How do we make meaning with language?

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter discusses the ways in which natural language is an indirect or mediated means of communication because of two features: the arbitrary and symbolic nature of linguistic signs, and the socio-contextual influence on the meanings we attribute to words. The chapter is an eclectic introduction to the linguistic disciplines of semiotics and pragmatics. We look at the notion of arbitrariness, which allows for language to develop symbolic (i.e. non-literal) meanings and connotation. We then extend this to an exploration of the uses of language in context to enact various changes in the world, following the tradition of speech act theory and performative utterances. Through these concepts, we examine the ways speakers and writers can mean more than they say and be understood by others as saying what they don’t mean. In doing this, we focus on social aspects of language use and indirect meaning, such as the expression of identity, authority and irony.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationExploring Language in Global Contexts
EditorsJeffrey Gil, Sky Marsen
PublisherTaylor and Francis - Balkema
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-003-24009-9
ISBN (Print)978-1-032-14599-0, 978-1-032-14600-3
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Language
  • Linguistic signs
  • Semiotics
  • Pragmatics
  • Speech act theory
  • Performative utterances


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