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Encyclopedia > Meaning (linguistics)
Linguistics
Theoretical linguistics
Phonetics
Phonology
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Syntax
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Lexical semantics
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Prototype semantics
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In linguistics, meaning is the content carried by the words or signs exchanged by people when communicating through language. Restated, the communication of meaning is the purpose and function of language. A communicated meaning will (more or less accurately) replicate between individuals either a direct perception or some sentient derivation thereof. Meanings may take many forms, such as evoking a certain idea, or denoting a certain real-world entity (Allan, 1986). Philosophers, such as Davidson and Quine, have denied that there exist such things as (abstract) meanings. Linguistics is the scientific study of human language, and someone who engages in this study is called a linguist. ... Theoretical linguistics studies diverse questions: how certain languages managed to communicate, what properties all languages have in common, what knowledge a person must have to be able to use a language, and language acquisition. ... Phonetics (from the Greek word φωνή, phone = sound/voice) is the study of sounds (voice). ... The vowels of modern (Standard) Arabic and (Israeli) Hebrew from the phonological point of view. ... Morphology is a subdiscipline of linguistics that studies word structure. ... Syntax, originating from the Greek words συν (syn, meaning co- or together) and τάξις (táxis, meaning sequence, order, arrangement), can in linguistics be described as the study of the rules, or patterned relations that govern the way the words in a sentence come together. ... In the main, semantics (from the Greek and in greek letters σημαντικός or in latin letters semantikós, or significant meaning, derived from sema, sign) is the study of meaning, in some sense of that term. ... Lexical semantics is a field in computer science and linguistics which deals mainly with word meaning. ... The Prototype is what a Stereotype is called in cognitive linguitics. ... Stylistics is the study of style used in literary, and verbal language and the effect the writer/speaker wishes to communicate to the reader/hearer. ... In linguistics, prescription is the laying down or prescribing of normative rules for a language. ... Pragmatics is generally the study of natural language understanding, and specifically the study of how context influences the interpretation of meanings. ... Applied linguistics is concerned with using linguistic theory to address real-world problems. ... Psycholinguistics or psychology of language is the study of the psychological and neurobiological factors that enable humans to acquire, use, and understand language. ... Sociolinguistics is the study of the effect of any and all aspects of society, including cultural norms, expectations, and context, on the way language is used. ... Generative linguistics is a school of thought within linguistics that makes use of the concept of a generative grammar. ... In linguistics and cognitive science, cognitive linguistics (CL) refers to the currently dominant school of linguistics that views the important essence of language as innately based in evolutionarily-developed and speciated faculties, and seeks explanations that advance or fit well into the current understandings of the human mind. ... Computational linguistics is an interdisciplinary field dealing with the statistical and logical modeling of natural language from a computational perspective. ... Descriptive linguistics is the work of analyzing and describing how language is actually spoken now (or how it was actually spoken in the past), by any group of people. ... Historical linguistics (also diachronic linguistics or comparative linguistics) is primarily the study of the ways in which languages change over time. ... Historical linguistics (also diachronic linguistics or comparative linguistics) is primarily the study of the ways in which languages change over time, by means of examining languages which are recognizably related through similarities such as vocabulary, word formation, and syntax, as well as the surviving records of ancient languages. ... Etymology is the study of the origins of words. ... A linguist is a person who studies linguistics. ... Lack or scarcity of data can hold the clasification of a language. ... A word is a unit of language that carries meaning and consists of one or more morphemes which are linked more or less tightly together. ... In general linguistics Ferdinand de Saussure described a sign as a combination of a concept and a sound-image. ... Communication is the process of exchanging information, usually via a common protocol. ... PSYCHOLOGY In psychology and the cognitive sciences, perception is the process of acquiring, interpreting, selecting, and organizing sensory information. ... Sentience is the capacity for basic consciousness -- the ability to feel or perceive, not necessarily including the faculty of self-awareness. ...


Linguistic meaning is studied in philosophy and semiotics, and especially in philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and logic, and communication theory. Fields like sociolinguistics tend to be more interested in non-linguistic meanings. Linguistics lends itself to the study of linguistic meaning in the fields of semantics (which studies conventional meanings and how they are assembled) and pragmatics (which studies in how language is used by individuals). Literary theory, critical theory, and some branches of psychoanalysis are also involved in the discussion of meaning. Legal scholars and practitioners discuss the nature of meaning of statutes, precedents and contracts since Roman law. However, this division of labor is not absolute, and each field depends to some extent upon the others. The Philosopher (detail), by Rembrandt Philosophy is a field of study that includes diverse subfields such as aesthetics, epistemology, ethics, logic, and metaphysics, in which people ask questions such as whether God exists, whether knowledge is possible, and what makes actions right or wrong. ... Semiotics, or semiology, is the study of signs, both individually and grouped in sign systems. ... Philosophy of language is the branch of philosophy that studies language. ... What is the mind? Phrenologists attempted to answer this question by correlating mental functions with specific parts of the brain. ... Logic, from Classical Greek λόγος (logos), originally meaning the word, or what is spoken, (but coming to mean thought or reason) is most often said to be the study of criteria for the evaluation of arguments, although the exact definition of logic is a matter of controversy among philosophers. ... Communication is a slippery concept, and while we may casually use the word with some frequency, it is difficult to arrive at a precise definition that is agreeable to most of those who consider themselves communication scholars. ... Sociolinguistics is the study of the effect of any and all aspects of society, including cultural norms, expectations, and context, on the way language is used. ... In the main, semantics (from the Greek and in greek letters σημαντικός or in latin letters semantikós, or significant meaning, derived from sema, sign) is the study of meaning, in some sense of that term. ... Pragmatics is generally the study of natural language understanding, and specifically the study of how context influences the interpretation of meanings. ... Literary theory is the theory (or the philosophy) of the interpretation of literature and literary criticism. ... In the humanities and social sciences, critical theory has two quite different meanings with different origins and histories, one originating in social theory and the other in literary criticism. ... This article is in need of attention from an expert on the subject. ... This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ... A statute is a formal, written law of a country or state, written and enacted by its legislative authority, perhaps to then be ratified by the highest executive in the government, and finally published. ... Precedent, sometimes authority, is the legal principle or rule created by a court which guides judges in subsequent cases with similar issues or facts. ... A contract is a promise or an agreement that is enforced or recognized by the law. ... Roman law is the legal system of ancient Rome. ... Division of labour is the breakdown of labour into specific, circumscribed tasks for maximum efficiency of output in the context of manufacturing. ...


Questions about how words and other symbols mean anything, and what it means to something is meaningful, are pivotal to an understanding of language. Since humans are in part characterized by their sophisticated ability to use language, it has also been seen as an essential subject to explore in order to understand human experience. Look up Experience in Wiktionary, the free dictionary This article discusses the general concept of experience. ...

