Introducing The Conceptual And Associative Meanings English Language Essay


This term paper has been written for partial fulfillment of the Semantic course. It was requested by Dr. Mohammed to write a term paper on one of the branches of linguistics with the concerning of education. It was requested on (28/Dec/2010). The objective of this term paper is to gather some information conceptual and associative meaning. This paper is more definition rather then problematic.

There is a great need to understand the nature of linguistic meaning. The conceptual meaning remained an abstract concept. This term paper show some of the types of conceptual and associative meaning that been written about it such as Contrastive, Constituent structure, Connotative meaning, Stylistic meaning, Affective meaning, Reflected meaning, Collocative meaning with the detailed information on each individually. The conceptual meaning provides an illustrative discussion on types of meaning and an idea of some schools about the conceptual meaning.

The conceptual meaning is also known by many names. Names like (the logical, the cognitive, lexical, the denotative content or sense). The philosophy of concept has been there since ancient times until the present day. The best-know versions of theory of concept are the sign theory brought by de Saussure and semiotic triangle brought by Ogden and Richards.

Sign theory (de Saussure)

According to de Saussure, the linguistic sign consists of a signifier and a signified. The signifier is the word or sound and the signified is the thing indicated by the signifier. The Signified shouldn’t be a real object, but at the very least something to referent to. Saussure explain that there is a relation between sound image and a concept, both bound in an unexplained way. The thing we say is mirrored in some way by the conceptual entities. (Palmer F. 1981)

Semiotic triangle (Ogden and Richards)


Symbol Referent

Ogden and Richards saw the relationship as a triangle. The symbol is the sound-image, the sentence or a word. The referent is the object that is meant to. The thought is the concept that relate to the referent and the symbol. The thought is the concept in which it been in all human mind. (Palmer F. 1981)


Geoffrey Leech has defined conceptual meaning as ” The widely assumed to be the central factor in linguistic communication …” (Leech G. pp 10)

John I. Saeed said “If we adopt the hypothesis that the meaning go, say, a noun, is a combination of its denotation and a conceptual element, than from the point of view of a linguist, two basic questions about the conceptual element are:

1. What form can we assign to concepts?

2. How do children acquire them, along with their linguistic labels?

We can look at some answers to these questions. In our discussion we will concentrate on concepts that correspond to a single word, i.e. that are lexicalized. of course not all concepts are like this: some concepts are described by phrases as in the underlined concept below:

We’re designing a device for cooking food by microwaves.

Describing something that for a while was given the two word label micro-wave oven, but is now usually called just a microwave. Presumably if every home ends up having a tool to turn leaves into statues, a name for it will be invented and catch on. We see this process happing all the time, of course, as new concepts are invented and new words or new senses of old words given to them. An example of such anew word is phreaking, now to be found in print with its colloquial meaning ‘gaining unauthorized access into telecommunication systems, for example to avoid paying telephone call charges’. Someone who does this is, naturally, a phreaker. When we talk of children acquiring concepts we have to recognize that their concepts may differ from the concepts of adults. work in developmental psychology has shown that children may operate with concepts that are quite different: students of child language describe children both underextending concepts, as when for a child dog can only be used for their pet, not the one next door; and overextending concepts, where a child uses daddy for every male adult, or cat for cats, rabbits and other pets.

Or the concepts may be just different, reflecting the fact that items in a child’s world may have different salience than for an adult.” (John I. 2003 p.34)

Type of the conceptual meaning


Contrastive is a type of classification of the conceptual meaning. The study of sound Phonology had a way of classification of sound. A good example of phonology classification is the sound /d/. The sound /d/ has the features (+Voiced +alveolar + plosive). The contrastive deal the same way, but with the meaning in order to handle a narrow meaning. In the example below shows how it’s been done.


Man (+Human +Adult + Male)

Woman (+Human +Adult -Male)

Boy (+Human – Adult + Male)

Dog (-Human +animal +Adult)

Constituent structure

Constituent structure deals with the sentence rather than the word. It handles the sentence as a whole unite. The example below show the structure of sentence in a syntactic way. Word man is (+human +adult +male) the verb likes requires a (+human) at the very least. The sentence meets the requirement to shape a will formed sentence in part of syntax and semantics.


