Semantic Triangle Ogden & Richards

The Semantic Triangle


A little history lesson

Well, this is our first blog post and we decided to enlighten you on the inner workings of Worlds behind Words. What is this semantic triangle, also known as the semiotic triangle, the triangle of reference or the triangle of meaning?

Let’s begin with a little history lesson. The semantic triangle can be traced back to the 4th century BC in Aristotle’s De Interpretatione book II, but was first published by Ogden & Richards in The meaning of meaning (1923). The triangle is a model that describes the relationship between thought (reference), linguistic sign (or representamen) and a referent (the things they try to represent or refer to).


Semantic Triangle Ogden & Richards

The semantic triangle by Ogden & Richards (1923, p.11)

The Meaning of Meaning









Ogden and Richards explain the three relations in the semantic triangle between them: thought to symbol or word = correctness, thought to referent = adequateness, and symbol to referent = truth.

Complicated? And why should you care about these facts? It’s simple… and yet again it’s not that simple.

In English please!

In order to understand the workings of the semantic triangle, it all comes down to you. You have an idea, a thought. Yet without language, words, how are you going to explain anyone how brilliant you really are? So you need words, even better, you need the right words. If you don’t have the right words, how will you explain your brilliant idea? How will the world perceive your words? What reality will you create? To illustrate we can use the following example:

Imagine you ask somebody what they do for a living. That somebody tells you he/she is a cleaning lady/man. Now try to get a picture in your mind of what this person does.

Think about it.

Got the picture in your head?

Now, did you picture a toilet and a brush? Or at least a bucket and a cleaning mop?

Now try to get a picture in your mind if that person would have said he/she is a sanitation manager.

Different words with -more or less- the same meaning, but a different interpretation. What do we actually mean when we say the things we say? If I tell you ‘I want a bat for my birthday’, will I be happy if you bring me the animal instead of the wooden swinging tool?

What Wobewo does

It’s all about what reality you create with those words and that’s what a copywriter does. That’s what we at Worlds behind Words do. We help you create your reality from your ideas.

A simpler version of the semantic triangle looks like this:

Semantic TriangleWhenever any statement is made, understood or interpreted, we will always have these kinds of relations (represented by the sides of the triangle). But how are these three related? What does the relation tell us about representation?

Important for you will be: is this how I want to be represented? Is this how you want the world to see you?

The semantic triangle in short

Language has an influence upon thought, as hypothesized by Ogden & Richards. When we evaluate what is stated, we do it in terms of correctness (Is the representation correct?).

When you want to say something and that something is important because it will impact your image or it will hurt you or your business, then you want to think twice on how you are going to present it to the world.

You have to ask yourself: Is the representation I have adequate? Is it as true for my audience as it is for me? And last but not least: did I use the correct words?

And for those who get a headache just thinking about the workings of the semantic triangle: if you don’t have the time to think twice about the words you use or if you are not very good at using those words, it’s only common sense to hire a copywriter before you do any damage. It’s easier to prevent than to heal 🙂

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  1. Precision is important, too. Under the section above What Wobeo does, you say, “That’s what we at Worlds behind Worlds do.” Misspelling?

    Good luck to you!

    • Thank you for being so observant and pointing out the error. It’s more a typo than a misspelling, but you are right: precision is important. We fixed the error 🙂

      Good luck to you too!

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