Part II: A Hidden Cycle
in the History of Linguistics

Danny K. H. Alford
Phoenix: New Directions in the Study of Man,
Volume IV, No. 1 and 2. 1980


The worst failing of contemporary linguistics is that it is boring.(1) As foreseen a generation ago, linguistics has become virtually an academic isolate because of its increased mathematization, jargon, and idealized removal from the context of reality. However, this is a passing fad, a point on a circle which is constantly turning, leading presently to new directions in the study of the human spirit and how it functionally manifests in space-time reality.

This article presents an unorthodox, alternative history of linguistics as seen from the holistic viewpoint, showing how many of the "unacceptable" notions found in the writings of influential linguists of the past are based on a tradition of language study which, like modern linguistics itself, traces all the way back to ancient India. This holistic view concentrates on the living process, the power of language, rather than the formal structure of manifest speech.

Not remaining content with a congenial history, we shall briefly explore new topics of research in holistic linguistics: brainwave states and communicative processes in altered states of consciousness; brainwave synchronization between individuals in normal conversation as well as during telepathy; what Amerindians say about the emotional/telepathic basis of language and its power to create reality; and the role of language in hypnosis.

It is remarkable: the time seems to be at hand for regressing to all the hidden and mystic matters which the recent past has found contemptuous or ridiculous. What might actually prejudice one in favor of such regressing is that the recent era of clear, pure, but by no means deep rationality really was blameworthy in many aspects, and is largely responsible for the weaknesses and excesses of the present.

Mysticism of course may easily go too far, but nonetheless there is more truth in it than in shallow rationality. The real truth of things always lies deep, it cannot be easily or clearly demonstrated and can only be found through a genuine and pure attunement of our entire psychic constitution, just as a pure tone can only be produced in a purely tuned instrument. (Wilhelm von Humboldt: 1809, 8:122)

Defining the problem Men of other races have kept chronologies, chronicles, or satisfied themselves with genealogies when accounting for the past... Western man has been forced to invent history. History is not merely a listing of past chronological order, a mechanism which satisfies most other races; our history incorporated explanation and analysis as justifiable and necessary mechanisms for dealing with the sheer volume of data. (6:13) As a veteran of a number of "History of Linguistics" classes, it is now clear to me that history is a theory of the past. Specifically, how one treats the history of linguistics depends on those ideas and practices which one seeks to justify. A normal or conservative accounting will tend to stress the development of those ideas which find most complete acceptance by current practitioners.

The alternative accounting presented here will stress, instead, as a contribution to the history of ideas, a co-existing set of facts which will force us into a larger historical framework, giving us a more balanced and complete view of the history of linguistics. We shall search the same time periods generally covered by more conservative approaches, examining them for traces of a co-existing alternative framework of language study.

We discover in this wider history an important cycle which reveals a recurrent pattern: periods of holistic and humanistic approaches to language are followed unerringly by periods which emphasize more "scientific" analytical views and practices; often the analytical views are pushed to an extreme, such that we deal with a mythical entity, Language,(2) which is conceptually separate from real live human speakers (as when "competence" is more highly valued than "performance"). At such times, as now, the voice of humanism is heard again in the halls of academe, pointing to human abilities not subsumed under the classic 5-senses view.

The Holistic Arts and the Analytic Sciences

One of the difficulties in attempting such an alternative history concerns what we mean by linguistics: put simply, is it the organized discipline (highly culture-specific) we are speaking of, or the systematic study of language? If the latter, is that study better characterized as analytic (logical examination of forms apart from contextual being) or holistic (interpretive examination of the power which language has to effect changes in self and others)?(3)

The word science is a "magic word" as commonly used today, implying a rigorous and objective search for truth (where "objective" is assumed to mean something more definite than just "inter-subject" agreement). What is less generally understood, as we can see by the trend of linguistics in this century toward a more "scientific" stance, is the inherent weakness of an approach to human knowledge which leaves humanity, nature, and the living fabric of being out of its equations. When scholars and researchers begin pondering that which has been left out, what we may designate as the holistic arts begin to flourish.

One is tempted to view the large history of linguistics as a dialectic, a continual oscillation between the holistic and analytic modes of language study, with one mode predominating at any given time. Analogies with other disciplines will clarify the present point. Modern astronomy, with its implicit assumptions of an inanimate macro-universe, is the materialistic rationalist offshoot of the human-centered holistic art of astrology. Likewise is modern chemistry a rationalist offshoot of Medieval holistic alchemy. In each of these rationalist developments, a greater amount of precision in studying physical forms and structure is bought at a high price: the loss of human-centeredness and consciousness.

Modern astronomy, chemistry, physics, and linguistics, to name a few, are the rationalist offshoots from earlier, more human-centered holistic arts. Preceding each modern discipline, and stretching backwards into dim history, we find the musings (whether written or oral) of intelligent recorders attempting to make sense of the world and language phenomena; the analytic modes of study were developed within the crucibles of holistic arts as necessary for rigor and predictability. After all, it can be easily shown that a astrology was the source of the "observation, correlation, prediction" tenets of the scientific method.(4) But as each analytic mode gained momentum and finally declared itself autonomous from its less-rigorous parent, the first casualty was inevitably the mental-spiritual participation of human life, with each discipline dissecting its own selected universe in its own way, content with studying the artifacts of analysis rather than how things work in the real world.

It is clear that the discipline of linguistics, founded by Humboldt in the early 1800s on a broad humanistic base, narrowed to the textual concerns of philology by the end of that century, opened up again (especially in America) with the study of the incredible linguistic diversity of unwritten autochthonous languages, and again narrowed to concerns of logic and arboreal geometry. Today pragmatics is a key word which signals a return to the study of human activity in context. And for some who feel that human abilities are wider than the scientific view allows, holistic is similarly a key word.

History has demonstrated repeatedly that in times of rationalist domination of thought in higher education, the mental-spiritual half of the original holistic art "goes underground," as it were, to be kept alive by unorthodox thinkers both inside and (mostly) outside of the academic disciplines. This can be seen, for instance, in the example of hypnosis in recent times. Originally a holistic healing art in Ancient Egypt, hypnosis was lost in principle to Western civilization until rediscovery by Mesmer; although it enjoyed brief popularity in French and British academies in the last century, scandal and excesses caused hypnosis to be effectively banned from all academic discussion until rediscovered by psychologists in the middle of this century.

