Chandira Hensey | Language and Consciousness

Page 2 of 4 pages « First < 1 2 3 4 > Last » - Full Article

Language is power. Something I’m beginning work on with some friends is a digital literacy program for indigenous people worldwide. The aim is to get indigenous people on the internet, and to get them heard. If a farmer or factory worker in Brazil or Thailand can write a blog, or check their commodity prices on the Baltic Dry Shipping Index, they then have some power, voice, and the chance of getting a fairer price and fairer treatment from the global market. There is the chance of asking for assistance, survival, human rights. Simple. I have little doubt this project will encounter much resistance in the world, particularly when the forces of trade and industry that currently rule the planet consider it enough of a threat. But we’ll see. I’m hopeful that I can bring these unheard voices to the world with as few obstacles as possible. It has already had a strong effect on me: through undertaking this project, I have come to realize how privileged my life as a reasonably educated white person is.

In my late 20s, I moved to America. The move proved an interesting study not just in culture shock, but what I call “language shock”—aka the need to learn American English. I’m not sure whether, over the last 9 years, I’ve successfully made the transition; it’s a work in progress. American English has a liking for complicated words such as “beverage” and “automobile” where “drink” and “car” do quite adequately in England. This kind of vocabulary seems linked to the American Dream, that sense of pride in who Americans are. It’s almost a patriotic step-up in self-importance somehow, the linguistic equivalent of buying a red sports car during middle age. It never fails to make me smile.     

Then there’s E-Prime, a modified form of English where all forms of the verb “to be” are eliminated, which is kind of like a language of the indefinite. In E-Prime, in place of the “is” words come words and phrases like “could be” and “possibly.” This model might have the potential to open up new possibilities in otherwise closed minds. It helps us expand our thinking from binary, black and white, either/or, into a far greater number of possibilities. Indeed, the implications of this kind of communication for things like international diplomacy, health care, and business could be huge: we could make the leap from the win-lose of the Westernized world into the win-win of global tolerance and cooperation, a change that is needed now more than ever.

One of the useful things to come out of Scientology has been the focus on simple, direct communication and the checking of listener comprehension insisted on by its late founder, L. Ron Hubbard. As an example of what I’m talking about, did you really understand the sentence that began this paragraph? Try and repeat what I said. This way of communicating and listening is a useful practice. 
Throughout the last fifty years, there has been a lot of interesting work done in the realm of language by the likes of Alfred Korzybski, Richard Bandler, and Robert Anton Wilson. These men brought a renewed interest in language into the counter-culture, academia and the popular media, and helped bring about some cultural change at the level of language. What united these men was language’s hypnotic power. They recognized its capacity to lead the brain down certain subtle paths—some helpful, some healing, and some, as many marketers and politicians are now aware, sophisticated and destructive.

A book that dealt so masterfully with this last use of language was George Orwell’s 1984. It was a work that taught me a lot during my formative years. The idea of double-speak stuck when I realized, at an early age, that I was hearing it almost everywhere I dared to listen. I have my high school English teacher to thank for introducing me to 1984. He was a remarkable man. Along with 1984, he introduced me to the ideas in the Milgram experiment, which helped me see how humans interacted with presumed authority. Combine these offerings with the magic of Shakespeare’s observations on human thought and behaviour and our propensity for self-destructive tragedy, and you had one intoxicating class.
Language responds to human invention. Many quantum physicists, for instance, had to develop language to keep up with their ideas. New advances in scientific thought like Bell’s theorem, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, and Schroedinger’s cat all necessitated a new way of communicating. In the process, it became clear that the thought of the scientist, and therefore the language they used, had an effect on scientific experimentation, an idea previously unheard of in the world of Newtonian physics. (Newton was smart enough to question his own answers.) Fertile ground had been found, from which new ways of communicating like E-Prime sprang.

Page 2 of 4 pages « First < 1 2 3 4 > Last » - Full Article





Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Submit the word you see below:

Click Here!
© Dharma Cafe'   |  RSS Site   |   Top of page