I.A.Richards' Four Kinds of Meaning
I.A. Richards, born in 1893, is one of the great critics of the modern age. He has influenced a number of critics on both sides of the Atlantic. I.A. Richards and T.S. Eliot are pioneers in the field of New Criticism, though they differ from each other in certain important respects.
A study of his ‘Practical Criticism’ written in 1929 reveals that I.A. Richard has a great interest in textual and verbal analysis. A poet writes to communicate, and language is the means of that communication. Language is made of words and hence a study of words is all important if we are to understand the meaning of a work of art. According to I.A. Richard, words carry four kinds of meaning or to be more precise, the total meaning of a word depends upon four factors, i.e. sense, feeling, tone and intention.
Sense is what is said, or the ‘items’ referred to by a writer. Feeling refers to emotions, emotional attitudes, will, desire, pleasure, unpleasure and the rest. When we say something we have a feeling about it, “an attitude towards it, some special direction, bias or accentuation of interest towards it, some personal flavour or colouring of feeling”. Words express “these feelings, these nuances of interest”. Tone is the writer’s attitude to his readers or audience. The use of language is determined by the writer’s ‘recognition’ of his relation to his readers. Intention is the writer’s aim, which may be conscious or unconscious. It refers to the effect that he tries to produce. This purpose modifies the expression. It controls the emphasis, shapes the arrangement, or draws attention to something of importance.
Richards had given undergraduate students at Cambridge a number of poems, without revealing the author or the age. The student’s written responses are called ‘protocols’. In the protocols, the failure always happens in one of the functions. Even sometimes all four fail together: a reader garbles the sense, distorts the feeling, mistakes the tone and disregards the intention.
Richards analyzed different types of distribution, such as: scientific treatise, popular science and political speech. In our uses of language as a whole, one of the functions may become predominant. For example: a man writing a scientific treatise puts the sense first, subordinates his feeling, establishes his tone by following academic convention, and clearly states his intention.
The principles of a writer’s language are not simple because the furtherance of his intention will interfere with the other functions. First, precise statement of the sense may have to be sacrificed in the interest of general intelligibility. Secondly, to awaken and encourage the reader’s interest, the author’s more lively exhibition of feelings towards his subject matter is appropriate and desirable. Thirdly, more variety of tone will be called for, and it makes tact urgently required.
In political speech intention is predominant. Feeling is its instrument to express causes, policies, leaders and opponents. Tone establishes the relations with the audience and sense is the representation of facts. In conversation, the shifts of the functions can be seen clearly. It is in conversation that intention may completely subjugate the others, therefore feeling and tone may express themselves through sense.
The psychological analyses may also be put under this head. Some psychologists lay themselves open to a charge of emptiness that they have little to talk about. “Putting it into words” is a process which may damage to the feelings. But feeling and sometimes tone may take charge of and operate through sense in poetry. The statements in poetry are there for the sake of their effects upon feelings not for their own sake. Hence to challenge their truth is to mistake their function. The point is that many of the statements in poetry are there as a means to the manipulation and expression of feelings and attitudes. The danger of mistake arises greater in philosophical poetry than in narrative one. On the one hand there are may people trying to take all its statements seriously and find them silly, and on the other hand there are those who succeed well, who swallow ‘Beauty is truth, truth is beauty…’, as the quintessence of an aesthetic philosophy, not as the expression of a certain blend of feelings.
The subjugation of statement to emotive purposes has innumerable modes. A poet may distort his statements by making statements or presenting objects for thought, which are logically quite irrelevant to express his feeling or adjust tone or further his other intention. These indirect devices for expressing feeling are not peculiar to poetry. It is much harder to obtain statements about poetry than that of feelings towards it and towards the author.
In verse, shortly speaking, the poet makes statements which function as vehicles for the expression of feelings and attitudes. The principles of a writer’s language are not simple because his further intention will interfere with the other functions. Richards suggests that the perceptive reader should be prepared to apprehend the interplay of the four meanings, which together comprise the total meaning of the poem.