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Theory & Psychology

http://tap.sagepub.com Who Says What the Words Say?: The Problem of Linguistic Meaning in Psychology
Carlos Cornejo Theory Psychology 2004; 14; 5 DOI: 10.1177/0959354304040196 The online version of this article can be found at: http://tap.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/14/1/5

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Who Says What the Words Say?


The Problem of Linguistic Meaning in Psychology Carlos Cornejo
Ponticia Universidad Catolica de Chile
Abstract. Currently, cognitive psychology assumes that linguistic meaning is based on associations between linguistic forms and semantic contents. This conception presents empirical as well as logical problems. It does not explain the exibility of language use and it is inconsistent with the subject-dependence of all cognitive acts. A theoretical analysis of these issues shows a history of confusion between linguistic and phenomenological interpretations of the term meaning, and between the external and internal perspective towards intentionality of mental life. However, if understood as perspectives, both uses underline non-exclusive aspects of linguistic meaning, namely its epistemic objectivity and its ontological subjectivity. It is argued that both aspects could be integrated through the pragmatization and semiotization of meaning. Key Words: generativism, intentionality, meaning, pragmatics, semantics, semiotics, structuralism

Introduction: Logical and Psychological Problems with the Notion of Linguistic Meaning For many authors, meaning represents the main aspect of human cognition and its proper theorization amounts to the key problem of cognitive psychology (Bruner, 1990, 1992; Glenberg & Robertson, 2000; Kitchener, 1994). Throughout the entire intellectual history of psychology as a discipline, research programsin the sense of Lakatos (1970)have emerged emphasizing the fundamental role of the dimension of meaning in human cognitive functioning. Cases in point are the studies on memory (Bartlett, 1932/1961), perception (Wertheimer, 1959), language (B uhler, 1934/1999) and developmental psychology (Piaget, 1952; Vygotsky, 1978), which, even before the consolidation of the so-called cognitive revolution, pointed with different emphases to the relevance of meaning in the conguration of psychological phenomena.
Theory & Psychology Copyright 2004 Sage Publications. Vol. 14(1): 528 DOI: 10.1177/0959354304040196 www.sagepublications.com

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The most frequent use of the term meaning in cognitive psychology and in the psychology of language designates the contents of linguistic constructions (e.g. morphemes, words, clauses, etc.). According to this use of meaning, linguistic constructions evoke objective contents in the speakers mind. The objective nature of these representations is veried through the high degree of consensus in a given linguistic community. The association between form and content is thus independent of the subjectivity of the speaker/listener. These contents associated with linguistic forms constitute their semantic content, which has been conceptualized in varying ways in psychology (e.g. Bierwisch & Schreuder, 1992; Burguess & Lund, 1997; Landauer & Dumais, 1997; Rapaport, 1998), semantics (Fauconnier, 1994; Jackendoff, 1988; Katz & Fodor, 1963), philosophy (Putnam, 1975), semiotics (Eco, 1976) and formal logic (Hintikka, 1989; Kripke, 1972). This common way of understanding the concept of meaning is, however, in conict with some theoretical beliefs strongly shared by the cognitive psychologists scientic community. In order to understand this conict, it is necessary to consider one of the most recurring and well-established ndings of cognitive psychology: that subjects actively construct their experience. The knower is not a mere passive recipient who reproduces, in a quasi-pictorial manner, the information he or she receives from the environment. Instead, there are a number of internal processes, normally automatic, that participate in the structuring of external reality. This thesis, known by some authors as cognitive constructivism (Christmann & Scheele, 2001; Neisser, 1967; N use, Groeben, Freitag, & Schreier, 1991), has been empirically demonstrated in various cognitive processes (e.g. through the verication of top-down inuences in human perception, attention and memory) and it represents a common assumption in several theoriesmany of which are rival in other aspects and range from Gestalt to connectionist models, including theories of information processing and activity theories. The basic idea of the knower as a (co-)constructor (Valsiner, 1994) of experienced reality goes across subdisciplines and theories, and has been characterized as belonging to the epistemological bases of the discipline (Bruner, 1992). Extending this basic constructivist idea to the realm of language comprehension, linguistic meaning should be the result of a subjective interpretation arising from a particular context, that is, the individuals meaningful construal of the situation (Glenberg & Robertson, 2000, p. 383), based on the assumption that nothing is meaningful in itself (Lakoff, 1987, p. 292). However, if we claim that it is the subject using language who construes words or confers meaningfulness on them, it is no longer possible to maintain that words have an inherently associated meaning or semantic content. How can we reconcile the notion that a linguistic expression has a semantic content with the notion that it is the subject who understands it who constructs its meaning? Does a linguistic expression possess a meaning eo ipso, or does it become meaningful only as it is constructed by the

