- Language is the basic human communication system aimed at ensuring the exchange of information between the communicants which implies that the semantic side forms the backbone of communication .
- By definition lexicology deals with words , morpheme & word-groups . All those linguistic units are two-faced entities having both form & meaning .
- Semasiology underlines all other branches of lexicology . Meaning is the object of semasiological study .
However , at present there is no universally accepted definition of meaning or rather a definition reflecting all the basic characteristic features of meaning & being at the same time operational . Thus , linguists state that meaning is “one of the most ambiguous & most controversial terms in the theory of language “(Steven Ullman).Leech states that the majority of definitions turn out to be a dead end not only on practical but on logical grounds . Numerous statements on the complexity of the phenomenon of meaning are found on the Russian tradition as well by such linguists as А.А.Потебня , И.А.Бодуэн де Куртене , Щерба , Виноградов , А.И. Смерницкий & others .
However vague & inadequate , different definitions of meaning help to sum up the general characteristics of the notion comparing various approaches to the description of the content side of the language . There are three main categories of definitions which may be referred to as :
- analytical or referential definition of meaning
- functional or contextual definition of meaning
- operational or information-oriented definition of meaning
Analytical or referential
definition of meaning.
They seek to find the essence of meaning establishing the interdependence between words of the objects or phenomena they denote . The best known analytical model of meaning is the so-called “basic triangle”.
Concept (or our thought)
They are connected directly that means that if we hear a sound-form a certain idea arises in our mind & the idea brings out a certain referent that exists in the reality . But the sound-form & the referent are connected indirectly because there are no objects or phenomena in the reality that predict a certain sound-form , that need to be named by a certain sequence of sounds . The strongest point in the approach is an attempt to link the notion of meaning with the process of naming the objects , processes or phenomena of concrete reality . The analytical definitions of meaning are usually criticized on the grounds that they cannot be applied to sentences .
e. g. The sentence “ I like to read long novels “ does not express single notion , it represents composites of notions specifying the relations between them .
The referential definition of meaning can hardly be applied to semantic additions that come to the surface in the process of communication .
e. g. “Thats very clever “ may mean different sorts of things including that it is not clever at all .
It has also been stated that the referential approach fails to account for that fact that one word may denote different objects & phenomena . That is the case of polysemy . On the other hand one & the same object may be denoted by different words & that is the case of synonymy .
Functional or contextual
Definitions of meaning.
Proceeding from the assumptions that the true meaning of a word is to be found by observing what a man does with it not what he says about it , the proponents of functional approach to meaning define it as the use of the word in the language . It has been suggested that the meaning of a word is revealed by substituting different contexts .
e. g. The meaning of the word cat may be singled out of contexts:
____________ catch mice.
I bought fish for my _____.
and similar sentences.
To get a better insight in to the semantics of a word it is necessary to analyze as many contexts in which it is realized as possible. The question arises when to stop collecting different contexts & what amount of material is sufficient to make a reliable conclusion about the meaning of a word ? In practice a scholar is guided by intuition which amount to the previous knowledge of the notions the given word denotes. Besides , there are contexts which are so infrequent that they can hardly be registered & quite obviously they have never been met by the speakers of the given language. Nevertheless being presented with a context a native speaker proceeds not from a list of possible contexts but from something else. The functional approach to meaning is important because it emphasizes the fact that words are seldom if ever used in isolation & thus the meaning of a word is revealed only when it is realized in a context. But on the whole the functional approach may be described as a complimentary , additional to the referential one.
They are centered on defining meaning through its role in the process of communication. Just like functional approach information-oriented definitions are part of studying words in action. They are more interested in how the words work , how the meaning works than what the meaning is. The operational approach began to take shape with the growing interest of linguists in the communicative aspect of the language when the object of study was shifted to the relations between the language we use & the situations within which it is used. In this frame-work meaning is defined as information conveyed from the speaker to the listener in the process of communication. The definition is applicable both to words & sentences & thus overcomes one of the drawbacks of the referential approach. The problem is that it is more applicable to sentences than to words & even as such fails to draw a clear distinguishing line between the direct sense (that is meaning) & implication (that is additional information).
e. g. Thus the sentence “John came at 6 oclock” besides the direct meaning may imply that John was 2 hours late , that he was punctual as usual , that it was a surprise for John to come , that he came earlier , that he was not expected at all & many others.
In each case the implication would depend on the concrete situation of communication. And discussing meaning as the information conveyed would amount to the discussion of an almost endless set of possible communication situations which in the end will bring us back to a modified contextual or functional approach to meaning. The distinction between the two layers in the information conveyed is so important that two different terms may be used to denote them: the direct information conveyed by the units which build up a sentence may be referred to as meaning while the information added to the given extralinguistic situation may be called sense.