And thus we have the real source of all cultural knowledge which is branded today as mystical, occult, magical and the like: It is that holistic knowledge of meaning and being in the world which is spurned by unbalanced rationalist disciplines. Put plainly, structuralist concerns are never labeled "metaphysical" — only the concerns of meaning and the being of language.

Whorf, for one, believed that the "very essence of linguistics is the quest for meaning." In attempting to make explicit the worldview of metaphysics implicit within the Hopi language and culture, he described as substitutes for our accustomed notions of time and space the two grand cosmic forms of Hopi thought: MANIFEST or OBJECTIVE (referring to past and present 5-senses reality), and MANIFESTING, UNMANIFEST, or SUBJECTIVE referring to all things mental as well as the future, a dimension or realm of expectancy, desire and purpose, "of thought thinking itself out from an inner realm ... into manifestation." He allowed that his description might sound "psychological" (a pejorative word at the time) or even mystical to some:

Yet, if MYSTICAL be perchance a term of abuse in the eyes of a modern Western scientist, it must be emphasized that these underlying abstractions and postulates of the Hopian metaphysics are, from a detached viewpoint, equally (or to the Hopi, more) justified pragmatically and experientially, as compared to the flowing time and static space of our own metaphysics, which are au fond equally mystical. The Hopi postulates equally account for all phenomena and their interrelations, and lend themselves better to the integration of Hopi culture in all its phases (22:59). Whorf’s remark is valuable for pointing out that holistic studies emphasize the primacy of meaning, viewing structure as the manifest residue of the unmanifest source, implying that lexical choices, syntax, morphology, and sounds are all functions of intended meaning. The analytic structuralist school of thought, in contrast, proceeded as though meaning was a can of worms to be avoided at all costs until the very last possible point; the sounds were at the bottom and meaning as on top and researchers were to work upward from discrete level to discrete level until finally arriving at semantics.

For our purposes, we will identify the analytic school of thought with such names as Chomsky and Bloomfield in this century, with roots stretching back to Panini in ancient India; and we will identify the holistic school of thought with Whorf and Sapir in this century, with Humboldt in the last century, and with those in ancient India who studied physiologically powerful speech acts called mantras, the knowledge of which came into the light of Western consciousness during Humboldt’s time, and again during the flower-child ’sixties with transcendental meditation.

Both lines of language study, analytic and holistic, trace back to equally ancient Sanskrit roots, yet the "scientific" view is in favor and the holistic view, seemingly, currently unknown or dismissed (as Chomsky does Humboldt’s holistic views) as "romantic."(5) Perhaps we need a more balanced understanding of what the word "scientific" as come to mean in today’s rationalist climate.

Geisteswissenshaften and Analytic Philosophy

It is remarkable how everywhere here [in England] there is a decided feeling to treat magnetism, mesmerism, and everything pertaining to it as though it were nothing but lies, deceit, and imagination. The cold — and more than cold, one might say crude and coarse — realism which is the order of the day hereabouts doesn’t even permit inquiry into anything that cannot be touched with the hands and explained with rationality. All experimentation and investigation is cut off, because the English start with the certainty that they am being deceived ... (Humboldt: 1817; 8:121-2) Before looking specifically at linguistics history, it would be instructive to know if linguistics is alone in undergoing this particular oscillation, or whether the oscillation is part of a larger cultural phenomenon affecting other disciplines as well. Although I have spoken to this point concerning some other specific disciplines already, it is very useful to relate our problem to the larger framework of philosophy, where there is a long-standing debate between those who contemplate the richer aspects of human abilities and the "spirit of man" under the labels "holism" or Geisteswissenshaften (e.g., Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty), and those who pursue the narrower and more "scientific" approach of Analytic Philosophy (going back to Descartes and others).

And what do we mean by "scientific?" Do we mean simply that it follows the scientific method? But no, surely this is not our normal meaning, since by that standard astrology could have retained its traditional prestige. No, scientific is a buzz word full of emotional meaning today, a "magic word" since the early 1800’s when it replaced philosophical as the term one used when indicating some ultimate in rigor and truth.(6) And well before that, in seventh-century A.D. Rome, Boethius and others used logical as the magic word.(7)

Analytic Philosophy, which Karl-Otto Apel calls "today the most influential school of thought in the Western world," recognizes as "scientific" the methods of the natural sciences insofar as they objectively explain the phenomena in question by reference to causal laws, seeing as the main goal of Analytic Philosophy the justification of this "objective knowledge" and its separation from any kind of subjective Weltanschauung. It seems to be the continuation of 18th-Century Enlightenment, which also held that the only legitimate goal of science dealing with man and culture was to give "explanations" in terms of laws of nature — if possible, mathematically formalized.

We are familiar with the kind of unsatisfying linguistics which results from this kind of philosophy. But what would a linguistics with a different philosophical approach look like?

Such a Geisteswissenshaften would deal with ... other human beings not as objects of meaning and language, not as objects in the world, but rather as those beings who "mean" together with me as partners of communication; in other words: This Geisteswissenshaften would be constituted on the level of intersubjectivity. Its purpose would be, for example, to reestablish communication between subjects in case this communication had broken down, or to initially establish such communication between different subjects. Seen thus, the interpreter and the translator would be prototypes of a man of the Geisteswissenshaften ... (4:14)

Not from the mathematical view but from the Geisteswissenshaften may we share wonder with Humboldt that "Man, regarded as an animal, belongs to one of the singing species; but his notes are always associated with ideas."

In order to place a portion of this discussion within an established framework, we shall first simplify the complexity of issues to a restricted dichotomy (in line with most academic writing) and see the effects of the disagreement on various time periods. The keyword in the next section for a Geisteswissenshaften or holistic school of thought will be relativity, and for the analytic school universals.