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speaker/hearer? Is there a conventional content that is attached to linguistic constructions, which is more or less independent of who uses them and where they are used, or are these constructions rather a vehicle through which the meanings can be realized (Budwig, 1995, p. 4)? Can a mental content be, at the same time, given and constructed, a priori and a posteriori? In summary, this view of linguistic meaning generates a contradiction between two theoretical postulates. On the one hand, cognitive psychology asserts that there are objective meanings attached to linguistic constructions, which are, by denition, independent of the subject. On the other hand, cognitive psychology also claims that the meaningfulness of linguistic expressions is the result of an interpretive and constructive process carried out by the speaker/listener, of whom it is therefore not independent. Thus, linguistic meaning becomes at the same time dependent on, and independent of, the subject. The (implicit) solution to this dilemma is to assume the existence of linguistic meanings in the head of the speaker/listener. These linguistic meanings are organized in some sort of mental lexicon, to which the subject can gain access depending on their use-contingencies (e.g. E.V. Clark, 1993; Jackendoff, 2002). According to this popular view, speakers possess a stock of lexical entries which they use in linguistic comprehension and communication. However, this account of language comprehension creates a new problem. Assuming that a given expression can be associated to more than one linguistic meaning, subjects must be able to decide, based on contextual cues, which is the appropriate meaning, that is, which lexical entry is required in order to understand the expression. Yet, to be able to make this kind of lexical decision, subjects also need to understand the meanings of all the alternative lexical entries. This requires additional lexical information if one wishes to preserve the consistency of the theory. This additional lexical information creates the need for a second, deeper, comprehension, namely the comprehension not of linguistic expressions but of lexical entries. This creates an obvious regressus innitus: the existence of linguistic meanings in the head pushes the conict between the objective, conventional nature of linguistic meanings and their constructive, contextual, subjective nature towards a deeper level. Thus, this solution gives rise to the same original questions, this time at a higher logical level: How can these two notions be compatible, that lexical entries possess a semantic content and that at the same time this content is the outcome of an active interpretive process on the part of the subject? Does a lexical entry possess a meaning eo ipso, or is it meaningful only as the speaker/listener comprehends it? And so on. Summarizing, the mental lexicon hypothesis is not able to solve the conict between the subject-independence of linguistic meaning and the subject-dependence of all forms of meaningfulness.

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In order to understand the nature of this apparent contradiction, it is helpful to examine the interdisciplinary origins of the traditional concept of linguistic meaning in psychology. In the following section I conduct a theoretical and historical analysis of the denition given to the term meaning by the school of structuralism, the rst great school of linguistics, and I discuss the ways in which the legacy of this view has produced (paradoxically, through the generativist school) the contradiction presented before. Following this, I show how the tension between meanings dependence on the subject and its independence of it is observed in linguistics as well, specically in the elds of semantics and pragmatics, in the discussion about the role played by context in the formation of linguistic meaning. In the following section, I discuss in greater depth the epistemological premises underlying the two conicting views of linguistic meaning, and I argue that the problem of meaning represents a much deeper schism in the eld of psychology, related to the epistemic value given to the intentional experience of consciousness. In the next section, I propose the need to integrate the objective and subjective aspects of linguistic meaning. I argue that the contradiction between the subjective and objective nature of the linguistic meaning rests on the false dichotomy, already manifest in Freges writings, between the (epistemic) objectivity of meaning and the (ontological) subjectivity of consciousness. In the penultimate section, I argue that pragmatization and semiotization are plausible ways to integrate the subjective and objective aspects of meaning. Finally, I present the major conclusions that can be drawn from this analysis.

Origins of Linguistic Meaning The Structuralist Legacy In the beginnings of scientic linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure (1916/1966) proposed a fundamental distinction between language langue (p. 9)and speakingparole (p. 13). Saussure and the structuralists understood langue as a superindividual system of signs, coherent and self-contained, which is independent of the speaker, inasmuch as it constitutes a social fact. This could and should be distinguished from parole, the real use of language by specic individuals in specic situations. Saussure explicitly limited the object of study of the emerging eld of linguistics to langue. Within this framework, Saussure denes meaningconcept, signi e (pp. 65f.)as a psychic representation appearing in the subjects consciousness through the quasi-physical representation of a soundimage acoustique, signiant (pp. 65f.)in the speakers mind. Both elements constitute, for the structuralist school, the two components of any linguistic

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sign, which are as intimately linked as the two sides of a sheet of paper. This close link between them is based on the assumption that the sign belongs to the langue, that is, to the superindividual linguistic system. This idea allows Saussure to account for the objectivity of linguistic signs. In ascribing the linguistic sign to the langue system, Saussure denes and limits the semantic dimension of linguistics object of knowledge, assuming that the relations between linguistic forms and semantic contents are (socially) xed and grounded at the superindividual level. Thus, in the structuralist view, meaning is ultimately an element of the langue, an intrinsic property of the linguistic sign, just like its morphology and phonology; the fact that it is a psychic representation does not impinge on its social nature. The speakers mind is rather the space where these superindividual creations unfold. It follows that linguistic meaning is part of the structure of languages social system, with an ontological status different from that of the subjective experience of the individual who uses the linguistic signs. Semantics displacement towards langue leads us to the distinction of objective units of meaning attached to linguistic signs. These are by denition independent of the subjects experience, since in the structuralist view the object of the study of linguistics ends precisely where the use of language in real contexts by actual individuals begins. Once the subject has been excluded, the relation between signication and signier unavoidably turns into a static relation, one that is unable to account for the exibility and variability of meaning in everyday uses of language. After all, metaphor, metonymy, jokes and puns are not as rare as the Saussurian model would suggest. This plasticity in the relation between form and content, according to which a word can have different meanings depending on the context in which it is used, is left unexplained in the Saussurian model. The Generativist Continuity Although Chomsky (1957, 1965) was explicit in presenting his theory as an alternative approach to structuralism, some of the Saussurian schools essential distinctions would be recycled in the generativist model, particularly those concerning the nature of linguistic meaning. In Chomskys approach, syntax is conceived as a coherent system of logical rules operating at a mental level, which is responsible for language production and comprehension. This new conception requires the assumption that a logical-syntactic component of the abstract system is operating in the head of each native speaker in the form of a dynamic system in charge of the generation of syntactic structures (H ormann, 1976, 1981). According to Chomsky (1965), any native speaker is an ideal speaker in the sense that he or she is capable of generating an innite number of grammatically correct sentences, as well as being able to identify the