A man likes a pie.



Det N V NP

A man likes a Pie

The Associative Meaning


Reflected meaning and collocative meaning, affective meaning and stylistic meaning : all have more in common with connotative meaning than with conceptual meaning; they all have the same open-ended, indeterminate character, and lend themselves to analysis in terms of scales or ranges, rather than in discrete either this-or-that terms. They can all be brought together under the heading of Associative meaning.


He is a lion.

He is like a lion.

Types of the associative meaning

The associative meaning have at least five type of meaning. They are Connotative meaning, Stylistic meaning, Affective meaning, Reflected meaning and Collocative meaning. Each of them, represent part of the associative meaning and have something in common. They all are affected by the culture and the human experience.

Connotative meaning

When speaking of the connotative meaning it means talking about the real world, so when one hears or uses an expression. This expression is associated with ones experience. The experience could be cultural or religious. This would have an effect on the meaning of the concept. (Leech G. p. 15)

Stylistic meaning

Stylistic meaning is the piece of language that conveys about the social circumstance of it use. The level of using the stylistic specified on the use of word in a sentence. Its features are based on the speakers/writers language, the topic, the date and the way the communication been presented.


Cast (Literary), Throw (general), Chuck (casual).

Affective meaning

The affective meaning is when the personal attitude of the speaker to the listener or to something he is talking about. This affects the outcome of the communication base on the tone of the voice. The example below show two meaning based on the tone of voice. The sentence may give two meaning as polite way or an offense way.


Will you sit down?

Reflected meaning

Reflected meaning is the meaning which arises in forms part of our response to another sense. When hearing needle the synonymous expressions painful.


Needle = pointed, piercing or sharp (conceptual meaning)

Needle = painful, blood or hospital (reflected meaning)

Collocative meaning

Collocative meaning consists of association with words which tend to occur in the environment of another word. The word pretty may have the below words in the example tagging alone. The word handsome may also have the below words tagging alone, but as you can see they differ in what will the word a company with. Not all the words in pretty have the same tag with is the same with handsome.


The Behaviorist

This school started at the early 1930 and until the late 1950s. The behaviorist approach to semantics has its classical representative in Bloomfield, who defines ” the meaning of a linguistic form as situation in which the speaker utters it and the response which it calls forth in the hearer” (Bloomfield 1933 p.139)

“The difference between behaviorist and mentalist’s semantics is not as radical as has been claimed. Ogden and Richards, for example, gave an earlier behaviorist account of meaning which was clearly mentalist as well. In their definition, meaning is the engram of stimulus: “A sign is always a stimulus similar to some part of an original stimulus and sufficient to call up the engram formed by that stimulus. An engram is the residual trace of an adaptation made by the organism to a stimulus” (Ogden and Richards 1923 p.53). While both mentalist and behaviorism identify meaning as an event within an interpreting organism, behaviorism has emphasized the necessity of external empirical evidence for the discovery of these events. The impasse of behaviorist semantics is reached where meaning are understood but no reaction of the interpreter can be observed.” (Winfried N. 1995 p. 100)

Leech explained the behaviorists as ” Recent linguistics has emphasized the theoretical aspect of scientific investigation, the linguistics of the preceding era (roughly 1930 to 1960) gave pre-eminence to the empirical or obser­vational aspect: an approach which manifested itself in the attempt to base meaning on context. Contextualism’, as I shall call this tendency, has shown itself to be a relative failure, but it is important to study it, and take note of the reasons for its failure, if one is to understand present-day thinking in semantics.

Contextualism has a superficial attractiveness for anyone who aspires to the ideal of scientific objectivity. If meaning is discussed in terms of ideas, concepts, or internal mental states, it remains beyond the scope of scientific observation; so instead, goes the argument, we should study meaning in terms of situation, use, and context – outward and observable correlates of language behavior. As J. R. Firth, the leading British linguist of the period put it in 1930:

If we regard language as ‘expressive’ or ‘communicative’ we imply that it is an instrument of inner mental states. And as we know so little of inner mental states, even by the most careful introspection, the language problem becomes more mysterious the more we try to explain it by referring it to inner mental happenings which are not observable. By regarding words as acts, events, habits, we limit our inquiry to what is objective in the group life of our fellows.

