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Communication, Symbols, and Meaning. John A. Cagle. David Berlo (1960). Meanings are in people Communication does not consist of the transmission of meanings, but of the transmission of messages Meanings are not in the message; they are in the message-users

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Communication, Symbols, and Meaning

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Communication symbols and meaning

Communication, Symbols, and Meaning

John A. Cagle

David berlo 1960

David Berlo (1960)

  • Meanings are in people

  • Communication does not consist of the transmission of meanings, but of the transmission of messages

  • Meanings are not in the message; they are in the message-users

  • Words do not mean at all; only people mean

  • People can have similar meanings only to the extent that they have had, or can anticipate having, similar experiences

  • Meanings are never fixed; as experience changes, so meanings change

  • No two people can have exactly the same meaning for anything

A few sentences

A few sentences

  • “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.”

  • “Picasso enjoyed painting his models nude.”

  • “Visiting relatives can be boring.”

  • “My son has grown another foot.”

  • “I saw the man with binoculars.”

  • “The man who hunts ducks out on weekends.”

  • “I cannot recommend this person too highly.”

Ogden richards 1923 symbols and semantic triangle




Ogden & Richards (1923): Symbols and Semantic Triangle




  • Symbol – arbitrary sign to referent associations

  • Denotation or referential meaning

  • Connotation or affective meaning

  • Context is the key to meaning – “most words, as they pass from context to context, change their meanings”

Signs and symbols

Signs and Symbols

  • A sign is something we directly encounter, yet at the same time it refers to something else. Thunder is a sign of rain. A punch in the nose is a sign of anger. An arrow is a sign of whatever it points toward.

  • Words are also signs, but of a special kind. They are symbols. Unlike the examples cited above, most symbols have no natural connection with the things they describe. There’s nothing in the sound of the word kiss or anything visual in the letters h-u-g that signifies an embrace. One could just as easily coin the term snarf or clag to symbolize a close encounter of the romantic kind.

Language frequencies

Language Frequencies

  • In the earlier part of this century, Ogden & Richards invented Basic English; a simplified vocabulary of 850 elementary English words.

  • It seemed to help worldwide communication, but soon was considered too rigid and boring, halting creative expression.

Peirce morris s levels of language analysis

Peirce/Morris’s Levels of Language Analysis

  • Syntactics – signs to signs

  • Semantics – signs to things

  • Pragmatics – signs to people

  • Phonology – sounds in a language phones, phonemes, morphs, and morphemes

Language is rule governed

Language is Rule-Governed

  • Phonological rules (sounds)

  • Syntactic rules (structure of language)

  • Semantic rules (specific meanings)

  • Pragmatic rules (appropriate interpretation within a given context)

Communication symbols and meaning


spoken or written word recognition


syntactic processing





Themanbites the dog.

semantic processing


[MAN [+ hum, -teeth ...] DOG [+ anim, +teeth]

pragmatic interpretation


An cryptic email from my wife

“I heard from JRC. She had to rush off to a hospital (Children's?) and will write later. Eve”

My immediate reaction was a pang of great concern— what had happened to my daughter, Jackie, and why did she have to go to the hospital?

Some seconds later I “remembered” Jackie works for the California Transplant Donor Network and her work routinely takes her to several hospitals, including Children’s Hospital.

O the layered complexity of meaning making!

An Cryptic Email from My Wife

Operation of a hypothetical semantic key sort

Operation of a hypothetical Semantic Key Sort

Osgood s mediation hypothesis

Osgood’s Mediation Hypothesis

  • The basic S-R association is responsible for the establishment of meaning.

  • Three levels of response to stimuli

    • Projection – simple neural pathway system, reflexive

    • Integration – associations through experience

    • Representational – stimulus leads to internal stimulus (meaning) which leads to overt behavior

Development of a sign

Development of a sign

  • A portion of response R becomes represented in internal response rm

  • Meaning is the internal mediating responserm sm which is connotative

Communication symbols and meaning



Hebb s integration principle

Hebb’s Integration Principle

The greater the frequency with which stimulus events (S-S) or response events (R-R) have been paired in input or output experience of the organism, the greater will be the tendency for their central correlates to activate one another.

Factors of semantic space

Factors of Semantic Space

  • Evaluative factor (good - bad) - that can be seen in the example as 'Good-Bad', 'Fresh - Stale', 'Cold - Hot')

  • Potency factor (strong - weak) - seen in the example as 'Weak - Strong'

  • Activity factor (active - passive) - in the example as 'Active - Passive', 'Tense - Relaxed'

Semantic differential measures connotative meaning

Semantic differential measures connotative meaning

Communication symbols and meaning

Semantic Space

Semantic differential measures connotative meaning1

Semantic differential measures connotative meaning

Seven ideas about language george a miller 1965 some preliminaries to psycholinguistics

Seven Ideas about LanguageGeorge A. Miller (1965): Some Preliminaries to Psycholinguistics

  • Not all physical features of speech are significant for vocal communication, and not all significant features of speech have physical representation.

  • The meaning of an utterance should not be confused with its reference.

  • The meaning of an utterance is not a linear sum of the meanings of the words that comprise it.

Communication symbols and meaning

The syntactic structure of a sentence imposes groupings that govern the interactions between the meanings of the words in that sentence.

There is no limit to the number of sentences or the number of meanings that can be expressed.

A description of a language and a description of a language user must be kept distinct.

There is a large biological component to the human capacity for articulate speech.

Pearce cronen s coordinated management of meaning

Pearce & Cronen’s Coordinated Management of Meaning

  • “From a social constructionist perspective, good communication occurs when you and others are able to coordinate your actions sufficiently well that your conversations comprise social worlds in which you and they can lie well--that is with dignity, honor, joy and love.”

Rules in interaction

Rules in Interaction

  • A social constructionist ontology and an interpretive or even critical epistemology

  • CMM sees interaction as a rule-guided activity

  • Constitutive rules: Rules that specify what particular behaviors “count for” in interaction

  • Regulative rules: Rules that specify sequences of behavior for particular situations

Systems of social reality

Systems of Social Reality

  • CMM proposes that rules are interpreted within a hierarchy of meaning

  • This hierarchy of meaning includes six levels of interpretation:

    • content level,

    • speech act level,

    • episode level,

    • relationship level,

    • life script level, and

    • cultural patterns level

Coordination interaction processes

“Coordination” – Interaction Processes

  • Coordination in interaction refers to the “meshing of actions,” not the perfect sharing of interpretations

  • Interactions that are not well coordinated (e.g., double binds and paradoxes) indicate differences in rule usage and in levels of interpretation

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