Hi Gordon and everyone
So much has been written on the topic of meaning and sense that it seems
rash to pick it up once again, when people are perhaps just about ready to
close the topic. (The whole debate unfortunately came at a bad time for me
when I could read quickly but never manage to write back in a regular
fashion). But I do want to say a few things, and some of them relate closely
to what you have said in this message.
I would have said that in probing, say, Halliday and Vygotsky on the
question of meaning, sense etc the aim is not so much to find a "correct
match": translating one theory into another is no less problematic than
translating a text from one language into another. There is only the
possibility of 'approximation' acorss the two, not of 'replication' in the
majority of cases. One thing that makes even approximation a little
problematic is the a-symmetry in the systemic relation between meaning and
sense on the one hand and meaning, reference and sense on the other. When
roughly the same domain is seen in terms of three vectors of
differentiation, it presents a picture that is substantially different from
the picture presented by a two vector differentiation. Certain distinctions
are made more explicit in the former, less so in the latter.
You have suggested Gordon, "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." I don't quite understand in what sense you use the
term "psychological" here. Are you suggesting that "sense and meaning" might
be in some way related to higher mental functions of the human species; if
so, the question naturally arises how are such "psychological concepts"
mediated; if they are not mediated then they must be bio-genetic; and this
in my understanding would go entirely against the Vygotskian position. So a
psychological concetualisation of meaning must be based on the meaning
process we refer to as semiotic mediation -- this makes an interesting
reading. Would you agree?
You also suggested the following: " 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."
It seems to me that SFL position on menaing is not the same as that of other
linguistic models that I am familiar with. As you know in SFL meaning is
viewed in context -- both the context of situation in which the interaction
is embedded and also the context of the text within which any unit of
language word, clause or clause complex is embedded. Besides in as much as
speaker affect is realised linguistically, it is in SFL amenable to
linguistic analysis since meaning is not simply "cognitive/referential" but
"interactive/interpersonal" and is based in relevance since there is also
textuality aspect of meaning. Relevance has to be interactant-context
What goes into the dictionary is not linguists' imagined 'word meaning': it
is typically a record of the default understanding and use of items by
members of large segments of the speech community: this understanding they
derive from their interactions with others in the community.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Gordon Wells" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Thursday, July 28, 2005 1:31 AM
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.
> 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
> 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 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
> >in their present collocation.
> >At one stage I had thought the issue was the conceptualisation of meaning
> >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
> >of the direction of the present disdcourse on sense and meaning.
> Gordon Wells
> Dept of Education, http://education.ucsc.edu/faculty/gwells
> UC Santa Cruz.
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