Friday, June 03, 2005

Concept, referent, term

I have been promising to define some of the terms I use, so I begin with a few terms related to how we understand what something actually means. In The Meaning of Meaning: A Study Of The Influence Of Language Upon Thought And Of The Science Of Symbolism (1923), Charles Kay Ogden and Ivor Armstrong Richards lay out a model of the semantic (meaning) triangle. The meaning triangle is a representation of the elements of meaning (concept), symbol (term), and referent) and their interaction in contributing to overall meaning (Ogden 1923).

Concept refers to the "thought or reference" vertex of Ogden and Richards' meaning triangle}--a component of meaning which is the mental image a real-world object (or referent) invokes. For example, the same referent bear may evoke the concept "livestock-killing pest" to one individual, "good and protective mother" to a second individual, "endangered species" to a third, and so forth.

The referent vertex is a component of meaning which is the real-world object referred to. For example, the physical individual of any of the various ursid species--a bear in the world--is a referent.

The term (which I prefer to use rather than the original "symbol" of Ogden and Richards) vertex is a component of meaning which is the written or verbal or signed string a real-world object invokes. For example, a referent individual of any of the various ursid species is referred to by the English term "bear", the French term "ours", the Greek term άρκτος, the Navajo term "shash", and so forth.

These definitions will figure prominently in our later explorations of meaning in comparative anatomy.


At 1:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I see how this would be a "triangle". If there's a real thing (an actual bear), what I think about bears (presumably somewhat idiosyncratic, though also presumably coloured by society &c to some debatable degree), and some linguistic intermediary I use to work between one and the other, that seems like a straight line. Everyone could have their own straight line between their thoughts and the bear, perhaps, but I don't see the triangle.

Admittedly, I haven't read the book, so perhaps you could enlighten me in pt II?

At 12:49 PM, Blogger Raven Travillian said...

Glad to. You raise some very pertinent points, and I'll tie them in to the drawing I put up. Probably today, but tomorrow at the latest.


Post a Comment

<< Home