Quartz Hill School of Theology

The nature of linguistic meaning

Linguistic meaning is the meaning of words, phrases, or sentences. There are many uses of the word "mean", for instance:

1. That is no mean accomplishment (insignificant)
2. He was so mean to me (cruel)
3. I mean to help him if I can (intend)
4. The passage of this bill will mean the end of life as we know it (result in)
5. Once again life has meaning for me (significance)
6. What is the meaning of this (explanation)
7. He just lost his job. That means he will have to look for a new one. (implies)

Theories of linguistic meaning are:

1. Referential theory
    a. Language is used to talk about things
    b. the meaning of an expression is that to which it refers or the relation between the expression and its referent
    c. reference is by naming (words stand for something) or describing
2. Ideational theory
    a. words or expressions have meaning as they are used to refer to the idea that gives rise to them or to which they themselves give rise; as in psychological effects in hearers.
3. Behavioral theory (or stimulous-response)
    a. words or expressions have meaning as they are used to refer to the situation (stimulous) in which they are uttered and the respoonses which they elicit
    b. meaning is a function of stimulous and response (Bloomfield)
    c. Meaning is a function of behavioral disposition
    d. meaning is a function of the conditions under which it is uttered
    e. three factors are involved: the symbol (i.e. words and expressions), the thought (or interpretation), and the referent (or that refered to). We get from words to things indirectly, by way of thought.
    (words)      (things)
4. Use theory
    a. meaning is a function of use
    b. words or expressions have meaning as they are used, e.g., to perform any speech act and not only to refer to something, that is, to name or describe.
    c. speech acts consist of:
        1) uttering sentences (locutionary acts)
        2) what is done by the speaker in uttering the sentence (illocutionary acts, as, for instance, announce)
        3) the effect on the hearer (perlocutionary acts, as, e.g., encourage)
    d. Two sentences have the same meaning if they are used to do the same thing, that is, if they have the same illocutionary act potential.
    e. To know what a sentence means is to know how to use it correctly.
    f. Meaning is not what sentences have but what persons do with them.

Meaning can be distinguished as cognitive or noncognitive (emotive)

1. Cognitive
It is empirically verifiable or confirmable. It has truth value (i.e., it is true or false) and it is genuinely informative.
2. Noncognitive
It is expressive of an emotion or feeling of the speaker, as in, for instance, a value judgment.

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Quartz Hill School of Theology
43543 51st Street West
Quartz Hill, CA 93536

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