Semantic/Linguistic Theories of Meaning
We all presuppose some linguistic model of communication but rarely do we spend the time to work one out. A theory of meaning is a model we use to establish how we should determine the meaning of words used in speech and written material.
Ideational theory of meaning: A theory holding that the meaning of a word is the idea with which it is regularly associated or for which it stands. According to the theory, ideas are private and independent of language. ... A linguistic expression gets its meaning by being used to indicate ideas.
1. The meaning of a word or phrase is not identical with the idea or thought
2. We dont form sentences like Idea+idea+idea...
3. Sentences can still be meaningful without ideas in the mind of the speaker
4. Some words have no corresponding Idea at all (Not/When-these are functions and not ideas)
5. Mental images are not always identical every time we use them.
(Do you always think of the same dog when the word dog is uttered?)
6. Two seperate expressions could evoke the same idea
(Run/football player/ Sports could all conjure up football player)
7. Meaning can be said to be in the speaker's mind but never simply so.
Behaviorist theory of meaning: The theory that human and animal behavior can be explained in terms of conditioning, without appeal to thoughts or feelings, and that psychological disorders are best treated by altering behavior patterns. Stimulus response-mostly evolutionary model.
1. How is it decided which responses are relevant to the meaning of the expression in question?
(Pass the salt could mean belch based on observation of behavior)
2. Some sentences simply carry no practical response in any non-linguistic behavioral sense.
(Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492)
3. Delineation problem of conditions.
4. The meaning of sentences does not vary directly in proportion to the distribution of situations and responses in the world.
Referential theory of Meaning:
1. Claims that the meaning of a word or expression lies in what it points out in the world.
2. The object denoted by a word is called it's referent.
3. Expressions have meanings because they stand for things: they mean what they stand for.
4. Words are like labels.
1. Two expressions can have the same referent but very different meanings. (Morning star-Evening star-Venus)
2. Two expressions can have the same meaning but different referents.(The present president of the united states-different contexts/times) Indexical referents.
3. Syncategorematic terms don't refer to anything. (If,and,is,be, and therefore)
4. Modal Auxiliary terms don't have referents either. (Should,would,might, and must)
5. A word like dog does not refer to the class of all dogs. (The meaning and referents are different).
6. The meaning of a phrase cannot be identical with a referent of a phrase, because you can say things of referents that you cannot say of meanings and phrases.
What is the referent of the phrase "The author of Perelandra."? C.S. Lewis! Now consider the expression "The author of Perelandra got married". We can say C.S. Lewis got married but we cannot say the meaning of the phrase got married.
The meaning of a sentence,phrase, or word then cannot be limited to what would be experienced or observed if the sentence were true; which is what the referential theory says and requires. This view confuses or conflates the criteria of meaning with a theory of meaning.
Use Theory of Meaning:
1. Claims that meaning of a word lies in it's use.
2. Conventions and traditions play an important role.
3. Not every word stands for objects.
4. World of fiction,ethics,dance,music,aesthetics etc. do not have referents.
Speech-Act Theory of Meaning:
1. Introduced by Oxfard Philosopher J.L. Austin.
2. Words can be used not only to present information but also to carry out actions.
3. Speaking is a performance.
4. In speaking we do certain things, e.g., promise,request,question,assertion, etc.
5. Locutions,illocutions and Perlocutions
A. Locutionary Act:
1. the act of making a meaningful utterance.
2.The act of "saying something" in the full normal sense.
3. content of a locutionary act can be either expressed directly or implied.
4. I warn you to stop smoking.
5. I warn you that cigarette smoking is dangerous.
B. Illocutionary Act:
1. Speaker's intention in delivering an utterance.
2. the type of function a speaker intends to accomplish in the course of producing an utterance.
3. e.g. pass me the glasses please.(Request,order)
4. Also called illocutionary force.
5. the effect a speech act is intended to have by a speaker.
C. Perlocutionary Act:
1. An action or state of mind brought about by, or as a consequence of, saying something.
2. cause physiological changes in the audience, either in their states or behavior.
3. an act is performed by saying something. A person shouts "fire", causes people to exit the building.
Cognitive Linguistics theory of Meaning/Usage variant:
1. Cognitive linguists deny that the mind has any module for language-acquisition that is unique and autonomous.
2. It understands Grammar in terms of conceptualization.
3. Knowledge of language arrives out of language use.
4. Finally, cognitive linguistics argues that language is both embodied and situated in a specific environment. This can be considered a moderate offshoot of the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis inasmuch as language and cognition mutually influence one another and are both embedded in the experiences and environments of its users.
The scripture says we are created in the image of God and part of this is an innate ability to learn language. In other words part of the image of God is that we are linguistic beings like God is. Consequently adopting the Cognitive linguistic theory in total is un-biblical. However we can agree with elements of it. Namely that society and the environment do regulate meaning, and there really is a correlation between psychology and linguistic acts.
In conclusion of all this I think that it is best to primarily use some form of the Usage and speech act theories of meaning for exegesis. Not that the other theories should never be employed but that they are extremely problematic and definitely more deficient as tools to get at the author's intended meaning of a text, which is what we want to do using the historical grammatical method. This has important implications for how we do exegesis and properly handle literature. For example the Biblical Flat Earth view rests heavily on the assumption of the referential theory of meaning. But if that model is unworkable (as I argued above) then a significant foundation of their hermeneutical method is vacuous. This also applies to the scholars arguing their positions on the matter.