Relativity and Universals

George Steiner, in After Babel and On Difficulty, has given us an insightful survey of the historical aspects of the relativist versus universalist world-views in linguistics. Much of the working of this entire section will reflect his analysis. It is important to understand from the beginning that even the most extreme views expressed are never purely one of the other: Relativists like Humboldt and Whorf each stated a number of what they believed to be universals; likewise, there are nuances of relativism in the universalist grammars of Roger Bacon, the grammarians of the Port Royale, and even in the contemporary transformational generative grammars.

Each view is merely a matter of emphasis. To the more holistic relativist interested in the way the human spirit manifests in language, "What matters are the fantastic diversities of grammatical form and semantic habit; what demands explanation is a complex but manifest history of centrifugal development" (19:137). The universalist position, on the other hand, asserts that the underlying structure of all languages is the same and thus common to all men; that what is important is the understanding and formalization of the central generative elements; that surface study is primarily of phonetic or historical interest.

a. Pre-Humboldtian Views on Relativity. Steiner traces both the relativist and universalist positions back to a common source in Leibniz, who in 1697 propounded a strong form of the relativist view. Steiner argues that

Language is not the vehicle of thought but its determining medium. Thought is language internalized, and we feel and think as our particular language impels and allows us to do. Tongues differ even more profoundly than do nations. They are also monads, ’perpetual living mirrors of the universe,’ each of which reflects or, as we would now put it, ’structures’ our experience according to its own particular sight-lines and habits of cognition. No two languages construe the same world (19:138). On the other hand, Leibniz shared many universalist aims and even made suggestions toward a universal semantic system, immediately legible to all men, analogous to mathematical symbolism, "so efficacious precisely because the conventions of mathematics are grounded in the very fabric of human reason and are, therefore, independent of any local variation" (19:138). Relativists, of course, tend to believe that there is no common fabric of human reason — that reason and logic are artifacts of the world-view expressed through the grammar of each language.

Vico similarly espoused both views. Believing that a study of the evolution of speech faculties is a study of the evolution of the mind, with metaphor as a universal factor in man’s acquisition of active sensibility and cultural self-awareness, his opposition to Descartes and to the extensions of Aristotelian and Cartesian rationalism made of him the first true relativist. The "almost infinite particulars" which make up both the syntax and lexical corpus of each language, engender and reflect the strikingly diverse world-views of race and cultures. These particulars go so deep in language that a universal "grammar of language of the Aristotelian or Cartesian mathematical model is fatally reductionist" (19:139).

The publication of Hamann’s Versuch über eine academische Frage in 1760 marked the decisive move towards a theory of language relativity. Even though many of his remarks, fired at times by a Kabbalistic zeal, sound naive and even wrong today, the suggestive strength of his theories lies in the axiom that each language is an "epiphany" or articulate embodiment of a specific historical-cultural landscape ... The process is dialectical, with the formative energies of language moving both inward and outward in a civilization (19:1).

As had Vico, Hamann argued that neither Cartesian deductive reasoning nor Kantian mentalism could account for the creative, pre-rational ways in which language — unique to the human species but exceedingly varied among nations — shapes reality (Sprachgestaltung) and is, in turn, itself shaped by local historical experience.

Herder expressed some of the same concerns as Hamann when, years later, he asserted that national characteristics are imprinted on speech and reciprocally, carry the stamp of the particular tongue. Mme. de Stael’s De l’Allemagne of 1813 took this further in asserting that there were crucial, formative interactions between a language and the history, political institutions, and psychology of a people (19:140-1).

Summing up, the century preceding Humboldt was alive with many of the ideas which he later researched, synthesized, and popularized in his publications. It is interesting to note that pre-Humboldtian relativists, Humboldt himself, Boas, Sapir, and even Whorf were more than passingly intrigued with universal speculations; strict universalists like Chomsky, however, seem to find the notion of linguistic-cognitive relativity, however necessary, both distasteful and counterproductive.

b. Wilhelm von Humboldt. Baron von Humboldt was a prolific genius, who around the turn of the 19th Century, made many of the assertions which contemporary American psychologists, psycho-linguists, and others often attribute to Whorf. Here we have, in the founder of linguistics as an organized discipline, the relativist par excellence, whose universals were themselves often about relativity: "Each language sets certain limits to the spirit of those who speak it; it assumes a direction and, by doing so, excludes many others" (8:245).

... there is a number of things which can be determined and defined a priori and hence separated from all other conditionalities of a given language. But on the other hand, there is a far greater number of concepts, and grammatical peculiarities as well, which are woven so indissolubly into the individuality of their language that they can neither be held by a thread of inner perception as hovering above all languages, nor translated from one language into another (8:245-6). Humboldt was no ordinary scholar. As a Prussian aristocrat whose official title was "Minister of Worship and Public Instruction" (somewhat ironic considering his views on Christianity), his love of language study resulted in the establishing of the first Chair of Linguistics for Franz Bopp at the University of Berlin in 1822. As later with Whorf, it was contact with ancient Sanskrit ideas which brought Humboldt to certain deep understandings about the relationship between language and life.

Marianne Cowan, translator and editor of Humanist Without Portfolio, points out that Humboldt in his later years found a philosophy of life in the ancient Hindu writings that corresponded with his own iconoclastic religious thinking:

... there is scarcely an aspect of religious thinking in the Bhagavad-Gita which he had not long ago come to accept for himself. Basically, it comprises what Aldous Huxley has referred to as the Perennial Philosophy, with its four interrelated tenets of an ideal ground of the universe, man’s ability to participate in it through exercising his intuitive function, man’s identification of his spirit-self with the spirit of the universe, and his spiritual-moral responsibility to come to represent this self as the highest step of his self-education (8:23-4). In other words, Humboldt’s inner life and outward manifestations became profoundly changed with his introduction to the mystical viewpoint of the ancient Aryans — so much so that even though we would not necessarily know it by the usual references to Humboldt in linguistics, his most prolific linguistic works display an essentially religious or spiritual cast which compares favorably with that of Carl Jung, into whose terminology Ms. Cowan translated Humboldt’s words wherever possible.

