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Communicative Meaning is Socially Constructed

10/03/12

Permalink 11:06:00 pm, by Brandon Norgaard Email , 550 words   English (US)
Categories: Words and Meanings

Communicative Meaning is Socially Constructed

It is true that there must be a relation between the symbols used for communication and pure concepts, but this relation is quite complex. One thing is clear is that there is not a one-to-one correspondence between pure concepts and the symbols that are a part of any inter-human communicative language. Through communication and personal introspection and reflection we can gradually come to understand the complex relationship between the symbols we use for communication and the concepts that they are supposed to refer to.

The different possible senses that any word or phrase might have is determined by social convention, which in turn is determined by the beliefs each person has regarding the meanings of words and phrases in different contexts. There is a complex process through which a new word or phrase can be coined and be given some mutually understood meaning within a certain population of people who communicate with each other. When new words or phrases are created, they are usually combinations of existing words or are similar in sound or visual appearance to existing words. There is a similar process through which existing words or phrases that already have certain understood meanings can be given new meanings by speakers within a community. If this happens then the new meaning is usually one that is found in a different context than any that this word or phrase was commonly used in before.

These new words, phrases, and meanings have to originate in someone's mind and then can be conveyed to other people through communication, which eventually can lead to the establishment of a new convention for the use of this word or phrase. When someone coins a new word or phrase or creates a new meaning for an existing one, they use this word or phrase in a different context than any established convention. This then allows other people come to intuitively grasp the new intended meaning that the first speaker is trying to convey. If they understand this new meaning then they might use it themselves, which can lead to a community of speakers being familiar with it and then considering it an established convention.

An important part of this is how people are able to understand if a word or phrase is used according to a convention or if it is incorrect. Sometimes incorrect usage can lead to a new convention being established, but it is more often the case that the speaker figures out by the reaction of others that he or she has used a word incorrectly. When a speaker uses a word or phrase in the correct context, those who the speaker is communicating with will usually give a positive reinforcing response.

The glue that holds mutual understanding together is that (most) speakers are able to see and hear the same things and are able to find ways of communicating that certain words or phrases refer to states of affairs or events that any of the speakers can see or hear. This can be done, for example, through bodily gestures or varying the tone or volume of one's voice. Once a speaker has established the conventional meaning of certain common nouns and verbs, they can begin to understand the conventional meaning of the rest of the words and phrases in a language.

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