Contents


The nature of meaning

In the introduction, it was mentioned that meanings are considered to be abstract logical objects. However, this explanation has not necessarily satisfied those who have inquired into the nature of meaning. Many philosophers, including Plato, Augustine, Peter Abelard, Gottlob Frege, Ludwig Wittgenstein, J. L. Austin, John Searle, Jacques Derrida, and W.V. Quine have concerned themselves with providing alternative explanations. Plato ( Greek: Πλάτων, Plátōn, wide, broad-shouldered) (c. ... St. ... Pierre Abélard (in English, Peter Abelard) or Abailard (1079 - April 21, 1142) was a French scholastic philosopher. ... Friedrich Ludwig Gottlob Frege (8 November 1848, Wismar – 26 July 1925, Bad Kleinen) was a German mathematician who evolved into a logician and philosopher. ... Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (IPA: ) (April 26, 1889 – April 29, 1951) was an Austrian philosopher who contributed several ground-breaking works to modern philosophy, primarily on the foundations of logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of language, and the philosophy of mind. ... John Langshaw Austin (March 28, 1911 - February 8, 1960) was a philosopher of language, who developed much of the current theory of speech acts. ... John Rogers Searle (born July 31, 1932) is Mills Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, and is noted for contributions to the philosophy of language, philosophy of mind and consciousness, on the characteristics of socially constructed versus physical realities, and on practical reason. ... Jacques Derrida (July 15, 1930 – October 8, 2004) was an Algerian-born French literary critic and philosopher of Jewish descent, most often referenced as the founder of deconstruction. ... W. V. Quine Willard Van Orman Quine (June 25, 1908 - December 25, 2000) was one of the most influential American philosophers and logicians of the 20th century. ...


The nature of meaning, its definition, elements, and types, is mainly established by Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas (also known as the AAA framework). According to this classic tradition, 'meaning is a relationship between two sorts of things: signs and the kinds of things they mean (intend, express or signify)'. One term in the relation of meaning necessarily causes something else to come to the mind in consequence. In other words: 'a sign is defined as an entity that indicates another entity to some agent for some purpose'. Aristotle (Ancient Greek: Aristotelēs 384–March 7 322 BCE) was an ancient Greek philosopher, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. ... Augustine may refer to: Saints: Augustine of Hippo, (354-430) theologian, author of The City of God, Confessions Augustine of Canterbury, (d. ... Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225 - March 7, 1274) was a Catholic philosopher and theologian in the scholastic tradition, who gave birth to the Thomistic school of philosophy, which was long the primary philosophical approach of the Roman Catholic Church. ... See: relational model personal relationship mathematical relationship, including: inverse relationship direct relationship relation (mathematics). ... An entity is something that has a distinct, separate existence, though it need not be a material existence. ...


The types of meanings vary according to the types of the thing that is being represented. Namely:

  1. There are the things in the world, which might have meaning;
  2. There are things in the world that are also signs of other things in the world, and so, are always meaningful (i.e., natural signs of the physical world and ideas within the mind);
  3. There are things that are always necessarily meaningful, such as words, and other nonverbal symbols.

All subsequent inquiries emphasize some particular perspectives within the general AAA framework.


The major contemporary positions of meaning come under the following partial definitions of meaning:

Thought or thinking is a mental process which allows beings to model the world, and so to deal with it effectively according to their goals, plans, ends and desires. ... An agents intention in performing an action is their specific purpose in doing so, the end or goal they aim at, or intend to accomplish. ... Intension refers to the meanings or characteristics encompassed by a given word. ... Senses are the physiological methods of perception. ... In metaphysics, extension is the property of taking up space; see Extension (metaphysics). ... Information as a concept bears a diversity of meanings, from everyday usage to technical settings. ... Communication is the process of exchanging information, usually via a common protocol. ... Common dictionary definitions of truth include some form of accord with reality. ... Various meters In classical physics and engineering, measurement generally refers to the process of estimating or determining the ratio of a magnitude of a quantitative property or relation to a unit of the same type of quantitative property or relation. ...

Meanings as ideas

To the question, "what really is a meaning?", some have answered "meanings are ideas". By such accounts, "ideas" are either used to refer to images as held in the mind, or to mental activity in general.


Each idea is understood to be necessarily about something external and/or internal, real or imaginary. For example, in contrast to the abstract meaning of the universal "dog", the referent "this dog" may mean a particular real life chihuahua. In both cases, the word is about something, but in the former it is about the class of dogs as generally understood, while in the latter it is about a very real and particular dog in the real world. Universal has several meanings: Universalism - properties of universality in concepts or application For the concept of a universal in metaphysics, see Universal (metaphysics). ... In general, a reference is something that refers or points to something else, or acts as a connection or a link between two things. ...


Empiricism and words

The classical empiricists are usually taken to be the most strident defenders of idea theories of meaning. To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ...


David Hume is well-known for his belief that thoughts were kinds of imaginable entities. (See his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, section 2). It might be inferred that this perspective also applied to a theory of meaning. Hume was adamant about one point: that any words that could not call upon any past experience were without meaning. David Hume (April 26, 1711 – August 25, 1776)[1] was a Scottish philosopher, economist, and historian who was one of the most important figures of the Scottish Enlightenment. ... An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is a book by philosopher David Hume, published in 1748. ...


His forebearer, John Locke, seemed a bit more reserved in his analysis. Locke considered all ideas to be both imaginable objects of sensation and the very unimaginable objects of reflection. He stressed, in the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, that words are used both as signs for ideas -- but also to signify the lack of certain ideas. John Locke (August 29, 1632 – October 28, 1704) was an influential English philosopher and social contract theorist. ... An Essay Concerning Human Understanding is one of John Lockes two most famous works, the other being his Second Treatise on Civil Government. ...


Mental images, sounds, and recollections have been called "mental representations" in current literature. Those who defend this view are called representationalists. Representationalism, or the representational theory of perception, is a philosophical doctrine that in any act of perception, the immediate (direct) object of perception is a sense-datum that represents an external object, which is the mediate (indirect) object of perception. ...


Critique of idea theories

Over the past century, idea theories of meaning have been criticized by many philosophers for several reasons.


One criticism made as early as George Berkeley and as late as Ludwig Wittgenstein, was that ideas alone are unable to account for the different variations within a general meaning. For example, any hypothetical image of the meaning of "dog" has to include such varied images as a chihuahua, a pug, and a Black Lab; and this seems impossible to imagine, all of those particular breeds looking very different from one another. Another way to see this point is to question why it is that, if we have an image of a specific type of dog (say of a chihuahua), why it should be entitled to represent the entire concept. Bishop George Berkeley George Berkeley (British English://; Irish English: //) (12 March 1685 – 14 January 1753), also known as Bishop Berkeley, was an influential Irish philosopher whose primary philosophical achievement is the advancement of what has come to be called subjective idealism, summed up in his dictum, Esse est percipi (To... Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (IPA: ) (April 26, 1889 – April 29, 1951) was an Austrian philosopher who contributed several ground-breaking works to modern philosophy, primarily on the foundations of logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of language, and the philosophy of mind. ...


