were to refer to smells as red, most other speakers would assume the person is talking nonsense (although statements like this are common among people who experience synesthesia).

See also





Important theorists


  1. ^ Fred Wilson (Thu Jan 3, 2002). "John Stuart Mill". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford. Retrieved October 8, 2010. 

Further reading

  • Akmajian, Adrian, Richard Demers, Ann Farmer, and Robert Harnish. Linguistics: an introduction to language and communication, 4th edition. 1995. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Allan, Keith. Linguistic Meaning, Volume One. 1986. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Austin, J. L. How to Do Things With Words. 1962. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Bacon, Sir Francis, Novum Organum, 1620.
  • Berger, Peter and Thomas Luckmann. The Social Construction of Reality : A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. 1967. First Anchor Books Edition. 240 pages.
  • Blackmore, John T., "Section 2, Communication", Foundation theory, 2000. Sentinel Open Press.
  • Blackmore, John T., "Prolegomena", Ernst Mach's Philosophy - Pro and Con, 2009. Sentinel Open Press.
  • Blackmore, John T. Semantic Dialogues or Ethics versus Rhetoric, 2010, Sentinel Open Press
  • Chase, Stuart, The Tyranny of Words, New York, 1938. Harcourt, Brace and Company
  • Davidson, Donald. Inquiries into Truth and Meaning, 2nd edition. 2001. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Dummett, Michael. Frege: Philosophy of Language, 2nd Edition. 1981. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Frege, Gottlob. The Frege Reader. Edited by Michael Beaney. 1997. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing
  • Gauker, Christopher. Words without Meaning. 2003. MIT Press
  • Goffman, Erving. Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. 1959. Anchor Books.
  • Grice, Paul. Studies in the Way of Words. 1989. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Hayakawa, S.I. The Use and Misuse of Language, 11th edition, 1962 [1942]. Harper and Brothers.
  • Ogden, C.K. and I.A. Richards, The Meaning of Meaning, New York, 1923. Harcourt Brace & World.
  • Schiller, F.C.S., Logic for Use, London, 1929. G. Bell.
  • Searle, John and Daniel Vanderveken. Foundations of Illocutionary Logic. 1985. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Searle, John. Speech Acts. 1969. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Searle, John. Expression and Meaning. 1979. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Stonier, Tom: Information and Meaning. An Evolutionary Perspective. 1997. XIII, 255 p. 23,5 cm.

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Meaning — may refer to: Meaning (linguistics), meaning which is communicated through the use of language Meaning (non linguistic), extra linguistic meaning (intentional communication without the use of language), and natural meaning, where no intentions… …   Wikipedia

  • Linguistics — is the scientific study of language, encompassing a number of sub fields. An important topical division is between the study of language structure (grammar) and the study of meaning (semantics). Grammar encompasses morphology (the formation and… …   Wikipedia

  • Meaning–text theory — (MTT) is a theoretical linguistic framework, first put forward in Moscow by Aleksandr Žolkovskij and Igor Mel’čuk,[1] for the construction of models of natural language. The theory provides a large and elaborate basis for linguistic description… …   Wikipedia

  • Meaning (psychology) — Meaning is a concept used in psychology as well as in other fields such as philosophy, linguistics, semiotics and sociology. These multidisciplinary use of the term are not independent, but more or less overlapping. Within each of these fields… …   Wikipedia

  • linguistics — /ling gwis tiks/, n. (used with a sing. v.) the science of language, including phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, and historical linguistics. [1850 55; see LINGUISTIC, ICS] * * * Study of the nature and structure of… …   Universalium

  • Meaning (non-linguistic) — A non linguistic meaning is an actual or possible derivation from sentience, which is not associated with signs that have any original or primary intent of communication. It is a general term of art used to capture a number of different senses of …   Wikipedia

  • Linguistics and the Book of Mormon — Part of a series on The Book of Mormon …   Wikipedia

  • Meaning (semiotics) — Semiotics General concepts Biosemiotics · Code Computational semiotics Connotation …   Wikipedia

  • Meaning (philosophy of language) — The nature of meaning, its definition, elements, and types, was discussed by philosophers Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas. According to them meaning is a relationship between two sorts of things: signs and the kinds of things they mean (intend …   Wikipedia

  • meaning — meaningly, adv. meaningness, n. /mee ning/, n. 1. what is intended to be, or actually is, expressed or indicated; signification; import: the three meanings of a word. 2. the end, purpose, or significance of something: What is the meaning of life? …   Universalium

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”