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Some "new" extensional devices 2006.

ALFRED KORZYBSKI, in Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics (1933), argued that our language would be more effective if we used certain techniques from scientific methodology. To this end, he proposed the widespread use of "a few simple devices, called extensional devices, [whereby] the structure of language could be modified in such a way as to take into account process, duration of time, uniqueness, specificity, generality, environmental factors, holistic principles, etc." (Read, 1973, pp.68-69)

Charlotte Read, Wendell Johnson (1996), Stuart Chase (1938), S.I. Hayakawa (1990), and others (see Robert P. Pula, 1991, for an excellent resource) have championed the use of these devices and employed them in their writing to powerful effect. Charlotte Read summarizes Korzybski's extensional devices in her 1973 essay "General Semantics":

Indexes. The use of a numerical subscript, showing the uniqueness of every person or event, indicating differences as well as similarities, as in: ca[r.sub.1], ca[r.sub.2], ca[r.sub.3], etc., chil[d.sub.1], chil[d.sub.2], chil[d.sub.3], etc., communication medi[a.sub.1,2,3] n ... (radio, television, movie,...).

Chain-indexes. The use of two or more subscripts to indicate multiple cause-effects, different conditions, or environmental factors. Thus, Smit[h.sub.1.sub.-1] [Smit[h.sub.1.sub.-1]] feeling ill as different from Smit[h.sub.1.sub.2] [or Smit[h.sub.1.sub.-2]] feeling well; boo[k.sub.1.sub.1] in a dry attic as different from boo[k.sub.1.sub.2] in a damp cellar.

Dates. Specifying a date, as a reminder of changes over a period of time. For example Communism 1918 as different from Communism 1971.

Read observed that indexes and dates are not necessarily written or spoken, but can be used silently, as a part of one's implicit orientation toward each situation. She also points out the potential of a few more devices, especially for written texts:

Et cetera (etc.) to indicate that any statement can not cover all the characteristics of a situation, reminding one of the second premise. This aims to eliminate dogmatic "period-and-stop" attitudes and to develop flexibility and openness.

Hyphens. The use of hyphens brings to awareness the inter-connectedness of the complexities in this world and indicates their inseparability. For example, "space-time," "psycho-somatic," "organism-as-a-whole-in-an-environment."

Quotes. These serve as reminders that a term is not to be trusted, as it may violate scientific postulates or lead to metaphysical speculations, and that the reader may do well to take this into account in his interpretation. For example, "reality," "truth," etc.

Read points out that there are difficulties associated with these devices. As Korzybski wrote in Science and Sanity, problems arise unless we move from an intensional orientations to an extensional orientations: "Although the use of these devices appears simple and obvious, in practice it has not been found easy for adults, as it requires a change of orientation to a more 'extensional one.'" (Read, p.69)

However, habitual use of the extensional devices will help us develop the desired extensional orientation. Such use requires an ontology that is different from what Korzybski critiqued as "Aristotelian" usage of language, which is two-valued; we must begin to use a language that reflects multi-valued thinking.

Let us now depart from a strict Korzybskian perspective and explore, or perhaps "invent," further extensional devices that may be of use. These devices are most directly applicable to our understanding of American English 2006. This is not a systematic or in-depth linguistic study, and we are not attempting to consider the subtleties and ramifications of cross-cultural, cross-linguistic meanings that these devices may impart or embody. The following list is meant, as I believe Science and Sanity was intended, as a discrete point of discourse and departure, not as a comprehensive or prescriptive lexicon or grammatical toolkit.

Proposed "New" Extensional Devices

Exempli gratia (e.g.). This term is Latin for "for example." An example of usage is: "I have various violent reactions to citrus fruit, e.g., oranges make me queasy."

Id est (i.e.). Latin for "that is": A term used to expound on a simplified statement such as "I only like three models of car, i.e., BMW, Ford, or Volvo."