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grammaticality of any sentence in his or her native language, even though this speaker has never heard it before. Chomsky assigns the term competence to the linguistic knowledge that allows this capacity. When the speaker uses language in communicative situations, he or she is showing linguistic performance. This performance results from the activation of the competence mentioned before, but it is also subject to interference from a number of extra-grammatical factors, which account for the possible linguistic errors which speakers actually incur. When comparing the competence/ performance pair with the langue/parole dichotomy, it is evident that the latter is based on a distinction between two levels of description (social vs individual), while the former distinguishes between potentiality and realization. It is important to note that the pre-existence of objective and contextual links between lexical items and meanings is a prerequisite for the mental syntactic mechanism to be able to function properly. For semantic rules to adequately perform their interpretation of syntactic structures, there have to be some preordained relations between the lexical items that are generated and transformed, and the meanings corresponding to the contents for which the items stand. Thus, the Chomskian linguistic paradigm, despite presenting itself as an alternative to structuralism, nonetheless assumes a structuralist denition of sign, inasmuch as the semantically blind manipulation of syntactic structures is possible only if the subsequent semantic interpretation is guaranteed in advance. Semantic translation of syntactic structures is thus safeguarded by the assumption of meaning-in-itself (Cornejo, 2000, p. 130), attached to the word and independent of the speakers subjectivity. While the structuralist school stated that the meaning-signicant union was a social fact, in the generativist framework this unit has psychological reality in the head of the native speaker. In this sense, linguistic competence is a sort of langue in the head which includes the knowledge of form content associations.1 Thus, the generativist theory brings language comprehension back into the subject matter of linguistics. Such a reincorporation, however, assumes a redenition of comprehension, from a subjective experience to a composition of isolated meaning units. The assumption of abstract language representations in the individual mind has also been criticized as being illegitimate by defenders of a Platonist conception of the language:
There is a distinction between a speakers knowledge of a language and the language itselfwhat the knowledge is knowledge of. . . . The language is a timeless, unchangeable, objective structure; knowledge of a language is temporal, subject to change, and subjective. (Katz, 1981, p. 9)

Katz calls for a return to the langue, under the motto linguistics is not psychological science (p. 76). According to him, the ideal speakers knowledge of the language cannot be the subject matter of linguistics, since

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this would entail a confusion between the knowledge we have of something and the things that we have knowledge of. He concludes that sentences, meanings and language are abstract objects. What Katz forgets in his reasoning is the fact that Chomskys native speaker is already a Platonist construction, not a real one. Katzs distinction between the speakers knowledge of a language and the language itself holds only when the speaker is a real one, not a Platonic one. The abstract objects are not neglected in a generativist framework; they are simply supposed to be in the head. Nevertheless, the langue in the head assumption granted the Chomskian model a certain psychological avor, which seduced many psychologists (e.g. Johnson 1965, 1966; Miller & Isard, 1963; Miller & McKean, 1964) and had a decisive inuence in the evolution of psycholinguistics. From this point on, psychology appears to have assimilated the structuralistgenerativist conception of linguistic meaning which is based on the semantic contents independence from the speaker/listener.

On the Distinction between Semantics and Pragmatics The tension between a subject-dependent and a subject-independent meaning is also found at the point where the study of the structure of language gives way to the study of language use. Thus, the debate about the limits of semantics and pragmatics can be understood as the point of conict between the two ways of understanding meaning. Adhering to a structuralist-generativist denition of meaning, linguists usually understand semantics as the study of linguistic meaning, understood as the content conventionally linked to a given lexical item (e.g. Cruse, 2000). The level of description of semantics, as with the other linguistics subdisciplines, is always structural, that is, it concerns the structure of the general linguistic system. With the writings of Wittgenstein (1953), Austin (1962), Searle (1969/1989) and Grice (1975), among others, the view emerged progressively that a description of the linguistic systems structure did not encompass language use phenomena. The division of the study of language in its structure and its use signals the emergence of a new linguistic subdiscipline called pragmatics. Although the denition of pragmatics object of study is not altogether clear (Cruse, 2000; Davis, 1991; Gazdar, 1979; Levinson, 1983), authors agree that it concerns the aspects of meaning that are derived from language use, and not from its semantic structure, as portrayed in the motto pragmatics = meaning minus semantics (see Levinson, 1983, p. 12). Pragmatics concerns itself with linguistic utterances in context, including the meaningful elements produced by social and contextual factors.

