Communication 370 – Psychology of Language
Semantics and Meaning
Have 5 steps of articulation on the board to start with
Fun for starts: Cinderella told sideways
Questions to wrap up comprehension and production:
Meaning and Semantics—The Ignored Aspect of Language
The problem of meaning: Why is meaning so hard to understand? Why is it so “illogical”?
What happens in meaning:
Denotation: Referring to a specific thing with a word (// dictionary definition: Rover v. dog)
Connotation: The set of associations we have with a word (dog, cabbage)
MODELS OF [semantic] MEANING
E-mail Links from Announcement are inserted where appropriate.
A. BERLO AND ELLIS (CH. 4) ON MEANING: “THE BASICS”
[remember, Ch. 4 is final reading in the “Comprehension” packet, after Clark & Clark Ch. 2]
Following Berlo, we have said that meaning has the following dimensions:
denotative or referential: the sign ----> thing relationship
structural: the meanings given by the formal grammatical structure of the code
contextual: the meanings we get from the context surrounding the sign
connotative: the meanings (often highly personal) which individuals associate with a sign)
Semantics: The study of meaning [Ellis]: Four types of semantic study:
1. Structural semantics: The technical convention of meaning, logical connections b/t words and word types (closely related to grammar); linked also to study of logic that is beyond our class. “Structural semantics is a formal logic that many people have difficulty understanding because so little of our everyday use of language is comparable to formal logic” (pp. 56-57).
After several pages of explanation, “Formal logic and theories of truth have really very little relevance to natural languages—that is, little relevance to the way people actually use language. This is because sentence comprehension also required general knowledge about the world: It requires individual language users to bring background information and presuppositions that are necessary for comprehension.
2. Pragmatics: How speakers make sense of
meaning—“invisible meaning” by which we “must use assumptions, contexts,
background information, and cultural knowlde3ge that is not apparent to figure
out the meaning” (p. 56). Def: “How speakers and writers use the resources of
communication to convey intended meanings” [or, in
3. Contextual semantics: “central to communication”—Ellis gives it a whole chapter that we will not read. “about how people actually use language (communicate) and assign meaning to utterances that are not truth conditional” (p. 59). Allows us to discuss possibilities, probabilities beliefs, and so on.
4. Lexical semantics: “The study of word meanings” (p. 60).
Chomsky’s transformational grammar—classes of phenomena, classified within a lexicon (dictionary) with rules for combining words. Lexical markers are used to differentiate one lexical category from another. For example:
Whale: AQUATIC + MAMMAL
Shark: AQUATIC + FISH
Parsing meaning (word categories)—dimensions:
Coffee: +LIQUID, +HOT +CAFFENATED +GOURMET…
Making new words:
B. OGDEN & RICHARDS’ TRIANGLE OF MEANING
Notes from the Websites:
· Logos (wow--go crazy with the "conjugator" websites--conjugations of verbs in 20 or more languages, maybe 63... But for our class, just read the main page here about Ogden & Richards: http://www.logos.it/pls/dictionary/linguistic_resources.cap_2_6_en?lang=en
· On meaning of meaning: http://www.cultsock.ndirect.co.uk/MUHome/cshtml/semiomean/meaning1.html
· On the Triangle of Meaning (apparently not original to O&P): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semiotic_triangle
The relations between the triangular corners may be phrased more precisely in causal terms as follows:
The “proper meaning superstition”: It is "the magical theory of the name as part of the thing, the theory of an inherent connection between symbols and references. This legacy leads in practice to the search for the meaning of words"…Meaning is what one wants to express, what he means in the carrying out of a linguistic act. It is based on the illusion that the senderand the receiver have the same intention. "The meaning of any sentence is what the speaker intends to be understood from it by the listener"5. It is a fuzzy definition because it does not explain what one means by "to be understood", which can be "to be referred to", "to be responded with", "to be felt toward referent", "to be felt toward speaker", "to be supposed that the speaker is referring to", " to be supposed that the speaker is desiring". Because we are dealing with will, there is a fundamental ambiguity regarding the possible - probable - difference in psychic context between sender and receiver. "Given the psychological context to which a sign belongs, the reference made in the interpretation of the sign is also fixed. But it is possible for the same sign (or for signs with very similar characters) to belong in different psychological contexts"6, in which case the "volitional" reference is not communicable.
Implications for communication:
Example: How might two people have different meanings for the same word, gesture, or image?
C. SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM
Ø Gingrich, University of Regina (esp down to Goffman heading; the rest may be relevant as we turn our attention to actual conversation): http://uregina.ca/~gingrich/f100.htm
Ø Wikibooks (SI beyond social construction): http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Sociological_Theory/Symbolic_Interactionism
Ø Better coverage, very understandable: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O88-symbolicinteractionism.html
Ø Want (lots) more? Start with Wikipedia entry, but then follow to “Social Constructivism” link—more there than we could *ever* get to! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symbolic_interactionism
Ø In essence, we want to answer one major question from all the SI approach:
Ø Note: Ellis discusses linguistic relativity [Ellis, Ch. 4]. How would SI explain linguistic relativity?
Ø Very nice site for advanced knowledge!: Culture Shock: http://www.cultsock.ndirect.co.uk/MUHome/cshtml/semiomean/semio1.html
Ø Enc Brit—nice, but too brief: http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9066717/semiotics
Ø Very nice: A whole on-line “book” on semiotics. I will draw most or all of my notes from main points only (no history of semiotics, no names except for Saussure, Barthes, and others only I need worry about) from these two pages:
§ Saussure on the basic nature and components of the “sign” and how meanings change: http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/sem02.html
§ Barthes on structural analysis: http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/S4B/sem06.html
Ø Sign = signified + signifier [see first reading above for visual representation of this:
Ø Images usually build “codes” together—sign systems that contain several signifiers of the same signified.
Ø Barthes adds to Saussure that these sign systems are placed together in the same text (Sentence? Photo? Speech? Commercial?), so that meaning rubs between them (connotative shift) to create myth.
Ø What is the nature of the sign (signified, signifier, sign), as framed by Saussure?
Ø How, according to Barthes, do we build signs together to make “myth”?
We will apply this to advertisements.
Ø In-depth—for your future (bathroom) reading: Culture Shock: http://www.cultsock.ndirect.co.uk/MUHome/cshtml/general/pomodet.html
Ø E-notes! Brief & fun: http://www.enotes.com/postmodernism/
Ø About right: The Galiliean library. I will draw my notes from this website: http://www.galilean-library.org/int12.html
Ø What would be a “postmodern” take on meanings?
Ø What are some elements of “postmodernism”?
§ Fragmented meaning
Ø What does “discursive” mean (or “discourse”), as it relates to PM? How does a “discursive approach” relate to “metanarratives”? [Note: meaning of discourse is different here than for Clark & Clark, the linguists]
Ø How does any of this relate to semantic meaning of individual words that we then put into our “constituents” into our “sentences” into our “discourses”?
An application of postmodernism and comparison to other perspectives
These ads show some elements of PM (though perhaps not as much as, say, a Madonna video, e.g., “Express Yourself”]. Here we see a collage or “pastiche” of meaning—on the one side, the discourses of (heterosexual) love, beauty, but within a spider web, linking to notions, perhaps of the “Black Widow” spider who lures her victims into her web [a troubling view of female sexuality, perhaps!]. On the right side is the discourse of beach fun, like burying friends in the sand, the [very systematic, in A&F ads] discourse of masculine beauty (trim, muscular, and probably waxed], but with enough touch to suggest homosexual sexuality.
In terms of pastiche, the Madonna video joins discourses of jazz music (which never actually appears in the song), romantic love, feminine empowerment (in the words—“Express yourself”), Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson (see some of the dance moves) and the 1927 silent film, Metropolis (compare even the tag line of the movie to the end quotation in the video).
Further, both the ads and the music video abandon a linear logic, a rational approach, and embrace multiple pleasures, something ignored in the rationalism of much communication and social science. Different pleasures are okay in these texts. In this sense, the texts could be seen as liberating or empowering.
At the same time, they are fragmentary, with sometimes competing discourses. In the Madonna video, Madonna sings out for women to “express themselves,” and “respect themselves,” but then tells them to do it by “finding a big strong man to take you to a higher ground.” The videos provide a view of gender and status relations that challenge the status quo ideologies, but still passes on traditional notions of beauty and sex. The person who analyzes the A&F ads note that, while they do allow different pleasures (a sign of PM texts), they still present the ideology of submission, with the dominant role in either set of relationships being (still) the “masculine” role.
In this sense, the texts—both ads and music video, introduce polysemy—the notion that the same text can have multiple meanings. The guys on the beach could just be playing, or they could be fore-playing. The Madonna video could just be a love song about a woman who finds the man she wants, or it could be a song about resisting status and gender norms. One could take different readings, or see different meanings (intended/dominant, oppositional, negotiated) for either.
