New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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THE SEMANTIC BACKGROUND                                 7
thinking and to the acts and affections of the thinker's mind. . . . Read this over till you understand it.6
Thus words are not a mere mirror or reflection of the non-linguistic world; they are not, as Plato seems to suppose, true or false likenesses and images of the things which they name; as symbols, they do not "mean" unless a third component of semanticsconceptionis present; they have no direct, one-to-one connection with facts. Since, therefore, a cleavage exists between symbols and things symbolized, we cannot justly say that words have any single 'real/' "right," "correct," "proper," "ultimate," or "true" meanings. Indeed dictionaries, which some might suppose could refute this claim that words have no such meanings, in fact support it in their historical record of the many senses which words have had and continue to have. In short, as Welby says: "There is, strictly speaking, no such thing as the Sense of a word, but only the sense in which it is usedthe circumstances, state of mind, references, 'universe of discourse' belonging to it." 7 This being so, a remark like the following by an eminent teacher seems absurd: "What I have described as inspiration, embodies itself in what is the only true sense of the word 'style'; conception, in the only true sense of the word 'form.' " 8
To be sure, symbolic uses of words differ considerably in the degree of precision and directness with which they designate referents. At one extreme, affective or emotive language (interjections and exclamations for instance) primarily expresses the state of the speaker or affects the feelings of the listener or reader. Such language is essentially, if not wholly, connotative and is only secondarily concerned, if at all, with
6.  "Letter to James Gillman," 1827, quoted by I. A. Richards, Coleridge on Imagination (New York, 1935), p. 122.
7.  V. Welby, What Is Meaning? (London, 1903), p. 5.
8.  Roger Sessions, "The Composer and His Message," The Intent of the Artist (Princeton, 1941), p. 127. Augusto Centeno, ed.