Another criticism is that some meaningful words, known as non-lexical items, don't have any meaningfully associated image. For example, the word "the" has a meaning, but one would be hard-pressed to find a mental representation that fits it.


Another is a problem of composition - that it is difficult to explain how words and phrases combine into sentences if only ideas were involved in meaning.


Still another objection lies in the observation that certain linguistic items name something in the real world, and are meaningful, yet which we have no mental representations to deal with. For instance, it is not known what Bismarck's mother looked like, yet the phrase "Bismarck's mother" still has meaning.


A cognitive idea theory

Memberships of a graded class
Memberships of a graded class

But the idea theory of meaning has lately been defended in new form. Called the theory of prototypes, it suggests that classes are understood on the basis of the ideas we might have about particular, ideal member(s) of the class. Image File history File links Prototype_membership. ... Image File history File links Prototype_membership. ... The Prototype is what a Stereotype is called in cognitive linguitics. ...


For example, the category of "birds" may have the idea of a robin as the prototype -- the ideal kind of bird. With experience, we come to grade the members of the class as being more or less bird-like by comparing the members to the prototype. So, for example, a penguin or an ostrich would sit at the edge of the meaning of "bird", because a penguin is unlike a robin.


If true, then this theory would account for the concern expressed by Wittgenstein (above). In which case, one of the more decisive criticisms against the idea theory of meaning would be overcome.


This theory of prototypes has been defended by contemporary cognitive scientists Eleanor Rosch and George Lakoff. Eleanor Rosch is a professor of psychology at The University of California, Berkeley. ... George P. Lakoff (, born 1941) is a professor of linguistics (in particular, cognitive linguistics) at the University of California, Berkeley, where he has taught since 1972. ...


Truth and meaning

Some have asserted that meaning is nothing substantially more or less than the truth conditions they involve. For such theories, an emphasis is placed upon reference to actual things in the world to account for meaning, with the caveat that reference more or less explains the greater part (or all of) meaning itself. In semantics, truth conditions are what obtain precisely when a sentence is true. ... In general, a reference is something that refers or points to something else, or acts as a connection or a link between two things. ...


Logic and language

One set of philosophers who advocated a truth-theory of meaning were the logical positivists, who put stock in the notion that the meaning of a statement arose from how it is verified. Logical positivism (later referred to as logical empiricism) holds that philosophy should aspire to the same sort of rigor as science. ... In the early twentieth century, the logical positivists put forth what came to be known as the verifiability theory of meaning. ...


Logic and reality were at the core of their understanding of truth and meaning. To understand this insight, some explanation of the history of logic is necessary.


Classical logicians had known since Aristotle how to codify certain common patterns of reasoning into logical form. But in the 19th century, Western philosophy took a turn toward language philosophy. This shift in interest is tied closely to the development of modern logic. Modern logic began with the work of the German logician Gottlob Frege in the late nineteenth century. Frege, along with contemporaries George Boole and Charles Sanders Peirce, advanced logic significantly by introducing Sentential connectives (like and, or and if-then), and quantifiers like all and some. Much of this work was made possible by the development of set theory. Friedrich Ludwig Gottlob Frege (8 November 1848, Wismar – 26 July 1925, Bad Kleinen) was a German mathematician who evolved into a logician and philosopher. ... George Boole [], (November 2, 1815 Lincoln, Lincolnshire, England – December 8, 1864 Ballintemple, Cork City, Ireland) was a mathematician and philosopher. ... Charles Sanders Peirce Charles Sanders Peirce (September 10, 1839 – April 19, 1914) was an American logician, philosopher, scientist, and mathematician. ... AND Logic Gate In mathematics, logical conjunction (usual symbol and) is a logical operator that results in false if either of the operands is false. ... OR logic gate. ... The term conditional is used in linguistics and logic to refer to related concepts about sentences of the form Some uses of the term are found at: Conditional mood Counterfactual conditional Logical conditional Strict conditional This is a disambiguation page — a navigational aid which lists pages that might otherwise share... In language and logic, quantification is a construct that specifies the extent of validity of a predicate, that is the extent to which a predicate holds over a range of things. ... In predicate logic, universal quantification is an attempt to formalise the notion that something (a logical predicate) is true for everything, or every relevant thing. ... In predicate logic, an existential quantification is the predication of a property or relation to at least one member of the domain. ... Set theory is the mathematical theory of sets, which represent collections of abstract objects. ...


Gottlob Frege

Modern philosophy of language began with the discussion of sense and reference in Gottlob Frege's essay Über Sinn und Bedeutung (now usually translated as On Sense and Reference). The distinction between Sinn and Bedeutung (usually but not always translated sense and reference, respectively) was an innovation of the German philosopher and mathematician Gottlob Frege in his 1892 paper Ãœber Sinn und Bedeutung (On Sense and Reference), which is still widely read today. ... Friedrich Ludwig Gottlob Frege (8 November 1848, Wismar – 26 July 1925, Bad Kleinen) was a German mathematician who evolved into a logician and philosopher. ...


Frege noted that proper names present at least two problems in explaining meaning.

  1. Suppose, as one might casually say, the meaning of a name is the thing it refers to. Sam, then, means a person in the world who is named Sam. But if the object referred to by the name did not exist -- i.e., Pegasus -- then, according to that theory, it would be meaningless. And that seems wrong.
  2. There may also be two different names that refer to the same object -- Hesperus and Phosphorus, for example -- which were once used to describe the Morning Star and Evening Star. However, it turns out that astronomers have discovered that the Morning Star and Evening Star are the same thing: both refer to the planet Venus. If the words meant the same thing, then substituting one for the other in a sentence would not result in a sentence that differs in meaning from the original. But in that case, "Hesperus is Phosphorus" would mean the same thing as "Hesperus is Hesperus". This is clearly absurd, since we learn something new and unobvious by the former statement, but not by the latter.

Frege can be interpreted as arguing that it was therefore a mistake to think that the meaning of a name is the thing it refers to. Instead, the meaning must be something else—the "sense" of the word. Two names for the same person, then, can have different senses (or meanings): one referent might be picked out by more than one sense. This sort of theory is called a mediated reference theory. A direct reference theory is a theory of meaning that claims that the meaning of an expression lies in what it points out in the world. ... The mediated reference theory is a semantic theory that posits that words reference something in the external world, but are mediated by some other process. ...


Frege argued that, ultimately, the same bifurcation of meaning must apply to most or all linguistic categories, such as to quantificational expressions like "All boats float". Ironically enough, it is now accepted by many philosophers as applying to all expressions but proper names.


