RE: [xmca] RE: meaning and sense and has anyone any opinion

From: Blanton, William E (
Date: Wed Jul 27 2005 - 12:13:13 PDT

I agree that meaning may not be a stable as we would like it to be. And, their are many senses at many local levels (everything is local). To avoid the issues you point out, we have devleoped cultural systems as mediators, e.g., the Supreme Court authors a great deal of meaning that is very important in the Consitituion and the Bill of Rights.
Some would like to see justices mediate their decisions with less "sense" and more "meaning." The tug between sense and meaning continues for a long time. When new judges are appointed, the public and special interest groups square off about sense and meaning (interpreting/making sense of the constitution vs. the strict meaning presumed to have been at an earlier time). In the process, sense is important at many levels, I guess a Surpreme Court decsion is a rendering of sense until it is made. Then it has meaning. We may try to argue that it represents sence more than meaning; however, we have to engage in lengthy process of changing that meaning to represent more sense. It is a long process.
As I understand it, we have a right to privacy. A woman has a right to privacy. Therefore a woman has the right to make a private decision about reproduction. This is fairly stable meaning and been for decades. Others have a different sense of a right to privacy. Its meaning has been disputed daily. Who knows, eventually local senses may eventually author a new meaning of this segment of right to privacy. Until then its current meaning coordinates.
I think the contradictions we are exploring are related to most of our activity being very local and everyday activity with many degrees of freedom for sense making. I suppose a person's task is to determine when to mediate your actions with local sense, in your last context or the one you are in now, and try to avoid finding yourself in distant context visited by a lot of distant people transporting local sense.
Just thinking about this stuff and waiting for the next hurricane
Bill Blanton


From: on behalf of Wolff-Michael Roth
Sent: Wed 7/27/2005 1:58 PM
Subject: Re: [xmca] RE: meaning and sense and has anyone any opinion

I find this discussion interesting--and full of contradictions.

Bill, you said that there is a cultural and publicly shared
meaning--but this is exactly a problematic issue, because of the
personal sense. If your definition was correct, then "meaning" is the
least common denominator of all personal senses or something of that

If we interpret "meaning" to be what is in the dictionary, then it
really is nothing more than a definition, and there is nothing personal
or psychological about it--contrary to what Gordon wrote.

If we want to maintain meaning in the sense we use it, to have both
personal and interpersonal dimensions, then we need to transcend those
presentations of meaning. We probably need to frame it in a dialectical
way so that it captures both the personal and interpersonal, the
individual and the collective.

Individuals can't make meaning--it wouldn't be in the dictionary;
unless of course you want to say that an individual reproduces
individually what is already accepted collectively. But then, prior to
the individual "making meaning", a word would not be publicly shared,
not by all people.

My way around this is to see it as an aspect of the activity, which, in
the Leont'ev articulation (already in LSVs work as possibility)
explicitly articulates 3 levels, activity, action, and operation. In
the relation between action and activity, we get sense (see LSV,
Leont'ev). When the individual no longer has to think and search for
words, they are produced automatically, to realize an speech act. In
this case, therefore, the intent--which may only be fully realized when
the utterance is complete (see McNeill)--is in the act, which is
realized through the operation and therefore serves as referent. This
relation is therefore embodied so that if we related the two relations
activity|action (act, speech act) on the one hand and act|operation
(speech production without reflection), then we get to something that
has both components, the intersubjective and the personal.

By the way, a lot of confusion arises from the translation of the title
THOUGHT AND LANGUAGE, when in fact, so I understand, LSV said in
Russian THOUGHT AND SPEECH. In French, this is the distinction between
language as formal system (langue) and as spoken (parole). These are
radically different systems, involving radically different operations
(e.g., my written work cannot be compared to my talk--look at Ong,
Buber, Ricoeur etc. LSV writes about speech, and the mediating function
it has for thought, or rather, the dialectical relationship between
thought and speech--and imagery generally (e.g., my piece in J of
PRAGMATICS, and gesture specifically (see McNeill).


