The meaning of meaning

From Academic Kids

Any theory of meaning attempts to define the meaning of meaning. The word, "Meaning", can be used in many ways, referring to any kind of symbol that provokes some kind of thought. It can refer to both linguistic and non-linguistic meaning. The words in this article are examples of "linguistic meaning", while body language is an example of a medium for the display of non-linguistic meanings.

Linguistic meaning is any meaning that words, sentences, and other items of language have, as well as the meaning(s) that human beings can have in using those items of language. When it is asked what the meaning of "meaning" is, in the theory of meaning, it is an inquiry into language.

"Meaning", like most English words, is highly ambiguous. That is to say, meaning has many different senses. (A sense, in this context, means one and only one of the definitions provided by a dictionary.) So, the theory of meaning is somewhat difficult to formulate because there are many different kinds linguistic meaning.

For example, the distinction between speaker's meaning and semantic meaning has been drawn by the prominent contemporary American philosopher Saul Kripke, elaborating on the work of ordinary language philosophers Paul Grice and Keith Donnollan. 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.

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.

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.

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".

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.

See also Gottlob Frege, John Austin, Ludwig Wittgenstein

A summary of Wittengenstein's view of meaning (


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