The best that can be said for such contextualist explanations there­fore is that they correlate two sets of linguistic expressions (in itself not a futile procedure – but a different procedure from that which is apparently aimed at). The only way out of this circularity would be to resort to non-verbal characterisations of context (e.g. pointing to objects instead of describing them in language); in which case semantics would attain the absurd status of the science of the in­effable.

In view of these defects, it is not surprising that in practice con­textual semantics made little progress. Although there were many programmatic formulations and anecdotal illustrations of how the job might be done, virtually no systematic accounts of particular meanings in particular languages were produced. One achievement was to direct attention to the previously neglected areas of stylistic and collocative meaning. But in general contextualism had the opposite effect to that intended: it took the mind of the investigator away from, rather than towards, the exact study of data.

Recent work in semantics has returned to the mentalism’ against which Firth, Bloomfield, and their contemporaries reacted. One might claim that this is simply recognition of common-sense reality: meaning actually is a mental phenomenon, and it is useless to try to pretend otherwise. Later in the chapter we shall pursue this further, and consider in what sense there can be a * science’ of men­tal phenomena. But first, let us at least acknowledge that there is some degree of common sense on the side of the contextualists – that context is an undeniably important factor in communication; and let us consider how this semantic role of context can be allowed for within a theory based on conceptual meaning.

More widely, we may say that specification of context (whether linguistic or non-linguistic) has the effect of narrowing down the communicative possibilities of the message as it exists in abstrac­tion from context. This particularization of meaning can take place in at least the following ways:

Context eliminates certain ambiguities or multiple meanings in

the message.

Context indicates the referents of certain types of word we call


(C) Context supplies information which the speaker/writer has omitted through ellipsis.” (Leech 1974 p.71)

The Mentalist

This school started in the late 1950s lead by Chomsky and other linguistics. In the beginning the mentalist idea of meaning was rejected, but soon it started to explain other phenomena that were left by the behaviorist. Words like love and mind since there wasn’t something to watch and understand. The behaviorist forced to leave them until an improvement of science.

Steven Pinker explained the five main keys that caused the Mentalist revolution.

1- “The mental world can be grounded in the physical world by the concepts of information, computation, and feedback.” (Pinker S. 2003 p.77)

2- “The mind cannot be a blank slate because blank slates don’t do anything.” (Pinker S. 2003 p.77)

3- “An infinite range of behavior can be generated by finite combinatorial programs in the mind.” (Pinker S. 2003 p.77)

4- “Universal mental mechanisms can underlie superficial variation across cultures.” (Pinker S. 2003 p.78)

5- “The mind is a complex system composed of many interacting parts.” (Pinker S. 2003 p.78)

The lack of these five main keys caused the Behaviorist to fail behind the mentalist. These same keys could be also used with the concept of meaning.

The mentalist did not go against the behaviorist, but was aiming to improve it. by the end of 1950s the mentalist took control lead by Chomsky and other mentalist linguistic.

Leech had explain mentalist as “what respectable alternatives are there to contextualism?’ The reaction to this of most modern linguists, led by Chomsky, has been an unashamed return to the *mentalism’ from which the contextualists tried to escape. The notion that the primary function of language is ‘ the communi­cation of ideas’ has become acceptable again. What is more, it has been assumed, as a working basis for linguistic inquiry, that the data we need about language can be supplied by direct resort to intuition. How have modern linguists dared to take up this stance, which seems so utterly at variance with contextualist thinking, and indeed, so utterly in defiance of the whole empirical tradition of science? Chomsky’s answer is a rhetorical shrug of the shoulders: in reply to the question ‘ How do we know that such-and-such a sentence is grammatical, that such-and-such an expression is synonymous with such-and-such another expression, etc.’, he says: ‘There is no very satisfying answer to this question; data of this sort are simply what constitute the subject matter of lin­guistic theory. We neglect such data at the cost of destroying the subject.

