Meanings, culture and communication

Shulamith Kreitler, Hans Kreitler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The purpose was to explore the potentialities of cross-cultural communication, which is generally assumed to be low. Starting from the assumption that communication consists in transmitting meanings, a system of meaning (by Kreitler and Kreitler) was described which enables the characterization, assessment and comparison of meanings. It differentiates between the referent, which is the carrier of meaning, and the meaning value, which is the assigned contents. Meaning assessment is in terms of four sets of variables, the main one being general categories of contents called meaning dimensions. Further elaboration is possible by distinguishing between major and subsidiary referents, and meaning values. The data consisted of examples of meanings of parallel words in different cultures, providing for 26 comparisons of meanings in 15 languages from a great variety of cultures. The meanings were analyzed in terms of the meaning system. The analyses showed that in all cases the compared meanings shared the major meaning value but not the subsidiary ones which ranged from one to four. The implications for intercultural communication are that there is a firm basis of communication with difficulties and dangers due to differences in the subsidiary meaning values. These could, however, be overcome through awareness of the structure of meanings and analyzing meanings in a systematic manner.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)725-742
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Issue number5-6
StatePublished - Dec 1988


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