Bertrand Russell

Logical analysis was further advanced by Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead in their groundbreaking Principia Mathematica, which attempted to produce a formal language with which the truth of all mathematical statements could be demonstrated from first principles. Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS (18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970), was an influential British philosopher, logician, and mathematician, working mostly in the 20th century. ... Alfred North Whitehead, OM (February 15, 1861 – December 30, 1947) was a British mathematician who became a philosopher. ... The Principia Mathematica is a three-volume work on the foundations of mathematics, written by Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell and published in 1910-1913. ...


Russell differed from Frege greatly on many points, however. He rejected (or perhaps misunderstood) Frege's sense-reference distinction. He also disagreed that language was of fundamental significance to philosophy, and saw the project of developing formal logic as a way of eliminating all of the confusions caused by ordinary language, and hence at creating a perfectly transparent medium in which to conduct traditional philosophical argument. He hoped, ultimately, to extend the proofs of the Principia to all possible true statements, a scheme he called logical atomism. For a while it appeared that his pupil Wittgenstein had succeeded in this plan with his "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus". Logical Atomism is a philosophical belief that originated in the early 20th century with the development of Analytic philosophy. ... Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (IPA: ) (April 26, 1889 – April 29, 1951) was an Austrian philosopher who contributed several ground-breaking works to modern philosophy, primarily on the foundations of logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of language, and the philosophy of mind. ... Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is the only book-length work published by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein in his lifetime. ...


Russell's work, and that of his colleague G. E. Moore, developed in response to what they perceived as the nonsense dominating British philosophy departments at the turn of the century, a kind of British Idealism most of which was derived (albeit very distantly) from the work of Hegel. In response Moore developed an approach ("Common Sense Philosophy") which sought to examine philosophical difficulties by a close analysis of the language used in order to determine its meaning. In this way Moore sought to expunge philosophical absurdities such as "time is unreal". Moore's work would have significant, if oblique, influence (largely mediated by Wittgenstein) on Ordinary language philosophy. George Edward Moore George Edward Moore, also known as G.E. Moore, (November 4, 1873 - October 24, 1958) was a distinguished and hugely influential English philosopher who was educated and taught at the University of Cambridge. ... -1... Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (August 27, 1770 - November 14, 1831) was a German philosopher born in Stuttgart, Württemberg, in present-day southwest Germany. ... Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), pictured here in 1930, made influential contributions to Logic and the philosophy of language, critically examining the task of conventional philosophy and its relation to the nature of language. ... Ordinary language philosophy is less a philosophical doctrine or school than it is a loose network of approaches to traditional philosophical problems. ...


Other truth theories

The Vienna Circle, a famous group of logical positivists from the early 20th century (closely allied with Russell and Frege), adopted the verificationist theory of meaning. The verificationist theory of meaning (in at least one of its forms) states that to say that an expression is meaningful is to say that there are some conditions of experience that could exist to show that the expression is true. As noted, Frege and Russell were two proponents of this way of thinking.


A semantic theory of truth was produced by Alfred Tarski for the semantics of logic. According to Tarski's account, meaning consists of a recursive set of rules that end up yielding an infinite set of sentences, "'p' is true if and only if p", covering the whole language. His innovation produced the notion of propositional functions discussed on the section on universals (which he called "sentential functions"), and a model-theoretic approach to semantics (as opposed to a proof-theoretic one). Finally, some links were forged to the correspondence theory of truth (Tarski, 1944). The semantic theory of truth holds that any assertion that a proposition is true can be made only as a formal requirement regarding the language in which the proposition itself is expressed. ... Alfred Tarski (January 14, 1901, Warsaw Poland – October 26, 1983, Berkeley California) was a logician and mathematician of considerable philosophical importance. ... The truth conditions of various sentences we may encounter in arguments will depend upon their meaning, and so conscientious logicians cannot completely avoid the need to provide some treatment of the meaning of these sentences. ... Proof theory, studied as a branch of mathematical logic, represents proofs as formal mathematical objects, facilitating their analysis by mathematical techniques. ...


Perhaps the most influential current approach in the contemporary theory of meaning is that sketched by Donald Davidson in his introduction to the collection of essays Truth and Meaning in 1967. There he argued for the following two theses: Donald Davidson (March 6, 1917 – August 30, 2003) was an American philosopher and the Willis S. and Marion Slusser Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. ...

  • Any learnable language must be statable in a finite form, even if it is capable of a theoretically infinite number of expressions--as we may assume that natural human languages are, at least in principle. If it could not be stated in a finite way then it could not be learned through a finite, empirical method such as the way humans learn their languages. It follows that it must be possible to give a theoretical semantics for any natural language which could give the meanings of an infinite number of sentences on the basis of a finite system of axioms.
  • Giving the meaning of a sentence, he further argued, was equivalent to stating its truth conditions. He proposed that it must be possible to account for language as a set of distinct grammatical features together with a lexicon, and for each of them explain its workings in such a way as to generate trivial (obviously correct) statements of the truth conditions of all the (infinitely many) sentences built up from these.

The result is a theory of meaning that rather resembles, by no accident, Tarski's account.


Davidson's account, though brief, constitutes the first systematic presentation of truth-conditional semantics. He proposed simply translating natural languages into first-order predicate calculus in order to reduce meaning to a function of truth. Truth-conditional semantics is the name for an approach to semantics of natural language that sees the meaning of a sentence being the same as, or reducible to, the truth conditions of that sentence. ... First-order predicate calculus or first-order logic (FOL) permits the formulation of quantified statements such as there exists an x such that. ...


Saul Kripke

Saul Kripke examined the relation between sense and reference in dealing with possible and actual situations. He showed that one consequence of his interpretation of certain systems of modal logic was that the reference of a proper name is necessarily linked to its referent, but that the sense is not. So for instance "Hesperus" necessarily refers to Hesperus, even in those imaginary cases and worlds in which perhaps Hesperus is not the evening star. That is, Hesperus is necessarily Hesperus, but only contingently the morning star. Saul Aaron Kripke (born in November, 1940, Omaha, Nebraska) is an American philosopher and logician now emeritus from Princeton and professor of philosophy at CUNY Graduate Center. ... A modal logic is any logic for handling modalities: concepts like possibility, impossibility, and necessity. ... In general, a reference is something that refers or points to something else, or acts as a connection or a link between two things. ...


This results in the curious situation that part of the meaning of a name - that it refers to some particular thing - is a necessary fact about that name, but another part - that it is used in some particular way or situation - is not.


Kripke also drew the distinction between speaker's meaning and semantic meaning, elaborating on the work of ordinary language philosophers Paul Grice and Keith Donnellan. The speaker's meaning is what the speaker intends to refer to by saying something; the semantic meaning is what the words uttered by the speaker mean according to the language. Herbert Paul Grice (1913 - 1988), often writing under the name Paul Grice, was a philosopher remembered mainly for his substantial contribution to the study of meaning within language, particularly his cooperative principle, the maxims of conversation derived from the cooperative principle, and his theory of implicatures. ... Keith Donnellan (born 1931) is a contemporary philosopher and Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles. ...


