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The Meaning of Meaning Model


Charles Kay Ogden (1889–1957) and Ivor Armstrong Richards (1893 – 1979) was an English linguistic and English literary critic. Both of them were recognized by their book called “The Meaning of Meaning: A Study of the Influence of Language upon Thought and of the Science of Symbolism”.

meaning of meaning model

Source: Kzenon/Adobe Stock

Ogden worked as philosopher, writer and linguist. He was a founder and editor of weekly “Cambridge Magazine” in 1912 and later it ceased in 1922. Richards was working as a Professor in Magdalene College at Cambridge. This theory emphasis that the meanings are not residing with words it resides with the people.



Charles Kay Ogden and Ivor Armstrong Richards identified that understanding comes from within the people rather than from the words they just interpret. They set a model called “The Triangle of Meaning” for better understanding how language works and basically it is a theory of signs. The triangle  is meant to show the word’s relationship between thoughts and things.


The Semantic Triangle shows the direct relationship between Words & Thoughts and Thoughts & Thing. But the dotted lines represent the word (sign) is not the Thing (a referent) and there is no any direct relation between words and thing. The referent needs some prior experience and reference about the word or sign to be comprehensive.

The word means different things to different people in different situations. Any sign or word which has its own meaning is grasped with certain references to it. The process of grasping or understanding words or signs, which already have meaning, with the asserted meanings given by the references is called the meaning of meaning.

Any sign or word have their own meaning even though we need certain reference to understand is called “The Meaning of Meaning”.

1- Dictionary: If a word is new, a people need reference to understand the word.

2- Mayan Code: These codes are signs only. No one cannot understand meaning of the Mayan codes without any reference.

So the signs have a direct relationship with reference and reference has direct relationship with referent.

Related: Peirce Model

Example 1:

  • The Word love makes a different sense to different people. The way in which they understand this word must be in reference with their experiences and ideas relating to this word.
  • In America, socialism and communism are considered as a negative word. People even use the word communist to degrade other people. whereas in china the word communism is much of a great word and idea.

Example 2:

The word “Book” – A people (referent) have some kind of reference (thoughts) in their mind about the shape, size etc. so they can able to visualize it. But the same word “book” is written in some other language will not understandable and they can’t visualize it. The referent needs some kind of previous experience or reference to understand the words otherwise they cannot understand.

Related: Symbolic Interactionism Theory


Ogden and Richard were improved the Saussure’s dyadic semiotics. The analysis of major psychoanalyzing theories can be seen in this model. This theory is more about misunderstanding and its remedies.

Charles Kay Ogden and Ivor Armstrong Richards studied about the misunderstanding that happens due to the difference in understanding worked forward for the remedies. This theory is the product of their working towards the remedy rather than a remedy.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • GEORGE GITAU November 19, 2013, 4:29 am

    The meaning of referent is not clear; is the referent the audience / receiver of the object referred to ?

  • I Ketut Warta April 11, 2017, 1:51 pm

    Triangle of meaning works only for experience words, concrete, and denotative meaning. What about words dealing with qualitative characteristics. Your comment, please, thank you.

  • Gerson Bradford October 22, 2019, 2:39 am

    This is great.

  • Nandita Gon December 3, 2019, 10:21 am

    Very good

  • Khaled Alyami January 1, 2020, 5:40 pm

    Very short but clear.

  • jordan November 1, 2021, 4:43 am

    This makes so much sense!

  • Josie September 12, 2022, 7:47 pm

    It’s a short and sweet kind of thing. Makes sense and it pretty easy to understand.

  • Ahsan Iqbal January 22, 2023, 12:35 pm

    Referent is actual thing that you have analyzed after thought process

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