Finally, we should note that neither semioticians nor PM writers (or those who do PM semiotics!) see meanings as infinite and totally individual. In this way, they differ from Ogden & Richards (following Saussure, a structuralist, who was more interested in social than individual meanings). The “codes” of beauty or sex or class or jazz or submission or American or success or …that we find in texts are not simply based on our own experiences. They are shared with others. What makes this approach different than symbolic interactionism, which states the same thing, is that (a) for structural semioticians (like Barthes), who are influenced by Marx and critical theory, the social meanings are not politically neutral, but are engaged in battles over “ideology”—giving and granting different groups power over ideas. And (b) in terms of postmodernism, there is not a single social meaning, but multiple, competing (yet still shared) social meanings that frame the ideas of words (Papa, Mama, teacher, beauty, authority, democracy) with other words in discourses. Many postmodernists would not believe that there is a single thing called “parenthood,” but that there are different discourses or sets of ideas concerning it. Again, this notion of discourse (a set of ideas surrounding a notion, creating an ideology for it) is quite different than the notion used by linguists such as Clark and Clark, who see discourse as a type of communication in a context (such as farewell speech, greetings, interaction, public speaking, or classroom interaction). …but could they be related? J
How does this apply to language? Michel Foucault, Jacques Derridá, and others specifically analyze language, not just mediated or visual texts! For example, Foucault writes an entire book on the linguistic notions of “crime” and “punishment,” noting that what is considered “crime” is not only socially created, but is framed within competing, contradictory ideas (discourses), with some groups gaining dominance in some terrains (like the courts, the churches, the schools, the media). “Crime,” according to Foucault, has different social meanings, but regardless of the meanings, the concept is often used to control those we perceive to be different from us...
F. CRITICAL (Monday—guest speaker, Dr. Joseph Zompetti, School of Communication)
o http://www.theory.org.uk/: A fun site on many aspects of critical theory. Get your critical theorist trading cards here! Action figures! Freudian slippers!
o http://carbon.cudenver.edu/~mryder/itc_data/semiotics.html: Extensive resources on semiotics
Questions for the Reading:
The reading is 42 pp printed off, though it is a Website with lots of white space. It is a very famous essay by Louis Althusser, a neo-Marxist scholar [a nice summary of his ideas and some of main aspects of this reading]. Parts are a bit deep, and as always, there is more here than we will actually get to in class. The main thing is that you come to class with a basic understanding of Marxist thought. The question that underlies this last part of our look at meaning is: Do considerations of “power” influence our comprehension or our production of symbols, constituents, or sentences? Do they influence the “rules” of the different types of “discourse” (classroom, interaction, etc.?).
You can get the ideas from the reading above, or you can do your own search for something more readable! (if you find something, please send me a link, to consider using next time I teach this class…if they let me teach it again)
· What does Althusser (A) mean by saying that “every social formation arises from a dominant mode of production” (p. 2 of printed off Webpage. Any page #s are approximate and will depend upon your printer setting. Actually, I will frame questions by section headings of article)
· Reproduction of Labour-Power: What are some ways that societies reproduce labor relations, such as the capitalist system (e.g., through educating their children)?
· Infrastructure (Base) and Superstructure: What are these? (around p. 6, right after heading). According to Marxist thought, which drives which? For example, does the politico-economic system (feudal, socialist, capital) create, change the media, education, and other systems (including language), or do these create and change the politico-economic system?
· The State Apparatus: [This is one of the main contributions to Marxist thought by Althusser!]: What is the “State Apparatus”? What are Repressive State Apparatus (RSAs) and Ideological State Apparatus (ISAs)? What are some examples of ISAs (around p. 12)? Which do the State (government) use to control people, and how? Where would language fit in all of this? See numbered summary points, after main heading “On the Reproduction of the Relations of Production” around p. 15, with more summary points on p. 19).
· On ideology: What does A mean by saying that “Ideology has no history”?
· Ideology as imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence: What are the two theses, and what does each mean? (pp. 24 ff)
· Ideology interpellates individuals as subjects: What does A mean by saying, “All ideology has the function. . . of ‘constituting’ concrete individuals as subjects” (p. 30)? [First, what does it mean to say that you and I are “subjects”—and then how does our language create our subjectivity before we are born?
