Context

Posted on February 9, 2014
Filed Under Theological | Comments Off on Context

A sign in the area advertising a local hospital reads:

“With a stroke, time matters. We give you more of it.”

The intended meaning is immediately clear: the hospital will prolong your time alive. But the carefully analyzed and deconstructed meaning comes out quite differently. Time matters in the case of a stroke because delay leads to greater and more lasting damage to the brain. Hence, in this context, more time means more damage–quite the opposite of the message intended.

Interpretation of human language cannot be carried out on a narrow set of rules, even when such rules include references to “context.” One rule about “context” (why time is important in a stroke) gives a negative interpretation; another rule about context (no hospital would advertise a negative) gives a positive interpretation.

With some cultural distance, one might speculate that “more time” refers to more of the doctor’s time, that is, more treatment. Scarcity of actual time in treatment is certainly becoming a complaint about health care. But in its day the message meant is immediately obvious, based on no uncertainty about what the (corporate) author would wish to say to its audience. Without this, any verse might be rigorously misunderstood.