Meaning Of An Individual Word English Language Essay

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We as a society consisting of a variety of languages all come up with our own definitions of words, although we have assistance from dictionaries etc. These assist people in expressing thoughts by relying on these recognized definitions. Dictionaries cannot fully be relied upon - everyone has their own perception so there is no 100% guarantee that a meaning will be communicated effectively when put to use. In specific terms "semantics is the study of meaning abstracted away from those aspects that are derived from the intention of speakers, their psychological states and the socio-cultural aspects of the context in which their utterance is made" (Cann,1993:88). Although there may be a possibility that individual words have meaning, as one surely cannot work without the other and if there is no meaning for the given word would it considered a word from the start. "The question of meaning is to a large extent concerned with the meaning of individual words or more accurately lexical items" (Aitchinson, 1999). Both Aitchinson and Ronnie Cann refer to the meaning of words as "lexical meaning, rather than word meaning" (Cann, 1993), this is due to the ambiguity that a word may hold and how it may also have recognisable representatives that could be used for the same word dependant on its environment, he uses the example word forms 'sing', 'sings', 'singing', 'sang' and 'sung'. They are classed as inflectional properties from the verb 'sing'. After this example Cann suggests that "It is to lexemes and not word forms that meanings should be assigned", this is because depending on the syntactic environment any of the inflectional property examples of sing varies e.g. 'I sang a song last week', to 'I hope he sings that song tonight'. The action of the verb still remains the same even though the context has changed. Thus suggesting the idea that a word cannot simply have its own individual meaning when there are other possible inflectional properties that could take its place whilst still carrying the same meaning.

Palmer (1981) used the idea that a word alone cannot carry a meaning as it would require a replacement in some circumstances (although does also state that not all words will have the same kind of meaning in comparison to others if any at all), he used the example "Boys like to play" and stated that "it is easy enough to consider what boys, likes and play might be but what is the meaning of to?" (Palmer, 1981). It then continues to point out that an ongoing argument is that for a word to have an individual meaning, it needs the implication of choice about what that meaning may be. This may apply to some words (mostly nouns and verbs) such as Aitchinson's example 'fly'; a representative of two words those being an insect with wings and also the verb to fly; "to move through the air in a controlled manner" (Aitchinson, 1999) however back to Palmers interpretation of word meaning and the idea of choice, the word boys, like and play have the option of being replaced with girls, hate and fight whilst to has no replacement option as it does not share a meaning with any other word in the known dictionary. "Even if we identify elements within the word without actually segmenting the word itself, there are still problems about stating the meaning of the elements" Palmer along with this quotation points out that there are elements of grammar that are considered to be devoided of any easily recognisable meaning, using the example of Latin which today is primarily focused on indicating its relations with simpler words within a given sentence such as the object or the subject - daisy; Bellis perennis. When we think of the word 'daisy' there is no individual meaning for the word as it be carried as a name as well as a flower, it generally comes down to a person's cognitive approach to the given word to conclude their individual meaning. "The word 'word' can be misleading" (Aitchinson, 1999) the example was the word for a kind of snake; boa constrictor, though it is classed as two words it is understood as a single lexical item as it has the same meaning as the simpler term 'snake'. This can also defend the suggestion that individual words do not carry a meaning when it also shares a similar representation with another word, however, although both examples mean the same thing a person may still have an image in their mind that may not be shared with another; one may think of a cobra, another may think of the common grass snake.

For words to make sense, more often than not they require assistance from other words in order to express meaning. Even if we have never come across the sentence 'I saw a pink whale in the parking lot' we still have very little trouble understanding the meaning as we are aware what the single words in it mean (pink and whale) "we have an algorithm of some kind for combining them" (Chierchia and McConnell-Ginet, 2000). Bloomfield in 1926, along with the later opinion from Palmer, focuses his concern about status' of grammatical elements, he took the example 'cran' in 'cranberry' which on its own carries no meaning nor does it show an occurrence with any other word. The same can be said for the following examples, 'straw' in 'strawberry' and 'goose' in 'gooseberry' where neither of the grammatical status words have anything to do with straw or geese. Bloomfield later stated that "we must not generalise too far. Not every word with these phonological characteristics will have the meaning suggested, and, moreover, we cannot separate this part and state the meaning of the remainder e.g. the meaning of -ide in slide or -ate in skate". (Bloomfield, 1926) "Linguist's claimed that semantics was fundamentally just a very abstract level of syntax where a universally available stock of basic words or concepts were combined" (Chierchia and McConnell-Ginet, 2000). An extract from Lewis Carroll's 'Alice in Wonderland' is a primary example of how meaning enables us to express what we think thus conveying messages with information from one person to the next, 'we can talk about shoes and ships and sealing was and whether pigs have wings', regardless of the ambiguity of what we say, information can be passed from one person to the next. "Meaning manifests itself within the systematic link between linguistic forms and things; what we speak or talk about" (Chierchia and McConnell-Ginet, 2000), in a sense it means that if we were not provided with languages in order to convey messages, the overall question of meaning would rarely be asked.

This statement "Since the number of sentences that make up a language is infinite, this would mean that no human being would be able to determine the meaning of all the sentences of any language owning to the finite resources of the brain" (Cann, 1993) can summarise the question 'can it really be said that individual words have meanings?' as language is always expanding in all areas of the world it would be considered impossible to assign and remember each word, sentence, phrase or utterance that is come across. So this brings us back to the question "can it be said that individual words have meaning?", given the sufficient amount of evidence from those mentioned above it is clear to see that words cannot necessarily carry an individual meaning of their own.