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Fifty years ago in ETC.

From the title of Professor Bossard's book, [The Sociology of Child Development,] one would not expect it to be particularly useful for students of general semantics. However, general semanticists are used to picking up valuable clues and insights in unexpected places.

Perhaps we can say general semantics is at a point in its development where we can use it rather well to analyze what it is that people do when they behave in ways that are neurotic or unrealistic or simply nonsensical. But trying to get people to change their ways and act more sensibly is quite another problem. How skillful they are at resisting the truth about themselves! They are victims of their own warped attempts to translate reality into meaning, they are caught in the mire of their own logic, and yet they will not even admit that they are in error. Indeed, they often go to great lengths to make their error seem a virtue!

Such behavior is often perplexing to the student of the science of meaning, who wants only to help people become the masters of language, instead of its slaves. It is difficult for him to understand why people insist on being so blind, so stupid, and so foolish. The Freudians have shed some light on this mystery by their theories of unconscious processes and by their descriptions of complexes and attachments, said to be unresolved longings that went unsatisfied at earlier stages of life. Some of these formulations are helpful in explaining the paradoxes of everyday life, but somehow we are not entirely convinced. Perhaps this is because we ourselves are the unwitting victims of our own neurotic past, or perhaps it is because we are too steeped in scientific skepticism to accept explanations that cannot be put to the test.

Or, most likely, it is because Freudian theories are, at best, an incomplete explanation of behavior. And here is where Professor Bossard enters the scene, for he is a man who has spent many years observing children in a countless number of settings.

There is much that he has to say that helps explain how the patterns and problems of life develop. Whereas the clinical psychologist is principally concerned with studying the "internal" forces that go into molding and shaping personality and character, Bossard is concerned with the "external" forces and conditions that are the mirror images of the "internal" forces. At least, this is how his book appears to the student of personality. The fact that similar events and identical words can have such different meanings for each of us is evidence that our perceptions differ according to our personalities. The pages of this book bring forth countless examples of why it is that we develop such different perceptions, why the same events mean different things to us.

Bossard describes one family where there is an active interest in new words. If there is some question about a word during dinner, a dictionary is brought to the table, the word is looked up, and they all discuss it. Contrast this with a family situation where a boy happens to use the word "preference." His father rises up in wrath and shouts that as long as he is paying the bills, no son of his will high-hat him by using words like "preference."

Does anyone wonder why children from these two families have difficulty in communicating with each other? Not only will they have different attitudes toward abstract words, but their attitudes and viewpoints toward a wide variety of things in everyday life will differ widely. Their ideas on "what is reality" will differ. It will be difficult, for example, for them to come to any common agreement on matters dealing with education or school, inasmuch as "education" and "school" will mean such different things to each of them. How can people communicate successfully when the very words they use have different meanings for each of them? The chances are that they will be able to communicate fairly effectively where simple, concrete matters are concerned, but that they will have difficulty in agreeing or cooperating where abstractions are involved.

Bossard's book deals with other concepts of potential interest to the student of general semantics. He has a chapter on the bilingual child, which shows a broad and perceptive understanding of the complex problems of meaning which face such a child. Another chapter deals with family modes of expression. Still another deals with family table talk. But the chief contribution of his book, from the standpoint of the semanticist, is the way in which it fills out the background against which all of us learn the language and the meanings that to a large extent make us the different persons we are.



Sirs: I wish to express unreserved admiration and warmest appreciation for the special issue of ETC on metalinguistics (Spring 1952). I am in full accord with the hope expressed by the editors of promoting closer relationships between general semantics and other disciplines.

However, the emphasis on areas of agreement seems to me to contribute to the neglect of certain valuable differences. Perhaps I can illustrate my point most clearly by referring to the article by Chang Tung-Sun, "A Chinese Philosopher's Theory of Knowledge," which appeared in the metalinguistics issue (pp. 203-226). The views expressed in this article appear so similar in so many ways to those of general semantics that a difference should be sharply distinguished.

