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Last updated February 14, 2001


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Meaning of Meaning

Explanation of Theory:Misunderstanding takes place when people assume a word has a direct connection with its referent. Words don't mean; people mean. A common past reduces misunderstanding. Definition, metaphor, feedforward, and Basic English are partial linguistic remedies for a lack of shared experience. (Griffin, p. 492)

Theorists: I. A. Richards


Primary Article:I.A. Richards, The Philosophy of Rhetoric, Oxford University, London, 1936.

Individual Interpretations:People create meaning in words by the way they use them, words alone mean nothing.  Noise is anything that comes between the senders intentional meaning and the receiver’s actual meaning, a common past reduces noise.  People with similar backgrounds, therefore, usually experience less noise in their communication with one another.

Metatheoretical Assumptions:

Ontological Assumptions:n/a

Epistemological Assumptions:n/a

Axiological Assumptions:n/a

Evaluation of Meaning of Meaning using criteria set forth by Farrell 
Analytic Consistency:  This theory is consistent with the idea of semantics, the relationship between words and meanings.
Methodological Rigor:  Formal research conducted over time ensures methodological rigor
Intuitive Credibility:  This theory makes relative sense in the “real world”  It easy to apply to real life situations ie noise interference.
Heuristic Value:  This theory has a lot of potential to be developed further in many aspects.

Ideas and Implications:Meaning of meaning is a theory that is very applicable to real life.  We have all had situations in which noise enters the conversation and although the same words are being said, two different meanings are held due to past experience.


Example:A couple meets in college after attending high school in two different cultures.  One attended a small private school while the other a large public institution.  While getting to know one another reminiscing “the good old days” and  each telling the other about the trouble they got into in childhood the one who went to the private school calls the other a “thug.”  The boy who went to the public institution was extremely offended while the girl, coming from the private school meant it as a joke.  Each had their own separate meaning for the word “thug.”  To the guy it meant a drug dealing knife carrier, to the girl it meant someone who skips class and lies.

Relevant Research:n/a

Location in Eight (8) Primary Communication Theory Textbooks:

     Anderson, R., & Ross, V. (1998). Questions of communication: A practical introduction to theory (2nd ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press.  n/a

     Cragan, J. F., & Shields, D.C. (1998). Understanding communication theory: The communicative forces for human action. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. n/a

 Griffin, E. (2000). A first look at communication theory (4th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill. n/a

     Griffin, E. (1997). A first look at communication theory (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. n/a

      Infante, D. A., Rancer, A. S., & Womack, D. F. (1997). Building communication theory (3rd ed.). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press. n/a

      Littlejohn, S. W. (1999). Theories of human communication (6th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. n/a

      West, R., & Turner, L. H. (2000). Introducing communication theory: Analysis and application. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield. n/a

       Wood, J. T. (1997). Communication theories in action: An introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. n/a