[B-Greek] Where does meaning come from?

Eric Inman eric-inman at comcast.net
Thu Apr 1 06:58:30 EDT 2010

I would take this a little further.

Communication, including verbal and nonverbal, is a stimulus for inducing certain responses (cognitive, emotional, etc.) in the recipient. For the most part it is constructed based on mutually accepted (both conscious and unconscious) correlations between the elements of communication (words, gestures, etc.) and responses. Generally the greater the development of mutually accepted correlations the less the volume of communication that is required. Most of the correlations are based on meanings in a shared cognitive framework, but that is not the only basis.

Error correction involves a second dimension, that of redundancy from an information theoretic standpoint. Human communication is highly redundant (i.e. compressible) in order to reduce the coding/decoding effort (i.e. simplify the correlations required and their span) and to make coding/decoding validation and error correction possible. Error correction is needed both for coding/decoding errors as well errors occurring during transmission. That's why CB radio users, for example, add a lot more redundancy to their communication.

Eric Inman

-----Original Message-----
From: b-greek-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org [mailto:b-greek-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of Iver Larsen
Sent: Thursday, April 01, 2010 1:06 AM
To: yancywsmith at sbcglobal.net; greek B-Greek
Subject: [B-Greek] Where does meaning come from?

----- 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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