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Language use always occurs in a specic context, by a specic speaker, with a given communicative goal. Therefore, the pragmatic aspect of linguistic meaning constitutes a psychological explanandum: when we consider the use context of a particular expression, we are referring not to a meaning-in-itself, but, rather, to the subjective experience of meaning. It is no longer about describing the (decontextualized) meaning of words, but about the online meaning that a speaker/listener constructs when using/ hearing those words in a particular context. Thus, the study of language use compels us to go beyond the structural description of meaning-in-itself and focuses our attention on the subjective comprehension of utterances. Pragmatics quasi-psychological nature should have led it to confront the problem of the integration of linguistic meanings objective and subjective aspects. Surprisingly, this has not been the case, mainly because a large portion of the research that nowadays can be classied as pragmatics assumes, either implicitly or explicitly, a structuralist-generativist denition of linguistic meaning, which is always alien to the experience of meaning. Traditional pragmatics presumes the existence, in the head, of the utterances meaning-in-itself, while a pragmatic component is responsible for accommodating this meaning-in-itself to the particular communicative situation and for extracting additional contextual inferences. In this view, pragmatic aspects are reduced to inferences that are subsidiary and complementary to the mental lexicons meaning-in-itself, which continues to be the true linguistic meaning. Paradoxically, all contextual elements inuencing online linguistic comprehensionboth non-linguistic (e.g. nonverbal gestures) and paralinguistic elements (e.g. prosody, tone of voice)have been excluded from research in pragmatics (H.H. Clark, 1996). Although the contextual aspect of language use is only a part of (and not synonymous with) the subjective experience of meaning, its absolute exclusion from pragmatics shows the incapacity of the discipline to integrate comprehension elements not pertaining to the langue, which, in turn, reveals that classic pragmatics has not abandoned the structuralist view of meaning. The language studied in pragmatics corresponds to the superindividual system of language. Thus, pragmatics becomes the study of the interactional consequences of the manipulation of superindividual prefabricated semantic units. The speaker/listeners experience of meaning is described, in the end, as a fusion of two elements belonging to two different logical realms: the meaning-in-itselfindependent of the subjectand the pragmatic inferencesdependent on both the subject and the context. Pragmatic theorys mixture of elements belonging to different logical domains seems to be the result of overlooking the fact that the study of language use requires abandoning the basic theoretical assumptions that allow us to legitimately talk about meaning-in-itself. This is so inasmuch as, in considering the context of language use, we are no longer dealing with

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a structuralist-generativist meaning-in-itself, but, rather, with a speaker/ listeners experience of meaning, that is, with a meaning-for-somebody. It follows, then, that, its eventual descriptive value notwithstanding, the analytical distinction between semantics and pragmatics lacks psychological reality (Cornejo, 2000; Gibbs, 1994; Rumelhart, 1979; Shanon, 1988). The notion that linguistic comprehension involves the recovery of the lexical items predetermined semantic content, with the role of the context being the lter that selects the adequate semantic content, not only suffers from the logical problem of confounding the social and individual levels of description, but is also empirically untenable from a psychological perspective, for at least three reasons. In the rst place, it is obvious that in the microgenetic moment of linguistic comprehension, contextual-pragmatic information is as important as semantic information in order to comprehend a given expression (Gibbs, 1984, 1994). Second, the denition of any lexical items linguistic meaning, regardless of how simple this item appears to be, always refers to some general background knowledge, without which the denition would become incomprehensible. A large portion of this background knowledge remains implicit and is evoked by non-linguistic and paralinguistic contextual elements, which are therefore (strictly speaking) non-semantic. This is precisely the insight that inspired many fruitful theories in cognitive psychology, linguistics and articial intelligence, such as the theories of schemata (Bartlett, 1932/1961; Rumelhart, 1980), scripts (Schank & Abelson, 1977) and frames (Fillmore, 1982; Minsky, 1977). Third, developmental psychology provides abundant evidence that language acquisition proceeds in a contextual and holistic fashion, as opposed to an analytical one (D.A. Baldwin, Markman, Bill, Desjardins, & Irwin, 1996; D.A. Baldwin & Tomasello, 1998). Interestingly, criticism of the semantics/pragmatics distinction has also originated from non-generativist theories, specically from the cognitive linguistics theory. This theory rejects the modular view of language, which isolates it from the entire whole of cognitive processes and operations and understands meaning as conceptualization (Lakoff, 1987; Langacker, 1987, 1990; Rudzka-Ostyn, 1988).
In rejecting the notion of an autonomous linguistic faculty, cognitive linguistics necessarily removes the need for pragmatics as a separate branch of study. All meaning is, in a sense, pragmatic, as it involves the conceptualizations of human beings in a physical and social environment. (Taylor, 1995, p. 132)

What the cognitive linguistics school understands as meaning is obviously not the same as the meaning-in-itself of the structuralist and generativist schools. For the former, the meaning of a linguistic construction is an interpretation arising out of a particular context (Geeraerts, 1993; Giv on, 1989), being, as a consequence, both context- and subject-dependent.

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The shift from structure to use uncovers the problem of the existence of two opposing ways of understanding linguistic meaning, depending on whether it refers to superindividual regularities and conventions, or to the speaker/listeners experience of meaning. In what follows I would like to argue that this tension implies different metatheoretical views regarding the more basic issue of intentionality.

Meaning and Intentionality The tension between the objectivity of what words say and the subjectivity of the mental construction of the subject who uses them in real contexts is the (psycho-)linguistic expression of a deeper division in psychology, one that arises from the speaker/listeners perspective towards the intentional experience of consciousness. The view of linguistic meaning as meaning-in-itself emphasizes the objective character of meaning: it concerns only conventionalized intersubjectively valid associations between linguistic form and content. Since the connection between form and meaning is an intersubjective one, what the words say is independent of their subjective use. This viewpoint thus adopts a superindividual perspective, located outside subjective experience. From this standpoint, the phenomenological experience of linguistic comprehension becomes superuous to the study of meaning, inasmuch as semantic content has an objective character, and either the subject possesses this meaning or it does not. It follows that all the subtleties and deviations from conventional associations that are observed in daily language use have to be explained without altering the essential principle of linguistic meanings objectivity. On the other hand, the view of linguistic meaning as meaning-for-somebodye.g. that of cognitive linguisticsemphasizes the subjective nature of meaning and places the phenomenon within the speaker/ listeners phenomenological experience: meaning does not reside objectively in the expression eo ipso, since a words meaningfulness is always a subjects contextualized construction. According to this view, the (empirically) proven signicance of the context in the denition of linguistic meaning is a result of the fact that meaning is always a psychological construction, a meaning-for-somebody. Thus we have two concepts of meaning, depending on whether we situate ourselves within or without the speaker/listeners experience of meaning. If we are situated outside this experience, meaning is objective, social and it resides in the words. If we take the perspective from inside the phenomenological experience, meaning is a subjective, contextual construction, and it resides in the mind in the form of an intentional content of consciousness. It thus follows that traditional semantics term meaning puts the intentionality of consciousness in parentheses, using it merely as a working hypo-

