Gary: My preferred way to think about this is that meaning is generated from the word stimulus rather than in the word.
Bruce: Again, this does a bit like the subtitle of Frank Luntz’s book – “It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear”. He has a point, of course.
But if we are talking about “meaning”, this seems one-sided. Colin Cherry talks about this in the beginning of On Human Communication, where he suggests that when people are communicating, “they are one”, and cites John Donne’s “No man is an island, entire of itself”.
He quotes a definition by a psychologist: “Communication is the discriminatory response of an organism to a stimulus”. But Cherry comments on this definition, saying “communication is not the response itself, but is essentially the relationship set up by the transmission of stimuli and the evocation of responses.” (p7)
There are two parties to the act of communication – the speaker and the listener. The speaker intends meaning – and the listener interprets meaning. “Successful communication” depends on whether the intended meaning and the received/stimulated meaning are reasonably similar or identical.
If our objective is successful communication – we have to recognize Frank Luntz’s suggestion. But it seems clear that the speaker intends something we could call “meaning”, and his desired objective is that the “response to this stimulus” is that the listener fully receives this intended meaning.
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