RE: Humpty Dumpty

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Wed Mar 18 1998 - 10:46:13 EST

I think it is a mistake to think that there is one level which is *the*
unit of meaning. Phonemes are a unit of meaning, so are words, and so are
sentences. These units function in different ways. A phoneme by itself
carries no meaning, but if you exchange one phoneme for another in a word,
you change the word itself. A word by itself can be described in terms of
semantic domains, as Peter Phillips has pointed out, but may have many
completely unrelated senses, and the meaning of a word may only be
decipherable in the context of a sentence. (Of course, sometimes one word
may be a complete utterance: "yes", "howdy", etc., in which case Ingarden
thought it stands for a complete sentence.) The meaning of a sentence may
be quite different depending on the wider context it is embedded on.

It is kind of like fighting about which line in a polyphonic piece carries
the meaning. Each line has to be analyzed both in itself *and* in relation
to the others, which is why the sound structure of a poem may be relevant
to understanding its meaning, or why anglo saxon terms convey a very
different feel from equivalent multi-syllable terms.

Texcel Research

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