The Meaning of Meaning
"The pioneering work about the science of symbolism, and about how language
A study of the influence of language upon thought and of the science of Symbolism
by C. K. OGDEN and I. A. RICHARDS
"A seminal book, whose merit was to say certain things well in advance of its time."
Book Impressions by your editor. Ogden and Richards put together the book from
a collection of articles they had written for journals on the influence
of language on perceptions. The two men compliment their writing styles
and the book is easier to read then some of either man's works alone.
Ogden is to the point, yet can be ponderous; Richards is faster reading
but his references to literary examples is frustrating when more apt
examples are readily available. Together they have created a work that is
both to the point and easy to read. This book has been through a dozen
re-issues and, if not now in print, many copies are available through an
Language is uncovered as an instrument that is intended
to aid communication. Words are symbols that have been assigned meaning
from a person's background.
The book makes the point that words are inseparable from emotional content.
Each chapter proves yet another area of life, culture, media, and international
affairs in which words get in the way of communication.
This book is always cited as the source of Basic English.
It is so -- as the initial definition of need for a rational language --
nowhere in the book is the concept of Basic English mentioned. The case is made that
language is often incompatible with meaning. In a subsequent work, Ogden
introduces the outline for a complete language in which there are only
a few verbs, the most emotion laden words. The few verbs can be
explained in a simple stick figure diagram as unambiguous actions.
The bulk of the language is composed of nouns -- tangible and intangible
things devoid of emotion. These with the prepositions : over, under, between,
through, etc. and qualifiers like : old, red, loud, etc.
-- give life to the language. In only 850 words, the meaning of everything
necessary for ordinary life is described. There are other reasons for
interest in Basic English : International Second Language,
and many do not
even know the subject was initiated to put unambiguous meanings to words.
At least I didn't -- until reading "The Meaning of Meaning",
some five and a half years after starting the Ogden's Basic English
web site for totally different
The follow-up work is Basic English,
A General Introduction with Rules and Grammar, 1930. Ogden devoted the rest
of his life to developing and introducing Basic. He had it in dozens of countries and both Churchill
and Roosevelt as supporters, but that support was canceled by their
successors in office.
PREFACE : To the First Edition
The following pages, some of which were written
as long ago as 1910, have appeared for the most part in periodical form
during 1920-22, and arise out of an attempt to deal directly with
difficulties raised by the influence of Language upon Thought.
. . . [ 7 pages ]
Meaning, the central problem of Language, neglected
by the sciences most concerned, 1. Its treatment by philosophers to be
considered in detail as the analysis proceeds, particularly in Chapter
VIII. The philological approach. -- Professor Postgate's clear formulation, 2.
The failure of Semantics ; Breal, 2. F. de Saussure and la langue, 4.
The ethnologists ; Boas, 6. The development of psychology makes a scientific
treatment of symbols possible, 8.
CHAPTER I : THOUGHTS, WORDS and THINGS
. . . [ 3 more paragraphs for Chapter I.]
. . . [ Contents takes 7 pages.]
|A. On Grammar ||251|
|B. On Contexts ||263|
|C. Aenesidemus' Theory of Signs||266|
|D. Some Moderns --||268|
|E. On Negative Facts||291|
|I . The Problem of Meaning in Primitive Languages||296|
|II. Critique of the Language in the Study of Medicine||339|
|INDEX OF SUBJECTS||357|
|INDEX OF NAMES||361|
"All life comes back to the question of our speech -- the
medium through which we communicate." -- Henry James
"Error is never so difficult to be destroyed as when it has
its root in Language." -- Bentham.
"We have to make use of language, which is made up
necessarily of preconceived ideas. Such ideas unconsciously held are
the most dangerous of all." -- Poincare.
"By the grammatical structure of a group of languages
everything runs smoothly for one kind of philosophical system, whereas
the way is as it were barred for certain other possibilities." -- Nietzsche.
"An Englishman, a Frenchman, a German, and an Italian
cannot by any means bring themselves to think quite alike, at least
on subjects that involve any depth of sentiment : they have not the
verbal means." -- Mackenzie.
"In Primitive Thought the name and the object named are
associated in such wise that the one is regarded as a part of the other.
the imperfect separation of words from things characterizes Greek speculation
in general." -- Spencer.
"The tendency has always been strong to believe that
whatever receives a name must be an entity or being, having an independent
existence of its own : and if no real entity answering to the name could be
found, men did not for that reason suppose hat none existed, but imagined
that it was something peculiarly abstruse and mysterious, too high to
be an object of science." -- Mill.
"Nothing is more usual than for philosophers to encroach
on the province of grammarians, and to engage in disputes of words,
while they imagine they are handling controversies of the deepest
importance and concern." -- Hume.
"Men contend themselves with the same words as other people
use, as if the very sound necessarily carried the same meaning." -- Locke.
"A verbal discussion may be important or unimportant, but it
is at least desirable to know that it is verbal." -- Lewis.
"Scientific controversies constantly resolve themselves
into differences about the meaning of words." -- Schuster.
Chapter One : THOUGHTS, WORDS AND THINGS
The influence of Language upon Thought has attracted the attention of
the wise and foolish alike, since Lao Tse came long ago to the conclusion --
Let us get nearer to the fire, so that we can see what we are saying.
-- The Bubis of Fernando Po.
"He who knows does not speak, he who speaks does not know."
Sometimes, in fact, the wise have in this field
proved themselves the most foolish. Was it not the great Bentley,
Master of Trinity college, Cambridge, Archdeacon of Bristol, and holder
of two other livings besides, who declared : "We are sure, from the names
of persons and placers mentioned in Scripture before the Deluge, not to
insist upon other arguments, that Hebrew was the primitive language of
mankind" ? On the opposite page are collected other remarks on the
subject of language and its Meaning, and whether wise or foolish,
they at least raise questions to which, sooner or later, an answer is
desirable. In recent years, indeed, the existence and importance of this problem of Meaning have been generally admitted, but by some sad chance those who have attempted a solution have too often been forced to relinquish their ambition-- whether through old age, like Leibnitz, or penury, like C. S. Peirce, or both. Even the methods by which it is to be attacked have remained in doubt. Each science has tended to delegate the unpleasant task to another. With the error and omission of metaphysicians we shall be much concerned in the sequel, and philologists must bear their share of the guilt. Yet it is a philologist who, of recent years, has perhaps, realized most clearly the necessity of a broader treatment.
*** 250 pages plus Appendixes and Supplements ***
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Impressions and quotes from The Meaning of Meaning, the progenitor of Basic English.
Last updated on May 29, 2002
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