Language and Meaning Essay
In his book De Interpretatione, Aristotle gives valuable insight to the concept of meaning. He attaches his explanations to language and knowledge. Therefore, helping to shape what we now know as Aristotle’s theory of language and meaning (Tierney & Modrak, 2002). Aristotle argues that the relationship between written words and spoken word is conventional. Similarly, the relationship between spoken word and mental state evoked by these words, is also conventional (Modrak, 2009). Aristotle’s theory offered a compromise, between two other theories of meaning, that Plato was battling with. These theories are; either words are signs that have arbitrary meaning, or they are natural signs, with set unchangeable meaning (Modrak, 2009). The only thing deemed natural by Aristotle, was the relationship between mental state and an external object (something physical). This he argued was the same for all humans (Modrak, 2009). This paper aims to use Aristotle’s theory of language and meaning, to analyze a qualitative interview process. A process that heavily relies on language and meaning. This will be done in the hopes to show the effectiveness of Aristotle’s theory. A theory that is useful to show the vital importance of language and meaning in society.
Qualitative Interview Process (Language and Meaning Theory analysis)
During a qualitative interview. The role of the researcher is to interview participants, gather data, and interpret the finding (Polkinghorne, 2005). The interview process firstly begins by the researcher asking the participant questions related to the study. The participant answers verbally and their responses are then recorded. The researcher would then transcribe these recordings. They then take what has been transcribed and try to make sense out of it (Polkinghorne, 2005). Aristotle’s theory of language and meaning, can be used to analyze this process. It is evident from the very first stem that already meaning can be conventional. The questions asked by the researcher are made sense of by the participants, before he/she answers. The meaning participants give to each question asked by the researcher, may differ. This can depend on the participants understanding of the terminology used in the question. For example academic terminology or terminology from a foreign language. Aristotle argued that the meaning of words lies with its ability to convey an object. Object understanding is not universal. A lot of factors go into understanding of the object (Modrak, 2009). In other words, making sense of what has been verbally said. The participants then respond accordingly to the researcher’s questions based on their understanding of the question. Once the researcher has recorded the participant response, the next step is transcribing. This is a simple action of writing down what is heard over a recording of participants. Using Aristotle’s theory, it can be argued how this part of the process is also linked with conventionalism. The researcher can choose to write down every aspect of the recording (verbatim) or choose to omit certain words. Omitting words might change the overall meaning of what has been said. Aristotle suggested the truth of what is the object (something that is known) is only as useful as how it corresponds to reality (Modrak, 2009). In other words, transcribing and interview in order to truthfully depict what has been said, is only as good as how the transcriber transcribes. The transcriber (researcher) makes use of their knowledge of language to better transcribe. A researcher knows the most important things to omit or keep, based on language. The last major step of an interview process is interpreting what has been transcribed in order to infer meaning, based on a subject area. Timulak, (2009), suggested that this part of the qualitative interview process is often what is problematic and needs an external method of confirmation. Using the example of psychology and diagnosis of a patient based on what has been heard and transcribed; often two or more therapist can give different diagnosis (Timulak, 2009). Aristotle argues through his theory that often-written text can be viewed as abstract. Various meaning can be created from what is abstract. However, scientific professions create specific indicative meaning from what is conveyed, either verbally or by text (Modrak, 2009). Timulak (2009), highlighted that in psychology when two different diagnosis occurs as a result of meaning given to spoken and written word, meta-data (such as past research usually in the DSM) is used to confirm what the diagnoses (meaning ) is. In other words, the psychological language has a code (DSM) to prevent ambiguity amongst meaning.
Aristotle’s theory of language and meaning, can be used to analyze a qualitative interview process. The whole process contains steps that speak to the relationship of spoken word to written word, written word to spoken words or written word to mental state. By using Aristotle’s theory to analyze these relationships within a qualitative interview process; the importance of given and perceived meaning can be highlighted. So too can the importance of language. Language and meaning working hand in hand to allow people to make sense of their surroundings.
Modrak, D. (2009). Aristotle’s theory of language and meaning. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
Polkinghorne, D. (2005). Language and meaning: Data collection in qualitative research. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52(2), 137-145. doi: 10.1037/0022-0188.8.131.52
Tierney, R., & Modrak, D. (2002). Aristotle’s Theory of Language and Meaning. The Journal of Philosophy, 99(4), 203. doi: 10.2307/3655617
Timulak, L. (2009). Meta-analysis of qualitative studies: A tool for reviewing qualitative research findings in psychotherapy. Psychotherapy Research, 19(4-5), 591-600. doi: 10.1080/10503300802477989