Some current examples of language in thoughts and actions
The Symbolic Process
The process by means of which human beings can arbitrarily make certain things stand for other things is called the symbolic process. Language is the most highly developed form of symbolism and it is a form of agreement between human beings. It is important to underline that symbols and the things symbolized are independent each other: there is no connection between the word “red” and the colour it represents.
The metaphor “the map is not the territory” explains very well the difference between from one side verbal world and reports and from other side extensional world and experience. The map is the representation of the world not the world itself, sometimes they may be mistaken. There are three ways of getting false maps: firstly by having them given to us; secondly by creating them ourselves when we misread the true maps; thirdly by constructing them ourselves by misreading territories.
To better understand how Hayakawa has described how language and symbolism can influence radically people thoughts, I have chosen a recent survey realised by Ipsos Mori social research institute that reveals the public perception of numbers behind daily media news in 14 countries.
The country from where I come from is the most ignorant nation in this little, but significant classification: to the question «how many immigrants do you think there are in your country?» Italy is the country with more discrepancy between the actual percentage of immigrants (7% of the population) and the perception of immigration among citizens (30%). Also the perceived percentage of over 65 years old people who actually live in the coultry is very high (48% against the actual 21%).
The responsability of having such a messy “map” in people’s thoughts is to find in political parties public declarations and how journalists emphasize and describe the facts. The phrase «We believe that now is the moment of provide cars for immigrants, and reserved wagons for poor italians» taken from a member of italian party Lega Nord the day after was present almost everywhere.
Reports, Inferences and Judgements
The exchange of informations between human beings develops with the symbolic act of the report. Reports are statements about what we have seen, heard, done or felt: everything has to be concerned with first hand experiences. They have to be verifiable and as far as possible exclude inferences and judgements. Sometimes we are not able to verify by ourselves the reality of things, so is better to ask to somebody else, but anyway the nature of reports implies that once you find its proper resource it has to be verified or, if inaccurate, invalidated.
It is also important the communication: when we express a statement everybody has least to understand our formulation.
Inferences are something different and it is important to distinguish the difference with reports. An inference is a statement about something unknown made on the basis of the known: we express an inference after an observation of a fact. For example we may infer a woman’s economic and social condition by the observation of her clothes. Inferences can be carefully or carelessly made, the quality of inferences depends on the quality of reports or observations from which it stems and from the ability of one making inferences.
Judgements are expressions of writer’s approval or disapproval about occurrences, people or objects that a person is describing; usually a judgement is a conclusion summing up a large number of previous observed facts and it is not verifiable.
I’ve decided to take an example from an article published recently in my own country’s newspaper named Libero in which the director was accused of libel; he was convicted because he hasn’t verified the truthfullness of the published news. The merely fact: a judge, applying the law, authorised the abortion for a girl of thirteen years old, she and her mother were favourable but the father not.
The journalist makes an excessive use of judgements writing a sentence never said before by the parents of the girl «she is immature, she is going to waste her life with a baby». This is probably his opinion about the fact. This kind of articles are examples of bad journalism in which the reporter decides to leave out facts and doesn’t show fairly the conflicting points. The author is not able to create good maps because he is against abortion and describes this situation and all the involved people as enemies.
There is no necessary connection between symbols and things symbolized, that is why things cannot have “right names”. Each thing in the world is classified (music, movies, books etc.), depending upon our interests and studies we can decide to classify in different ways. Each object or event doesn’t belong to any class until we decide to put it in one.
For example, when a person is considered black? Here one examples linked with thoughts and actions.
The one-drop rule is a sociological and legal principle of racial classification that was historically prominent in the United States asserting that any person with even one ancestor of sub-Saharan-African ancestry (“one drop” of African blood) is considered to be black. The one-drop rule was not adopted as law until the 20th century: first in Tennessee in 1910 and in Virginia under the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 (following the passage of similar laws in several other states). When in 2008 Barack Obama was elected for the first time president of the United States the majority of newspapers started to describe him as the first black president. His mother was born in Kansas, while his father was from Kenya. Even if racial segregation laws are not anymore effective, in actual language expression fifty percent equals hundred, there is no in-between.
Another interesting example that I have found, is more linked with actions and explains how language comes after men’s actions. The Pirahã, a tribe of 150 people who live by the banks of a remote tributary of the Amazon, studied by Columbia linguist Peter Gordon, have words for one and two, and for few and many. That’s all. Even the words for one and two are not used consistently. They don’t have idea about numbers above three just because they don’t have activities that require the usage of numbers (commercial or financial market for instance), so they don’t need to create words to express these kind of concepts.
The task of writing a dictionary begins with reading a vast amounts of the literature of the period: the editor writes his definitions based on other quotations, he cannot be influenced by what he personally thinks. Writing a dictionary is not about the “true meaning” but is a task of recording what various words have meant to authors in the immediate past.
If we don’t know the meaning of a word we can get it from our experience. Human being learn by phisical and social context, dictionaries give us only an high level of abstraction and can be a great mistake to regard a dictionary definition as telling us something about the world.
The change of meaning of a term could be symptomatic of a societies’ development. An example is the semantic transformation of the latin word “domus” to the italian word “duomo” (actually is a synonim of cathedral), at the same time the substitution of the word “domus” with “casa” to mean “home”. Ancient romans were used to live in two kinds of dwellings: rich people in “domus”(big houses), poor people in “insulae” (smaller apartments belonging to the same building); after barbarians invasions living conditions went bad and only bishops kept leaving in domus, while lot of people become poorer and started to live in slums: the term “insula” disappeared from the use because was not appropriate with the context anymore, so latin speakers started to call their inhabitations “casa” (the best term at the time to describe that kind of dwelling). This example explains very well how much context is important and how its good observation may change the meaning of words.
Language of affective communication
Affective language is used to express the feelings of the speaker and to communicate them by creating similar feelings in the listener. Often we stop to be critical altogether and we are simply excited, sad, joyous as the author wants us to be. When emotions are involved life of man is lived at more than one level: there is the extensional world but also the world of words (and other symbols). All dramatic or comic stories involve reader’s imaginative identification of themselves with the roles. Identification depends on the maturity of the story and who wrote it but also on the maturity of the reader. Gradually maps that we have inside our heads become fuller more accurate pictures of actual territories.
A field of studies in which those theories are applied in a contemporary way is Storytelling. It is a science that allow to create representations (visuals, textuals, perceptuals) in order to link the readers (consumers, electors) with organizations, brands and politicians.
Taking as example the field of politics in which candidates have the goal of obtaining enough votes to win the elections, we can say that first we buy candidates stories and only in the end we vote their ideologies. Each leader has to be able to communicate stories of trust (tell coherent plot and personal skills in an emotional way), warranty (authobiography) and future (vision of the world and which promise).
Stories that work (in which readers and electors can believe in) usually have a drama at the beginning and a challenge to achieve. Nothing have to be invented or hide. A politician start to be somebody specific in each people’s head only when there is a clear point of view of the protagonist.
For example Obama is the man of conciliation and hope (his role embodies this values) after “shock and awe” policy of Bush.
Here there is an example of his re-election speech: «Tonight, more than 200 years after a former colony won the right to determine its own destiny, the task of perfecting our union moves forward. It moves forward because of you. It moves forward because you reaffirmed the spirit that has triumphed over war and depression, the spirit that has lifted this country from the depths of despair to the great heights of hope, the belief that while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people.»