According to Wiktionary and Wikipedia,

  • meaningfulness is "the state or measure of being meaningful",

  • while meaningful is "having meaning, significant",

  • while meaning is "the information or concepts that a sender intends to convey, or does convey, in communication with a receiver".

There is for example the seminal work "The meaning of meaning" (Ogden, Richards, 1923) exploring the topic of meaning.

I do not know though, whether there are recent insights and more up-to-date definitions for example from recent hermeneutics or semasiology studies i.e. sciences focusing on decoding word meanings.

What are then formal i.e. non-colloquial definitions of the meaninfulness and meaning according to the recent research?

  • I leave it with this question as meaningfulness is full of meaning.
    – J. Doe
    Jan 7 '20 at 19:29
  • By "formal definition", do you mean like this: owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/common_writing_assignments/…
    – user6726
    Jan 7 '20 at 20:38
  • Formal definitions exist only in formal contexts. In propositional calculus, for instance, the formal definition of 'meaning' is 'either True or False'. There are no other truth values in binary logic, and meaning is defined as truth value. So the propositions '2+2=4' and '2+3=5' have the same meaning because they're both True.
    – jlawler
    Jan 7 '20 at 22:39
  • 3
    Have you looked at something like plato.stanford.edu/entries/word-meaning for an overview? Jan 7 '20 at 23:18
  • 1
    What formal definition of formal definition are you relying on?
    – user6726
    Jan 8 '20 at 16:40

There are a lot of ideas of "meaning," and some relate to linguistics and some do not.

Some theories might work with meaning as a thing that exists independently of humans. This view puts meaning outside of linguistics. There are lots of various formulations of this, from Plato's idea that there is an ideal world of meaning, to the notion that the world is composed of entities, truth values, and functions between them, based on the works of Gottlob Frege (a view that allows for some cool linguistic semantics). In this sort of theory, words denote entities.

Other theories work with an idea of meaning as something constructed by humans, and therefore, how people use language can give insight into what they think the world means. For example, Ludwig Wittgenstein posits that words only mean something because they are used within specific "language games" and nothing that exists independently of them. Another such theory is George Lakoff's "Embodied Mind" - which states that all meaning is derived from things people can directly sense, or metaphors extended out from those bodily understandings.

Many types of linguistics do not need to stick to a full understanding of meaning, just how words, phrases, sentences, etc. relate to and express meaning, and can work no matter which definition of "meaning" you take. (And some don't even think that all utterances express meaning, but sometimes exist for other reasons, like to change the world, like J. L. Austin wrote about in How to Do Things with Words)


No, there is not a formal definition of "meaning"

If I were to make an attempt, meaning is what you make it.

Just kidding.

This is an interesting question and one I am facing as well. Meaning in my use is information gathered from something and knowledge iteratively applied to that information to sort of fit it into a box / clean it up. Once information has been "pampered" you have meaning. Put more succinctly, meaning is knowledge applied to information. There are formal definitions of knowledge and information out there in Cognitive Science.

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