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thesis that justies an inquiry into an object of linguistic knowledge. In this case meaning refers to a cartography of the conventional formcontent regularities existing in a linguistic community, which has nothing to do with the psychological explanandum of meaning as a subjective comprehension. According to this analysis, the meaning-in-itself assumed by different psychological schools to exist in the speakers heads is actually a unit of social nature, which is induced from the regularities in the linguistic behavior of a group of speakers. That is, it constitutes a description of the experience of meaning from the outside. Therefore, the psycholinguistic supposition that the meaning-in-itself would be stored in the memory represents an illegitimate mixture of different perspectives: elements described from the perspective of an external observer regarding the subjects experience of meaning are treated as phenomenological units, whose nature is only accessible in the rst person. The meaning-in-itself is an analysis unit belonging to a (macro-)social level, not to the speakers/listeners intentional experience. Therefore, it cannot be supposed in the head.2 Such a standpoint could eventually lead us, however, to what Donnellan (1968) has called the Humpty Dumpty theory of meaning, that is, a theory of the kind When I use a word, it means just what I choose to mean . . ..3 If meaning is by denition a meaning-for-somebody, then it becomes a purely subjective construction and completely variable depending on subject and context. Yet it is an empirical fact that linguistic expressions do not evoke just any content in the mind of the speaker, but a set of given objective contents, the presence of which provides support to the assumption of a meaning-in-itself independent of the subject who uses it and the context in which it is used. The debate about meanings constructive-subjective character should not ignore the fact that speakers in a community are normally in agreement about the meanings of words and sentences, and when this is not the case, they can reach agreement without great difculty. Nevertheless, it is not clear how a psychological conception of meaning, which approaches the phenomenon from within the experience of meaning, therefore emphasizing its subjective nature, can be compatible with the empirical fact that this meaning is usually objective. Is it possible for something to be at the same time both objective and subjective?

Objectivity and Subjectivity of Linguistic Meaning It is interesting to note that the traditional conception of linguistic meaningas meaning-in-itselfbrings with it a particular view about the nature of the relation between individual and society. The idea of meaningin-itself is always proposed in opposition to other, non-objective contents (of consciousness), assuming that there is a conceptual distinction among contents (of consciousness) depending on whether they are objective or

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subjective. In the case of Saussure, it is precisely the objectivity of linguistic meaning that allows it to be assigned to the social fact of langue. This implicitly divides mental contents in two mutually exclusive categories: a meaning-in-itselfobjective and socialand a fuzzy set of other subjective and idiosyncratic mental contents. All this suggests that the idea of meaning-in-itself is based on a dichotomous view of the relation between individual and society, according to which contents of consciousness are different from the social and objective contents belonging to the social linguistic system. Individual contents (of consciousness) cannot be social, inasmuch as they are not objective, while social meaning cannot be subjective, for it is objective. This reasoning can be outlined in the following way: P 1 Meaning is a conventional content. P 2 If a content is conventional, then it is objective. P 3 A content is either objective or subjective. C Meaning is not subjective. Despite the reasoning being valid, it contains an ambiguous predicate which is found both in the third premise and in the conclusion: subjective. P3 and C are erroneous inasmuch as subjectivity is not necessarily opposed to objectivity. In order to make this clear, it has to be noted that the objectivity of meaning is based on its social conventionality and not on the objectivity of its referent. In fact, in semantic terms, an expression can have an objective meaning even in the absence of an observable referente.g. electron, accelerationor a specic referente.g. freedom, gure, blueness. P1 asserts the fact that, as result of social interactions, certain consensual soundcontent associations emerge whose validity extends to the whole linguistic community.4 Thus, when we talk about the objectivity of meaning, we are referring precisely to the conventional character of some associations in a given linguistic community. In other words, objectivity is understood as intersubjectivity. The inuential Saussurian reasoning presented above is based on the claim that meaning cannot be individual because it is intersubjectively valid. Nevertheless, the fact that some formcontent associations are intersubjective does not imply that these are non-mental. This reasoning can be invalidated by making explicit the two different senses of subjective confounded in Saussurian reasoning:
We resist accepting subjectivity as a ground oor, irreducible phenomenon of nature because, since the seventeenth century, we have come to believe that science must be objective. But this involves a pun on the notion of objectivity. We are confusing the epistemic objectivity of scientic investigation with the ontological objectivity of the typical subject matter in science in disciplines such as physics and chemistry. Since science aims at objectivity in the epistemic sense that we seek truths that are not

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dependent on the particular point of view of this or that investigator, it has been tempting to conclude that the reality investigated by science must be objective in the sense of existing independently of the experiences in the human individual. But this last feature, ontological objectivity, is not an essential trait of science. (Searle, 1994, p. 5)

