by Brian Bosse, Copyright June 15, 2010, all rights reserved. 1232 views
Having introduced the distinction called ‘linguistic meaning’ I now turn to a critique of it. Linguistic meaning is the meaning of a sentence that allows one to translate it into another language so as to able to say that this translation has the same meaning as the original sentence. We looked at the following example…
(1) Mary loves Carl.
(2) Maria ama Carlos.
It would not be unusual to hear someone say that (2) is a translation of (1) into Spanish, and in this sense (1) and (2) have the same meaning. However, there is a problem with this. Consider the following sentence…
(3) Maria quiere Carlos.
This sentence is a legitimate translation of (1), and in some cases would be a more appropriate translation of (1) than (2). So, one could say that (1) and (2) have the same linguistic meaning, and (1) and (3) have the same linguistic meaning. But the problem is that (2) and (3) do not have the same linguistic meaning because the verb ‘amar’ and the verb ‘querer’ have very different meanings. As such, this undermines the very distinction called ‘linguistic meaning’. The reason for this is that most often words have many different meanings, and can be used in different ways. This range of meaning within usage is called ‘semantic range’. Because the English word ‘love’ has a different semantic range than the Spanish words ‘amar’ and ‘quiere,’ one is not able to say that (1) means the exact same thing as (2) or (3) apart from the context. As such, the occasion of use is required - but this is an appeal to propositional meaning of a sentence which destroys the distinction between linguistic meaning and propositional meaning.
In the end, this entity called ‘linguistic meaning’ is very elusive. The differing grammatical structures between languages and the differing semantic ranges of the lexis between languages leads me to suspect that such a distinction is a chimera.