We shall soon see that Whorf also was profoundly influenced by ancient Indic thought, Jungian psychology, astrology, and other holistic arts. It is the contention of this paper that the so-called "mystical," "metaphysical," or "occult" leanings of such writers as Hamann, Humboldt, Fabre-d’Olivet and Whorf are not accidental to the fairly uniform outlook they share.

c. Post-Humboldtian Relativity. The aristocratic Humboldt was in a unique position to influence the subsequent course of linguistics, not only in Europe but in the burgeoning American school (later characterized by a distinct Germanic streak), a school which has gained worldwide importance primarily because of its confrontation with the same astonishingly diverse Amerindian languages that intrigued Humboldt.(8)

Linguistic relativity, the essentials of which were derived from Leibniz, Bacon, Locke, Vico, Hamann, Herder, Kant, and others, entered the mainstream of Western thought through Humboldt’s intellectual executor, Steinthal. From there, we find an unbroken line of thought to the anthropology of Daniel Brinton, Dwight Whitnbey, and (especially) Boas:(9) to the ethno-linguistics of Sapir and his student Whorf; and to the works of Dell Hymes, George Steiner, and even in the proxemics of Edward Hall. In Europe, the basic theoretical points of Humboldt’s general linguistics, and particularly the Weltanschauung theory, find expression in the work of E. Cassirer (whose ’inner form’ distinguishing a particular tongue from another is immediately derived from Humboldt’s Form-Prinzip), of such Neo-Humboldtians as Leo Weisgerber, G. lpsen, F. Dornseif, A. Jolles, W. Porzig, W. von Wartburg, and above all in the semantic field theory of Jost Trier.

Let’s examine one of the key figures mentioned above, Edward Sapir. Born in Germany and raised in America from the age of 3, Sapir was educated into the rich philosophical and cultural heritage of 19th Century Germanic thought, wherein the name Humboldt was a household word.(10) Steiner points out that Sapir’s formulation of the relativity question, in an article dated 1929, summarizes the entire line of argument as it goes back to Leibniz:

The fact of the matter is that the "real world" is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group. No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality. The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached (16:207-8). d. Benjamin Lee Whorf. Although it may be true, as Max Black quipped in "Some Troubles with Whorfianism" (5), that an enterprising Ph.D. candidate would have no problem in producing at least 106 versions of Whorfianism, it is the contention of this paper that only a version consistent with ancient holistic views would be accepted by a discerning doctoral committee. Whorf was discontent with much modern knowledge, as you may note in his assessment of the psychology of his day: All the schools then have been surveyed and found wanting, and the seeker for knowledge about the human mind is forced to fall back on the long-collected mass of empirical observations sometimes called "the wisdom of the ages" (astrology), on the works of keenly intuitive authors, on his own insight, and on what few general truths he can cull here and there from all the above schools (22:42).(11) Because of the prevailing negative attitude during this century towards the spiritual-mental aspect of man, it has heretofore been unwise (in academic circles) to dwell on the highly mystical outlook of Benjamin Whorf, but perhaps now we can view the mystical or holistic nature of Whorf, Humboldt, and others in a more balanced perspective.

Though Sapir appeared at an opportune time in Whorf’s life for adding rigor and depth to his flamboyant style, Whor’s original inspiration for entering into language study came from investigation into the works of Antoine Fabre-d’Olivet, whom he discussed in "Thinking in Primitive Communities" (22), crediting him with many of the concepts which Whorf popularized ("the real originator of such ideas as rapport-systems, covert classes, cryptotypes, psycholinguistic patterning, and language as part and parcel of a culture" (22:74)), Whorf characterized this French grammarian of the early 19th Century who specialized in Semitic languages as:

a mystical and religious metaphysician who mingled this side of his nature with the workings of one of the most powerful linguistic intellects of any age. The result was to produce a mystical and gnostic "translation" of Genesis, or rather, an Upanishadic paraphrase that was like some shocking vision of cosmic space alive with terrific hieroglyphs — that got itself promptly placed on the Index (22:75). Whorf’s statement shows his acquaintance in 1936 with the ancient Hindu writings, as well as the general metaphysical scene. For even earlier interests, we find Whorf’s editor John Carroll commenting rather distastfully that, as if to contrast with Whorf’s early interest in botany, "he was for a time intensely interested in astrology and amused himself with casting horoscopes for his friends" (22:6). That this was not simply an early interest with no lasting influence is evident in not only the remark on schools of psychology, but also in Whorf’s final soaring essay on "Language, Mind, and Reality" (22), where he repeated the ancient astorlogical adage from Hermes Trismegistos, "As above, so below." In the same essay, intended for and published first (1942) by the Theosophical Society of Madras, India, he recommended to readers the Tertium Organum of the metaphyhsician P.D. Ouspensky, and discussed the linguistically de facto taboo topics of consciousness and the ancient mantric arts.

Language Study in Ancient India

Because of our rigorous methodology, linguistics has been seen by Whorf, Chomsky, Levi-Strauss and others as being at the pinnacle of the social sciences, and the reason for this is that we discovered through ancient Sanskrit grammarians how to view language algebraically. Whorf acknowledged that "the science of linguistics was founded, or put on its present basis, by one Panini in India several centuries before Christ." Not all readers will completely agree with his continuation.