Italics. Can be used to confer distinction. Use of italics allows a writer to distinguish the relative importance of a word or phrase from those that surround it. For example: "Language is self-reflexive in the sense that in language we can speak about language." (Read, p.68)

Parentheses. Either or both of the upright curved lines, (), used to mark off explanatory or qualifying remarks in writing or printing. This includes the citation function often used in academic work. For example: "Manchester United (the world's largest money-making professional soccer team) won the Premiership (the national soccer championship of England)."

Ellipses. A mark or series of marks (... or *** for example,) used in writing or printing to indicate an omission, especially of letters or words. For example: Baske[t.sub.1], baske[t.sub.2], baske[t.sub.3] ... baske[t.sub.9], baske[t.sub.10], baske[t.sub.11]. Also used to great artistic effect by the likes of French Novelist Lois-Ferdinand Celine to show sequential patterns-of-thought: "The metro and its rails, I bend them! I do, I admit! Its rails so rigid!... I give them a helluva twist ... all it takes!... it's style, shall we say!... I distort them one certain way, so the passengers, daydreaming along ... don't notice ... the sorcery, the magic."

Neologism. A newly coined or invented word used to denote a unique thing or idea. For example, "I have invented a new teaching program, it's called Korzybski in the Klassroom!"

Footnotes/Endnotes. Used in printing and writing to indicate an intended omission or reference. For example,
 "It cost four Kroner!*"
 *Kroner is Norwegian currency.

Colons. A punctuation mark (:) used after a word introducing a quotation (He said this: "Leave at once."), to demark a ratio (space:time, pupil:teacher). Colons can also expound/expand/specify a statement or title (e.g. Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems)

There are also several extensional devices either created by or made more accessible by innovations in technology:

Color-coded text. This refers to using color as a means of denoting the speaker, tone or inflection of a passage. This practice has as of yet mostly manifested itself in modern experimental literature. Example:

Red text: "What do you mean you don't love me?"

Blue text: "I'm sorry, I just don't."

Color-coding text has been explored very little, and offers various obvious limitations (i.e., color-blind readers would have great difficulty in decoding such a text), but still may be a consideration for future exploration. Texts printed in just one color cannot effectively use this device, as demonstrated here.

Hypertext links. Data, as text, graphics, or sound, stored so that a user can move non-sequentially through a link from one object or document to another. This includes sound and motion clips. The implications of these sorts of links expand the extensional possibilities of a text by allowing the writer to move among text and information in a non-linear fashion.

Certainly, the above list is not all-inclusive, and it more likely hints at the innumerable extensional possibilities in language and syntax than it establishes a reference. By re-examining the extensional qualities of commonly used devices, and making ourselves aware of others, which are seldom evoked, we can move toward liberating language from the constraints of intensional orientation and begin to explore new subtleties and fresh expressions as yet unconsidered.


Chase, S. (1938). The Tyranny of Words. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company.

Hayakawa, S. I. (1990). Language in Thought and Action. New York: Harcourt Brace.

Korzybski, A. (1933). Science and Sanity: An introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics. Englewood, NJ: International Non-Aristotelian Library/Institute of General Semantics.

Johnson, W. (1996). People in Quandaries. Concord, CA: International Society for General Semantics.

Pula, R.P. (1991). "General Semantics Formulations Related to Human Communication Processes, Human Evaluating, etc." Available online at: Institute of General Semantics.

Read, C. S. (1973). "General Semantics" (abridged). In M. Morain (Ed.), Bridging Worlds through General Semantics, (pp. 63-72). San Francisco, CA: International Society for General Semantics.

Editor's note: Do you have ideas for other "new" extensional devices? Do you find problems with the above suggestions? Please write to the Editor of ETC, 2260 College Ave., Fort Worth, TX 76110, USA, or


* Jeffrey S. Brooks teaches at The Florida State University and Melanie C. Brooks recently completed her Master of Library Science degree at the University of Missouri-Columbia. They live together in Tallahassee, Florida. "Whole Language or Phonics: Improving Language Instruction through General Semantics" by Melanie C. Brooks and Jeffrey S. Brooks appeared in the July 2005 ETC.
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Author:Brooks, Melanie C.
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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