Meaning (linguistics)
In linguistics
Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....

, meaning is what is expressed by the writer or speaker, and what is conveyed
Conveyed concept
Conveyed concept is a set phrase that denotes a concept as understood or perceived. If someone explains an idea or if an idea is conveyed by some type of media then that idea or concept is a conveyed concept but in the mind of the person/people to whom it was conveyed it is a concept processed...

 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
Inference is the act or process of deriving logical conclusions from premises known or assumed to be true. The conclusion drawn is also called an idiomatic. The laws of valid inference are studied in the field of logic.Human inference Inference is the act or process of deriving logical conclusions...

 from the objects and the concept
The word concept is used in ordinary language as well as in almost all academic disciplines. Particularly in philosophy, psychology and cognitive sciences the term is much used and much discussed. WordNet defines concept: "conception, construct ". However, the meaning of the term concept is much...

s are expressed by words, phrases or sentences in semantics
Semantics is the study of meaning. It focuses on the relation between signifiers, such as words, phrases, signs and symbols, and what they stand for, their denotata....

 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
Context (language use)
Context is a notion used in the language sciences in two different ways, namely as* verbal context* social context- Verbal context :...

. It assumed that some intended meaning is present by the writer or speaker in pragmatics
Pragmatics is a subfield of linguistics which studies the ways in which context contributes to meaning. Pragmatics encompasses speech act theory, conversational implicature, talk in interaction and other approaches to language behavior in philosophy, sociology, and linguistics. It studies how the...

 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
Signs is the plural of sign. See sign .Signs may also refer to:*Signs , a 2002 film by M. Night Shyamalan*Signs , a journal of women's studies...

 and language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

. 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
Body language
Body language is a form of non-verbal communication, which consists of body posture, gestures, facial expressions, and eye movements. Humans send and interpret such signals almost entirely subconsciously....

, and tone
Intonation (linguistics)
In linguistics, intonation is variation of pitch while speaking which is not used to distinguish words. It contrasts with tone, in which pitch variation does distinguish words. Intonation, rhythm, and stress are the three main elements of linguistic prosody...

 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". 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
Gottlob Frege
Friedrich Ludwig Gottlob Frege was a German mathematician, logician and philosopher. He is considered to be one of the founders of modern logic, and made major contributions to the foundations of mathematics. He is generally considered to be the father of analytic philosophy, for his writings on...

) usually divides words into their sense and reference
Sense and reference
Sinn and bedeutung are usually translated, respectively, as sense and reference. Two different aspects of some terms' meanings, a term's reference is the object that the term refers to, while the term's sense is the way that the term refers to that object.Sinn and bedeutung were introduced by...

. 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
In Christianity, baptism is for the majority the rite of admission , almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church generally and also membership of a particular church tradition...

 you"; and commandative sentences, such as "Get the milk from the fridge". This aspect of meaning is called the grammatical mood
Grammatical mood
In linguistics, grammatical mood is a grammatical feature of verbs, used to signal modality. That is, it is the use of verbal inflections that allow speakers to express their attitude toward what they are saying...

. 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 phrase
Verb phrase
In linguistics, a verb phrase or VP is a syntactic unit composed of at least one verb and the dependents of that verb. One can distinguish between two types of VPs, finite VPs and non-finite VPs . While phrase structure grammars acknowledge both, dependency grammars reject the existence of a...

s, one approach to discovering the way the phrase means is by looking at the thematic role
Thematic role
Thematic role is a linguistic notion, which may refer to:* Theta role * Thematic relation...

s 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
Ferdinand de Saussure
Ferdinand de Saussure was a Swiss linguist whose ideas laid a foundation for many significant developments in linguistics in the 20th century. He is widely considered one of the fathers of 20th-century linguistics...

 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
Synesthesia , from the ancient Greek , "together," and , "sensation," is a neurologically based condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway...


See also

  • Meaning (non-linguistic)
    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...

  • Sphoṭa

  • General Semantics
    General Semantics
    General semantics is a program begun in the 1920's that seeks to regulate the evaluative operations performed in the human brain. After partial program launches under the trial names "human engineering" and "humanology," Polish-American originator Alfred Korzybski fully launched the program as...

    , semiotics
    Semiotics, also called semiotic studies or semiology, is the study of signs and sign processes , indication, designation, likeness, analogy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication...