Its earliest form anticipated its most recent one. Panini was highly algebraic, i.e., pattern-symbolic, in his treatment; he used formulas in a very modern way for expressing the obligatory patterns of Sanskrit. It was the Greeks who debased the science. They showed how infinitely inferior they were to the Hindus as scientific thinkers, and the effect of their muddling lasted two thousand years. Modern scientific linguistics dates from the rediscovery of Panini by the Western world in the early nineteenth century (22:232). And what exactly was it that Whorf objected to in the Greek muddling? Obviously, considering the following passage, the culprit was the narrow analytic world-view stretching back to Aristotle, for there was another school of language study in ancient India which fascinated and tantalized him even more than grammatical studies, and it dealt with the living being of symbols: The idea, entirely unfamiliar to the modern world, that nature and language are inwardly akin, was for ages well known to various high cultures whose historical continuity on the earth has been enormously longer that that of Western European culture. In India one aspect of it has been the idea of the mantra and a MANTRIC ART. On the simplest cultural level, a mantram is merely an incantation of primitive magic, such as the crudest cultures have. In the high culture it may have a different, a very intellectual meaning, dealing with the inner affinity of language and the cosmic order. At a still higher level, it becomes "Mantra Yoga." Therein the mantram becomes a manifold of conscious patterns, contrived to assist the consciousness into the noumenal pattern world — whereupon it is "in the driver’s seat." It can then SET the human organism to transmit, control, and amplify a thousandfold forces which that organism normally transmits only at unobservably low frequencies (22:249). Here Whorf explains one of his concerns regarding language: the power of language on the inward nature or consciousness of the individual. This is consistent with his psychoanalytic view that "many neuroses are simply the compulsive working over and over of word systems" (22:269) — that is, talking yourself into either dis-ease or, in a kind of mantra yoga, into holistic health. Ellerbroek, in CoEvolution Quarterly (10) and Warner in International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine (20) have written courageous articles on the interrelationship between disease concepts and the languages people speak, noting that disease concepts in verb-oriented languages (as many Amerindian ones) are often much more amenable to holistic healing methods than is generally the case in noun-oriented languages, which view disease, measles, cancer and acne as "things" which must be manipulated in physical ways (by cutting, attacking with drugs, or otherwise destroying — that is, exorcising rather than harmonizing energies). It seems ludicrous in our noun-oriented language to say that someone is fevering, cancering, or tumoring. In the future, linguistics will become ever more important to research into the psychosomatic behavior of human beings.

As Hymes points out (12:119), it must be remembered that Whorf stressed linguistic relativity so that it might be transcended; he did not deny the possibility of calibrating different linguistic backgrounds, but declared that agreement and a common picture of the world could not be reached unless there was calibration.

What Whorf seems to be attempting is, curiously enough, a historical justification for his own holistic viewpoint. Both major world-views examined in our cycle, the analytic structural science and the holistic mantric arts, are present already in ancient Indic thought — with art looking inward toward being and science looking outward toward manifest reality; both exploit the tool of pattern symbology, without which we could not do modern linguistics, and the true origin of which is lost in antiquity.

Language and Altered States of Consciousness

Too often the holistic approach fails because, being holistic, it lacks specific focus. To wit, it is much easier to condemn analytic techniques for dissecting the fabric of reality than actually to figure out possible areas of research. Accordingly, extending this article into the realms enjoyed by Whorf and Humboldt, we are ready now to explore what linguistics has to offer to the student of consciousness.

It’s time to get clear on some terms — notice I did not say define: mostly we will have to talk around them in order to see them clearly. One of the vaguest terms in our current verbal grab-bag is the word consciousness: is it simply a synonym for "short-term memory," analogous to a spotlight which illuminates the "objects of consciousness," as one linguist’s writings would have it? However satisfactory this notion may be to pure rationalism, which has historically claimed identification with consciousness, significant riddles remain regarding the spotlight theory of consciousness: Have mystics for millennia been experiencing simply altered states of short-term memory, or is there more? And, if we are to use technological analogies, when does the spotlight become a laser beam and create a new reality?

Neuroscientist Karl Pribram and physicist David Bohm recently put forward, first separately and later combined, the holographic theory of reality. The concept of holographic photography and its dependence on the coherent light of laser beams calls up for reexamination our ancient metaphor of consciousness as light: if we equate ordinary random light (as a searchlight) with rational consciousness, to what kind of consciousness shall we equate the coherent light of a laser beam?

Holography points to a multiplicative rather than additive relationship between the brain hemispheres: Just as "the stereo effect," which is not present in the left channel nor the right channel, appears as if by magic when the two channels synthesize correctly and you are correctly positioned between the speakers, rational consciousness "times" intuitive consciousness (a "plus" relationship would be seen in an individual whose corpus callosum has been severed) equals holistic consciousness squared. In the matter of everyday reality creation, there is thus a relationship between energy, matter and this consciousness-squared: a New Age interpretation of Einstein’s famous equation.

Readers of my two previous articles in Phoenix (1, 2) will remember the foundation I have been building for a popular and scientific re-evaluation of what we mean in the English language by the term "telepathy": it is not some mythical, quasi-mystical happening fit only for old ladies and stage magicians, but the emotional base of all natural communication — the camouflaged how rather than the superficial what of language, that which unites us with nature rather than setting us apart. I have stressed previously the functioning of the brain/mind as it is relevant to our language study: of the cortex, left and right hemispheres (analytic-holistic), front and back portions (production-comprehension); subcortically, the importance of the emotional limbic brain and the deep-seated reptilian brain; and, at least as important as the spatial coordinates, are those of time in the brain — the rates of rhythmic firing of neurons within functioning centers at beta, alpha, theta, and delta speeds as shown on EEG machines, and corresponding to four major states of consciousness.

EEG readings during normal speech show that there is a gestaltic mix of brainwave functioing going on in various brain centers, the most important being beta level in left-hemisphere speech centers and alpha and theta in corresponding right-hemisphere centers which deal with images, memories, associations, and emotions being processed from subcortical sources. The left-hemisphere speech centers deal with the what of language, the others the how; orthodox linguistics concerns itself with the former, our alterative linguistics as well with the latter.

Emotions have until recently been studied only as being separate from cognition, but I am convinced that they are the major keys to memories. As I have commented in previous articles, the most successful instances of telepathy, both in the laboratory and in real-life situations (i.e., life-threatening wildcats and deathbed situations), involve the resonance of emotions between individuals who know each other well. Soviet experiments in parapsychology have shown that (a) sending emotional messages (as pain in sticking yourself with a pin) is much more effective than sending verbal or visual ones; and (b) not only are messages registered in changes in heartbeat and blood pressure about four seconds before coming to awareness in the receiver, but during moments of mental rapport over a distance of hundreds of miles there is a duet or synchrony of brainwave activity between the two individuals.

