Types of Meaning

Originally posted on Half an Hour, January 9, 2009.

I don't want to spend a whole lot of time on this, but I do want to take enough time to be clear that there are, unambiguously, numerous types of meaning.

Why is this important? When we talk about teaching and learning, we are often talking about meaning. Consider the classic constructivist activity of 'making meaning', for example. Or event he concept of 'content', which is (ostensibly) the 'meaning' of whatever it is that a student is being taught.

What are we to make of such theorizing in the light of the numerous ways that words, sentences, ideas and constructs can have meaning? What does 'making meaning' mean we we consider the range between logical, semantical, and functional meaning?

The idea - often so central to transmission and transactional theorists of learning, that a word or sentence can have a single meaning, or a 'shared meaning', is tested to the extreme by an examination of the nature and constitution of that putative meaning.

In any case, it is always better to show than to argue. Herewith, a bit of an account of some of the many different types of meaning:

Literal meaning - the sentence means what it says. Also known as 'utterance' meaning (Griffiths).

Logical meaning - the meaning of the sentence is determined by (is a part of) a set of logical inferences, such as composition, subordination, etc. Also called 'taxis'. (Kies)

Denotative meaning - the sentence means what it is about. The 'reference' of a sentence, as opposed to its 'sense'. (Frege)

Sematical meaning - meaning is truth (Tarski - 'snow is white' is true iff snow is white)

Positivist meaning - the sentence means what it says that can be empirically confirmed or falsified (Ayer, Carnap, Schlick)

Pragmatic meaning - the relationship between signs and their users. (Morris) Includes "identificational meaning, expressive meaning, associative meaning, social meaning, and imperative meaning." (Lunwen)

Intentional meaning - the sentence means what the author intended it to say. Also known as "sender's meaning" (Griffiths). - John Searle, often includes conversational implicatures

Connotative meaning - the sentence means what readers think about when they read it. Sometimes known as 'sense' (Frege). Also sometimes thought of as 'associative' meaning. (Morris) Includes 'reflected' meaning (what is communicated through association with another sense of the same expression, Leech) and collocative meaning (Leech)

Social meaning - "what is communicated of the social circumstances of language use" (from Leech; Lunwen)

Metaphorical meaning - the meaning is determined by metaphor, and not actual reference

Emotive meaning - related to connotative - the type of emotion the sentence invokes

Functional meaning - the sentence means what it is used for, what it does (Wittgenstein, meaning is use; Austin, speech acts). The 'mode' of a sentence is the function it plays in channeling communication - what degree of feedback it elicits, for example, of what degree of abstraction it considers. (Cope and Kalantzis)

Type meaning - the sentence's meaning is related to what it doesn't say, to the range of possible words or sentences that could be said instead (Derrida). Gillett writes, "Part of the meaning of a word is its 'register'. Which types of language is the word used in: letters or reports, spoken or written, biology or business etc?"

Deictic meaning - meaning is determined with reference to the situation or context in which the word is used. Griffiths writes, "Deixis is pervasive in languages." Common deixic frames include common understandings related to people )'the boss'), time ('tomorrow'), place ('nearby'), participants ('his'), even discourse itself ('this' article).

Relevance, significance or value - "what is the meaning of life?"

Accent - the manner in which the word is pronounced or emphasized can cnage its meaning.

Intralingual meaning - (Morris) intralingual meaning (the relationship between different signs; it includes phonological meaning, graphemic meaning, morphological or lexemic meaning, syntactic meaning, and discoursal or textual meaning).

Thematic meaning - "what is communicated by the way in which the message is organized in terms of order and emphasis" (Leech; Lunwen)

Some links:

Learning Vocabulary: Dealing With Meaning, from Using English for Academic Purposes, Andy Gillett, School of Combined Studies, University of Hertfordshire
Hatfield, UK.

An Introduction to English Semantics and Pragmatics
, Patrick Griffiths.

Powers of Literacy, Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis

Strange Attractors of Meaning, Vladimir Dimitriv

The Grammatical Foundations of Style
, Daniel Kies, Department of English, College of DuPage

Foundations of the Theory of Signs, Charles W. Morris

Seven Types of Meaning, Geoffrey Leech, in Semantics, pp. 10-27.

A Semantic Analysis of the Different Types of Meanings in Translation, Lunwen

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