On 27-Jul-05, at 8:35 AM, Blanton, William E wrote:

> Gordon, I think your interpretation of LSV's "meaning" is correct. The
> cultural and publicly shared meaning of a word is found in the
> dicitonary. Other "senses" of meaning are local.
> Bill Blanton
> ________________________________
> From: on behalf of Gordon Wells
> Sent: Wed 7/27/2005 11:31 AM
> To:
> Subject: Re: [xmca] RE: meaning and sense and has anyone any opinion
> Ruqaiya, Michael, Mike and Others,
> When I looked again at the message to which Ruqaiya replied as below,
> I realized it wasn't as clear as I had thought. But before I try to
> clarify my intended meaning, I want to suggest that there is perhaps
> an incommensurability at the heart of our problem in trying to decide
> the correct match between Vygotsky's 'meaning' and 'sense' and the
> comparable terms in SFL.
> I think the problem is that Ruqaiya and Halliday, as linguists, treat
> 'meaning' as comprised of 'sense' and 'reference'.However, when
> Vygotsky contrasted 'meaning' and 'sense', he was making a
> psychological distinction rather than a linguistic one. Linguists
> typically deal with units such as word or clause in terms of their
> relationship to other units within the system of a language and to the
> entities, states, etc, in the world to which they may refer. On the
> other hand, although Vygotsky was discussing his chosen unit 'word',
> it seems to me that he was thinking of its contextualized utterance by
> a speaker in interaction with a discourse partner or with himself. If
> this is correct, the distinction he was making was between the
> 'meaning'of a word as it might appear in a dictionary and the
> personal 'sense' it has for the speaker, as a result of the contexts
> is which s/he has heard or used the word before, together with the
> affective overtones it carries with it.This is how I interpret the
> following quote from Thinking and Speech.
> A word's sense is the aggregate of all the psychological facts that
> arise in our consciousness as a result of the word. Sense is a
> dynamic, fluid, and complex formation which has several zones that
> vary in their stability. . . . In different contexts, a word's sense
> changes. In contrast, meaning is a comparatively fixed and stable
> point, one that remains constant with all the changes of the word's
> sense that are associated with its use in various contexts. . . . The
> actual meaning of a word is inconstant. In one operation the word
> emerges with one meaning; in another, another is acquired. (1987, p.
> 276)
> My previous message was somewhat off topic. But Halliday's (1984)
> paper, "Language as Code and language as Behavior", suggests that
> there is some overlap between his distinction between dynamic and
> synoptic and distinctions that both Vygotsky and Bruner have made. As
> I understand it, "dynamic" applies to registers that are informal and
> related to ongoing activity, whereas "synoptic" applies to registers
> that formulate relationships between events and states of affais, as
> seen from "above", as it were. This is quite close to Bruner's
> distinction between "narrative" and "paradigmatic" modes of meaning.
> So it seems to me that Vygotsky's distinction between "everyday" and
> "scientific" concepts maps quite closely on to the two former
> distinctions.
> But this is not the same issue as the distinction between meaning and
> sense. On that issue, I liked Michael's:
> If I understand right, sense is tied to the relation of activity
> (something collectively motivated) and action (something individually
> realized). So sense arises from the dialectic relation of self and
> other, individual and collective. Some writers use the qualifier
> "personal" to situate "sense."
> Perhaps that gives us an entry point to understanding meaning, as a
> generalized version of personal sense, that is, the possibilities of
> sense available at the collective level.
> Gordon
> Gordon hello
> I am quite bemused by "dynamic/everyday/narrative v.
> synoptic/scientific/paradigmatic modes of meaning-making." what do
> the
> slashes indicate? Are they post-modenist or the conventional "or"
> sign. I
> really do not find it easy to interpret the lexical items of the
> second set
> in their present collocation.
> At one stage I had thought the issue was the conceptualisation of
> meaning in
> language or meaning construed by language, but I must6 have got it
> wrong.
> H'm well -- perhaps its that I am just not used to "dynamic" discourse
> online. I was even more lost with your comment which I quote below:
> Similarly, Halliday's dynamic/ synoptic distinction might be equated
> with
> narrative/syntagmatic - to some degree!!, while synoptic highlights
> the paradigmatic relationship between alternative lexicogrammatical
> realizations of the same event, with a focus on grammatical metaphor
> through nominalization.
> I most probably do not have anything very sensible from the points of
> view
> of the direction of the present disdcourse on sense and meaning.
> Ruqaiya
> --
> Gordon Wells
> Dept of Education,
> UC Santa Cruz.
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