Meaning and Language

  • Gaetano Fiorin
  • Denis Delfitto
Part of the Perspectives in Pragmatics, Philosophy & Psychology book series (PEPRPHPS, volume 25)


In this chapter, we present and discuss two opposing views of linguistic meaning. The first view, which we call the view of meaning as something, maintains that there is such a thing as meaning. The second, which we call the view of meaning as nothing, maintains that there is no such a thing as meaning; meaning is the epiphenomenon of something more concrete and fundamental. As a prototypical incarnation of the view of meaning as something, we present the theory of meaning as reference, which draws a distinction between the linguistic expressions a language is made of and the object these expressions refer to. As an example of the view of meaning as nothing, we discuss the structuralist approach to meaning, whereby meaning is an emergent property of the system of grammatical relations that constitute a language. We conclude with a discussion of the strength and shortcomings of the two views and a curious parallel with cinematography.


Natural language meaning Meaning as reference Meaning as an emergent property Structuralism Paradigmatic relations Syntagmatic relations 


  1. Ogden, C. K., & Richards, I. A. (1923). The meaning of meaning. London: Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  2. Quine, W. V. O. (1960). Word and object. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  3. Quine, W. V. O. (1969). Ontological relativity and other essays. New York: Columbia University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Saussure, D., & Ferdinand. (1916). Cours de linguistique générale, publié par Ch. Bally et A. Sechehaye avec la collaboration de A. Riedlinger. Paris: Payot.Google Scholar
  5. Wittgenstein, L., & Anscombe, G. E. M. (1953). Philosophical investigations. London: Basic Blackwell.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gaetano Fiorin
    • 1
  • Denis Delfitto
    • 2
  1. 1.Utrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands
  2. 2.University of VeronaVeronaItaly

Personalised recommendations