According to this distinction, subjective in the third premise of the reasoning presented above must be understood in a strictly epistemic sense, while subjective in the conclusion has an ontological sense. The fallacy has led linguistics as well as psychology to the erroneous conclusion that meaning cannot be ontologically subjective (see C) given its epistemic objectivity (see P3). From the fact that linguistic meaning is intersubjectively valid it is erroneously concluded that it cannot be mental. The idea that what is ontologically subjective is epistemically subjective constitutes one of the essential premises of the anti-psychological thinking at the end of the 19th century, which constituted the origin of the elimination of subjective experience as a foundation for meaning. This antipsychological thinking is clearly evident in the writings of one of the founders of formal semantics, namely Frege (see Levine, 1999). When introducing the famous distinction between referencethe object referred to by the signand sensethe mode of presentation of the reference (Frege, 1892/1962, p. 39)Frege discusses whether the sense can be considered a mental content. His answer is a negative one, basically due to senses objective character, which can be a common property of many, and therefore is not a part or mode of the individual soul (p. 42). Although the sense does not correspond to an element of the external world, it has, however, to be independent of the subject, due to its objectivity. The objectivization of sense through its ontological separation from the contents of consciousness was functional to Freges goal of ensuring a nonambiguous referential foundation for his Begriffschrift, the ideal language that would allow the linguistic unication of the analytic and synthetic sciences. In the logical-positivist view, where things and symbols belong to disjunct classes, an ideal language warranted a format of precise thought for the representational mind. For this to-think-is-to-calculate conception to work, the class of manipulated symbols must have pre-existent relations with their respective referents. This condition is indeed necessary for Descartes mechanical automata, Leibnizs universal grammar, the ideal language of analytic philosophy, Turings machine, and certainly for Chomskys generative grammar. In the Fregean framework, the separation of the sense from the subjective mental life is indispensable to warrant the mentioned condition. The target of Freges criticism is idealistic subjectivism, which locates meaning in a transcendental spirit. Subjectivism does not give clear answers to the important question regarding the origin of signicance or its relation to referential function. Freges solution to the dilemmas of subjectivism is to

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bind meaning to reference, in such a way that all phenomenological experience not related to the referential function is excluded from the objective conceptual domainthe sense. The individual/society dichotomy is also expressed in the false choice between meaning as a creation of the individual soul and meaning as Platonic concept. In both alternatives, ontological and epistemic subjectivity are fused together. In recent decades, however, psychology has been coming closer to a sociocultural view of mental processes that is considerably different from the concept of mind that was subject to anti-psychological criticism in the 19th century. This shift is expressed in the rediscovery of the classical authors in Soviet psychology (Vygotsky, 1962, 1978; Wertsch, 1985, 1991) and in Soviet literary science (Bakhtin, 1981; Hermans, 1996), together with the American pragmatists (J.M. Baldwin, 1894, 1896a, 1896b; James, 1890/1983; Mead, 1934; Peirce, 19311935, 1958; see Dodds, Lawrence, & Valsiner, 1997; Joas, 1993; Shank, 1998; Smythe & Chow, 1998; Valsiner & Van der Veer, 2000). For different reasons, from diverse theoretical groundings and with a range of emphases, these authors represent the common idea that the self results from the internalization of externali.e. socialrelations. In a naturalized conception of mind, the latter is not seen as given beforehand, but as emerging and being formed on the basis of the social interactions in which human beings are involved from birth. This leads us to a framework in which subjectivity is seen as a social product: psychic life as we experience it every day would be unthinkable without the social processes in which the subject participates from birth. Thus, the intersubjective world is constitutive of the subjective world:
The social is usually thought of in binary opposition with the individual, and hence we have the notion that the psyche is individual while ideology is social. Notions of that sort are fundamentally false. The correlate of the social is the natural, and thus individual is not meant in the sense of a person, but individual as a natural, biological specimen. The individual, as possessor of the contents of his own consciousness, as author of his own thoughts, as the personality responsible for his thoughts and feelings, such an individual is a purely socioideological phenomenon. . . . Every sign as sign is social, and this is no less true for the inner sign than for the outer sign. (Volo sinov, 1929/1973, p. 34)

Thus it follows that a content can be subjective, that is, can occur in a subjects mental domain, and be intersubjective at the same time. Furthermore, the conceptual tools available to subjects to perceive and understand their world in a coherent manner are necessarily intersubjective and therefore objective. From the observation that a given content is objective, there is no reason to conclude that the same content is necessarily non-subjective and belongs to a Platonic superindividual world. Linguistic meanings cannot be anywhere else but in the speakers heads, but this does not mean that they

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are stored in the shape of xed acontextual relations between form and content, as semantics and formal logic assert. In a dialogical view of the self (Hermans, 1996; Hermans & Kempen, 1993), it is not hard to understand that, epistemically, the dichotomy between individual and society on which the concept of meaning-in-itself is based does not exist. Peirce and Vygotskys hypotheses about the social formation of subjectivity weaken the implicit synonymy between epistemic subjectivitysubjectivity in the sense of a knowledge that cannot be generally validand ontological subjectivitythe fact that mental processes can only be experienced within the private realm. As a consequence, although linguistic comprehension is an undeniably private experience and therefore subjective, it is also undeniable that the subject cannot understand this experience as such unless he or she has internalized a conceptual set of tools that are intersubjectively constructed. Overcoming the dichotomous view of the relation between individual and society, a goal pursued both by Peirces pragmatism and by sociogenetic theory, puts into question the theoretical basis that caused linguistic meaning to be taken out of phenomenological experience and reied as a structural property of linguistic signs. If meanings ontological subjectivity is not opposed to its epistemic objectivity, then psychology is now able to reformulate the concept of linguistic meaning in a way that integrates both aspects of the concept: objectivity and subjectivity.

