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The Differentiate Between Sense And Reference English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 1533 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Among the studies addressed to analyze the functioning of languages, those dedicated to the study of the word meaning have arisen most difficulties due to the lack of concreteness carried by the own word meaning. This paper addresses the question of the differentiation among sense and reference, two abstract concepts which definition and relation have been analyzed by linguists and philosophers throughout history.

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Sense and reference are two semantic terms introduced by the German mathematician and philosopher Gottlob Frege in 1892 in his article “Über Sinn und Bedeutung”. In this article, Frege is based on the following problem to say that two expressions which use two different words or phrases to refer to the same object in the real world have different connotations.

Given the sentence “a = a” and “a = b” it is assumed that “a” and “b” refer to the same thing, that is, there are two different names for the same entity. Therefore, “a = a” and “a = b” have the same meaning. However, this is not the case, because each sentence tells us something different (Frege 1892 ).

To solve this problem the author proposes the distinction between sense and reference. He affirms that ‘a sign (name, combination of words, letter), besides that to which the sign refers, which may be called the reference of the sign, also what I should like to call the sense of the sign, wherein the mode of presentation is contained’ (Frege 1892). Therefore, in a brief and simple way, reference can be defined as the meaning of a word or expression in a particular context, while sense is defined as the meaning of the word or expression which denotes that concrete referent. Moreover, Frege called name or proper name to all expression whose referent is an object. To illustrate these concepts, Frege uses the names “morning star” and “evening star” which are two ways of presenting the same referent: the planet Venus and he explains that both refer the same object, but they do not have the same meaning because each expression has a different meaning as not in all contexts Venus can be replaced by “morning or evening star.” On the other hand, the sense of each term is its own definition: morning star is the popular name used to refer to the planet Venus when it is visible in the sky at dawn, while evening star is the name used when Venus is visible at sunset. These expressions have the same referent which is described differently.

There is some dispute as to the meaning of the referent. Some linguists, following a descriptivist reading of Frege’s theory, do not make a distinction between the terms of denotation and reference as they are very similar, both refer to the relationship between the word and the real world, are commonly used as synonyms. However, following a non-descriptivist reading of Frege’s theory, there is a distinction between reference and denotation. Linguists who support this theory, define reference as specific meaning in a given context and denotation as that concept in the real world. For example in the sentence ‘My dog Rex bit me’, the reference is Rex, the concrete dog who bit me and the donation is the dog in the real world (features which allow that my dog ​​belongs to the ‘group of dogs’). The denotation is determined by concepts. Concepts are the ideas in people minds which let to categorize and identify objects as members of a determinate group. Therefore, the concept ‘dog’ allows us to identify a dog among all world objects.

Similarly, the notion of meaning presents several approaches. Some linguists claim that sense is a concept external to the human mind and they define it in terms of possible worlds, that is, they identify the meaning of a sentence with the set of possible worlds in which that sentence would be true. On the other hand, other linguists equate sense to other cognitive concepts related to the human mind, perception or philosophy. They define sense as stored meaning in people minds in a permanent way and the relationships maintained in language between a word or expressions and other words or expressions in that language. Therefore, sense is an internal linguistic notion which can be defined by the sense relations as hyponymy, antonymy synonymy, etc. These relations limit both the concepts and the denotations. They cause the sense of a word changes from one language to another. Speakers of different languages ​​use the same concepts (ideas inside the human head) but they differ in the sense of these concepts. For example, English, Spanish and Hebrew speakers differ on what constitutes’ pig like animal ‘or pork as food’. The British word ‘pork’ is used to refer to food while the word ‘pig’ is used to refer to the animal. Moreover, the Spanish say ‘cerdo or pig’ to refer to food as the animal while Hebrew people use the word ‘khazeer’ only to refer to the animal (Example Theory).

The biggest difference between sense and reference is that the first concept belongs to the linguistic world while the reference belongs to the non-linguistic world, the real one. Although Frege says that a sign (name or joining words) must be composed by both concepts sense and reference, there are words that lack any of these concepts. On one hand, there are concepts which have no reference although they have sense; for instance words as ‘unicorn’ or ‘phoenix’. Although these concepts are referred to an empty set, they do not denote the same referring, as they may be differentiated in a semantic way; the characteristics of unicorns are different from the characteristics of phoenix in spite of they do not have a reference.

Phoenix: in classical mythology) a unique bird that lived for five or six centuries in the Arabian desert, after this time burning itself on a funeral pyre and rising from the ashes with renewed youth to live through another cycle.

Unicorn: mythical animal typically represented as a horse with a single straight horn projecting from its forehead.

On the other hand, there are particular words without reference in certain grammatical contexts; for instance, in the sentence ‘He seems a nice man’, the phrase ‘a nice man’ does not refer to a particular individual but it establishes the category which it belongs to. Similarly, there are concepts which have reference but no sense; it is the case of nouns and pronouns. We cannot create a mental picture of all people called Paul, so they only have reference. It also occurs with any concept without a word associated. For example, ‘the fresh cut grass smell’ corresponds to a semantic concept but there is not an English word which represents this concept, so it can be affirmed that this expression have reference but not sense. Since there are signs which lack of sense or reference, it is necessary to wonder if there are references and meanings which do not belong to any sign. Thus, reference without sign exists when it is being talking about all the unknown things that they exist; however, the existence of sense without belonging to a sign is not clear but it may exist in the temporal process of learning a word.

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We can use different tools as a useful diagnostic to differentiate between sense and reference of linguistic form. Arbitrary numbers are used to represent the references, so every time a word refers to a concept already known to the reader or the speaker, both are marked by the same number, for example: ‘Paola1 is a nice to children2; I3 like her1’. In addition, you can also check a reference using a pronoun anaphoric as she, he, it – they are called pronouns identity reference, in the previous sentence, the pronoun ‘her’ refers to Paola. On the other hand, to check ‘a sense of identity’ is used the word ‘one’. It also serves to verify that proper names do not make sense as we have stated before. Phrases like ‘I meet with Jane yesterday. I have not meet one since last week’ does not make sense because proper names have no sense. On the other hand, phrases like these, ‘ I ate an ice-cream yesterday; I have not eaten one since last week’ are possible. In this sentence, the word ‘one’ does not represent a particular ice cream but it represents any other member of the set of ice creams. It means that the word ‘one’ shares the meaning of the word ‘ice-cream’.

Thanks to the contents analyzed, we can conclude that the distinction between sense and reference is very vague abstraction because their definitions and the different theories and interpretations developed by linguists and philosophers. However, taking into account the issues discussed throughout the essay, it can established a clear, concise definitions of both terms and their exceptions and ways of representing them.


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