Triangle of reference

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The triangle of reference (also known as the triangle of meaning[1] and the semiotic triangle) is a model of how linguistic symbols are related to the objects they represent. The triangle was published in The Meaning of Meaning (1923) by Ogden and Richards.[2] While often referred to as the "Ogden/Richards triangle" the idea is also expressed in 1810, by Bernard Bolzano, in his Beiträge zu einer begründeteren Darstellung der Mathematik. However, the triangle can be traced back to the 4th century BC, in Aristotle's Peri Hermeneias (often referred to in its Latin translation De Interpretatione, second book of his Organon). The Triangle relates to the problem of universals, a philosophical debate which split ancient and medieval philosophers (mainly realists and nominalists).

The triangle describes a simplified form of relationship between the speaker as subject, a concept as object or referent, and its designation (sign, signans). For more elaborated research see Semiotics.

Ogden semiotic triangle.png

Interlocutory applications

Other triangles

The relations between the triangular corners may be phrased more precisely in causal terms as follows[citation needed][original research?]:

  1. The matter evokes the writer's thought.
  2. The writer refers the matter to the symbol.
  3. The symbol evokes the reader's thought.
  4. The reader refers the symbol back to the matter.

The communicative stand

Such a triangle represents ONE person, whereas communication takes place between TWO (objects, not necessarily persons). So imagine another triangle and consider that for the two to understand each other, the content that the "triangles" represent must fit or be aligned. Clearly, this calls for synchronisation and an interface as well as scale among other things. Notice also, that we perceive the world mostly through our eyes and in alternative phases of seeing and not seeing with change in the environment as the most important information to look for. Our eyes are lenses and we see a surface (2D) in ONE direction (focusing) if we are stationary and the object is not moving either. This is why you may position yourself in one corner of the triangle and by replicating (mirroring) it, you will be able to see the whole picture, your cognitive epistemological and the ontological existential or physical model of life, the universe, existence, etc. combined.[citation needed][original research?]

Direction of fit

John Searle used the notion of "direction of fit" to create a taxonomy of illocutionary acts. [3] [4]

World or

or Word
      Writer's THOUGHT retrieves SYMBOL suited to REFERENT, Word suited to World.
      Reader's THOUGHT retrieves REFERENT suited to SYMBOL, World suited to Word.

Actually the arrows indicate that there is something exchanged between the two parties and it is a feedback cycle. Especially, if you imagine that the world is represented in both persons' mind and used for reality check. If you look at the triangle above again, then remember that reality check is not what is indicated there between the sign and the referent and marked as "true', because a term or a sign is allocated "arbitrarily'. What you check for is the observance of the law of identity which requires you and your partner to sort out that you are talking about the same thing. So the chunk of reality and the term are replaceable/interchangeable within limits and your concepts in the mind as presented in some appropriate way are all related and mean the same thing. Usually the check does not stop there, your ideas must also be tested for feasibility and doability to make sure that they are "real" and not "phantasy". Reality check comes from consolidating your experience with other people's experience to avoid solipsism and/or by putting your ideas (projection) in practice (production) and see the reaction. Notice, however how vague the verbs used and how the concept of a fit itself is left unexplained in details.[editorializing]

See also


  1. Colin Cherry (1957) On Human Communication
  2. C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards (1923) The Meaning of Meaning
  3. John Searle (1975) "A Taxonomy of Illocutionary Acts", in: Gunderson, K. (ed.), Language, Mind, and Knowledge (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press) pp. 344-369.
  4. John Searle (1976) "A Classification of Illocutionary Acts", Language in Society, Vol.5, pp. 1-24.

External links