    , pragmatics
    Pragmatics is a subfield of linguistics which studies the ways in which context contributes to meaning. Pragmatics encompasses speech act theory, conversational implicature, talk in interaction and other approaches to language behavior in philosophy, sociology, and linguistics. It studies how the...

  • Logical positivism
    Logical positivism
    Logical positivism is a philosophy that combines empiricism—the idea that observational evidence is indispensable for knowledge—with a version of rationalism incorporating mathematical and logico-linguistic constructs and deductions of epistemology.It may be considered as a type of analytic...

  • Ordinary language philosophy
    Ordinary language philosophy
    Ordinary language philosophy is a philosophical school that approaches traditional philosophical problems as rooted in misunderstandings philosophers develop by distorting or forgetting what words actually mean in everyday use....

  • Causal theory of names
  • Definite description
    Definite description
    A definite description is a denoting phrase in the form of "the X" where X is a noun-phrase or a singular common noun. The definite description is proper if X applies to a unique individual or object. For example: "the first person in space" and "the 42nd President of the United States of...

  • Theory of descriptions
    Theory of descriptions
    The theory of descriptions is the philosopher Bertrand Russell's most significant contribution to the philosophy of language. It is also known as Russell's Theory of Descriptions...

  • Universal grammar
    Universal grammar
    Universal grammar is a theory in linguistics that suggests that there are properties that all possible natural human languages have.Usually credited to Noam Chomsky, the theory suggests that some rules of grammar are hard-wired into the brain, and manifest themselves without being taught...

  • Idea
    In the most narrow sense, an idea is just whatever is before the mind when one thinks. Very often, ideas are construed as representational images; i.e. images of some object. In other contexts, ideas are taken to be concepts, although abstract concepts do not necessarily appear as images...

  • Image
    An image is an artifact, for example a two-dimensional picture, that has a similar appearance to some subject—usually a physical object or a person.-Characteristics:...

  • Information
    Information in its most restricted technical sense is a message or collection of messages that consists of an ordered sequence of symbols, or it is the meaning that can be interpreted from such a message or collection of messages. Information can be recorded or transmitted. It can be recorded as...

  • Metaphor
    A metaphor is a literary figure of speech that uses an image, story or tangible thing to represent a less tangible thing or some intangible quality or idea; e.g., "Her eyes were glistening jewels." Metaphor may also be used for any rhetorical figures of speech that achieve their effects via...

  • Sense
    Senses are physiological capacities of organisms that provide inputs for perception. The senses and their operation, classification, and theory are overlapping topics studied by a variety of fields, most notably neuroscience, cognitive psychology , and philosophy of perception...

  • Symbol
    A symbol is something which represents an idea, a physical entity or a process but is distinct from it. The purpose of a symbol is to communicate meaning. For example, a red octagon may be a symbol for "STOP". On a map, a picture of a tent might represent a campsite. Numerals are symbols for...

  • Symbol grounding
    Symbol grounding
    The Symbol Grounding Problem is related to the problem of how words get their meanings, and hence to the problem of what meaning itself really is. The problem of meaning is in turn related to the problem of consciousness, or how it is that mental states are meaningful...

Important theorists
  • J. L. Austin
    J. L. Austin
    John Langshaw Austin was a British philosopher of language, born in Lancaster and educated at Shrewsbury School and Balliol College, Oxford University. Austin is widely associated with the concept of the speech act and the idea that speech is itself a form of action...

  • Roland Barthes
    Roland Barthes
    Roland Gérard Barthes was a French literary theorist, philosopher, critic, and semiotician. Barthes' ideas explored a diverse range of fields and he influenced the development of schools of theory including structuralism, semiotics, existentialism, social theory, Marxism, anthropology and...

  • Rudolf Carnap
    Rudolf Carnap
    Rudolf Carnap was an influential German-born philosopher who was active in Europe before 1935 and in the United States thereafter. He was a major member of the Vienna Circle and an advocate of logical positivism....

  • Noam Chomsky
    Noam Chomsky
    Avram Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, and activist. He is an Institute Professor and Professor in the Department of Linguistics & Philosophy at MIT, where he has worked for over 50 years. Chomsky has been described as the "father of modern linguistics" and...

  • Eugenio Coseriu
    Eugenio Coseriu
    Eugenio Coşeriu July 27, 1921, Mihăileni, Bălţi, Republic of Moldova – September 7, 2002, Tübingen, Germany) was a linguist that specialized in Romance languages at the University of Tübingen, author of over 50 books, honorary member of the Romanian Academy....

