Compacted doctrines: Empson and the meanings of words.

Durant, Alan and MacCabe, Colin (1993) Compacted doctrines: Empson and the meanings of words. In: William Empson: the critical achievement. Norris, Christopher and Mapp, Nigel, eds. Cambridge University Press, pp. 170-195. ISBN 9780521118866

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Abstract

This chapter describes the account of word meaning advanced by William Empson in 'The Structure of Complex Words' (1951). Exposition is supported by detailed historical analysis of the word wit, chosen to illustrate the possibilities, as well as difficulties, of the framework Empson devised to investigate meaning ‘equations’ that his selected words are capable of entering into. Noting the apparent likeness between 'Complex Words' and Raymond Williams’s slightly later 'Keywords' (1976/1983), including use by both authors of the term ‘keyword’, the chapter examines important differences of approach between the two authors (differences revealed especially in a review Empson published of Williams’s 'Keywords', discussed in the chapter). In conclusion, it is suggested that despite differences between them some similar implications regarding meaning follow from the work of both authors. These include the idea that, rather than merely describing distinct word meanings, or even meanings attributed to words by individual speakers, historical analyses of meaning should focus on social practices that accompany language use, including practices which find their existence and articulation in institutions. In this more social view of meaning, it is suggested, meaning and social identity are kinds of effect, or produced relation, rather than stable elements outside language with which to begin an analysis.

Item Type:Book Section
Research Areas:School of Media and Performing Arts > Media > English Language and Literature
ID Code:8191
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Deposited On:14 Oct 2011 07:15
Last Modified:24 Jul 2014 08:57

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