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The Meaning of Meaning
A study of the influence of language upon thought and of the science of Symbolism

"The pioneering work about the science of symbolism, and about how language influences thought."
"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 out-of-print bookstore.

    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 reasons.

    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.
    . . . [ 3 more paragraphs for Chapter I.]
    . . . [ Contents takes 7 pages.]
A. On Grammar 251
B. On Contexts 263
C. Aenesidemus' Theory of Signs266
D. Some Moderns --268
E. On Negative Facts291
I . The Problem of Meaning in Primitive Languages296
II. Critique of the Language in the Study of Medicine339

Let us get nearer to the fire, so that we can see what we are saying. -- The Bubis of Fernando Po.

    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 --
        "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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Last updated on May 29, 2002
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