· Summary thoughts:
o How about you? When you produce language (or visual texts), do you produce them “in” or “out” of ideology? Explain.
o How does my language with others interpellate their subjectivity?
o How does others’ language—or the media, interpellate my subjectivities?
o Are there “ideological” forces that seek (with or without intention) to construct my identities? Do dominant language and discourse privilege my identity/ies or marginalize them? And if so, how?
Whew! Have fun!
ACTIVITIES & RESOURCES
Ellis, Ch. 4—word creation and difficulty of semantics
Word games 1: Create a new word using a prefix or suffix—must be appropriately attached to the right kind of word.
Word games 2: Association: Come up with similar words with nuances of meaning:
Run Laugh Bad
Speak Good Happy
Love Beautiful Cool/Not Cool
Word games 3: Ambiguity: See how a single word can have different meanings—in this case, verbs joined to different prepositions (see link at end of website): Add prepositions and see what you can come up with!
Make (12) Get (66) Cut (11) Stand (12)
Drop (11) Put (16) Call (10) Set (8)
Take (16) Be (23) Come (30) Sit (14)
[Actually, 3 types of verbs in combo with other words: Phasal, Prepositional, and Prepositional-phasal, but that’s beyond the scope of this course]
Sample Classroom Activity:
Use each of the last four approaches to meaning to understand the “language” of this advertisement (we will choose a different one in class):
Exercise: Finding Meaning
Psychology of Language
Using the image provided in class, address each of the following. Turn in your notes at the end of the period.
1. Locate both a verbal symbol and a visual symbol. Write the denotation for each. What are the connotations.
2. Describe how you make meaning of this using the Triangle of Meaning for one of the two symbols you noted in #1. Draw the triangle and label the parts.
3. Choose a symbol in the text. Write a couple of sentences (and we will share with the class) how meaning regarding that symbol has come about, following SI.
4. Do you think that the meaning of the symbols is changing? If so, how?
5. Again, choose the same two symbols that you addressed in #1 above. Now draw each in terms of the “sign” diagram of Saussure or Barthes.
6. Choose one of the two signs and look closely in the text. What is the cultural CODE or set of meanings from which the sign draws meaning?
7. Walk the image as a whole through three steps of a Barthian semiotic analysis, using both visual and verbal symbols:
a. Find some signs
b. Locate some sign systems (what are the codes)
c. What is/are the “ideologies” behind the text?
8. “Deconstruct” the text—see if there are multiple ideologies within the text
9. What are some different “readings” or meanings that readers could draw from the text (dominant/given, negotiated, resistant/oppositional)?
Meaning—New Perspectives—A Worksheet
The argument in this section of the course is that, yes, we can draw semantic meaning from words as we hear them in language (be that in the office, in the classroom, or in everyday interaction—as well as in media texts). But the meaning does not simply rely on personal prior experiences with the word, as traditional semanticists like Ogden and Richards (the Triangle of Meaning dudes) would say. Rather several approaches suggest that meanings are socially created and negotiated. Most of the approaches in this worksheet take that approach. In quick summary:
· Traditional semantics: Words have an (agreed upon) dictionary definition. Connotation refers to the personal meanings we have for something, based on our social experiences.
· Symbolic interactionism: Meanings are socially created. Both the dictionary definition and the connotations are not strictly individual—we learned them through communicating with others, and communication can change the meanings, reverse the meanings (like when “bad” becomes [good]), or create new words and meanings. Traditional SI, however, treats these meanings as things that are generally socially agreed upon, value neutral (meanings simply “are”), and fairly consistent.
· Critical approaches: Writers influenced to various degrees by Marx disagree with one tenet of SI, and that is that meanings are neutral. Some believe meanings support the economic/political system overall (traditional Marxism, Vološinov). Others believe that meanings—part of the ideological state apparatus of a culture, support the governing State, along with (but better than) repressive state apparatus such as courts, laws, and jails (Althusser). Still others believe that we should not focus only on class oppression, but that other types of oppression can be buried in the ideology of words, such as heterosexism, classism, sexism, as well as cultural ideologies such as what it means to be American, the (materialistic) idea of success, and so on—it’s “not all about class, anymore” (Gramsci). But all of these approaches could be called structuralist, as they all believe that language and meaning work to support—or oppose—social structures and meanings (they are not strictly individual, and they are not neutral and merely descriptive).
· Postmodern approach(es): Postmodernism approaches also believe meaning is socially created, but believe that words only have meaning within “discourses”—sets of ideas [NOT types of speaking situations or rituals, as in traditional linguistics]. Ultimately, “American” (or “success,” or “leisure”) has no meaning of its own—only different socially shared meanings. Certain words become battlegrounds, with different discourses framing the word different way (e.g., “choice,” “life” in the abortion debate). We are products of contradictory discourses about who we are.
