In class on Wednesday we discussed the question: Does language construct meaning or does it merely convey it? I prefer to think that language "carries" meaning.
Imagine language as a basket which can be transported between individuals and in which is contained the contents which the individual wants to convey to another individual in order to communicate. Within the threads of the basket are particles and foreign threads woven into the structure of the basket. This signs of an individual's meaning are placed into the basket. I would like to think of these signs as jello jigglers, with a different shape representing different words.
So, let's say you are ready to communicate to your peer. You place your jello jigglers (signs, words) into the basket of language and off the basket goes. Your basket of jello jigglers is not being transported in a well controlled environment, so on the way, the jello melts a little, seeping into the fibers of the basket and the jigglers press against the sides of the basket, molding to the shape. When your peer receives the basket, a bit of the connotation has worn off into the structure of the basket and the jigglers have impressions of the fibers of the basket pressed into them. The jigglers have not changed too much -- your peer can definitely still tell they are jello jigglers and is able to decipher which shape they are, but the communication has altered the basket a little and the presence of the basket can be seen on the jigglers.
In this metaphor, you can see that language conveys meaning but also has a role in shaping the meaning. In this way, it doesn't necessarily construct meaning but it doesn't just convey it either. Language and signs and meaning all have an ongoing relationship which cannot be present merely in the present. The basket carries the artifacts of the past and in the future, will tell some of the meaning of today's present. The jello in the basket metaphor is ongoing; it is a dynamic relationship between its parts which allows language to slowly evolve, but never forgetting the meaning of the past.
According to Lackoff and Johnson, the shaping done by the basket would be the cultural metaphors which give evidence to ideological values particular to a culture. In a reciprocal manner, the meaning affects the language as well, altering it, pushing to to evolve to stay current with culture. Thus, language communicates culture but it is also changed by the individuals of culture so that language can always be up to date with the current culture. A great example of this would be the incorporation of slang into languages.
Although he might appreciate the incorporation of the idea of signs, Locke would probably not agree with this metaphor and concept completely. Instead of incorporating new words into language so that it remains true and alive, Locke seemed to have a pure view of language in which the imaginative creation of new words was a misuse of language (prop 30, 826). However, proposition 27 does give some hope that Locke might agree with my interpretation. In this, he calls for exact signs for complex ideas. If a new idea arises, then wouldn't he support the invention of a new sign for that idea, rather than trying to express the idea with too many words?
I am not sure how Derrida would view my metaphor -- perhaps he would appreciate that the basket is never obliterated; rather they are merely altered by the jello particles, leaving a "trace" of the former meaning behind.