Language is a way, either spoken or written, that we can communicate and transfer messages, information, and/or meaning.

          Language is a way, either spoken or written, we communicate and transfer messages, information, and/or meaning. Language is a representation of, and gives meaning to, our world. There are many languages representing different cultures and traditions, and we form our language through our view of our own world. Language is one of the elements of our frame of reference because of the very nature of its creation. Communication at its core is the creation and transfer of meaning. We have an intent, a unique idea or meaning we formulate, and we want to share it with others. This begins the exchange of self-created meaning.

         Communication and language are symbolic, incorporating the use of symbols, like the letters you are reading now to form words and create meaning, or at least the meaning we were told by others was correct. Words may have different meanings to different people. The use of symbols to create meaning is what separates humans from every other species. We are the only species to use letters as symbols to create meaning. Other species may use sounds, gestures, vocal, and non-verbal means to convey messages. Many languages, English, French, German, Danish, Italian, etc., share similar symbols to transfer meaning, but each is unique. A great many other languages use varying symbols to convey meaning, Chinese, Korean, Japanese for example. Not everyone will be able to understand these symbols, but they convey meaning nonetheless. Periodically, the meaning of the symbols of other types of cultures and/or languages can create dissonance in understanding the core meaning.

Triangle of Meaning

         Charles Ogden and Ivor Richards were philosophers who wrote the book The Meaning of Meaning: A Study of the Influence of Language upon Thought and of the Science of Symbolism. They theorized the understanding of a word or object resides within each of us (our frame of reference), and this internal understanding influences how we interpret words. Their diagram of this word/meaning structure is the “Triangle of Meaning.” This system shows a word’s relationship to the item and thought. The triangle connects symbols (words) with thoughts (people) and thoughts (people) with the referent (objects). The dotted line shows there is no correlation between the symbols (words) and the referent (objects) without first going through thoughts (people). We give meaning to objects; meaning is not inherent in the object itself.

Ogden and Richards' "Triangle of Meaning"

Review Questions

1) What is language? How do we represent our language? 

2) We give meaning to objects through our thoughts. Why is there no correlation between words and objects?


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