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Aspects of meaning construction


Meaning construction pervades every aspect of our lives. A crucial aspect of our interaction in the world is being able to identify and categorize things. In his pioneering work on remembering, the British psychologist Sir Frederic Bartlett (1932) confronted subjects with what would seem to be meaningless figures and asked them to remember and reproduce them. One of the figures they were shown was Figure 2a. Some subjects would reproduce the figure the way it was presented to them, i.e. as (b), others would reproduce it as (c) or (d). The striking observation Bartlett made was that, in reproducing meaningless figures, his subjects turned them into meaningful drawings. For example, some subjects would interpret figure (a) as “two carpenter’s squares” and hence reproduce it faithfully as in (b); other subjects would interpret it as a “picture-frame” and reproduce it as in (c) or (d). Bartlett fittingly described people’s desire to associate things with meaning as “effort after meaning.” Interestingly, finding a name for a meaningless figure turned out to be very helpful in the subjects’ effort after meaning: they often felt relieved when they found a label which expressed a certain concept. In Langacker’s (1987) terminology, the subjects were able to project a “sanctioning structure,” i.e. the concept of two carpenter’s squares or a picture frame, to the meaningless figures.

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Tags: subjects, would, reproduce, meaningless, meaning, aspect, construction, subjects, confronted