In some cases, people do not say what they mean; in other cases, they say something that is in error. In both these cases, the speaker's meaning and the semantic meaning seem to be different. Sometimes words do not actually express what the speaker wants them to express; so words will mean one thing, and what people intend to convey by them might mean another. The meaning of the expression, in such cases, is ambiguous.


Critiques of truth-theories of meaning

W.V. Quine attacked both verificationism and the very notion of meaning in his famous essay, "Two Dogmas of Empiricism". In it, he suggested that meaning was nothing more than a vague and dispensable notion. Instead, he asserted, what was more interesting to study was the synonymy between signs. He also pointed out that verificationism was tied to the distinction between analytic and synthetic statements, and asserted that such a divide was defended ambiguously. He also suggested that the unit of analysis for any potential investigation into the world (and, perhaps, meaning) would be the entire body of statements taken as a collective, not just individual statements on their own. W. V. Quine Willard Van Orman Quine (June 25, 1908 - December 25, 2000) was one of the most influential American philosophers and logicians of the 20th century. ... Quines paper Two Dogmas of Empiricism, published 1951, is one of the most celebrated papers of twentieth century philosophy in the analytic tradition. ... The terms analytic and synthetic are philosophical terms, used by philosophers to divide propositions into two types: analytic propositions and synthetic propositions. ... A synthetic proposition is a proposition that is capable of being true or untrue based on facts about the world - in contrast to an analytic proposition which is true by definition. ...


Other criticisms can be raised on the basis of the limitations that truth-conditional theorists themselves admit to. Tarski, for instance, recognized that truth-conditional theories of meaning only make sense of statements, but fail to explain the meanings of the lexical parts that make up statements. Rather, the meaning of the parts of statements is presupposed by an understanding of the truth-conditions of a whole statement, and explained in terms of what he called "satisfaction conditions".


Still another objection (noted by Frege and others) was that some kinds of statements don't seem to have any truth-conditions at all. For instance, "Hello!" has no truth-conditions, because it doesn't even attempt to tell the listener anything about the state of affairs in the world. In other words, different propositions have different grammatical moods. State of affairs has some technical usages in philosophy, as well as being a phrase in everyday speech in English. ... In linguistics, many grammars have the concept of grammatical mood, which describes the relationship of a verb with reality and intent. ...


Deflationist accounts of truth, sometimes called 'irrealist' accounts, are the staunchest source of criticism of truth-conditional theories of meaning. According to them, "truth" is a word with no serious meaning or function in discourse except to affirm an expression. For instance, for the deflationist, the sentences "It's true that Tiny Tim is trouble" and "Tiny Tim is trouble" are equivalent. In consequence, for the deflationist, any appeal to truth as an account of meaning has little explanatory power. Common dictionary definitions of truth include some form of accord with reality. ...


The sort of truth-theories presented here can also be attacked for their formalism both in practice and principle. The principle of formalism is challenged by the informalists, who suggest that language is largely a construction of the speaker, and so, not compatible with formalization. The practice of formalism is challenged by those who observe that formal languages (such as present-day quantificational logic) fail to capture the expressive power of natural languages (as is arguably demonstrated in the awkward character of the quantificational explanation of definite description statements, as laid out by Bertrand Russell). The word formalism has several meanings: A certain school in the philosophy of mathematics, stressing axiomatic proofs through theorems specifically associated with David Hilbert. ...


Finally, over the past century, forms of logic have been developed that are not dependent exclusively on the notions of truth and falsity. Some of these types of logic have been called modal logics. They explain how certain logical connectives such as "if-then" work in terms of necessity and possibility. Indeed, modal logic was the basis of one of the most popular and rigorous formulations in modern semantics called the Montague grammar. The successes of such systems naturally give rise to the argument that these systems have captured the natural meaning of connectives like if-then far better than an ordinary, truth-functional logic ever could. A modal logic is any logic for handling modalities: concepts like possibility, impossibility, and necessity. ... In criminal law, necessity is a possible excuse for breaking the law. ... Possibility comprises that which one can achieve, or alternatively ones potential. ... Montague grammar is an approach to natural language semantics, based on formal logic, especially lambda calculus and set theory. ...


Usage and meaning

Throughout the 20th Century, English philosophy focused closely on analysis of language. This style of analytic philosophy became very influential and led to the development of a wide range of philosophical tools. Analytic philosophy is the dominant philosophical movement in University philosophy departments in English-speaking countries and in Scandinavia, although one of its founders, Gottlob Frege, was German, and many of its leading proponents, such as Ludwig Wittgenstein, Rudolf Carnap, Kurt Gödel and Karl Popper, were Austrian. ...


J. L. Austin argued against fixating on the meaning of words. He showed that dictionary definitions are of limited philosophical use, since there is no simple "appendage" to a word that can be called its meaning. Instead, he showed how to focus on the way in which words are used in order to do things. He analysed the structure of utterances into three distinct parts: locutions, illocutions and perlocutions. His pupil John Searle developed the idea under the label "speech acts". Their work greatly influenced pragmatics. John Langshaw Austin (March 28, 1911 - February 8, 1960) was a philosopher of language, who developed much of the current theory of speech acts. ... Illocutionary force is the effect a speech act has in the world. ... A perlocutionary act is any speech act that amounts to persuading, convincing, scaring, enlightening, inspiring, or otherwise getting someone to do or realize something. ... John Rogers Searle (born July 31, 1932) is Mills Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, and is noted for contributions to the philosophy of language, philosophy of mind and consciousness, on the characteristics of socially constructed versus physical realities, and on practical reason. ... A speech act is best described as in saying something, we do something, such as when a minister says, I now pronounce you husband and wife, or an action performed by means of language, such as describing something (), asking a question (Is it snowing?), making a request or smoking a... Pragmatics is generally the study of natural language understanding, and specifically the study of how context influences the interpretation of meanings. ...


At around the same time Ludwig Wittgenstein was re-thinking his approach to language. In his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus he had supported the idea of an ideal language built up from atomic statements using logical connectives. Reflections on the complexity of language led to a more expansive approach to meaning in his Philosophical Investigations. His approach is often summarised by the aphorism "the meaning of a word is its use in a language". Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (IPA: ) (April 26, 1889 – April 29, 1951) was an Austrian philosopher who contributed several ground-breaking works to modern philosophy, primarily on the foundations of logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of language, and the philosophy of mind. ... Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is the only book-length work published by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein in his lifetime. ... Philosophical Investigations (Philosophische Untersuchungen), along with the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, is one of the two major works by Ludwig Wittgenstein. ...


