>Language is symbolic. A sign is what has been negotiated between
>sign users. The meaning of a sign is not my (non-symbolic)
>experience of it. Meanings are not in the head, as Hilary Putnam
>never got tired of repeating. The meaning of a sign is the way in
>which the members of a discourse community are using it. It is what
>happens in the symbolic interactions between people, not in their
>This is why I find cognitive linguistics flawed.
When I ask you about what you mean by a particular word, I would be drawing on the ordinary language sense of the word "meaning", which does attribute meanings to people and their ideas - but also to documents, groups (Americans mean "hat" when they say "bonnet"), biological processes ("meaning of life"), etc. These meanings are listed in a dictionary, which generally doesn't make claims about the context in which a sense is appropriately used. (Occasionally, field labels, such as "in accounting", mark specific contexts of use).
When linguists debate the meaning of "meaning", are they asserting there must be a "true" and "objective" meaning of "meaning"? When Putnam says meanings are not in the head, was he making a claim about the true meaning of "meaning" - which might eventually come into cultural conflict with our ordinary language sense of the word? Let me ask, for example, how we might protect freedom of thought if we don't accept the notion that an idea is at some point in a person's head. Or, perhaps that's the best defense against a libel suit: "I didn't mean it - you, the interpreter, did". It seems the only way to cordon off the culture from this quandary is to assert this meaning of "meaning" is one of several possible meanings.
I worry about an educational system that would be told that the "idea" sense of "meaning" is less true and important in our discourse community than the other senses. Conversely, I worry about a linguistic theory developed and championed by someone who isn't willing to say that this interpretation of the meaning of a word is indeed his/her "idea".
I hope my convoluted language hasn't clouded my concern - the interaction of scientific and ordinary discourses.
Your comments would be appreciated.
-- * The best dictionary and integrated thesaurus on the web: http://www.wordsmyth.net * Robert Parks - Wordsmyth - (607) 272-2190 * "To imagine a language is to imagine a form of life." (LW) * "Philosophers have only interpreted the world. The point, however, is to change it." (KM) * Community grows as we communicate, honing our words till their meanings tap the rich voice of our full human potential.