Pragmatization and Semiotization of Meaning as Methods for Integration of Objectivity and Subjectivity So far, it can be concluded that it is necessary to correct the traditional denition of meaning in a double sense: (1) it should be understood as a phenomenon that takes place inside the subjects experience; and (2) its epistemic objectivity should be considered compatible with the ontological subjectivity of experience. The rst correction implies the pragmatization of meaning, that is, its reconceptualization as a meaning-for-somebody, a subject- and context-dependent construction. Meaning is no longer seen as a pre-existent abstract entity which is activated whenever language is used, but it is rather an ongoing construction which therefore depends on a myriad of factors, such as paralinguistic and non-linguistic cues, corporal and emotional arousal, comprehension background, and so on. It is important to note that pragmatization of meaning is a consequence of any theory that is distanced from a computational or mechanistic view of the mind. Examples are current research programs like embodied cognition (Lakoff & Johnson, 1999; Thompson & Varela, 2001; Varela, Rosch, & Thompson, 1991) and affective neurosciences (Damasio, 1999). In both cases, the radical foundation of mental processes on neurobiological and

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basic corporal processes leads to the replacement of the disembodied meaning-in-itself by a pragmatized meaning. Similarly, within the bounded rationality research program (Gigerenzer & Goldstein, 1996), there are interesting attempts to deal with the categorization problem, which leads to abandoning the view of meaning as abstract representation. In this direction, a categorization model has been proposed which is based on a simple heuristic that stops looking for features to categorize a particular stimulus as soon as there is sufcient information to make a specic categorization, so that it is not necessary to compare all of the stimuluss features to ideal proles stored in memory in order to make a categorization (Berrety, Todd, & Martignon, 1999). Aside from the advantages of the model in terms of psychological plausibility, it shows that categorization can occur without the activation of an abstract representation, on the basis of a few cues. Categorization is in this sense contextually guided. Furthermore, consistent with an ecological view of rationality, concepts should be contextually sensible in the stronger sense, that is, the correctness of the categorization should be judged considering the environment in which the concept is used. Thus, a particular object could, in principle, be categorized in different ways according to the present ecological needsin this regard see Olsons (1970) classical work. The second correction involves solving the problems of idealistic subjectivism. If human individuality is formed in society, an ontological difference does not exist between subjective and intersubjective forms of meaningfulness. Subjective consciousness is not transcendental, but rather it develops in the play of intersubjectively determined meaning constructions. Now, if we ask for the material of the social constructions which constitute consciousness, we arrive at the concept of sign, whose social, but at the same time experiential, nature allows an adequate access to meaningfulness. This movement implies the semiotization of meaning, that is, its revision as a complex subjective construction which employs a diversity of semiotic (and consequently intersubjective) elements, and which is permanently modied in communicative use. Meaning also requires an interpretation process, and therefore an interpreting subject. From this fact it does not follow, however, that meaning is an interindividually different content. Rather, internal comprehension processes are based upon socially shared interpretive possibilities. Although to mean and to understand are internal processes, they are supported by many social elements, whose relative weight can vary interindividually depending on the context of use. From this point of view, subjective comprehension always occurs through the use of the internalized social instrumental, and hence the subjective space remains at all times within the limits and possibilities of intersubjectivity. Approaches like the epidemiology of representations (Sperber, 1996) and memetic theory (Blackmore, 1999; Dawkins, 1976; Dennett, 1995) have also defended a socialized view of the mind. Although with different

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nuances, they all propose gene-like or virus-like units of information (memes or mental/public representations), characterized by a tendency to self-reproduction or self-spreading. Individual minds are seen as an optimal medium where these can subsist. Fashion, scientic theories, gestures and ideas are all examples of self-replicators. The framework undoubtedly overcomes the false dichotomy between mental contents and social contents. Nevertheless, these theories are not capable of explaining the individual use of language; diachronic variability of meanings and the contextual exibility of language use are questions that cannot even be formulated within this framework. The reason is the exclusion of ontological subjectivity from the class of natural phenomena.5 The naturalization of the mind proposed by memetic theory and its variants implies the reconceptualization of the mind as a receptacle of elements that are meaningful in themselves, described from a third-person perspective, and therefore decontextualized. Thus, the structuralist/generativist hard core remains the same. The price to pay for the elimination of subjectivity is the creation of a metaphysical realm inhabited by representations that are intrinsically meaningful.6 It could be counter-argued that the second proposed correction leads to the negation of subjectivityin the sense of individuality. However, properly considered, subjectivity as an attribute of psychic life is not neglected by arguments against an individual/society dichotomization; rather, what is abandoned is the very idea that consciousnesss subjectivity consists of a dominium proprium, apart from the objective, and is therefore unable to be approached for scientic inquiry. It is still undeniable that the contents of consciousness are in a sense private, that is, that thoughts, feelings, pains, and the like, are accessible to the thinking, feeling subject in a way which is completely different from that of an eventual external observer. What is to be questioned, however, is the conclusion, reached from the qualitative character of such phenomena, that they constitute an epistemically nonobjective domain. The pragmatization and semiotization of meaning allow us to account for both its variability and its objectivity. On the one hand, meaning is always contextually determined, because it is a content of consciousness and consequently it is construed within the experience of a subject, which is always contextualized. On the other hand, the comprehension process utilizes multiple conventionalized cues. Even though their degree of conventionalization can vary, semiotic elements are always the result of internalizations of language games with others.

