Not Just Words, Redux
The Newsletter of Language and Consciousness
Vol RI, No. 1 March 2002
Table of Contents
From the Editor
Native Science: Announcements, 1992 Consensus (my version)
Metaphors of Dis-Easing and Healing: "Body Talk"
Language and Consciousness: "Four-Plex Model of Evolutionary Languages"
General Linguistics: "Shtraight Talk"
Write to me
From the Editor
Long, long ago, before personal computers, in the 1970s, while I was a grad student at Berkeley, I put out a newsletter for a few years called Not Just Words. I typed things into a computer terminal to a mainframe, got the typeset printout, cut and pasted with real paste, xeroxed copies, addressed and stamped them and physically mailed them. (Education for 'Gen-X'ers on how hard the old days were.) Today, all I have to do is keep a file for awhile and then have my dear friend Don Watson post it to my website -- so why not?
Thus, I welcome you to the re-inauguration, phoenix-like, of a unique publication at the intersection of language, consciousness, Native America and modern physics, among other interests.
Because of health challenges (Lou Gehrig's symptoms and, most recently, removal of a brain tumor), I'm currently on disability leave from teaching. I miss it. And so I plan to use this newsletter to pass on thoughts I'd usually do in my classes.
Metaphors of Dis-Easing and Healing
Dr. Phil McGraw (Self Matters, Tuesdays with Oprah) reminds us of how important our silent (OR verbalized) self-talk is, and perhaps most important here is the generally unconscious use of body parts and functions in that self-talk. Examples abound, but I'll mention two oft-repeated ones reported by my former students.
One student reported in her learning journal that her mother, whose eyesight was dimming, went for tests at an opthomologist's office; the doctor came out and said, "I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but you've been hit with not one but two eye diseases at once -- either alone would be horrible, but together they're catastrophic and irreversible." Rather than giving in and being crushed by this allopathic pronouncement, she began reviving some practices she'd once taken up and then let drop by the busy wayside: meditation, affirmation, visualization. And it was during meditation one day that it hit her like a proverbial ton of bricks that for many years she'd been, in various situations, habitually saying the phrase, "Oh, I just can't stand to see that!" This was a revelation to her, and once she accepted the possibility of being complicit in the loss of her eyesight, she did something important: she stopped using that and other self-limiting phrases, thus transforming into a slightly different personality. A few months later, seeing her vision returning, she went back to the doctor and took the same battery of tests; except this time the doctor came out looking confused and said, "I don't understand -- they're reversing!"
I told this healing story one time on the first night of one of my favorite classes to teach, "Metaphors of Dis-Easing and Healing" (at JFK University in Orinda CA), and it made a healing impression on one young female student wearing knee braces, because on the fourth night she walked in wearing a short skirt with obviously NO knee braces, and everyone wanted to know how and why. She said she'd given the story a lot of thought considering her knees -- she'd had multiple operations and nobody could figure out what was causing her weakness there -- and she realized that one of her habitual phrases was, "I can't stand that!" Like the woman in the first story, she purged it (and the thinking that went along with it) from her behavior, with seemingly 'miraculous' results.
Your 'subconscious' (by whatever name) hears every word you say -- to yourself as well as other people; and then it often takes action, producing something, as if to say, "Is this what you wanted?" -- making the unmanifest manifest. Few people seem to know that when you verbalize statements such as "I'm (so) tired, sleepy," etc., the body responds immediately with a let-down response, intensifying the feeling -- which is why saying it while reclining onto a couch or bed is productive and saying it while driving a car is not. Habitually calling people and events "a pain in the ass" is clearly just messing with fire and asking for trouble.
Language and Consciousness
"Four-Plex Model of Evolutionary Languages"
While many of my website (<http://www.sunflower.com/~dewatson/alfordIndex.htm>) articles are about my perhaps most original contribution -- a simultaneous four-plex of evolutionary languages we are heir to as part of human nature -- I'd like to introduce it in a new way here for readers unfamiliar with it. And this time I'd like to start with Piaget.
This Swiss developmental psychologist demonstrated four distinct levels of human thinking which unfold with maturation: sensori-motor thinking, pre-operational thinking, concrete operational thinking and formal operational thinking (details in my articles). Of course, as well as thinking, these are ways of behaving and talking -- in fact, I claim they correspond as well to different evolutionary brains (reptilian, limbic, right hemisphere, left hemisphere), each with its own brainwave-rhythm range (delta, theta, alpha, beta) and its own language with unique syntax (body language, emotional language, social/relational language, formal language).
Each level is also a different consciousness of the world and what we consider to be reality. So while we are encouraged to be in left-brain beta consciousness in our workaday jobs, coloring inside the lines, as it were, we ideally shift to other modes of consciousness during dreams, prayer, ceremony, and other activities involving speaking from the heart.
Of the four evolutionary languages, linguistics recognizes only the most recent as worthy of the term language -- only the one unique to humans, one we can say confidently that other life forms don't have. Into this framework let's throw statements by Blackfoot speakers who say that when they say things in English, such as "A man is riding a horse," pictures come up in their mind; but when they say the equivalent in Blackfoot, no pictures -- just feelings of riding. While research shows the left brain to be, generally, critically involved in visualizing novel situations (most sentences being relatively novel utterances), the "feelings of riding" more likely involve our evolutionarily deepest-nested brain, the reptilian brain and sensori-motor thinking, as well. Thus we are introduced to a new set of categories in a new typology of human languages and thinking recognizing the evolutionary brains involved.
Of most importance for this, perhaps, is the unresearched question of how knowledge may be passed on differently in such a kinesthetic, or somatic, embodied language. Speakers of these languages claim they can talk all day long without using nouns, meaning their knowledge isn't about things -- they don't even talk about knowledge as a noun, but coming-to-knowing as a process and relationship instead. See my recent "Nurturing" and "Hoax" articles for more on this.
While English speakers who are more primarily auditory or kinesthetic won't necessarily agree with the pictures-in-the-head process as being what they do, we don't speak Blackfoot or any such alternate kind of indigenous language as a clear contrast in the way Leroy and Amethyst do -- with each language presenting a different way of understanding reality: more nouny and more verby. They speak from their own experience, which there's ultimately no arguing with.
Something I've been watching for a decade is the drift in American talk of [s] and [z] going to [S] (sh) and [Z] (zh) in close environment of [r], resulting in pronunciations of firsht, shtraight, shtreet, driverzh training, etc. Jay Leno is a consistent speaker of this variety of English, and can be counted on to deliver some just about every show. The drift is widespread, and seems quite regular and rule-bound, happening wherever possible within that context. I'm also informed it's part of Britain's Estuary English.
One of the most important techniques of linguistics training is learning how to listen to form and meaning at the same time (similar, I believe, to how physicists, through mathematics, see the same event as matter and energy simultaneously); this goes against our natural inclination to see right through the form to the intended meaning -- which is why the odds are good that you haven't even "heard" this shift going on around or even inside you, even though I've been tracking it for a decade.
What's interesting about this for me is that I remember being told in my first-year training that even when massive changes such as the Great English Vowel Shift happen, the speakers are unaware or little aware it's happening. Seems so!
Lets. To Ed.: have you noticed this?
Write to me
If you enjoyed this newsletter, and it made you think, or it reminded you of something -- maybe about body talk or shtraight talk or whatever, or even if you disagree with something -- write to me at email@example.com. Or perhaps you have a short piece that you think readers of NJW might enjoy. Let me know. But please be selective -- I'm still recuperating. (Attaching Word document to email is best, after checking with me first.)