Componential Analysis and the Study of Meaning

Topics: Kinship, Morpheme, Lexeme Pages: 34 (11932 words) Published: March 22, 2012
Linguistic Society of America

Componential Analysis and the Study of Meaning Author(s): Ward H. Goodenough Reviewed work(s): Source: Language, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Jan. - Mar., 1956), pp. 195-216 Published by: Linguistic Society of America Stable URL: . Accessed: 11/12/2011 13:36 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

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University of Pennsylvania THE PROBLEM 1. Introduction. That the methods of componential analysis as they have been developed for analyzing linguistic forms are applicable in principle for analyzing other types of cultural forms is a proposition toward whose demonstration I have for some time sought to orient my ethnographic researches. The results of some exploratory work toward this end have already been published.' Included among them is an analysis of Truk kinship terminology, in which it proved possible to apply some of the principles of linguistic analysis to the problem of deriving the significata2 of kinship terms and of determining which terms went together in what I called semantic systems. I am taking up this material again in order to present a fuller discussion of the method and of its implications for developing an empirical science of meaning.3 The aspect of meaning to be dealt with is signification as distinct from connotation. What is meant by these terms will become clear in the course of the discussion. Suffice it to say at this point that the significatum of a linguistic form is composed of those abstracted contextual elements with which it is in perfect association, without which it cannot properly occur. Its connotata are the contextual elements with which it is frequently but less than perfectly associated. Significata are prerequisites while connotata are probabilities and possibilities. Only the former have definitive value. 2. Methodological orientation. The problem of determining what a linguistic form signifies is very well illustrated by kinship terms. In essence it is this: what do I have to know about A and B in order to say that A is B's cousin? Clearly, people have certain criteria in mind by which they make the judgment that A is or is not B's cousin. What the expression his cousin signifies is the particular set of criteria by which this judgment is made. This is analogous to the problem of determining what are the acoustical criteria which differentiate sick from thick so that we hear them as different linguistic forms instead of one form, as might a native speaker of German. In this case the criteria are a set of acoustical percepts which in varying combinations make up the phonemes of a language. A linguist arrives at a statement of 1 W. H. Goodenough, Property, kin, and communityon Truk (Yale University publications in anthropology,No. 46; 1951), hereafter PKC. 2 Significatum and denotatumare used as defined by Charles Morris, Signs, languageand behavior17 (1946). 3 I wish to thank Henry M. Hoenigswald for his encouragement and John Cole for many fruitful discussions. Field work on Truk was undertaken in 1947 in connection with the Yale University expedition under George P. Murdock, part of the Coordinated Investigation of Micronesian Anthropology sponsored by the Pacific Science Board of the National Research Council, financed by the Officeof Naval Research, the...
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