Conclusions I have tried to show that the way in which cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics use the concept of linguistic meaning is empirically

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dubious and inconsistent with basic psychological knowledge shared by these very disciplines. Most cognitive psychologists claim that linguistic meaning is in some way contained in linguistic forms and, at the same time, that the meaning of an expression is the nal product of an active and constructive process on the part of the subject. Thus, a linguistic signs meaning is, at the same time, dependent on and independent of the subject. This contradiction has its origins in the illegitimate introduction into psychological language of distinctions coming from the realm of linguistics (where they were valid). Many cognitive models are based on two assumptions: (a) that the scholastic maxim aliquid stat pro aliquosomething stands for something elseexhaustively denes the sign; and (b) that this dyadic unitusually in the form of signication/signieris stored in the mind and is recovered every time the sign is used. Besides the empirical anomalies of this kind of model when trying to use a static model of sign to account for the contextual exibility of meaning in daily use, this way of understanding linguistic meaning confounds two different logical levels, namely the structural description of the intersubjective form/content regularities and the phenomenological experience of meaningful comprehension. This confusion often goes unnoticed by psychologists, who frequently use the term semantics to refer to experiential meaningfulness and not to linguistics superindividual meaning-in-itself. This is not to say that the concept of meaning-in-itself is totally without basis. Actually it is based on empirically observable regularities between linguistic forms and mental contents. However, based on its objectivity, linguists, philosophers and psychologists have concluded that meaning cannot be a content of consciousness. The mental contents of consciousness that are conventionally associated with given linguistic forms are thus taken out of subjective experience and xed within a dyadic model of the sign, which leaves subject and context in parentheses. When placed outside the head, the meaning-in-itselfreied and de-psychologizedleads towards the creation of a Platonic third realm (Ryle, 1957/1990, p. 371); inside the head, it produces two kinds of entia mentalis(epistemically) objective contents and (ontologically) subjective contents. I have argued that overcoming the contradiction between the two uses of meaning requires us to realize the perspective taken towards the intentionality of consciousness in both language games: when using linguistic meaning referring to meaning-in-itself, one observes the phenomenon from outside the intentional experience of the subject who understands; when one talks about meaning-making or making sense, one observes the phenomenon from within the experience of meaningfulness of the subject who understands. Both perspectives emphasize different aspects of the same phenomenon: on the one hand, the intersubjectively valid regularities of some formcontent associations; on the other, the intrinsically individual quality of the linguistic comprehension process. Throughout this paper I have

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questioned the ubiquitous idea that the subjective and objective aspects of meaning are mutually exclusive. Quite the opposite: both aspects can be integrated once we go beyond a Robinson Crusoe view of the human being, that is, the Cartesian idea of logical pre-existence of the subject over society.
Notes 1. Currently, the clearest instance of the assumption of the langue in the head is the hypothesis of a mentalese or language of thought (Fodor, 1975). 2. In this sense can the famous dictum of Putnam be understood: Cut the pie any way you like, meanings just aint in the head! (Putnam, 1975, p. 227). 3. From Lewis Carrolls Alice in Wonderland. 4. Conventional in P1 refers to the descriptive fact that the same word produces similar contents; it does not allude to the prescriptive determination of how and when a word is to be used. The determination of the correct use of a language is always historically and ontogenetically posterior to the spontaneous use of language. 5. This point is already explicit in Dennetts (1987) theory of intentional systems, where intentionality is understood as an attribution made by an external observer about the behavior of an organism or system. Hence, it is an observerrelative property, not a factual one, as physical states are. According to this view, the sentence The child forgot to do her homework has exactly the same referential status as This clock forgot how to work; both of them refer to nonfactual properties. 6. Sperber strictly represents the marriage of Durkheimian structuralist thought expressed by the concept of social representation (Sperber, 1989)with the functionalist philosophy of mind through the concept of mental representation. Since both viewpoints propose characteristically third-person descriptions, Sperbers theory cannot account for intentionality and ontological subjectivity: Because of these interactions [physical interactions with the environment], mental representations are, to some extent, regularly connected to what they represent; as a result, they have semantic properties, or meaning, of their own (Sperber, 1996, p. 80). References Austin, J.L. (1962). How to do things with words. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Bakhtin, M. (1981). The dialogical imagination. Austin: University of Texas Press. Baldwin, D.A., Markman, E.M., Bill, B., Desjardins, R.N., & Irwin, J.M. (1996). Infants reliance on a social criterion for establishing wordobject relations. Child Development, 67, 31353153. Baldwin, D.A., & Tomasello, M. (1998). Word learning: A window on early pragmatic understanding. In E.V. Clark (Ed.), The proceedings of the TwentyNinth Annual Child Language Research Forum (pp. 323). Stanford, CA: Center for the Study of Language and Information.

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Acknowledgements. Preparation of this manuscript was supported by Grant C-13680/3 from the Fundaci on Andes. I would like to thank Katherine Strasser, Luke Moissinac and three anonymous reviewers for their comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. Carlos Cornejo (PhD, Cologne University, 2000) is Assistant Professor in psychology of language and theoretical psychology at the Ponticia Universidad Cat olica de Chile. His research interests include theoretical and empirical aspects of meaning construction/processing, gurative language and pragmatism in psychology. Address: Escuela de Psicolog a, P. Universidad Cat olica de Chile, Vicu na Mackenna 4860, Santiago, Chile. [cca@puc.cl]

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