Words without Meaning


According to Mikhail Bakhtin “When we seek to understand a word, what matters is not the direct meaning the word gives to objects and emotions—this is the false front of the word; what matters is rather the actual and always self-interested use to which this meaning is put and the way it is expressed by the speaker, a use determined by the speaker’s position (profession, social class, etc.) and by the concrete situation. Who speaks and under what conditions he speaks: this is what determines the word’s actual meaning. All direct meanings and direct expressions are false, and this is especially true of emotional meanings and expressions.” (Dialogic Imagination 401).

So how do we discover actual meanings? How do we get at intended meanings? We must go beyond the surface meanings of words. We must go beyond dictionary definitions. We must go beyond communally assigned meanings. We must look at the socio-historical events in the lives of individual people and their current concrete situations. This document explores a method of doing this and is illustrated by way of a personal example.