Meaning & Understanding, for Linguistic Data

Knowing the Meaning of something and Understanding something are the Cognitive Reflections of each other.

For knowing the meaning, one goes from the value to the slot – the specific to the general – i.e. towards the general.

For understanding something, one goes from the slot to the value – the general to the specific – i.e. towards the specific.

Explanation : 

1) Meaning : 

What is meaning? Explaining the relationship between those entities which have come together.

Consider this sentence – Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister of India.

Here 2 such pairs exist; i.e. 2 words have come together twice – ‘Narendra Modi and Prime Minister’ and ‘Prime Minister and India’.

Lets consider the second pair. “Prime Minister of India”. What does it mean? What is the meaning of “Prime Minister of India”? How will you explain it to someone?

Firstly, you need definitions of both the words – Prime Minster and India. Now, a note here – definitions generalise entities. For e.g. Iron – an INSTRUMENT which…. , Finger – a PART of a body which…. , Computer – an ELECTRONIC INSTRUMENT which….

For knowing the meaning of a pair one has to know a general fact made up of the generalisations in the definitions of the words in the pair. In this case, that fact is – Regions (generalisation of India in its definition) have Leaders  (generalisation of Prime Minister in its definition). It is this general fact – Regions have leaders – which is the key in knowing / explaining to someone the meaning of “Prime Minister of India”. 

2) Understanding : 

How does one understand something? Well, firstly one only UNDERSTANDS some general statement, and applies it to a specific case. So when someone wants to understand (something general like) ‘Regions have leaders’, one goes to an example (goes to the specifics) and gets an idea. In this case, how would you make someone understand – ‘Regions have leaders’? You will start with an example – You know Donald Trump is the leader of America? Now Americans do various things for their personal and professional lives. All that leads to processes and dynamics like economy, culture, society  etc. For controlling and maintaining all these processes there has to be a ruler, someone who leads and takes decisions and governs….etc. Such a person is the leader of a region, like Donald Trump is of America. 

So, for meaning, one goes towards the general. For understanding, one goes towards the specific.

One might ask – what if I have to understand – ‘Prime Minister of India’ – or know the meaning (which I don’t know) of ‘Regions have leaders’? 

In the first case – as we saw above, ‘regions have leaders’ doesn’t really make someone understand the term “Prime Minister of India” but just briefly, definitively acquaints him with a basic meaning of the term. If someone has to truly understand ‘Prime Minister of India’, one has to go to the specifics (as stated in the case of understanding, as its trait) i.e. take an example and see how some particular Prime MInister rules a particular country. 

In the second case – as we saw above, going to an example (specifics) makes one understand the concept but doesn’t really tell the Linguistic meaning of the phrase which is specific and characteristic to the given Linguistic form. For that, one has to generalise the term ‘regions have leaders’ with their definitions and thereby get to know the meaning of the phrase ‘regions have leaders’ which is specific to and characteristic of the linguistic arrangement of the words that make up the phrase. 

Hence, still, Meaning – going to the general, & Understanding – going to the specific.

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