• Monthly Archives: June 2018

Meaning is Not in One’s Head but in the Semiotic Web

June 17, 2018

The other evening Y-H-B was perched on a bar stool in the tavern of his Vermont Stammlokal, The Dorset Inn, when the conversation with the bartender, the redoubtable Patrick Honan, turned to one’s “taking the bull by the horns,” “leaving no stone unturned,” etc., in seeking a job in the Northshires by a retired college professor (alias Y-H-B), when the Russian proverb “под лежачий камень вода не течет” swam into my head. The literal meaning of the Russian original is “water does not flow beneath a recumbent stone.” It is used paroemically to mean something like “without effort, no result will ensue.”

Now, there are a number of ways of expressing this meaning, but the point being urged here is to assert that the meaning one seeks to express always already preexists its articulation by the speaker. Once the speaker forms the intention of articulating it, this is possible only because there already exists the semiotic web in which the meaning is embedded in its most general form, so that the linguistic clothes the particular semantic content wears on any given occasion is entirely dependent on the inventory of locutions in the speaker’s wardrobe.


Anosognosic Repetition of Words

June 6, 2018

As has been chronicled here before, there are native speakers (and second-language learners as well) whose habitual use of language includes the (near-pathological) repetition of certain words. This was the situation Y-H-B encountered last night at a restaurant in Manchester Center, Vermont, when the co-owner who served him at the bar––an American lady in her fifties––kept repeating the word “awesome” at every turn, no matter what utterance was directed at her by her guests. Every response consisted of or necessarily included this word, whatever the content of speech.

This is clearly an extreme case of repetition, but speakers are all aware in different degree to what they are saying. Control of one’s speech varies greatly, and there are speakers (like the restaurant lady) who seem to have next to none when it comes to certain locutions uttered for emphasis and seem to be oblivious to the impression this creates on one’s interlocutors.