I have contended elsewhere that telepathy is not merely this dramatic kind of happening, but is a rather garden-variety, common-denominator field-effect between all communicating individuals. Edward Hall in Beyond Culture describes brainwave synchrony, or "being in sync", in terms highly relevant to our present topic:

Synching, or "being in sync," may be a new concept to some readers, but for others it is very familiar. People in interactions either move together (either in whole or in part) or they don’t and in failing to do so are disruptive to others around them.... Being "in sync" is itself a form of communication.... [S]ynchrony is perhaps the most basic element of speech and the foundation on which all subsequent speech behavior rests (11:61-63). Hall describes the experiments of William Condon at Pennsylvania’s Western State Psychiatric Institute which showed that syncing is panhuman, that newborn infants initially synchronize the movement of their bodies to speech regardless of the language, and that syncing is present even with semantically nonsense material. After devising a number of experiments, Condon came to the conclusion that the syncing process operates at many levels in which two (or more) nervous systems "drive" each other.

In one striking experiment, two people in conversation were wired to electroencephalographs to see if there was any comparability in brain waves. Two cameras were set up so that one focused on the speakers, the other on the EEG recording pens. When the two people talked, the recording pens moved together as though driven by a single brain. When one of the individuals was called out of the conversation by a third person, the pens no longer moved together. Fantastic, isn’t it? Yet the data are incontrovertible.

As a consequence of years of microanalyses of film, Condon is convinced that it no longer makes sense to view human beings as "...isolated entities sending discrete messages" to each other. Rather, it would be more profitable to view the "bond" between humans as the result of participation within shared organizational forms (11:63).

Hall, commenting that his own research bears out Condon’s conclusions, has found an acceptable way of talking about telepathy without even mentioning the word. The Soviet bioinformation experiment and Condon’s experiment are the only ones I have found which confirm this important aspect of brainwave syncing, although research by Walter Greist ("Psi, Speech, and Thought Formation During Conversations") and Manfred Clynes (Sentics) bear on this level of communication as well (1), and the latter extends the panhuman notion to pannature.

In other words, many separate areas of research suggest today that we have reached a frontier of knowledge regarding language, and whether by names of telepathy, psi, bioinformation, syncing, or sentic communication, all point to an intangible meaning bond between communicating individuals which is only now being investigated, due to widened research interests. This is only a trickle of what portends to be a stream of future research.

The views and practices which separate American linguistics from European began with the discovery of vast numbers of wildly different and unwritten languages on this continent; the discipline switched from philological practices on written texts to a linguistics based on speech. An intriguing possibility of these new directions for linguistics concerns research into the emotional of telepathic side of language which lies behind the speech process. One of my special interests as a linguist has been the gathering of American Indian versions of the Tower of Babel legend. Dell Hymes has pointed out (11) that the Wishram Indians contend that Wishram is a second-language to the people of the tribe, the first language being that used by babies, dogs, coyotes, and shamans who speak with spirits. This belief is not limited to the Wishram, but is found throughout all of autochthonous California as well as in the Great Plains, as noted by Alford (1) in a Cheyenne teaching:

Long ago, men and animals and spirits all communicated in the same way. Then something happened. After that, men had to speak to each other in different languages. But they retained "The Old Language" in dreams, and for communicating with spirits and animals and plants. Proper to our alternative linguistics, then, is the distinct separation of the two kinds of languages that we as human beings are heirs to: the telepathic/emotional base on the one hand, and the intellectual constructs on the other, only the latter of which partakes of our uniquely human beta-consciousness.

In other words, an approach to language and altered states of consciousness must leave normal beta-state linguistics to those most interested in it, and delve below the surface of normal consciousness to relatively unexplored realms with which Western man is unfamiliar and uncomfortable. In what ways can one reach these altered states of consciousness? A few are through hypnosis, meditation, dreaming, drugs, prayer, and religious ecstasy.

Hypnosis is even today an ill-understood phenomenon. Some scientists proclaim that it does not exist simply because it has no distinctly identifiable EEG shapes. I suggest that this is because it is so closely intertwined with normal conversational activity, as per the Condon experiment, and because no one (to my knowledge) has investigated the syncing that goes on between the hypnotist and the hypnotee. After 16 years of increasing familiarization with hypnosis, I have concluded that successful hypnosis takes place with the cessation of self-generated verbal activity in the left-brain speech production centers, primarily beta-wave activity, along with the total engagement of the imaginative right brain. As Don Juan told Carlos, "When you stop your words, you stop your world." The hypnotist becomes the surrogate left brain feeding into a right brain operating at alpha-theta speeds. The psychic link, often called rapport, is a natural function of the one-way conversation coming from the hypnotist. Slower and slower brainwave activity speeds roughly correlate with earlier life-stages, as in hypnotic regression. Thus, hypnosis, propaganda, advertising, and other persuasive verbal techniques are all related, creating worldviews and therefore reality for human beings: the power of language in its most easily understood sense.(12)

A notion intriguing to one interested in the history of ideas, pervasive in various types of literature from mystical to recent scientific research, concerns the topic of xenoglossy: the utterance, while in an altered state of consciousness, of speech which belongs to a different time and/or place and logically should not be known by the speaker. This general topic, encompassing subtopics from usually meaningless glossolalia (religious speaking in tongues) to possibly memorized phrases to actual cases of responsive conversation, will be dealt with more fully in a future article.


We have attempted to demonstrate in this presentation the existence of a cycle little talked about in the history of linguistics, or indeed in very many Western intellectual ventures, between the holistic and the analytic sciences. It seems that holistic thought, far from being the source of naive or "romantic" ideas routinely shunned by thinking people, is the creative crucible from which springs rationalism itself.

As an example of this thesis, we have followed a view of the nature and study of language which has coexisted with the current reductionist "scientific" worldview in ancient Indic times, in 18th Century "Enlightenment," in the founding of linguistics as a modern discipline in the 19th Century, and in our own time.

The viewpoint presented here has surfaced in many verbal disguises over the years, as Hymes points out (ethos, configuration, pattern, theme, metaphysics, logico-meaningful integration), but has always stressed the importance of consciousness and the human spirit as antidote to analytic myopia.