For instance, the author of this article demonstrates that Chinese logic is not based on the law of identity but instead emphasizes "relational qualities." This interested me very much until I realized that he was speaking only of interverbal relationships and was in no way referring to the relationship of words to things and events.

In a theory of knowledge a connective relationship between "knowings" and "knowns" cannot be disregarded, or rather should not be disregarded. Yet a careful study of the author's theory of knowledge shows that he gives no consideration to this relationship. He does indeed propose four levels of knowledge, namely, "the external world," "sensations," "constructions," and "interpretations" (p.225), and he does assert a "correspondence" or interdependence between them. But he completely disregards the "how" or the "patterning" of this interdependence. Like Korzybski he emphasizes non-identity, but unlike Korzybski he does not develop any form of correspondence alternative to that of identity.

This lack of structural relationship between "knowledge" and the "external world" leads him to the conclusion that theoretical knowledge is "detached" (p.225) and that consequently there can be no basis for judging the "correctness or incorrectness" of different theories, beliefs, and interpretations. He says that, "Social thought is not concerned with verification. It is unverifiable but realizable" (p.224). It seems to me that this form of philosophical irresponsibility has considerable currency. And I suggest that it results from a serious defect in present theories of knowledge. This defect can be described as a lack of an adequate modern substitute for identity as a structural connective between language and "things," between social theories and the world.

Somehow the fact has been obscured that general semantics makes a tremendously important basic contribution to linguistics by introducing a fully developed modern structural connective. I refer, of course to the connective relationship of "similarity of structure." While the recognition of this principle is not original, its detailed and explicit formulation in Science and Sanity would, even at this late date, have considerable impact on linguistics, if its presence were more widely known. F.S.C. Northrop in his Logic of the Sciences and the Humanities uses the term "epistemic correlation" to designate this connective relationship. Kohler in his Gestalt Psychology uses the phrase "analogy and homology of morphological structures." Examples of this basic notion abound in other fields.

Yet current linguistic theories persistently disregard the problem of adequate connective structure in the "knowing" process. For instance, so far as I can discover on first reading, Dewey and Bentley's Knowing and the Known makes no reference whatsoever to the possibilities of structural correlation. Instead, entire dependence is placed on "designation," "specification," "naming," "naming-knowing," and similar semi-identity or "pointer" terms. Dewey in Chapter X makes an impassioned plea for recognition of the "transactional" interdependence of "knowings" and "knowns." Yet he does not seem to realize the inadequacy of "designation" to account for this interdependence beyond the most elementary signaling situations.

Concerning the importance of the "transactional" relationship between "knowings" and "knowns" appears this significant statement, "No attempt at all, so far as we are aware, has been made to concentrate upon it as a dependable base for operations." (p.280) I believe that the writers were genuinely unaware that a major portion of Korzybski's work was devoted to analyzing this transactional relationship. For example, they refer to Korzybski as devoting "so much of his writing to the insistence that the word is not the thing." Following this they say, "His continued insistence upon this point will remain a useful public service until, at length, the day comes when a thorough theory of the organization of behavioral word and cosmic fact has been constructed" (p.220; italics supplied).

Apparently the diffuseness of Science and Sanity has concealed the fact that it is mainly concerned with an attempt to formulate "a thorough theory of the organization of behavioral word and cosmic fact." I feel it to be a shame and a scandal that this has not been brought out in such a way as to compel at least direct consideration by students of linguistics.

I therefore suggest that ETC regularly devote a small amount of space to rigorous technical discussions tending to establish general semantics in the minds of logicians, students of linguistic science, etc., as something more than a set of attitudes. I also suggest more specifically that the connective problem mentioned above provides an excellent point of departure. There is much more to this problem than is suggested by the picturesque phrase "mapping territories." It is conceivable that Professor Northrop could be persuaded to contribute an article comparing his ideas on "epistemic correlation" with those of Korzybski on "similarity of structure."

