Sunday, January 17, 2010

Where does the meaning reside?

Is meaning in words, or people? This is a discussion my wife and I have repeated time and time again beginning shortly after we began dating. At the time she was in her second year of her undergraduate degree in communications. She was taking a class on interpersonal communications, and loving every minute of it. Today we find ourselves discussing it again as she prepares to begin teaching the very class next Tuesday.

One of the class discussions was whether words have meaning. The class teaches that they do not. According to the text words are simply tools which we use to communicate meaning to another individual using our background, history, education, etc. They will then use their background, history, education and so forth to interpret meaning. You can imagine the game of telephone where the meaning of what we say is open for interpretation.

I respectfully disagree. I believe words do in fact have meaning. We have a book dedicated to just that, a dictionary. It lines out in very unambiguous terms the meaning of each word. Should I choose a word incorrectly, or you interpret the word to mean something it does not. Then there is a failure in knowledge, and the words was used/interpreted incorrectly.

On the other hand we can all think of words that have come to mean other things through out the years; cool, hip, rad, groovy, mouse. I'm sure you can come up with many more. What do you think? Does the meaning reside in the words, or in people.


Mookie said...

I personally believe both.

I do not believe so much that the meaning of a word resides so much in whatever background you come from, but rather the tone used with it by the communicator, such as my faovrite form of communication- sarcasm. Technically the words may sound nice and appealing in text, but add conversational tone to it, and the entire meaning changes. And if I'm being sarcastic to someone, it does not matter their background, environment, etc, there is no room to interpret that I am not making fun of them, the situation, or what they said.

And I agree with you, the reason we have a dictionary is so that we may know the very meaning of the words themselves. If I ask you a question relating to the mating habits of bears, you can't merely answer my question with the words, "milk tastes yummy" and say that it means the same as "baby bears result from bear mating". It just cant work. Without clear cut definition of words, communication can and will fail, without fail.

All In said...

What a cop out. Pick a side here Switzerland. You are either with me or against me. Those who harbor the enemy will be dealt with.

Mookie said...

Are you attempting to flaunt disrespect towards the Mookified Nation?!?!?!? I may have to send the Colonel your way leading a couple divisions of little green army men to see how much you really mean it!

If you would read further than the first sentence, I clarify my "both" statement, in that I do not harbor the enemy. First of all, I think her interpretation is wrong, and second of all she is a girl and therefore has cooties. I still bow to the altar of the Great Webster and his Dictionarial Genius, just as you do, you heathen!

Anonymous said...

There is a difference between definition and meaning.

A word is a stream of sounds only. It has one or more agreed-upon definitions. From those definitions, as well as from the context, and (Mookie's right) tone and facial expression, the meaning intended by the person can be derived--often accurately.

Take the word hot. One defition is "having a relatively high temperature." Another is "attractive, good looking." Until you hear the word used in context, you do not know what it means.

A mother, checking her daughter's temperature might say, "She is hot!" A young man who sees her in her cheerleader uniform might say, "She is hot!" Same words, different meaning.