[B-Greek] Where does meaning come from?

Iver Larsen iver_larsen at sil.org
Thu Apr 1 02:05:57 EDT 2010

----- Original Message ----- 
From: <yancywsmith at sbcglobal.net>
To: "greek B-Greek" <b-greek at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: 1. april 2010 07:21
Subject: Re: [B-Greek] question regarding 1 Tim 6:10

> Grice and other cognitive linguists have discussed "where meaning comes from" 
> in a very fruitful way. Verbal communication is a compex for of communication. 
> Linguistic coding and encoding is involved, but linguistic meaning of an 
> uttered sentence falls short of encoding what the speaker means: it merely 
> helps the audience/reader infer what the speaker/writer means. The output of 
> decoding is correctly treated by the audience as a piece of evidence about the 
> communicator's intentions. In other words, the coding-decoding process is 
> subservient to the inferential process that confers meaning.
> Communication is successful not when hearers or readers recognise the 
> linguistic meaning of an utterance, but when they infer the speaker/writer's 
> meaning from it. A simple observation verifies this statement. When a 
> hearer/reader realises that the speaker/writer has misused a word or made a 
> slip of the tongue, they generally discount the wrong meaning. The discounted 
> meaning, however, is not necessarily ill-formed or undecodable; rather, it is 
> wrong only in that it provides misleading evidence about the speaker's 
> intentions. For example, Paul says
> γάλα ὑμᾶς ἐπότισα, οὐ βρῶμα·
> I caused you to drink, no solid food.
> One rightly infers Paul's meaning,
> I gave you milk to drink, and did not feed you solid food.
> There is no reason whatsoever to understand Paul's statement in 1 Tim 6:10 as 
> meaning, in terms of the linguistic meaning, anything different in emphasis 
> from Chariton. However, one readily recognizes that Paul is quoting a proverb, 
> which is an exaggeration at that. Mark is correct to infer that Paul's meaning 
> cannot possibly be that the love of money is actually the root of 100% all 
> evils, despite the fact that the linguistic meaning is precisely that. But we 
> must allow Paul the freedom we give ourselves, to quote and shape and 
> exaggerate and skew linguistic and speaker meaning.
> The first two paragraphs above are adapted from Sperber and Wilson, Relevance: 
> Communication and Cognition.
> Yancy Smith, PhD

That is a very nice short explanation of where meaning comes from. Relevance 
Theory is really helpful in explaining this.

An even shorter explanation would be:
The meaning of the speaker/writer comes from his or her background knowledge and 
is partly expressed (often in words, but sometimes exclusively in non-verbal 
communication). The meaning understood by the hearer/reader is derived/inferred 
from those words (and/or actions) as seen through the lens of the background 
knowledge of the hearer/reader.

Iver Larsen 

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