BRONISLAW MALINOWSKI, "THE PROBLEM OF MEANING IN PRIMITIVE LANGUAGES."

In: C.K. Ogden & I.A. Richards, The Meaning of Meaning. New York, 1923. pp. 451 - 510.


CONTENTS.

I. The need of a Science of Symbolism and Meaning, such as is presented in this volume by Ogden and Richards. This need exemplified by the Ethnographer's difficulties in dealing with primitive languages.

II. Analysis of a savage utterance, showing the complex problems of Meaning which lead from mere linguistics into the study of culture and social psychology. Such a combined linguistic and ethnological study needs guidance from a theory of symbols, developed on the lines of the present work.

III. The conception of ' Context of Situation.' Difference in the linguistic perspectives which open up before the Philologist who studies dead, inscribed languages, and before the Ethnographer who has to deal with a primitive living tongue, existing only in actual utterance. The study of an object alive more enlightening than that of its dead remains. The 'Sign-Situation' of the Authors corresponds to the 'Context of Situation' here introduced.

IV. Language, in its primitive function, to be regarded as a mode of action, rather than as a countersign of thought. Analysis of a complex speech-situation among savages. The essential /451/ primitive uses of speech: speech-in-action, ritual handling of words, the narrative, 'phatic communion' (speech in social intercourse).

V. The problem of Meaning in primitive language. Intellectual formation of Meaning by apperception not primitive. Biological view meaning in early non-articulate sound-reactions, which are expressive, significant and correlated to situation. Meaning in early phases articulate speech. Meaning of words rooted in their pragmatic efficiency. The origins of the magical attitude towards words. Ethnographic and genetic substantiation of Ogden and Richards' views of Meaning and Definition.

VI. The problem of grammatical structure. Where to look for the prototype of grammatical categories. ' Logical ' and purely grammatical explanations rejected. Existence of Real Categories in the primitive man's pragmatic outlook which correspond to the structural categories of language. Exemplified on the nature the noun and of other Parts of Speech.

 

I.

Language, in its developed literary and scientific functions, is an instrument of thought and of communication of thought. The art of properly using this instrument is the most obvious aim of the study of language. Rhetoric, Grammar and Logic have been in the past and still are taught under the name of Arts and studied predominently from the practical normative point of view. The laying down of rules, the testing of their validity and the attainment of perfection in style are undoubtedly important and comprehensive objects of study, especially as Language grows and develops /453/ with the advancement of thought and culture, and in a certain sense even leads this advancement.

All Art, however, which lives by knowledge and not by inspiration, must finally resolve itself into scientific study, and there is no doubt that from all points of approach we are driven towards a scientific theory of language. Indeed, for some time already, we have had, side by side with the Arts of Language, attempts at posing and solving various purely theoretical problems of linguistic form and meaning, approached mainly from the psychological point of view. It is enough to mention the names of W. von Humboldt, Lazarus and Steinthal, Whitney, Max Müller, Misteli, Sweet, Wundt, Paul, Finck, Rozwadowski, Wegener, Oertel, Marty, Jespersen and others, to show that the science of Language is neither new nor unimportant. In all their works, besides problems of formal grammar, we find attempts at an analysis of the mental processes which are concerned in Meaning. But our knowledge of Psychology and of psychological methods advances, and within the last years has made very rapid progress indeed. The other modern Humanistic Sciences, in the first place Sociology and Anthropology, by giving us a deeper understanding of human nature and culture, bring their share to the common problem. For the questions of language are indeed the most important and central subject of all humanistic studies. Thus, the Science of Language constantly receives contributions of new material and stimulation from new methods. A most important impetus which it has thus lately received has come from the philosophical study of symbols and mathematical data, so brilliantly carried on in Cambridge by Mr. Bertrand Russell and Dr. Whitehead.

In the present book, Mr. Ogden and Mr. Richards