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On Meaning. December 10, 2009. Sign. Token : stimulates at least one sensory organ Referent : points out the thing designated in the real world. Signs: Referents, Tokens. How Signs Work. Sign Type I: Icons. concrete, directly representational visual image OR

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on meaning

On Meaning

December 10, 2009

  • Token: stimulates at least one sensory organ
  • Referent: points out the thing designated in the real world
sign type i icons
Sign Type I: Icons
  • concrete, directly representational
  • visual image


  • auditory copy: onomatopoeia
    • “buzz” “crack” “splat” “cuckoo”
    • “Batman” words
sign type ii symptoms
Sign Type II: Symptoms
  • Spontaneously convey the internal state or emotions of the sender
  • Not deliberately selected
  • Not arbitrary
  • Examples
    • blushing
    • red of electric burner of stove
sign type iii symbols
Sign Type III: Symbols
  • Abstract
  • Arbitrary
  • Not directly representational
  • Does not look like or sound like its referent
what is this based on
What is this based on?
  • Saussure needed a theoretical basis for his ‘synchronic’ linguistics (v. diachronic):
    • a study of the state of language in general;
    • an understanding of the conditions of any language.
dyadic sign system
Dyadic sign system
  • A synchronic view ultimately takes a slice of language out of time and space for analysis; and views a language as a self-refential system.
  • Applied to the sign, this gives us signifier and signified.
chien hund inu
  • This material aspect and mental concept are bound together.
  • Further, their relationship is arbitrary:
    • ‘d-o-g’ does not equal ‘dogness.’
  • Meaning is a psychological phenomenon and thus not a concern of Saussure’s semiology. Language and meaning are divorced.
  • His ideas set up the langue/ parole division which informs all of linguistics; the latter being of prime concern.
how did this come about
How did this come about?
  • Where to begin? Long, long ago…
  • Pursuits of meaning have tended to travel through language to arrive there.
bacon restores invention to rhetoric
Bacon restores “invention” to rhetoric
  • Investigation vs. Invention
  • Former = a function of logic
  • Latter = the recovery of pertinent information for argument or teaching
  • Thus, rhetoric ends up with the ‘service’ aspect of invention
meaning left behind
Meaning left behind
  • Bacon favored inductive logic, as it furthered the new science. Deductive logic’s use of syllogism relied on established premises, thus not fruitful.
  • Logic approaches reason (i.e. ‘investigation’), and is distanced from communication.
enter descartes
Enter Descartes
  • Argument is for dispute
    • Communicative/probabilistic aspects are assigned to rhetoric
  • Experiment is for investigation
    • As we are all ‘mental,’ logic must be a means of investigation, not just proof
science as truth language as impediment
Science as Truth,Language as Impediment
  • Late 17th century calls for language clarity
  • Royal Society: attacks the uncertainty that Tropes & Figures induce
  • Locke: use words consistently to tighten their relation with ideas
18 th century
18th Century
  • “Fixing” language through dictionaries and prescriptive grammars
  • Universal grammar stimulated scientific study of language & eventually linguistics
  • Peirce develops a triadic sign system: sign/object/interpretant
  • Interpretant is able to become a further sign/object; thus meaning is dynamic
bringing it into rhetoric
Bringing it into rhetoric
  • I.A. Richards - early 20th century
    • A founder of the new rhetoric
  • Draws on several fields: Language & Semiotics in particular
  • Saussure – language as arbitrary
  • Peirce – semiotic triangle
iar s motivation misunderstanding
IAR’s motivation:misunderstanding
  • The proper meaning superstition
  • IAR attacks the notion that every word has a correct meaning of its own. The stability in words comes only from the constancy in some contexts. Contexts are ever changing and they always determine and shape word meanings.
  • IAR expands Saussure’s paradigmatic and syntagmatic ideas and uses Peirce’s idea of unlimited semiosis (through the semiotic triangle)
meaning beyond words
Meaning beyond words
  • “A word's context, in this sense, is a certain recurrent pattern of past groups of events, and to say that its meaning depends on its context would be to point to the process by which it has acquired its meaning"
  • Interpretation in Teaching (p. VIII)
expanding context
Expanding context
  • IAR incorporated the latest views on meaning in order to develop rhetoric
  • Current work meshing cognitive science, phenomenology and art could also add to the field
embodied meaning
Embodied Meaning
  • Mark Johnson finds the bodily origin of meaning in sensorimotor processes:
    • Qualities and structures of movement, infant development, emotions & concepts/reason
    • Preconscious meaning underlies our higher-level achievements of thinking and communicating
  • Looks at human cognition within an evolutionary framework of animal cognition
  • Problematizes ‘representational theory of mind’ – suggests thought emerges via sensorimotor capacities (and not internal representations)
  • Argues that the structures and processes we use in everyday meaning-making are the same used in art
  • Looks at meaning in poetry, painting and music: “the arts are important just insofar as they help us grasp, criticize, and transform meaning and values”. –Dewey
another context
Another context
  • Expanding the meaning of meaning to include ourselves.
  • Visual rhetoric was just the beginning
  • Meaning should be open to all nonverbal interpretations
fahnestock on cog science
Fahnestock on Cog Science
  • We should not imitate it but continue to look at historically situated texts and the trends they embody; rhetoric shouldn’t be hostile to scientific grounding. “In the days of Campbell, rhetoricians did predict that (it) could be compatible with science.”
  • “Rhetoric in the Age of Cognitive Science” p. 175 (2005)