Strategically, if the linguistic scholar can be made aware of the crucial importance of the connective problem, he should be ripe for doubting the adequacy of "designation." He may then become susceptible to a theory of structural correlation. The question "correlation between what" should be sufficient to direct attention to levels of linguistic structure and problems of multiordinality. From this should follow a realization of the abstractive character of the connective relationship, or the invention of a less confusing term than "abstraction" to describe the selective nature of epistemic correlations. Referring to the last sentence of your Foreword in the Spring [1952] Issue of ETC, I would say that ETC can best contribute to the enrichment of other disciplines by bringing to the attention of serious students evidence that general semantics has something basic and substantial to offer.



The following seem to be the more significant principles ... [which] will suggest a framework, however preliminary, for the teaching of skills and for a greater understanding of language:

1. Language is behavior and must be taught on behavioral principles. To this degree the study of language is a social science.

2. As behavior, language must be considered within the whole context of situation, including linguistic context, which accompanies the behavior. There is no such thing as writing, only writing for particular audiences, in particular situations, for particular ends. The measure is effectiveness in terms of purpose.

3. Language is first of all a functioning tool of interaction and rarely a means of reflective thought; as such it has no meaning apart from behavior; meaning is context.

4. As behavior it must adapt to the situation, the user, the audience, the subject matter, and the end for which it is used.

5. As behavior it must be studied in terms of group norms, the expectations of the group as to usage, content, and purpose. These expectations of the group must be discovered by observation; they cannot be prescribed by arbitrary decisions about correctness.

6. The rules of grammar and the classifications of language cannot be drawn from classical or other sources outside the culture. Therefore, language cannot be taught prescriptively, since the prescription may fail to keep up with the actual practice in a culture. The student must be taught to observe usage and to fit his communication to accepted good usage.

7. The individual must learn to observe language behavior, including his own, so that he will be conscious of differences demanded by different situations. He must be made aware of a variety of good models to guide him in different situations.

8. The unit of writing or speech is not the part--the word, sentence or paragraph--but is the total perception to be transmitted. Thus the approach to the learning of skills is through the perception of the whole, subject and purpose, audience and occasion; grammatical and structural units should be considered only as they aid or hinder the total expression.

9. The end of language is not language but the communication of content, leading to better perception by the reader or audience. Writing, for example, will be first concerned with what is said; how it is said will develop from this.

10. The emphasis must be on clarity, accuracy, and interest, for a particular audience. Grammatical correctness is merely one means to these ends.

11. Language as behavior has a social responsibility, including proper recognition of bias, accurate use of data, and a positive acceptance of the opinions of others and the relativity of knowledge.

In summary, I can do no better than to quote Frederic Reeve:
 Good communication is that which is meaningful, effective, socially
 acceptable, and socially responsible. Communication is meaningful when
 it results from an awareness, conscious or unconscious, of the signs
 of structural meaning (grammatical form and structure); it is
 meaningful when it is clear, accurate, unambiguous in word choice and
 arrangement, and when it is organized in terms of purpose and
 intention. Communication is effective when it is simple, forthright
 and specific, and when it is appropriate to the user, the subject and
 the situation in intention, tone, level of usage and organization.
 Communication is socially acceptable when it is free from readily
 Determinable illiteracies, and when it is characterized by observation
 of current linguistic conventions which are validated by the practice
 of educated writers and speakers. Communication is socially
 responsible when it is grounded in observable fact, in honestly
 contrived opinion, in an awareness of personal and social bias, and
 when it contributes to understanding and harmony among the greatest
 number in a democratic society.

Like any definition, this one has relevance only as it works. Its frame of reference, also, is relative and must be changing. It is neither right nor wrong; it may be useful.


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Title Annotation:RETROSPECT
Author:Hackett, Herbert
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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