Berthoff – Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo makes grammatical sense

If we are to teach our students to read for meaning–to construe and interpret and appreciate literary texts–the meaning of meaning most useful to us is that it is a means: speaking and writing, listening and reading all engage us in the making of meaning by means of language

Ann Berthoff


My immediate reaction to this was thinking about how Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo is a grammatically correct sentence.  I take some issue with the way Wikipedia interprets the sentence, but that is because I am a nerd.  I’ll try and reword this buffalo thing to make it make sense.  “buffalos from Buffalo, New York bully (Buffalo) buffalos from Buffalo, New York who bully (Buffalo) [other] buffalos from Buffalo, New York.”

Now, that was a fun little break from the actual quote.  I’m gonna try and reword it so it makes sense to me:

If we are supposed to teach our students how to read for meaning, the definition of meaning that is most help to us in achieving this goal is that the meaning is a way (or program a la Burke or method a la Coleridge or means a la Berthoff).  For example: speaking, writing, listening, and reading all engage us as creators of meaning by the way of language.

It is still somewhat confusing, so I’m gonna try and break it down.  We need to define meaning in the way that is most helpful in achieving our goal of teaching students how to read for meaning.  The definition that helps the most is recognizing that language/discourse is above all the most important.

The reason I wanted to riff on this idea is because it doesn’t give all the credence to social discourse.  Social construction has become almost a dogma that I, myself, have found doesn’t apply to me.  I don’t need to talk to other human beings in order to make knowledge my own, all I have to do is think and talk to myself about it.

I very much appreciated how she didn’t just say that creating meaning is done by talking with other human beings as the social constructionists would say.  She recognizes that writing, listening, and reading are all ways as well.  Berthoff doesn’t give one more credence over the other in this quote.

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