Levels of Meaning — The Power of Language

We live at the level of our language.

Whatever we can articulate we can imagine or understand or explore.

ELLEN GILCHRIST, Falling Through Space

When I taught English, got a blast teaching levels of meaning of words. There are three levels of meaning for words.  Denotative meaning is what you’d find in the dictionary if you were to look a word up.  Next is contextual meaning.  Sometimes and based on what you’re reading [the context], you can figure out the basic meaning of new words or, again depending upon the text, you can choose the correct meaning from several given dictionary definitions.  The deepest level of meaning is connotative.  Here, our understanding of what a word means is affected by all of our experiences of that word – everything we’ve read or heard. For example, when I think of the word ‘tiger’, my understanding of the meaning of the word goes beyond thinking of a very large predatory cat with a yellow-brown coat striped with black.  To me, the word also suggests something or someone who is fierce, or determined, or ambitious, and potentially dangerous.

Recently I was in conversation with a group of women and we talked about feeling safe. As the conversation progressed, I became aware of how I was responding to the word.  At some level, ‘safe’ has always meant being free from harm or hurt and secure from danger.  And I know that, for me, the word has gone beyond meaning feeling protected.  When I consider the word in my mind, I’ve conjured up the image of an old fashioned bank safe with a lock used to store valuables.  And, as is often the case with old bank safes, the key or combination – the way to access what’s being held protected – has gone missing.  So, ‘safe’ has come to mean locking away something which is important to me and keeping it from the light of day to the point that it is held so deeply and securely that I’m not able to access it.  And, eventually, what’s being held there safely goes out of my conscious thought until I forget what I was protecting in the first place.

I think that my safe was a space in my mind. Everything that happened to me when I was young got stored away in it.  There was great genius in that.  If I had not found a way to disassociate myself from what had happened which was usually traumatic, I would not have been able to find a way to live in my world.

As I continue to evolve and move forward into becoming the fullness of who I entered this world to be, I am reminded that the words which we use to describe our world and ourselves are never happenstance or benign. At some level, the vocabulary which I choose is indicative of who I AM, who I see mySelf to be, and what I hold my world to be like.

Think of the magic that are words. For each of us, they hold very personal and particular meaning.  How I hold these is not how others do.  Just as I hold my own deeper understanding of ‘safe’, so too I know that I hold personal meanings for anger and fear and vulnerability and joy and friendship and creativity and so much more.

Consider what these people have said about the power of language:

We invent the world through language. The world occurs through language.Mal Pancoast

Language shapes the way we think, and determines what we can think about.Benjamin Whorf

Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow.Oliver Wendell Holmes

The limits of my language are the limits of my world.Ludwig Wittgenstein

A different language is a different vision of life.Fellini

As I re-read what I’ve written, especially in my posts to Authentic Vibrations, and as I consider my everyday language, I know that my vocabulary has changed. Not only have I recognized the power my words have on me and my life as well as others, I recognize that how my language has changed reflects how I’ve changed.

So, as you continue to move through your life and grow and change and evolve, it would be very useful to be mindfully aware of how you use words and the meaning you hold for the words which you do choose. Not only will others listen but you will as well.

And you will be truly amazed at the power and magic of the words we use in our lives.













About Authentic Vibrations

My life is about learning and personal growth. I was an educator in the public secondary system for over 33 years. I now work with women, individually and in small groups, using words and music, art and language to help them explore their individaul sense of self in ways with are authentically meaningful for each of them. I also facilitate discussions with educators at all stages of their involvement in the teaching profession to help each of us explore the meaning, value and potential of learning and teaching. It is my belief that, in working individually and in collective, we have the power to transform and evolve. In the power of the collectives which we create together is the power to create culture. As a musician, I believe that the arts have the power to change lives. Certification: CODE Model™ Coach WEL-Systems® Institute Affiliate Education: Ed. D (c) (Applied Psychology – Focus on Teaching) University of Toronto M. Ed (Curriculum Development and Design) Queen’s University (1992) B. Ed (Music, English, Elementary Education) University of Toronto (1976) Mus. Bac. (Music Education) University of Toronto (1975) RCM Grade 4 Harmony, Grade 4 History, Grade 9 Voice, Grade 10 Piano Awards: Life Membership, Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation (2009)
This entry was posted in choices, Personal Growth and Self-discovery, Resources, Teaching, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Levels of Meaning — The Power of Language

  1. Pingback: Levels of Meaning — the Power of Words | Engage WEL-Systems

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s