Psycholinguistics has worked hard on the functions that the “meaning” of words can have.

1) Extensive meaning: the ability to communicate is relative to the community of origin that produced that language (for example, the Eskimos have about 90 different words to indicate as many ways of being in the snow);
2) Intensive meaning: the level of comprehensibility of this meaning depends on the level of social consensus about the proper content of a word. Words like democracy, freedom, being, nothing … are used with very different meanings. Obviously, in a stable society, with a dominant culture recognized by the vast majority, the intensive meaning is unitary, shared.
3) Verbal association: the meaning of a word can be estimated by detecting the sequence of other words with which it is associated. In the verbal association tests it was verified that these associations are in relation with the social class to which the subjects belong or with the profession carried out; that the associations of the members of a family are very similar to each other; that children make associations more similar to those of the mother; that males associate more similarly to the father than females; that children associate using terms with which they could compose a sentence (e.g. hammer -> nail).
4) connotative meaning: a word is loaded with certain emotional and cognitive resonances that are relatively independent of the proper meaning, considered individually (e.g. the meaningless word PALM could indicate a shaving soap: denotative meaning; but why PALM is sold on the market, it must also have a connotative meaning of soft, fragrant, frothy, cheap, etc.).
5) Contextual meaning: the meaning of a word varies according to the logical context in which it is inserted. Indeed, precisely because they belong to a logical context, words acquire a more defined meaning than when they are isolated (phenomenon of redundancy. For example, the mother is concerned about the health of her children). Redundant messages are used in communities to reduce the effort of understanding information or to understand incomplete or disturbed information.

Romano Pisciotti

” Il linguaggio” libera traduzione di Romano Pisciotti

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