Four Kinds of Meaning by I A Richards

       I.A. Richards was the first critic to bring to English criticism a scientific precision and objectivity. He was the first to distinguish between the two uses of language – the referential and the emotive. His well-articulated theory is found in his Principles of Literary Criticism. The present extract is from his Practical Criticism which speaks about the four kinds of meaning. Richards is remembered for his modern way of teaching and studying literature. New criticism and the whole of modern tensional poetics derive their strength and inspiration from the seminal writings of Richards.

       Richards begins the extract by pointing to the difficulty of all reading. The problem of making out the meaning is the starting point in criticism. The answers to ‘what is a meaning?’, ‘What are we doing when we endeavour to make it out?’ are the master keys to all the problems of criticism. The all-important fact for the study of literature or any other mode of communication is that there are several kinds of meaning. Whether we speak, write, listen, read, the ‘Total meaning’ is a blend of several contributory meanings of different types. Language – and pre-eminently language as it is used in poetry has several tasks to perform simultaneously. Four kinds of functions or meanings as enlisted by I.A. Richards are the following: (1) Sense, (2) Feeling, (3) Tone and (4) Intention.

(1) Sense
       ‘We speak to say something and when we listen we expect something to be said. We use words to direct our hearers’ attention upon some state of affairs, to present to them some items for consideration and to excite in them some thoughts about these items’. In short, what we speak to convey to our listeners for their consideration can be called ‘sense’. This is the most important thing in all scientific utterances where verification is possible.

(2) Feeling
      The attitude towards what we convey is known as ‘feeling’. In other words, we have bias or accentuation of interest towards what we say. We use language to express these feelings. Similarly, we have these feelings even when we receive. This happens even if the speaker is conscious of it or not. In exceptional cases, say in mathematics, no feeling enters. The speaker’s attitude to the subject is known as ‘feeling’.

(3) Tone 
       The speaker has an attitude to his listener. ‘He chooses or arranges his words differently as his audience varies, in automatic or deliberate recognition of his relation to them. The tone of his utterance reflects his awareness of this relation, his sense of how he stands towards those he is addressing. Thus ‘tone’ refers to the attitude to the listener.

(4) Intention
       Finally apart from what he says (sense), his attitude to what he is talking about (feeling), and his attitude to his listener (tone), there is the speaker’s intention, his aim (conscious or unconscious) - the effect he is endeavouring to promote. The speaker’s purpose modifies his speech. Frequently, the speaker’s intention operates through and satisfies itself in a combination of other functions. ‘It may govern the stress laid upon points in an argument. It controls the ‘plot’ in the larger sense of the word. It has special importance in dramatic and semi-dramatic literature. Thus the influence of his intention upon the language he uses is additional to the other three influences.

     If we survey the uses of language as a whole, the predominance of one function over the other may be found. A man writing a scientific treatise will put the ‘sense’ of what he has to say first. For a writer popularising some of the results and hypotheses of science, the principles governing his language are not so simple; his intention will inevitably interfere with the other functions. In conversation, we get the clearest examples of the shifts of function, i.e. one function being taken over by another.

      Towards the end of the essay, I.A. Richards says that it is much harder to obtain statements about poetry than expressions of feelings towards it and towards the author. Very many apparent statements turn out to be the indirect expressions of Feeling, Tone and Intention.

Source: Karthick Ramachandran

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