The holistic view, far from being the antagonistic polar opposite of analyticity and the "scientific" point of view, is instead seen to be the necessary complement to "hard-science," a blending of intuitive and analytic patterns of thought, holding the latter necessary for rigor and the former for meaning and significance, a view which Whorf discussed in his final article:

This view implies that what I have called patterns are basic in a really cosmic sense, and that patterns form wholes, akin to the Gestalten of psychology, which are embraced in larger wholes in continual progression. Thus the cosmic picture has a serial or hierarchical character, that of a progression of planes or levels. Lacking recognition of such serial order, different sciences chop segments, as it were, out of the world, segments which perhaps cut across the direction of the natural levels, or stop short when, upon reaching a major change of level, the phenomena become of quite different type, or pass out of the ken of the older observational methods (22:248). Science must always have new sources of ideas for experimentation. New Age science will unabashedly look to ancient wisdom with its holistic view of reality as a major source of "new" ideas. Holistic principles will be the common foundation for true interdisciplinary understanding. Rationalists have historically assumed that "true logic" was the meeting place, but the message of linguistic relativity is that each language embodies its own logic, its own natural worldview of meaningful reality, each different from every other. It is not words, but feelings, which bond us to each other, to all of nature, to the earth, and to the universe. But what of the words and languages which divide us? How do we surmount them? Whorf asserted that A noumenal world — a world of hyperspace, of higher dimensions — awaits discovery by all the sciences, which it will unite and unify, awaits discovery under the first aspect of a realm of PATTERNED RELATIONS, inconceivably manifold and yet bearing a recognizable affinity to the rich and systematic organization of LANGUAGE. The idea is older than Plato and at the same time as new as our most revolutionary thinkers (22:247-8). The major so-called universals of language will be found to be mostly emotional-psychic or physiological in nature — and in the verbal and conceptual realms, pure relativity and diversity. It is the function of linguistics to make clear the reason for this diversity, to make the conceptual differences between people understandable, and therefore, as a discipline on the brink of higher consciousness, assist human beings in the consciousness-raising toward planetary unity which is necessary if we are to survive what Whorf called the present welter of barbarism. We all know now that the forces studied by physics, chemistry, and biology are powerful and important. People generally do not yet know that the forces studied by linguistics are powerful and important, that its principles control every sort of agreement and understanding among human beings, and that sooner or later it will have to sit as judge while the other sciences bring their results to its court to inquire what they mean (22:232). Whorf was not speaking of a linguistics which rips the dynamic process of languaging from its living fabric of being, only to be placed on the Procrustean bed of structuralism for dissection, but was bringing to modern consciousness a reawakening of the ancient principles for the study of the power of language.

If the truth be known, this cycle of reawakening and subsequent loss of the holistic view is probably best described as generational, with each new generation over-reacting to the excesses of the previous. The 1930s saw a battle for discipline supremacy between Sapir the humanist and Bloomfield the behavioral mechanist; in the 1950s, many anticipated a Neo-Sapirian renaissance, fired by Whorfian ideas — instead there arose the increased mathematicization and idealization of the MIT school. Today, again, the narrow outlook and mental-spiritual sterility of modern linguistics is being met with increased discontent by linguistics displaying what Malkeil characterized in 1959 as:

a still inarticulate restlessness that began breaking into the open shortly after 1950. To he sure, formal descriptive analysis has by now been carried to a high degree of perfection, but the days when this respectable accomplishment produces unalloyed satisfaction seem to be speedily drawing to their close. The jubilance is tempered by the realization that, if current trends remain unchecked, linguistic analysis may become an isolate among intellectual pursuits; that very attractive possibilities of overlapping inquiries into culture and language may have been severely reduced.(15)


1. Alford, D. K. H. "The Origin of Speech in a Deep Structure of Psi". Phoenix, Vol II. No, 2. Fall/Winter 1978.

2. Alford. D. K. H. "The Effects of Literacy on Cognition and Being in the World." Phoenix, Vol III. No 1. Summer 1979.

3. Anttila, Raimo. "Generative Grammar and Language Change: Irreconcilable Concepts?" In Bela Broagyanyi (ed.). Amsterdam Studies in Theory and History of Linguistic Science: Current Issues in Linguistic Theory. John Benjamins B.V.: Amsterdam (forthcoming).

4. Apel, Karl-Otto. Analytic Philosophy of Language and the Geistswissenshaften. Foundations of Language, Supplementary Series, Vol 4. D. Reidel Publishing Company: Dordrecht, Holland, 1967.

5. Black, Max, "Some Troubles with Whorfianism," in Sydney Hook (ed.), Language and Philosophy. New York University Press: New York, 1969.

6. Bradley, Michael. The Iceman Inheritance: Prehistoric Sources of Western Man’s Racism, Sexism and Aggression. Dorset Publishing Inc.: Toronto, 1978.

7. Chomsky, Noam. Cartesian Linguistics: A Chapter in the History of Rational Thought. Harper & Row: New York, 1966.

8. Cowan, Marianne. Humanist Without Portfolio: An Anthology of the Writings of Wilhelm von Humboldt. Wayne State University Press: Detroit, 1963.

9. Dinneen, Francis P. An Introduction to General Linguistics. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston: New York, 1964.

10. Ellerbrook, W. C. "Language, Thought & Disease," in The CoEvolution Quarterly, Spring 1978.

11. Hall, Edward T. Beyond Culture. Anchor Press/Doubleday: Garden City, NY, 1976.

12. Hymes, Dell (ed.). Language in Culture and Society. Harper & Row: New York, 1964.

13. Hymes, Dell. "Two Types of Linguistic Relativity (With Examples from Amerindian Ethnography)."

14. Koerner, E.F.K. "The Humboldtian Trend in Linguistics," in Studies in Descriptive and Historical Linguistics. Paul J. Hopper (ed.) John Benjamins B.V. Amsterdam, 1977.

15. Malkiel, Yakov. Review of Language, Thought, and Culture (The Michigan Stevenson-Henle Report), in International Journal of American Linguistics, Vol. 25, No. 2, 1959.

16. Sapir, Edward. Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. Harcourt, Brace, and Co.: New York, 1921.

17. Stam, James H. Inquiries into the Origin of Language: The Fate of a Question. Harper & Row: New York, 1976

18. Steiner, George. After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translations. Oxford University Press: London, 1975.