In the 1960s, David Lewis published another thesis of meaning as use, as he described meaning as a feature of a social convention (see also convention (philosophy) and conventions as regularities of a specific sort. Lewis' work was an application of game theory in philosophical matters. Conventions, he argued, are a species of coordination equilibria. 1960 (MCMLX) was a leap year starting on Friday (the link is to a full 1960 calendar). ... The name David Lewis may refer to several people: David Lewis (philosopher) (1941-2001), an American-born philosopher famous for his theory of modal realism and his love for Australia. ... A convention is a set of agreed, stipulated or generally accepted rules, norms, standards or criteria, often taking the form of a custom. ... In ordinary English, regular is an adjective or noun used to mean in accordance with the usual customs, conventions, or rules, or frequent, periodic, or symmetric. ... Game theory is a branch of applied mathematics that studies strategic situations where players choose different actions in an attempt to maximize their returns. ... In game theory, the Nash equilibrium (named after John Nash) is a kind of optimal strategy for games involving two or more players, whereby the players reach an outcome to mutual advantage. ... In game theory, the Nash equilibrium (named after John Nash, who proposed it) is a kind of optimal collective strategy in a game involving two or more players, where no player has anything to gain by changing only his or her own strategy. ...


Ludwig Wittgenstein

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was originally an artificial language philosopher, following the influence of Russell, Frege, and the Vienna Circle. However, as he matured, he came to appreciate more and more the phenomenon of natural language. Philosophical Investigations, published after his death, signalled a sharp departure from his earlier work with its focus upon ordinary language use. Philosophical Investigations (Philosophische Untersuchungen), along with the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, is one of the two major works by Ludwig Wittgenstein. ...


His work would come to inspire future generations and spur forward a whole new discipline, which explained meaning in a new way. Meaning in natural languages was seen as primarily a question of how the speaker uses language to express intentions.


This close examination of natural language proved to be a powerful philosophical technique. Practitioners who were influenced by Wittgenstein's approach have included an entire tradition of thinkers, featuring J. L. Austin, P. F. Strawson, John Searle, Paul Grice, R. M. Hare, R. S. Peters, and Jürgen Habermas. The term natural language is used to distinguish languages spoken and signed (by hand signals and facial expressions) by humans for general-purpose communication from constructs such as writing, computer-programming languages or the languages used in the study of formal logic, especially mathematical logic. ... John Langshaw Austin (March 28, 1911 - February 8, 1960) was a philosopher of language, who developed much of the current theory of speech acts. ... Professor Sir Peter Frederick Strawson (November 23, 1919 – 13 February 2006) was an English philosopher. ... John Rogers Searle (born July 31, 1932) is Mills Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, and is noted for contributions to the philosophy of language, philosophy of mind and consciousness, on the characteristics of socially constructed versus physical realities, and on practical reason. ... Herbert Paul Grice (1913 - 1988), often writing under the name Paul Grice, was a philosopher remembered mainly for his substantial contribution to the study of meaning within language, particularly his cooperative principle, the maxims of conversation derived from the cooperative principle, and his theory of implicatures. ... R.M. Hare Richard Mervyn Hare (March 21, 1919 – January 29, 2002) was an English moral philosopher, who held the post of Whites Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Oxford from 1966 until 1983. ... Jürgen Habermas Habermas redirects here. ...


Other use theories

Past philosophers had understood reference to be tied to words themselves. However, Sir Peter Strawson disagreed in his seminal essay, "On Referring", where he argued that there is nothing true about statements on their own; rather, only the uses of statements could be considered to be true or false. Peter Frederick Strawson (born November 23, 1919 in London) is a philosopher associated with the ordinary language philosophy movement within analytical philosophy. ...


Indeed, one of the hallmarks of the ordinary use perspective is its insistence upon the distinctions between meaning and use. "Meanings", for ordinary language philosophers, are the instructions for usage of words - the common and conventional definitions of words. Usage, on the other hand, is the actual meanings that individual speakers have - they things that an individual speaker in a particular context wants to refer to. The word "dog" is an example of a meaning, but pointing at a nearby dog and shouting "This dog smells foul!" is an example of usage. From this distinction between usage and meaning arose the divide between the fields of Pragmatics and Semantics. Pragmatics is generally the study of natural language understanding, and specifically the study of how context influences the interpretation of meanings. ... In the main, semantics (from the Greek and in greek letters σημαντικός or in latin letters semantikós, or significant meaning, derived from sema, sign) is the study of meaning, in some sense of that term. ...


Yet another distinction is of some utility in discussing language: "mentioning". Mention is when an expression refers to itself as a linguistic item, usually surrounded by quotation marks. For instance, in the expression "'Opopanax' is hard to spell", what is referred to is the word itself ("opopanax") and not what it means (an obscure gum resin). Frege had referred to instances of mentioning as "opaque contexts".


In his essay, "Reference and Definite Descriptions", Keith Donnellan sought to improve upon Strawson's distinction. He pointed out that there are two uses of definite descriptions: attributive and referential. Attributive uses provide a description of whoever is being referred to, while referential uses point out the actual referent. Attributive uses are like mediated references, while referential uses are more directly referential. Keith Donnellan (born 1931) is a contemporary philosopher and Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles. ...


Paul Grice

The philosopher Paul Grice, working within the ordinary language tradition, understood "meaning" to have two kinds: natural and non-natural. Natural meaning had to do with cause and effect, for example with the expression "these spots mean measels". Non-natural meaning, on the other hand, had to do with the intentions of the speaker in communicating something to the listener. Herbert Paul Grice (1913 - 1988), often writing under the name Paul Grice, was a philosopher remembered mainly for his substantial contribution to the study of meaning within language, particularly his cooperative principle, the maxims of conversation derived from the cooperative principle, and his theory of implicatures. ...


In his essay, Logic and Conversation, Grice went on to explain and defend an explanation of how conversations work. His guiding maxim was called the cooperative principle, which claimed that the speaker and the listener will have mutual expectations of the kind of information that will be shared. The principle is broken down into four maxims: Quality (which demands truthfulness and honesty), Quantity (demand for just enough information as is required), Relation (relevance of things brought up), and Manner (lucidity). This principle, if and when followed, lets the speaker and listener figure out the meaning of certain implications by way of inference.


The works of Grice led to an avalanche of research and interest in the field, both supportive and critical. One spinoff was called Relevance theory, developed by Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson during the mid-1980s, whose goal was to make the notion of relevance more clear. Similarly, in his work, "Universal pragmatics", Habermas began a program that sought to improve upon the work of the ordinary language tradition. In it, he laid out the goal of a valid conversation as a pursuit of mutual understanding. Relevance theory is a proposal by Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson which tries to explain language usage in conversation and everyday speech in terms of the inferences that people make on the basis of what is spoken. ... Universal pragmatics (more recently known as formal pragmatics) is a program that tries to explain all of the conditions that are necessary for an understanding between people to be reached. ...


Conceptual and inferential role semantics

Main article: Inferential role semantics Inferential role semantics is an approach to the theory of meaning associated closely with accounts of proof-theoretic semantics in the semantics of logic into work as the foundational formalism of logic. ...


