What is ‘meaning’?
Something intended for some cognition, on the basis of some data. This data could be written-language data we are used to, pictures, real objects in the real world or combinations of these. A rock on the side of the road is not intended for any cognition for anyone; hence it is meaningless. But a big rock kept in the middle of the road “means” something – probably means that that road is blocked from thereon (a boundary or something).
By ‘intended’, it implies that it (the data – something that means something) is created by someone – some human being. So there is human intention behind a meaning i.e. behind the existence of the data that means something. So there is a goal associated with every data.
So effectively, a piece of data is a communication between the creator and the receiver.
How is this meaning deciphered from the creation (data)?
A key with a ‘6’ written on it is symbolic data. The ‘key with the 6’ is the data (the creation). There is a creator. The thing intended for cognition is that if you press the key, a 6 will be taken as an input. Hence the key with a 6 means that if you press this key, a 6 will be taken as an input into the machine. This is the deciphering. The way one reaches from the data to the meaning is the underlying language.
Written Language like say English is one example of a medium of conveying the meaning of data.
In the case of the key with 6 on it, we observe that the deciphering of the meaning involves relating the given data to the surroundings also. In that case, it was the machine of which the keyboard and thereby the key was a part of. In the case of the drawing of a male on the door of a washroom, the deciphering of the meaning relies on relating the drawing – the male – with the surroundings i.e. the door and what lies behind that door.
In written/spoken linguistic data, these surroundings are the nearby words.
This symbolization which stands for something in reality, via a component of its system (a word / a sentence / …./a picture or drawing) is LANGUAGE. Language means – I will do something and that would indicate something in reality, virtually. So Language is actually an idea – exploiting the phenomenon of thoughts – since thoughts are virtual reality, which is since they “bear” reality when it doesn’t exist.
And thinking is manipulating the contents of virtual reality (thoughts). This manipulation can be ANYTHING theoretically; but when guided by commonsense becomes real thinking. And at the heart of this guiding commonsense is a goal. Otherwise the manipulation is meaningless and random. (A goal is a change created virtually, that hasn’t happened yet, in reality).
Lets see pictorial language. Consider a boy shown with an arrow pointing towards the right, to its right, and further to the right is shown the same boy with a doctor’s clothes. This “means” that the boy becomes a doctor. In such pictorial language, the meanings of the components can be guessed (from the drawings of the pictures). In written/spoken languages like say English, they have to be remembered (definitions of words). In the former the components are derived from reality; in the latter they are arbitrary “drawings” (like letters and thus words and so on, connected to man-made pre-defined rules).
In written/spoken-language-meaning, dry rules of language are involved (which have to be plain known). In pictorial meaning, the rules are based on commonsense. The only relation to commonsense of written/spoken language is the fact that some knowledge is left to assumption. In pictorial language it is the links between the components / elements that are left to commonsense; in written language, much of the actual content is left to commonsense.