· Semiotics is really a way of breaking apart the sign to see how the signifier relates to the signified. It can be traditional, looking at how the meaning of a “signifier” changes to represent new “signifieds” (e.g., /gay/, /hero/; Saussure). Or it can be “structuralist” (Barthes) to see how signs are put together to support (or challenge) dominant idea structures. Or it can even be postmodern. That is, semiotics becomes a tool for analyzing meaning that can work from different perspectives.
Text: From Home of the Brave [approximate wording]
Tommy (ex-Iraq soldier): Dad—I’m thinking about seeing someone…
Dad: No, dammit. You’re going to go down there and take the test to become a police officer. No son of mine is some wuss that needs to see a counselor.
Tommy (forcefully): I AIN’T no wuss!
First: Basic approach: Connotation/Denotation: What are the connotations and denotations of “wuss”? What personal meanings (connotations) might Tommy give to his dad’s use of the word in his context?
Symbolic Interactionism: How was the word “wuss” created? Has it changed meanings over time? (cf similar words).
How does Tommy take into account the person speaking and the language to make meaning of “wuss” in terms of his own “particular” and “generalized” others?
Marxist and Neo-Marxist Approaches to meaning:
Vološinov: Marx & meaning: How does the father’s statement support the current economic and social system?
Althusser: How does it relate to ideological or repressive state apparatus? (normally, which is language?)
How does it “interpellate” or “hail” Tommy as a subject? Does he accept or reject the interpellation?
Barthes: Describe “wuss” as it relates to “sign” (what is the sign, signifier, signified). Are there other words in the symbolic field that link to the same signifier or are related? How is the sign linked to other words (e.g., son, police officer) to create a “myth” or ideology of masculine identity?
Gramsci: Are there other ways that the language is marginalizing besides class—other “sites of oppression” or ideologies? (For example, does this usage constrain identities—marginalize identities that are not (apparently at least) related to social class, like sexuality, sex, etc.?
Postmodernism and meaning:
What is the “archeology” of the word “wuss”?
Are there different possible “readings” one could take, depending on who they were?
Does the word relate in any way to different, competing discourses of meaning, ideology, or identity?
wuss - a person who is physically weak and ineffectual
namby-pamby - an insipid weakling who is foolishly sentimental
wuss (wŏŏs) Pronunciation
Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
1982, from wussy (1960s), probably an alteration of pussy (2).
Mike Damone: You are a wuss: part wimp, and part pussy
["Fast Times at Ridgemont High" script, 1982]
On phasal, prepositional, and phasal-propositional verbs:
The LPSU Banned Words List, 2008: http://www.lssu.edu/banished/current.php
Spoonerisms, malapropisms, etc. http://www.fun-with-words.com/spoonerisms.html
Cultural (semiotic, etc.) analysis of ads:
Ø Abercrombie & Fitch (caution: R-rated): http://jcomm.uoregon.edu/~cbybee/j388_f03/geddes.html
Ø A semiotic analysis of 3 Beer ads: http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Students/mvs9501.html
Ø An analysis of an entire movie—Fight Club: http://www.nd.edu/~olizardo/papers/fight-club.pdf
Many of the quotations attributed to Spooner are apocryphal; The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (3rd edition, 1979) lists only one substantiated spoonerism: "The weight of rages will press hard upon the employer."
Quotations attributed to Spooner include:
"The Lord is a shoving leopard" ("loving shepherd")
"It is kisstomary to cuss the bride" ("customary to kiss")
"Mardon me, padam, this pie is occupewed. Can I sew you to another sheet?" (Pardon me, madam, this pew is occupied. Can I show you to another seat?")
To a student: "You have hissed all my mystery lectures, and were caught fighting a liar in the quad. Having tasted two worms, you will leave by the next town drain" ("missed ... history," "lighting a fire," "wasted two terms," "down train")
To a lady at a college reception: "You'll soon be had as a matter of course" ("mad as a Hatter, of course")
"Let us raise our glasses to the queer old Dean" ("dear old queen")
"We'll have the hags flung out" ("flags hung")
"a half-warmed fish" ("half-formed wish")
"Is the bean dizzy?" ("dean busy")
"Go and shake a tower" ("take a shower")
"a well-boiled icicle" ("well-oiled bicycle")