19. Steiner, George. On Difficulty and Other Essays. Oxford University Press: New York, 1978. ("Whorf, Chomsky, and the Student of Literature," on which much of section three of this paper is based, is a condensed version of portions of After Babel.

20. Warner, Richard. "The Relationship Between Language and Disease Concepts." In International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, Vol. 7(1), 1976-77.

21. Waterman, John T. Perspectives in Linguistics. University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1963.

22. Whorf, Benjamin Lee. Language, Thought, and Reality. John Carroll (ed.) MIT Press: Cambridge, 1956.

* I would like to thank Yakov Malkiel, Marilyn Silva, Larry Morgan, and the Phoenix staff for their contributions and editorial comments.

1. "The study of language today is not the learning to speak and write or even to read: it is a technical subject, excessively dry, largely wrong, and thoroughly repellent." -S. A. Nock. Kansas State College, 1943. (back to text)

2. This artificially autonomous world of pure linguistics and pure Language has been characterized in (3) as "language without speakers, speakers without societies, societies without environments, in sum, linguistics without languages." (back to text)

3. In its extreme mythological form, the "power" of language can attain awesome dimensions, as seen in the following Eskimo poem (of Netsilik origin) from J. Rothenberg’s classic collection of Amerindian literature, Shaking The Pumpkin:


In the very earliest of time
When both people and animals lived on earth
A person could become an animal if he wanted to,
and animal could become a human being.
Sometimes they were people
And sometimes animals
And there was no difference.
All spoke the same language.
That was the time when words were like magic.
The human mind had mysterious powers.
A word spoken by chance
Might have strange consequences.
It would suddenly come alive
And what people wanted to happen would happen.
All you had to do was say it.
Nobody could explain this.
That’s the way it was.
(back to text)

4. I suggest that the same proto-science of astrology which gave the Scientific Method to all its offspring gave them also the notion of pattern-symbology (see Section 5). I further suggest that this pattern-symbology was present in the Sanskrit roots of our civilization, where scholars of different scientific schools studied both the structure and the power or meaning of language as well as the effects of this interaction. (back to text)

5. Although Chomsky claims Humboldt as a predecessor, he is obviously disturbed at the non-rationalist aspects:

Although languages have universal properties, attributable to human mentality as such, nevertheless each language provides a "thought world" and a point of view of a unique sort. In attributing such a role in the determination of mental processes to individual languages, Humboldt departs radically from the framework of Cartesian linguistics, of course, and adopts a point of view that is more typically romantic. (7:21) Chomsky’s attitude therefore allowed him to take Humboldtian ideas out of their holistic contexts and clone them into rationalist constructs. Note in the following quotations from Humboldt how Chomsky has appropriated words and phrases without the intended sense: Since every [language] has received material from previous generations out of an earlier time unknown to us, the spiritual activity which elicits the expression of thought is, therefore, always also directed toward something already given; it is not purely generative [erzeugend], but transformational [umgestaltend] (17:211).

Everyone when he learns a language, most notably children who create far more than they memorize, proceeds by darkly felt analogies which allow him to enter the language actively, as it were, instead of receptively. The critical part is to find the moving spirit of the analogical process; only after that do the benefits and pleasures begin that are to be had from learning a new language (8:243). (back to text)

6. "There is a twofold goal which all philosophical investigation of language comparison must presuppose: the languages first of all in themselves, as methods, representations of the soul through the sounds of the mouth, are the same time portraits of the thought system of the speakers, and through their speaking, they show the content and relations of their concepts, as well as their logical progression in conceiving and expressing them...." (Christian J. Kraus, 1753-1807 in 8:179-80) (back to text)

7. Dineen, explaining how Boethius (b.470 A.D.) introduced the problem of universals to medieval Europe, points out that:

Logic became the study of the day, the medieval’s most precise and respected intellectual tool. It held the same position in the intellectual world then that science holds now: serious study today must be "scientific" — then it had to be "logical" (6:128). Compare this with Hall’s more balanced notion of logic — that it enables men to examine ideas, concepts, and mental processes by following low-context paradigms (11:187). (back to text)

8. Humboldt’s brother Alexander, a pioneering explorer of the Americas for whom Humboldt County in California is named, often sent back to Wilhelm data collected from Amerindians with whom he came in contact. (back to text)

9. Koerner writes that "Boas was personally acquainted with Wilhelm Wundt who, in his extensive writings in the area of social psychology, had absorbed Humboldtian ideas of ’inner form’ together with the world-view hypothesis." He continues:

Perhaps the best explanation for Boas’ interest in Humboldt may be found in the stimulation he might have received from Sapir, who had written his Master’s thesis on Herder’s Ursprung der Sprache. In it not only Whitney and other well-known general linguists are referred to, but also a large portion of the concluding discussion (Sapir 1907:140-42) is devoted to Herder’s impact on Humboldt. This fact alone may suffice to prove that the Boas-Sapir-Whorf tradition of anthropological linguistics in North America, in which we may include Albert Louis Kroeber (1876-1960), Morris Swadesh (1907-67), C. F. Voegelin, Mary R. Hass, Joseph H. Greenberg, Dell Hymes, and many others, has one of its major sources of linguistic inspirations in Humboldt’s linguistic ideas... (14:149-50). (back to text) 10. Yakov Malkiel, personal communication. (back to text)

11. Here, you will note, Whorf defended holistic astrology in quite similar terms to those used by C. G. Jung, who said that astrology deserved recognition by science for its being a distillation of the psychology of the ancients. (back to text)

12. A couple of years ago I attended an exhibit in U.C. Berkeley’s Kroeber Hall dealing with the Dogon of West Africa. I was pleased to find that the Dogons, who consider themselves the tragic remnants of an ancient high civilization, have embodied in their basketmaking a curious ritual truth: onto an open-topped cube-shaped basket (representing Earth and materiality) they place a cone-shaped basket (representing Sky and ideas); they tie the baskets together with a palm frond — and in the Dogon language, the name of that palm frond means "The Word". We see, therefore, in Dogon culture, a recognition of the power of speech-acts in tying concepts to material manifestation. (back to text)