… At the present stage of the study of language, it seems rather obvious that the attempt to gain some insight into the range of data we now have is likely to be far more fruitful than the attempt to make this data more firm, e.g., by tests of synonymy, grammaticality, and the like. Opera­tional criteria for these notions were they available and correct, might soothe the scientific conscience; but how, in fact, would they advance our understanding of the nature of language…?

In other words, the linguist has already plenty to do in explaining what common knowledge about language is. So far he has got nowhere near an adequate linguistic theory or an adequate de­scription of this or that language. He is surrounded on all sides by a wealth of baffling data. So what business has he to worry about the impeccable pedigree of his data, any more than a primeval Linnaeus, let loose in the Garden of Eden, would worry about the epistemological reliability of his own senses? Thus what seems to be arrogance in Chomsky’s rejection of the objectivity criterion can be regarded, more charitably, as a manifestation of extreme modesty: of a consciousness that linguistics is very far from achieving a scientific status comparable to physics, chemistry, or biology.

Chomsky’s view on our intuitive access to the’ facts of language’ has been widely espoused by semanticists, and it must be conceded that the liberation from guilt and worry about data has been ac­companied by noteworthy advances, both through insight into semantic structure and through the explicit formulation of seman­tic theory. To a surprising extent, argument in semantics does in­deed seem to go forward on a generally agreed basis of common data: investigators frequently agree as to which sentences are synonymous, which sentences are ambiguous, which sentences are ill-formed or absurd, and so on. Intuitions are consistent enough, then, to form the basis of satisfactory argumentation. Differences of intuition amongst speakers of a language are often treated as relatively unimportant: they may indicate a certain difference of ‘dialect’ between one speaker and another, but are not likely to affect crucially the argument for or against a particular theory or descriptive account.” (Leech 1974 p. 81)

Meaning as use

Hymes and Watts explain Meaning as use refers to speaker meaning and particularly the intention of the speaker or the desired communicative effect of the utterance. This approach to the notion of meaning is validated on the basis of the conviction that language is purposive: when we speak, we intend to achieve particular ends. Language use therefore implies making the appropriate choices of linguistic forms for the appropriate communicative setting and cultural context.

This definition hinges on a tenet that sees language as a symbolic tool of social interaction and human communication. The tenet emphasizes the system of rules and principles that define how language functions in everyday life, whereby meaning is considered a pragmatic phenomenon with a diversity of uses which are governed by tacit rules. Application of the latter depends on the communicative setting, social relationships and cultural context.

Conclusively, the utterance creates a relationship between the speaker, the listener and the message. The speaker is not merely encoding a meaning and a message linguistically, but is also affecting an action with the use of language. Thus the criteria definitive of a speech act embodies two utterance properties: a meaning in the form of a mental representation to be encoded by the speaker and a communicative function to be decoded by the listener.

By virtue of the utterance properties, natural language is a social as well as a psychological phenomenon. The psychological correlate to natural language is communicative competence: the knowledge that enables people to communicate effectively by verbal means (Chomsky 1975, Hymes 1989, Watts 1989). Communicative competence includes not only grammatical skills but also sociolinguistic skills. The latter pertains to the principles of social relationships and interaction as dictated by cultural norms and values. Communicative competence thus intertwines pragmatic and grammatical competence.

Grammatical competence refers to the knowledge which enables a speaker to form and interpret the linguistic expression. Pragmatic competence describes the knowledge which enables the speaker to use these expressions in ways appropriate for arriving at the desired effect. To be communicatively competent a speaker therefore needs knowledge of the language system and the skills to use the system in different social situations and communicative settings.


The conceptual meaning is the meaning which is found in the dictionary. It is that thing which is called the concept and all other thing associated with is sub-categorize of the same concept. The word tree is considered the concept and the type of the tree are considered the sub-categorize like palm tree, banana tree and etc…

The associated meaning are the sub-categorize of the concept. The different of each other is based on the different of the culture, place and religious. The sub-categorize of the tree are the associated meaning sometimes tree may tag with other type of meaning which go under the associated meaning.

The two schools Behaviorist and the mentalist studied the meaning. The behaviorist studies the origins of the meaning and explained that it could be understood by borrowing from other science to understand meaning. The mentalist dealt with meaning as a strange phoneme and accounted for everything related to meaning.

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