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On matter and meaning: the two realms of human experience

Issue: Vol 1 No. 1 (2005) Inaugural Issue

Journal: Linguistics and the Human Sciences

Subject Areas: Writing and Composition Linguistics

DOI: 10.1558/lhs.2005.1.1.59


There are two phenomenal realms that we as human beings inhabit: a world of matter, and a world of meaning. Both matter and meaning are involved in all the regions of our experience. Meaning relies on matter to make it accessible to a receiver; and matter relies on meaning to organize it. Processes that take place in human consciousness
may be conceptualized as processes of meaning. Language is the leading edge of meaning, even if not all types of human semiotic are necessarily realized by language. A
language is more than just a semiotic system, a system of meanings; it is also a system that makes meanings, a semogenic system; and the source of this semogenic power is grammar. The powerhouse of a language is its lexicogrammar, the unified stratum of syntax and vocabulary; so thinking about meaning means thinking grammatically.
Expressed in functional terms, the grammar both construes and enacts: it enacts the social process, our relationships one with another; and it construes the human experience. Language can be seen as the prototype of a semiotic system; hence a theory which is designed to represent the multidimensional ‘architecture’ of language should
be ‘thick’ enough, and rich enough, to offer insight into other semiotic systems. As well as providing a metaphor for language, linguistics also stands as metaphor for the whole of meaning as theorizing – for the ability of the semiotic realm to construe itself into successive planes of virtual reality, in the (so far) unremitting human effort to understand.

Author: M.A.K. Halliday

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