Michael Dummett argued against the kind of truth-conditional semantics presented by Davidson; instead he argued that basing semantics on assertion conditions avoids a number of difficulties with truth-conditional semantics, such as the transcendental nature of certain kinds of truth condition. He leverages work done in proof-theoretic semantics to provide a kind of inferential role semantics, where: Sir Michael Anthony Eardley Dummett (born 1925) is a leading British philosopher. ... Truth-conditional semantics is the name for an approach to semantics of natural language that sees the meaning of a sentence being the same as, or reducible to, the truth conditions of that sentence. ... Proof-theoretic semantics is an approach to the semantics of logic that attempts to locate the meaning of propositions and logical connectives not in terms of interpretations, as in Tarskian approaches to semantics, but in the role that the proposition or logical connective plays within the system of inference. ...

  • The meaning of sentences and grammatical constructs is given by their assertion conditions; and
  • Such a semantics is only guaranteed to be coherent if the inferences associated with the parts of language are in logical harmony.

A semantics based upon assertion conditions is called a verificationist semantics: cf. the verificationism of the Vienna Circle. Logical harmony, a name coined by Sir Michael Dummett, is a supposed constraint on the rules of inference that can be used in a given logical system. ... In the early twentieth century, the logical positivists put forth what came to be known as the verifiability theory of meaning. ...


Other work has been done by Gilbert Harman on the closely related subject of conceptual role semantics. Gilbert Harman (born 1938) is a contemporary philosopher teaching at Princeton University who has published widely in Ethics, Epistemology, Metaphysics, and the philosophies of Language and Mind. ...


Critiques of use theories of meaning

Cognitive scientist Jerry Fodor has noted that use theories (of the Wittgensteinian kind) seem to be committed to the notion that language is a public phenomenon -- that there is no such thing as a "private language". Fodor criticizes such claims because he thinks it is necessary to create or describe the language of thought, which would seemingly require the existence of a "private language". Jerry Alan Fodor (born 1935) is a philosopher at Rutgers University, New Jersey. ...


Some philosophers of language, such as Christopher Gauker, have attacked use theories of meaning by denying that the discovery of a speaker's intentions is a necessary part of the listener's strategies in decoding and inferring.


Translation

W.V. Quine argued for the indeterminacy of translation; that is, that it is in principle not possible to be absolutely certain of the meaning that a speaker attaches to an utterance. All that can be done is to examine the utterance as a part of the overall behaviour of the individual, and to use these observations to interpret the meaning of any utterances. For Quine, as for Wittgenstein and Austin, meaning is not something that is associated with a word or sentence, but is one aspect of the overall behaviour and culture of the speaker. W. V. Quine Willard Van Orman Quine (June 25, 1908 - December 25, 2000) was one of the most influential American philosophers and logicians of the 20th century. ...


Quine's intellectual disciple, Donald Davidson, sought to find the meaning of an utterance in its truth-conditions. He proposed translating the sentences of a natural language such as English into first-order predicate calculus, and using the Truth-conditional semantics thus obtained as the definitive meaning of the utterance. Donald Davidson (March 6, 1917 – August 30, 2003) was an American philosopher and the Willis S. and Marion Slusser Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. ... It has been suggested that Predicate calculus be merged into this article or section. ... Truth-conditional semantics is the name for an approach to semantics of natural language that sees the meaning of a sentence being the same as, or reducible to, the truth conditions of that sentence. ...


Linguistic approaches to meaning

Linguistic strings can be made up of phenomena like words, phrases, and sentences, and each seems to have a different kind of meaning. Individual words all by themselves, such as the word "bachelor," have one kind of meaning, because they only seem to refer to some abstract concept. Phrases, such as "the brightest star in the sky", seem to be different from individual words, because they are complex symbols arranged into some order. There is also the meaning of whole sentences, such as "Barry is a bachelor", which is both a complex whole, and seems to express a statement that might be true or false.


In linguistics the fields most closely associated with meaning are semantics and pragmatics. Semantics deals most directly with what words or phrases mean, and pragmatics deals with how the environment changes the meanings of words. Syntax and morphology also have a profound effect on meaning. The syntax of a language allows a good deal of information to be conveyed even when the specific words used are not known to the listener, and a language's morphology can allow a listener to uncover the meaning of a word by examining the morphemes that make it up. In the main, semantics (from the Greek and in greek letters σημαντικός or in latin letters semantikós, or significant meaning, derived from sema, sign) is the study of meaning, in some sense of that term. ... Pragmatics is generally the study of natural language understanding, and specifically the study of how context influences the interpretation of meanings. ... Syntax, originating from the Greek words συν (syn, meaning co- or together) and τάξις (táxis, meaning sequence, order, arrangement), can in linguistics be described as the study of the rules, or patterned relations that govern the way the words in a sentence come together. ... Morphology is a subdiscipline of linguistics that studies word structure. ... In Morpheme-based morphology, a morpheme is the smallest language unit that carries a semantic interpretation. ...


Semantics

The field of semantics examines the ways in which words, phrases, and sentences can have meaning. Semantics 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. This, however, only works for nouns and noun phrases. In the main, semantics (from the Greek and in greek letters σημαντικός or in latin letters semantikós, or significant meaning, derived from sema, sign) is the study of meaning, in some sense of that term. ... The distinction between Sinn and Bedeutung (usually but not always translated sense and reference, respectively) was an innovation of the German philosopher and mathematician Gottlob Frege in his 1892 paper Über Sinn und Bedeutung (On Sense and Reference), which is still widely read today. ... In linguistics, a noun phrase is a phrase whose Head is a noun. ...


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, like "Ouch!"; performative sentences, such as "I damn thee!"; and commandative sentences, such as "Get the milk from the fridge". This aspect of meaning is called the grammatical mood. In linguistics, many grammars have the concept of grammatical mood, which describes the relationship of a verb with reality and intent. ...


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. A verb phrase (VP) is a phrase whose head is a verb. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with Theta role. ...


Semiotics

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 (like Socrates, Saussure didn't much concern himself with the written word). 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. Semiotics, or semiology, is the study of signs, both individually and grouped in sign systems. ... Saussure Ferdinand de Saussure (November 26, 1857 - February 22, 1913) was a Swiss linguist, considered by many to be the father of structuralism. ... This article is about the ancient Greek philosopher, for all other uses see: Socrates (disambiguation) Socrates ca. ...


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 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 synaesthetics). This article or section is in need of attention from an expert on the subject. ...


Pragmatics

Pragmatics studies the ways that context affects meaning. The two primary forms of context important to pragmatics are linguistic context and situational context. Pragmatics is generally the study of natural language understanding, and specifically the study of how context influences the interpretation of meanings. ...


Linguistic context refers to the language surrounding the phrase in question. The importance of linguistic context becomes exceptionally clear when looking at pronouns: in most situations, 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".


