7 Types of Meaning based on Leech Theory

7 Types of Meaning based on Leech Theory

Meaning, the very essence of language, is a concept that has captivated the minds of linguists and philosophers for centuries. Understanding how words and phrases convey meaning is a fundamental pursuit in linguistics. One prominent scholar who delved into this intricate world of meaning was Geoffrey Leech, a British linguist whose work has left an indelible mark on the study of semantics.

In this article, we embark on a journey into the fascinating realm of meaning defined by Leech’s theory of semantics. So, whether you are a linguistics enthusiast, a language lover, or simply curious about how words weave the tapestry of human communication, this exploration of the seven types of meaning promises to be an enlightening journey through the heart of semantics.

Read also: Definiton of Semantics 

What are the Types of Meaning based on Leech Theory?

Semantics is considered with the aspects of meaning. Dealing with the meaning can be categorized into some references. According to Leech (1981, p. 9), meaning is classified into seven types, namely:

1. Conceptual Meaning

Denotative meaning and cognitive meaning are other terms for conceptual meaning. It encompasses a word’s inherent dictionary definition and the basic ideas or concepts it represents. Conceptual meaning is relatively stable and consistent across different contexts.

Example: The conceptual meaning of the word “cat” refers to a small domesticated mammal with fur, sharp claws, and a propensity for catching rodents. This meaning remains largely the same in different contexts.

2. Connotative Meaning

Connotative meaning, or connotation, refers to the additional, often emotional or cultural associations that a word carries beyond its explicit or denotative meaning. These associations can vary among individuals or communities and can be positive, negative, or neutral. Thus, the connotative meaning of the stated word can be any of the referent’s characteristics.

Example: The word “snake” has various connotations for different people. Some might associate it with danger, fear, or deception because of cultural stories and stereotypes related to snakes. Others might view it more neutrally or even positively, considering the snake as a symbol of transformation or healing in certain cultural contexts.

3. Collocative Meaning

It is a type of meaning associated with the tendency of certain words to occur together or collocate with other words in a language. In other words, collocative meaning relates to the specific patterns of word combinations that words tend to form, which can provide additional information and shades of meaning beyond the individual meanings of the words themselves.

Example: Consider the word “strong” and its collocative patterns:

Collocative Pattern 1: “Strong coffee”

In this context, “strong” collocates with “coffee” to convey that the coffee has a robust, intense flavour or is highly concentrated in its taste.

Collocative Pattern 2: “Strong wind”

Here, “strong” collocates with “wind” to indicate that the wind is powerful or forceful in speed or intensity.

Collocative Pattern 3: “Strong support”

In this case, “strong” collocates with “support” to suggest that the support is substantial, unwavering, or reliable.

4. Affective Meaning

It is related to the emotional or attitudinal associations of words and expressions. It encompasses the feelings, sentiments, or emotional nuances that words can convey.

Example: Let us consider the word “fire” and its affective meaning:

The word “fire” can carry various affective meanings based on context. In some contexts, it might evoke positive emotions like warmth, coziness, and comfort when associated with a fireplace in a cozy setting. However, in other contexts, it can have negative affective meanings, such as fear, destruction, and danger, when associated with a raging forest or house fire.

In this example, the affective meaning of “fire” is influenced by people’s emotional associations with different situations involving fire. It can convey positive and negative emotions, demonstrating how affective meaning can vary depending on context and personal experiences.

5. Social Meaning

The aspect of meaning pertains to the social relationships, roles, and power structures conveyed through language. It encompasses the way language reflects societal norms, attitudes, and hierarchies.

Example: Consider the use of language in addressing someone of higher social status, like a boss or a professor, versus someone of equal or lower social status:

Social Meaning in Language Address: When addressing a professor or a boss, individuals often use formal language and titles such as “Dr. Smith” or “Mr. Johnson.” This formality reflects the social meaning of respect and recognition of the person’s higher social status or expertise.

Social meaning plays a crucial role in how people interact with one another and how language reflects the intricacies of society.

6. Reflected Meaning

It is the aspect of meaning that arises when a word or expression is used in a particular context, and it reflects the speaker’s subjective attitudes, emotions, or beliefs. The meaning is suggested or implied by the context in which a word is used.

Example: Consider the word “bright” and how its reflected meaning can vary in different contexts:

Denotative (Conceptual) Meaning: The denotative meaning of “bright” refers to something that emits much light or is well-illuminated. For example, “The sun is bright today.”

Reflected Meaning – Context 1: In a different context, like describing someone as “bright,” it may reflect the speaker’s opinion about their intelligence or quick thinking. For instance, “She is a bright student” suggests someone is intelligent or clever.

Reflected Meaning – Context 2: In a conversational context about a future event or someone’s prospects, saying, “His future looks bright”, may reflect the speaker’s positive outlook or optimism about that person’s potential for success. Here, the word “bright” carries a reflected meaning related to promise or optimism.

The word “bright” takes on additional meaning in both contexts based on the context and the speaker’s attitude or belief about the subject. In the first case, it reflects intelligence; in the second, it reflects optimism about the future.

7. Thematic Meaning

Thematic meaning, in Leech’s framework, concerns how words and elements in a sentence are arranged to indicate the central theme or topic of the sentence. It focuses on how words assume roles like “theme” and “rheme” to establish the flow and organization of information in a sentence.

Example: Consider the sentence: “The cat chased the mouse.”

In this sentence, there is a clear thematic structure:

Theme: “The cat” serves as the theme of the sentence. The sentence’s central element provides the action’s topic or subject.

Rheme: “chased the mouse” is the theme, providing additional information about what the cat did. It completes the action initiated by the theme.

This thematic structure helps to organize the information in the sentence, making it clear that the sentence is primarily about the cat and what it did (chasing the mouse). The thematic structure also indicates the direction of information flow, with the theme introducing the topic and the rheme providing more details or elaboration.

Thematic meaning is crucial in sentence comprehension because it helps readers or listeners identify a sentence’s main topic or focus and understand the relationships between different parts. It plays a role in the natural flow of information and contributes to language’s overall coherence and clarity.


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Tenry Colle
Tenry Colle

Hi! My name is A. Tenry Lawangen Aspat Colle. I am a motivated and resourceful English educator. In addition, as the owner of @rymari.translation17 has shaped me to be a punctual and dependable translator of Indonesian to English and vice versa.

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