Lexical Ambiguity and Pivotal Dictionary Terms in “ The Gift” by Marcel Mauss Essay

Lexical Ambiguity and Pivotal Dictionary Terms in “ The Gift” by  Marcel Mauss

 

 

Lexical meaning generally derives its meaning as a compound term from the word “lexis” (Strunk &White:1998). A word which is formed by putting together the meaningful units of language (C Murcia:1999). These meaningful units of language [mostly placed within the category of allomorphs] when joined together—make up morphemes– and since morphemes are not necessarily “words” as themselves, the meaning which they signify, as units, are what can be understood to be words. Take for example the word  “orderly”. /Orderly/ may be a noun[meaning someone who is affiliated with the clergy or a religious order] and /orderly/ may be an adjective which denotes the characteristic of a noun[ person, place, thing], pertaining to organization and neatness. The word /orderly/ has 2  morphemes[ /order/ and the affix /-ly/ ] but it is only one word: with two [ only two for the purposes of illustration, however, it is of an increasing number in reality]– lexical (dictionary) meanings.

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Terms which are said to have pivotal dictionary meanings can be explained by the theory of language propagated by Ferdinand de Saussure: that the meaning of language is eternally deferred (Eagleton:2001). According to de Saussure, a word like /hate/ for example, will derive meaning from its opposite, [ the opposite of hate being the word /love/] and since this is so, if the to words can be juxtaposed unto one another, then the meaning of hate will inadvertently find its “true” meaning to be exactly that of the word: love (Brenner: 1998). This presentation of fact lends itself to language use, or pragmatics[ coming from the foreign term "praxis” ]–if a dictionary words can be found to be a pivotal term, it is because the word’s “meaningfulness” is related to how an individual chooses to use this term to suit his purposes.

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In Mauss’ “ The Gift”,  the author examines the act of gift-giving in relation to the question of

“What is a gift?” , in a comparative albeit fictional, treatise which  places traditional society against  modern society as adversaries in a construct for binary opposition.  For Mauss, he argues that in modern society: there are no truly “free”  gifts. Whereas, in a common dictionary entry, the definition of /gift/  is appropriated to be such [a[as the section below]Miriam-Webster: 2007) :

 

Main Entry: 1gift

Pronunciation: ?gift

 

Function: noun

 

Etymology: Middle English, from Old Norse, something given, talent; akin to Old English giefan –to give

 

1 : a notable capacity, talent, or endowment,

 

2 : something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation , and

 

3 : the act, right, or power of giving.

 

Notice that in a dictionary, the word /gift/  is associated with how in the act of gift-giving, the object  [t[the git]s “ something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation.

And so, it is not so much that Mauss’ contradicted the dictionary meaning of the word / gift/ in his choice to defer the “true” meaning of the word for its other. His choice was within the purpose of his use.

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Works Cited:

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Eagleton, Terry. What is Literature?  London: Blackwell Publishing. 2001. Mauss, Marcel. The Gift.  Zen Paperbacks: Bangladesh. reprint. 2001. Miriam-Webster Dictionary. Online Source, Ems.  www. m-w-.com. 2007. Murcia, C. The Grammar Book. Heinle;Heinle: London. 1999. Strunk, R. and E.B. White. The Elements of Style.  Singapore: Kangaroo Books. 1998.

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