Situational context, on the other hand, refers 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.


When we speak we perform speech acts. A speech act has an illocutionary point or illocutionary force. For example, the point of an assertion is to represent the world as being a certain way. The point of a promise is to put oneself under an obligation to do something. The illucutionary point of a speech act must be distinguished from its perlocutionary effect, which is what it brings about. A request, for example, has as its illocutionary point to direct someone to do something. Its perlocutionary effect may be the doing of the thing by the person directed. Sentences in different grammatical moods, the declarative, imperative, and interrogative, tend to perform speech acts of specific sorts. But in particular contexts one may perform a different speech act using them than that for which they are typically put to use. Thus, as noted above, one may use a sentence such as "it's cold in here" not only to make an assertion but also to request that one's auditor turn up the heat. Speech acts include performative utterances, in which one performs the speech act by using a first person present tense sentence which says that one is performing the speech act. Examples are: 'I promise to be there', 'I warn you not to do it', 'I advise you to turn yourself in', etc. Some specialized devices for performing speech acts are exclamatives and phatics, such as 'Ouch!' and 'Hello!', respectively. The former is used to perform an expressive speech act, and the latter for greeting someone. A speech act is an action performed by means of language, such as describing something (), asking a question (Is it snowing?), making a request or order (Could you pass the salt?, Drop your weapon or Ill shoot you!), or making a promise () For much of the history of linguistics... Illocutionary force is the effect a speech act has in the world. ... In linguistics, many grammars have the concept of grammatical mood, which describes the relationship of a verb with reality and intent. ... Performative utterances are speech acts which perform the action the sentence describes. ... In linguistics, a phatic expression is one whose only function is to perform a social task, i. ...


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.


In applied pragmatics (such as neuro-linguistic programming), meaning is constituted by an individual through the active significance generated by the mental processing of stimuli input from the sensory organs. Thus, people can see, hear, feel/touch, taste and smell, and form meanings out of those sensory experiences, actively and interactively. Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is a set of techniques or rituals and beliefs that adherents use primarily as an approach to psychotherapy, healing, communication and personal development. ...


Even though a sensory input created by a stimulus cannot be articulated in language or signs of any kind, it can nevertheless have a meaning. This can be experimentally demonstrated by showing that people behaviourally respond in specific, non-arbitrary ways to sensing a stimulus, consciously or sub-consciously, even although they have no way of telling what it is or means, and no possible way of knowing what it is or what it means.


See also

  • Meaning (non-linguistic)

Fields 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. ...

Perspectives General Semantics is a school of thought founded by Alfred Korzybski in about 1933 in response to his observations that most people had difficulty defining human and social discussions and problems and could almost never predictably resolve them into elements that were responsive to successful intervention or correction. ... Semiotics, or semiology, is the study of signs, both individually and grouped in sign systems. ... In the main, semantics (from the Greek and in greek letters σημαντικός or in latin letters semantikós, or significant meaning, derived from sema, sign) is the study of meaning, in some sense of that term. ... Pragmatics is generally the study of natural language understanding, and specifically the study of how context influences the interpretation of meanings. ...

Theories Logical positivism (later referred to as logical empiricism, rational empiricism, and also neo-positivism) is a philosophy that originated in the Vienna Circle in the 1920s. ... Ordinary language philosophy is less a philosophical doctrine or school than it is a loose network of approaches to traditional philosophical problems. ...

Considerations A causal theory of proper names is any of a family of views about what kind of meaning a proper name (or proper noun) has, what object it refers to, and how it acquires these features. ... The Theory of Descriptions is one of the philosopher Bertrand Russells most significant contributions to the philosophy of language. ... A definite description is a denoting phrase in the form of the X where X is a noun-phrase or a singular common noun that picks out a specific individual or object. ... Universal grammar is a theory of linguistics postulating principles of grammar shared by all languages, thought to be innate to humans. ...

Important theorists An idea (Greek: ιδέα) is a specific thought which arises in the mind. ... For images in Wikipedia, see Wikipedia:Images. ... Information as a concept bears a diversity of meanings, from everyday usage to technical settings. ... Senses are the physiological methods of perception. ... The Symbol Grounding Problem is related to the problem of how words get their meanings, and of what meanings are. ... In language, a metaphor (from the Greek: metapherin) is a rhetorical trope defined as a direct comparison between two or more seemingly unrelated subjects. ...

John Langshaw Austin (March 28, 1911 - February 8, 1960) was a philosopher of language, who developed much of the current theory of speech acts. ... Roland Barthes Roland Barthes (November 12, 1915 – March 25, 1980) was a French literary critic, literary and social theorist, philosopher, and semiotician. ... Avram Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is the Institute Professor Emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. ... Photo of Umberto Eco by Robert Birnbaum Umberto Eco (born January 5, 1932) is an Italian medievalist, philosopher and novelist, best known for his novel The Name of the Rose and his many essays. ... Mans search for meaning Viktor Emil Frankl, M.D., Ph. ... Herbert Paul Grice (1913 - 1988), often writing under the name Paul Grice, was a philosopher remembered mainly for his substantial contribution to the study of meaning within language, particularly his cooperative principle, the maxims of conversation derived from the cooperative principle, and his theory of implicatures. ... Saul Aaron Kripke (born in November, 1940, Omaha, Nebraska) is an American philosopher and logician now emeritus from Princeton and professor of philosophy at CUNY Graduate Center. ... Charles Sanders Peirce Charles Sanders Santiago Peirce (pronounced purse), (September 10, 1839, Cambridge, Massachusetts – April 19, 1914, Milford, Pennsylvania) was an American polymath. ... Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS (18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970), was an influential British philosopher, logician, and mathematician, working mostly in the 20th century. ... Saussure Ferdinand de Saussure (November 26, 1857 - February 22, 1913) was a Swiss linguist, considered by many to be the father of structuralism. ... John Rogers Searle (born July 31, 1932) is Mills Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, and is noted for contributions to the philosophy of language, philosophy of mind and consciousness, on the characteristics of socially constructed versus physical realities, and on practical reason. ... Claude Lévi-Strauss Claude Lévi-Strauss (IPA pronounciation ) born November 28, 1908, is a Belgian anthropologist who became one of the twentieth centurys greatest intellectuals by developing structuralism as a method of understanding human society and culture. ... Professor Sir Peter Frederick Strawson (November 23, 1919 – 13 February 2006) was an English philosopher. ...

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.
  • Berger, Peter and Thomas Luckmann. The Social Construction of Reality : A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. 1967. First Anchor Books Edition. 240 pages.
  • 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.
  • Goffman, Erving. Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. 1959. Anchor Books.
  • Grice, Paul. Studies in the Way of Words. 1989. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • 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

  • Meaning at CCMS
  • Semiotics and Saussure at CCMS
  • A summary of Wittengenstein's view of meaning
  • meaning.ch
  • [1] USECS as the general catalog of meanings

 
 

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