  • Umberto Eco
    Umberto Eco
    Umberto Eco Knight Grand Cross is an Italian semiotician, essayist, philosopher, literary critic, and novelist, best known for his novel The Name of the Rose , an intellectual mystery combining semiotics in fiction, biblical analysis, medieval studies and literary theory...

  • Viktor Frankl
    Viktor Frankl
    Viktor Emil Frankl M.D., Ph.D. was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor. Frankl was the founder of logotherapy, which is a form of Existential Analysis, the "Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy"...

  • Gottlob Frege
    Gottlob Frege
    Friedrich Ludwig Gottlob Frege was a German mathematician, logician and philosopher. He is considered to be one of the founders of modern logic, and made major contributions to the foundations of mathematics. He is generally considered to be the father of analytic philosophy, for his writings on...

  • Paul Grice
    Paul Grice
    Herbert Paul Grice , usually publishing under the name H. P. Grice, H...

  • Roman Jakobson
    Roman Jakobson
    Roman Osipovich Jakobson was a Russian linguist and literary theorist.As a pioneer of the structural analysis of language, which became the dominant trend of twentieth-century linguistics, Jakobson was among the most influential linguists of the century...

  • Saul Kripke
    Saul Kripke
    Saul Aaron Kripke is an American philosopher and logician. He is a professor emeritus at Princeton and teaches as a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center...

  • Claude Lévi-Strauss
    Claude Lévi-Strauss
    Claude Lévi-Strauss was a French anthropologist and ethnologist, and has been called, along with James George Frazer, the "father of modern anthropology"....

  • Charles Sanders Peirce
  • Bertrand Russell
    Bertrand Russell
    Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic. At various points in his life he considered himself a liberal, a socialist, and a pacifist, but he also admitted that he had never been any of these things...

  • Ferdinand de Saussure
    Ferdinand de Saussure
    Ferdinand de Saussure was a Swiss linguist whose ideas laid a foundation for many significant developments in linguistics in the 20th century. He is widely considered one of the fathers of 20th-century linguistics...

  • John Searle
    John Searle
    John Rogers Searle is an American philosopher and currently the Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley.-Biography:...

  • P. F. Strawson
    P. F. Strawson
    Sir Peter Frederick Strawson FBA was an English philosopher. He was the Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy at the University of Oxford from 1968 to 1987. Before that he was appointed as a college lecturer at University College, Oxford in 1947 and became a tutorial fellow the...

  • Willard Van Orman Quine
    Willard Van Orman Quine
    Willard Van Orman Quine was an American philosopher and logician in the analytic tradition...

  • Ludwig Wittgenstein
    Ludwig Wittgenstein
    Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein was an Austrian philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language. He was professor in philosophy at the University of Cambridge from 1939 until 1947...

Further reading

  • Akmajian, Adrian, Richard Demers, Ann Farmer, and Robert Harnish. Linguistics: an introduction to language and communication, 4th edition. 1995. Cambridge: MIT Press
    MIT Press
    The MIT Press is a university press affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts .-History:...

  • Allan, Keith. Linguistic Meaning, Volume One. 1986. New York: Routledge
    Routledge is a British publishing house which has operated under a succession of company names and latterly as an academic imprint. Its origins may be traced back to the 19th-century London bookseller George Routledge...

     & Kegan Paul.
  • Austin, J. L. How to Do Things With Words. 1962. Cambridge: Harvard University Press
    Harvard University Press
    Harvard University Press is a publishing house established on January 13, 1913, as a division of Harvard University, and focused on academic publishing. In 2005, it published 220 new titles. It is a member of the Association of American University Presses. Its current director is William P...

  • 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
    Oxford University Press
    Oxford University Press is the largest university press in the world. It is a department of the University of Oxford and is governed by a group of 15 academics appointed by the Vice-Chancellor known as the Delegates of the Press. They are headed by the Secretary to the Delegates, who serves as...

  • 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
    Blackwell Publishing
    Wiley-Blackwell is the international scientific, technical, medical, and scholarly publishing business of John Wiley & Sons. It was formed by the merger of John Wiley's Global Scientific, Technical, and Medical business with Blackwell Publishing, after Wiley took over Blackwell Publishing in...

  • 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

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