The psychosemantic foundations of comprehension

Shulamith Kreitler, Hans Kreitler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The paper presents a psychosemantic view of comprehension based on the claim that all different acts of comprehension consist in assigning meaning. This thesis derives from both psychological and linguistic work. A system of meaning (Kreitler & Kreitler) is described which enables the assessment of meaning and the understanding of comprehension. The system is based on distinguishing between the referent, the carrier of meaning, and the meaning value, the cognitive contents assigned to it, which together form the meaning unit. An empirical procedure for assessing meaning and four sets of variables for coding meaning units are described. Coding the subject's meaning responses given under standard conditions yields a meaning profile showing the subject's meaning assignment tendencies. Studies are described which illustrate different forms of interaction between the subject's preferred meaning assignment tendencies and constraints represented by label meanings, in relatively unstructured and structured situations, in comprehension of sentences and paragraphs and in perception. Major processes of comprehension as a gradually unfolding process of meaning assignment and motivational determinants of differences in degrees of comprehension are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-196
Number of pages12
JournalTheoretical Linguistics
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - 1985


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