Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Spin: How Words Become Reality by Glenn Bassett, author of Wordplay

WordplayTitle: Wordplay
Author: Glenn Bassett
Publisher: Organization Diagnostics
Pages: 270
Genre: Business
Format: Paperback/Kindle

 WordPlay lays out the functions of language as the foundation of what is loosely called mind. Studies of language in primitive cultures by anthropological linguists demonstrate the existence of a basic set of words called semantic primes in every cultural setting. Language is extended and elaborated on the foundation of semantic primes to construct a mental map of the perceived phenomenal world. Once in place, a rich culture of language is passed on from each generation to the next by example. Words ultimately become so ubiquitous and necessary that they take on a reality all their own. Mental maps become more real than the reality of direct experience. Establishment of a critical capacity for knowing truth demands a study of psycholinguistics. The fund of social psychological research made available through research over the past century offers a window on the way words are used to captivate, illuminate, intimidate, inform and imbue us with intelligence. WordPlay is a compilation of the most salient research that pertains to language use. It is a layman’s introduction to psycholinguistics. The emphasis is on how words shape behavior and become the substance of the mind. This is knowledge of those habits of mind that can interfere with straight, clear thinking. It is antidote to functional social ignorance of our rich language culture.

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SPIN:  How Words Become Reality

Words and language are so integral and indispensable to ordinary living that it is difficult to find some perspective on their use.  The remarkable thing about them is the simple reality of meaning that can be conveyed in spoken or written words.  This is not to overlook the prevalence of misunderstanding in their use.  But erroneous comprehension of meaning can be full of seeming reality.  Words have a life of their own under just about every circumstance imaginable.  Original language, those words and their usage patterns learned during infancy and early childhood,  establish personhood and community membership.  Lacking language, one is barely, if at all, human.

Linguistics, the study of language, takes a variety of forms.  It is the study of syntax, the structural devices used to achieve relative clarity of meaning.  It is the analysis of the physics of sound or the anatomical structures that allow the voicing of words.  It is the analysis of cultural influences on both syntax and word meaning.  Psycholinguistics uses scientific method to analyze the processes through which children acquire language.  Much mystery about these processes remains, nonetheless, and complicated, high flown theory abounds in the field.  Endless controversy pursues the questions of whether language is genetically pre-designed into the human brain or is largely or even wholly a cultural overlay on the un-programmed brain.    The greatest part of the literature of linguistics is philosophical argument based on arguments (grandly abstract words) that only a select few find meaningful.  Some linguistics are about the mechanics of use and acquisition of language, others are obscure , vague exercises in philosophical speculation.  As in many other realms of human activity, speculation is more interesting and popular than mere mechanics.  Those who argue for innate, even instinctive forces as ground-springs of language disparage the use of culture to explain something as awesomely mysterious and powerful as language.  

The present book seeks to find a middle ground where the useful  demonstrations of words as reality makers from can be found in the lore of social psychology, the social sciences and everyday experience of language in use.   Taking perspective on language requires first that one discover how words exert authority over him/her, and how they are used to attempt control over the events of his/her life space.  It is essential to gain a grasp of the tricks that words and word users play on us.

Part I examines the variety of ways that culture shapes language.  The common failure of many words to translate from one language to another offers illustration of cultural shaping of language.  The importance of words to understanding the most elementary aspects of cultural life demonstrates the centrality of words to thought processes themselves.   Words permit the identification and specification of discrete elements of the perceived world.  The written word further transforms one’s world view by extending knowledge beyond personal memory and reshaping the brain to flow through the fingers on a keyboard into symbolically coded form.

Part II is a summary of what is known about the tricks the brain and perceptual processes commonly play on us.  The locus of language in the brain and hemispheric specialization of language has potential to split word use away from other forms of experience.  Humans may, more often than they know, be of two minds.  Habits of conformity to authority have the power to evoke automatic behaviors  that are beyond conscious control.  Psychological self-awareness can permit reestablishment of personal choice in action and reshaping of the public persona.  Awareness of emotional processes permits use of emotion for intentional and productive ends.

Part III looks at the way words are employed to create a desired or preferred reality.   Alternative realities can be imagined or invented.  Social influence may be used to shape the perception of reality to the purposes of the influencer.  Simple influence is exercised routinely through the use of value loaded “power words”.   The welfare of society as a whole can be shaped by the words that drive governmental policy and decision making.

Part IV scrutinizes the power of mathematics and scientific method to create wholly new realities that go beyond  perceived experience.  The far-reaching influence of philosophy and philosophers to structure understanding of nature and society arises out of a constant invention, construction and revision of language at its far limits.  Unrealities like abstractions and essences can often take on a more urgent sense of reality than physical reality itself.  Science and philosophy are the incubators of new language as well as both great and weird ideas.

Part V accepts the fact of words as mystical icons and argues the importance of discriminating between spiritual and empirically real phenomena.

This is a pragmatically founded but intellectually rounded explication of applied social science and sensible linguistics.   It is intended as a tool for advancement of personal understanding of language phenomena, not as an argument for any linguistic theory or structure.  

Dr. Glenn Bassett is Professor Emeritus of Management and former Dean of Business at the University of Bridgeport.  A graduate of Berkeley and Yale, as well as a former corporate staffer at General Electric, Dr. Bassett’s career has focused on applied Social Psychology.  WordPlay is the result of exended research into the science of psycholinguistics. He is the author of numerous articles and published books, including The Managers Craft.

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