LANGUAGE AND MEANING: A PHILOSOPHICAL INQUIRY By Rajiba Lochan Behera[1] 

Abstract

The word ‘meaning’ and ‘language’ indicates the aim of philosophy of language as does ‘good’ that of ethics or ‘beauty’ that of aesthetics. All languages have meaning as their goal; but philosophy of language is also concerned with it in a quite different way from this. It has much the same relation to meaning as every language has to semantics or syntax. To discover meaning is the task of all languages; it falls to philosophy of language to discern the rules of meaningfulness. The word ‘meaningfulness’ is used in two senses: (1) When we deal with the question what constituents a competent use of language then we make the relationship between language and minds. (2) When we deal with the question of semantics then we make the relationship between language and things. The meaning of word ‘meaning’ is explained by the rules of meaningfulness criterion. Language is a medium of our communication. It consists of words, signs or combination of words. Language is central to communication but language should be meaningful otherwise language may not communicable. Because languages consists of bare words and sentences are not intelligible and communicable. So we need meaning in order to communicate in our language. Meaning is inseparable as well as indispensable aspect of our language. It arises as the result of language-reality relationship, i.e., when language comes in contact with the world then the word by itself has no meaning at all. It possesses meaning when it stands for something. For illustrate that when the number ‘three’ is, or what the symbol ‘3’ means. In such occasion, we refer to an object. But why is it so? Frege answers this that the number ‘three’ is not anything. Suppose if it were; would not the word ‘three’ be meaningless? It arises a further issue that if it is not-nothing, then what is it? It must be something, meaning thereby it must be about something. What remains are to say what kind of thing it is. Therefore, the concept is that meaning is essentially a one-one relation between words and its corresponding objects. In other words, there will be no language without meaning. Thus it cannot be dissociated from the language and in a wider sense, from the world and our living in it. This solution gives rise to a further issue. That is, how do we understand the meaning of words which do not correspond to objects? For example, words are like ‘honesty’, ‘clarity’, ‘unicorn’ etc. do not correspond to anything. These words are not stands for any objects yet we understand the meaning of these words when we communicate in our language. Now question can arise how it is possible? Frege answers this that ‘the meaning of an expression is not only a corresponding object but also a corresponding concept. For example, considering a sentence “the number 1 is green”. Here, the number 1 as such does not correspond to any object. There is no object called 1. It is purely a thought. What Frege calls it is ‘objective thought’. Thus it is a concept. So this is because the notion of understanding is intrinsically related to the notion of meaning. Without meaning nothing can be understood. Hence, understanding an utterance involves understanding its meaning. According to Michael Dummett, ‘a theory of meaning is a theory of understanding’. It means the task of a theory of meaning is to give an account of how that language works. If we try to understand others languages then we have to understand the meaning of words or sentences utters by that person. According to W. V. O. Quine, ‘language is a social art’ so to understand the language we must need meaning of that language. What Quine calls that “Meaning is what essence becomes when it is divorced from the object of reference and wedded to the word”. Therefore, meaning is an inseparable aspect of language. In broad sense we can say that there are only two conceptions regarding meaning theories in language viz; atomistic theory of meaning and holistic theory of meaning. The main objective of the inquiry undertaken in this study is to explore the nature of meaning and the way it functions in language and to delineate that how the meaning of the parts of expression does depends upon their complex expression?

Keywords: Language, Meaningfulness, Semantics, Atomism, Holism, Communication.

[1] Research Scholar, Department of Philosophy, School of Humanities, University of Hyderabad, P.O. Central University, Gachibowli, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh (India).

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