The Subjective View and the Social Construction of Sense-Meaning
All animals are confronted with the challenge of material subsistence, but only humans are straddled with the vexing question of its meaning.
-- Snow and Anderson ( 1993, p. 229)
Culture is principally concerned with the production and reproduction of meaning. There are two analytically distinct attributes of meaning when used with reference to culture and reality construction. The concept of meaning may be used to refer to sense-meaning: the meaning that is attributed to a sign or symbol as the result of the structured qualities of language. For example, Saussure ( 1916/ 1959) argued that "language is a system of interdependent terms in which the value of each term results solely [italics added] from the simultaneous presence of the others" (p. 114). In other words, the meaning of a sign is constructed through its relationship to other signs.
According to Saussure, there are two specific types of relationships between linguistic terms. Within a sentence, whether in a written text or a conversation, combinations of elements are supported and given meaning by linearity. That is, the combinations of words that can appear together in a sentence are limited. These limited combinations define the meaning of any one word that stands within a combination through opposition to every other element that comes before or after it. Saussure ( 1916/ 1959) termed this relationship "syntagmatic" (p. 123).