Language in Thought and Action [First Edition] 0156482401, 9780156482400

In an era when communication has become increasingly diverse and complex, this classic work on semantics—now fully revis

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Language in Thought and Action [First Edition]
 0156482401, 9780156482400

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HAYAKAWA In Consultation with Basil H. Pillard Antioch College


London ALLEN &








This book is copyright under the Berne Convention. Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of private study, research, criticism or reveiw, as permitted under the Copyright Act 1911, no portion

may be reproduced by any process without written

permission. Enquiry should be made to the publisher.









This book began as a revision of Language in Action, published

in 1)41. Events since that date have naturally caused me to reexamine the whole of that earlier book. Some statements to be found there, unhappily, have been given a sharper, tragic significance










especially those in which it was asserted that the semantic discipline

could be applied to the solution of many social and individual

problems, now appear to me to have been somewhat oversimplified. I still believe that such application is possible; but it is not quite

so easy as I am afraid I made it sound. The deeper I got into the

task of revision, the graver the deficiencies and omissions


to be. The attempt to repair these deficiencies has resulted in something more than a revised Language in Action. So much has been

changed and so much has been added that more than half the material in the present volume is new. Two





of semantics.


first is the

refinement of the basic formulations of the science. This task is,

naturally, highly technical and of deep concern to specialists. The second

task, no less urgent,

is that of translating what

is already

known in semantics into usable terms. Today, the public is aware, perhaps to an unprecedented

degree, of the role of verbal com-

munication in human affairs. This awareness arises partly, of course, out of the urgency of the tensions everywhere existing be-

tween nation and nation, class and class, individual and individual,

in a world that is changing with fantastic rapidity. It arises, too,

out of the knowledge on the part even of the least reflective elements

of the


that enormous


for good

or evil

lie in the media of mass communication. Thoughtful people in all walks of life feel, therefore, the need of systematic help in the huge task that confronts all of us today, namely, that of interpreting



and evaluating the verbally received communications that pour in on us from all sides.

But the task of providing that help is not an easy one, because

the principles of semantics are extremely abstract, while the situations in which semantic guidance is needed are appallingly concrete. I have long known that the task,of a student of semantics who would help others cannot simply be that of enunciating general

propositions, however true they may be. His task is to live and

act, in as many situations as possible, with the semantic principles

always in the back of his mind, so that, before he recommends

them to others, he may see how they may (and may not) be

applied to actual human




that have


vened between the publication of Language in Action and the

present work have given me many opportunities to explore further

and to test more thoroughly the general principles of linguistic interaction here set forth. During the last eight years I have, in addition to my usual tasks of writing and teaching and lecturing,

spent a period of study and observation at the Menninger Clinic and Foundation at Topeka, Kansas; I have been an art student at the Institute of Design under the direction of that excellent artist

and inspiring teacher, the late Laszlo Moholy-Nagy;

I was for

four years a columnist of the Chicago Defender, a Negro weekly, and




years was

a regular



Book Week, the literary supplement of the Chicago Sun; I did some first-hand research in folk music and jazz; 1 served on the

board of directors of a co-operative wholesale and was president of a small chain of co-operative grocery stores; 1 have had the privilege of association with art connoisseurs and collectors, and the equal privilege of association with self-taught folk musicians of the Negro community; last, and probably not least, T have become the father of two boys. All these experiences have helped to

fill out my exposition of semantic theory; I have added many

examples drawn from daily life and controversy; many of my con-

victions have been strengthened through contact with problems in which the lack of semantic awareness among those involved has

clearly been one of the sources of difficulty. The reader who has

read Language in Action will find, I believe, that the present vol-



ume offers fewer generalizations in a form that leaves him asking,

“Now that you've explained the principle, what do I do with it?”

The foliowing are some of the changes which, I hope, make Language in Thought and Action a fuller, clearer, and more useful book than the earlier work. In the first place, the ethical assump-

tions underlying semantics haive been made explicit rather than left implicit. Semantics is the study of human interaction through

the mechanisms of linguistic communication. Consequent to the exchange of communications, co-operation sometimes results, and sometimes conflict. The basic ethical assumption of semantics, analogous

to the medical


that health

is preferable


illness, is that co-operation is preferable to conflict. I have tried to

show why this assumption can (and must) be made, and have tried

to unify the entire book around it as a central theme.

Secondly, a great deal of new material has been added under the

heading of “Applications” at the end of each chapter. A book on

semantics is not something simply to be read and put aside. Its

principles, to be meaningful, must be tried out in one’s own think-

ing and speaking and writing and behavior; they must be tested - against one’s own observation and experience. The “Applications” therefore have a double purpose: they offer a means whereby the

reader may, in addition to reading about semantics, absorb the semanticist’s point of view through the undertaking of actual se-

mantic investigations and exercises; they also are a way of urging

the reader not to take the writer's word for anything that is in this book. In the present volume, some of the technical terms used in Lan-

guage in Action have been abandoned;

those which have been

retained are, I hope, applied with greater consistency and defined more sharply than was formerly the case. Among the new materials added is a chapter offering the outlines of a semantic theory of literature—one which will contribute, I hope, to the uniting of

psychological and literary approaches to the evaluation of literary

art. In the discussion of the language of social criticism and social

change, an attempt has been made to show (especially in Chapter

12, “The Society Behind the Symbols” and in Chapter 16, the dis-

cussion of social institutions and cultural lag) the degree to which



knowledge of fields other than semantics is necessary to those who

aspire to apply semantics to social problems. The uses of the “abstraction ladder” as a critical instrument for the examination and evaluation of writing and speaking (one’s own or other people’s)

have been made considerably more explicit and, T trust, more useful.

The interrelatedness of the various functions of language has also been stressed and, I hope, clarified. Additional stress has been given,

too, to the use of semantics as an instrument of self-knowledge and

self-criticism. My deepest debt in this book is to the General Semantics (“non-

Aristotelian system”)

of Alfred Korzybski.

I have also drawn

heavily upon the works of other contributors to semantics: especially Ogden and Richards, Leonard Bloomfield, Thurman Arnold,

Jean Piaget, Charles Morris, Wendell


Susanne Langer,

and Kenneth Burke. I am also deeply indebted to the writings of

numerous psychologists and psychiatrists with one or another of the dynamic points of view which stem from Sigmund Freud: Karl Menninger, Karen Horney, Trigant Burrow, Carl R. Rogers, Franz

Alexander, Thomas

French, Rudolph


and many

others. I have also found extremely helpful the writings of many cultural anthropologists: especially those of Benjamin Lee Whorf, Ruth Benedict, and Margaret Mead. In the past several years,

semantic insight—i.e., insight into human symbolic behavior and

into human

interaction through symbolic mechanisms—has


from all sorts of disciplines: not only from linguistics, philosophy,

_psychology, and cultural anthropology, but also from attitude re-

search and public opinion study, from new techniques in psycho-

therapy, from physiology and neurology, from mathematical biophysics and cybernetics. How are all these separate insights to be

brought together and synthesized? This is a task which I