Meaning Is in the Mind of the Beholder

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What is “meaning”? According to the Oxford English Dictionary (2010), there are several meanings – 1) The action of mean, moaning, lamentation; 2) The sense or signification of a word, sentence, etc.; 3) A person's motive, intention, or purpose ; 4) Knowledge, understanding. Indeed, these four meanings just cover parts of the meanings of “meaning”. In the real world, every single word has many different interpretations. The meaning of words varies with many factors and determining the meaning of a word by solely treating it as a single unit is impossible. I agree with Ray Jackendoff that meaning is no doubt in the mind of the beholder and I will examine how this statement fits the world of words in this essay. To commence with, how we determine the meaning of a particular word depends on “the surrounding environment” the word in. It is not uncommon for us to find a word with several meanings and a same word may have 2 completely different meanings under different circumstances. To cite an example, “glass” can be interpreted as a transparent, hard and brittle material which is made of silicon; it can mean a tall and transparent vessel for drinking liquid; when “glass” is in plural form (that is “glasses”), one can also interpret it as a pair of spectacles or a pair of binoculars. Consider the following 2 sentences – a) The delicate souvenir of his wedding is made of glass.

b) Give me a glass of lemonade please.
Obviously, the word “glass” in a) refers to the first meaning (a transparent material) and that in b) refers to the drinking vessel. Linguists regarded the phenomenon that a same word or name is used to denote different things as homonyms (Oxford English Dictionary, 1989). One has to consider a sentence or even a paragraph as a whole to determine the exact meaning of a particular word. Prototype is one factor making Jackendoff’s statement true. It can be cltural perspective or personal. For personal, when it comes to “toys”, a little boy may immediately...
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