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WordPlay – Dr Glenn A. Bassett

10 Mar

WordplayWordPlay 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.

The nuances of one’s own language are a fascinating thing but to compare the meaning of certain words to those of other languages and view them through the social and political landscape makes the way we communicate even more compelling.  Language is shared collective experience of history, a record of societal beliefs, take the Aborigines for example, they have no word for freedom because they have no concept of it in the way that plenty of other cultures do, it brings to the fore how understanding a culture properly goes hand in hand with learning the language.

As the bloggers that most of you reading this are, when we write things we perhaps do so from the perspective of our own language, this book is a wake up call for choosing our words with more care for clarity.  To consider others who have English as a second or third language, it makes the choice of words and the way we communicate seem more important, it feels almost like there is an art  for picking the precise words to convey my thoughts.

WordPlay is a primer, it features lots of points I am familiar with as well as others that were pleasingly new, there is an understandably American flavour (or is that flavor?) which is understandable as the author is from over that side of the pond.  Being intelligent people who use words I think that a lot of you reading this will already recognise Bassett’s views on political, scientific and philosophical (amongst others) uses of words from their own thoughts but will get a stronger and more confident feel from reading the book.

The inclusion of well-known strands of arguments is not the niggle it may be with other books because the style of writing and the love of words shine through and even the most recognisable themes are backed up with informative and though provoking information. Etymology, abstractions and many more facets are mixed in to give a comprehensive starter to understanding the wonders of language in more depth.  It seems strange to consider the British idea of fair play is not something universal, which is perhaps why we tend to root for the under dogs with something akin to obsession.  Yet to understand this sense of my own language is to understand my own culture better, these off the cuff words I throw around are so much richer than previously thought.

Ideas are formed into words, words communicate something much more intimate than any other medium of communication.  This books subtitle: How Words Captivate, Illuminate, Intimidate, Inform and Imbue us With Intelligence is precisely what it does and I think it’s a great read and will allow you to think of language in new ways and change the way you communicate.

 

 

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37 Comments

Posted by on 10/03/2015 in Languages

 

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37 responses to “WordPlay – Dr Glenn A. Bassett

  1. Morgan

    10/03/2015 at 19:36

    mmmmmmmmmmm any book about WORDS is on my list 😉 Im going to Kindle this (nearly) Immediately 🙂 Thanks for the review, because you know me…if it isn’t Shakespeare, Dickens, Austin or Poe, I’m probably not going to read it.

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    • Ste J

      10/03/2015 at 20:07

      I am impressed I have gotten you to pick up a book, as opposed to writing one…or more as is your style. It is definitely an interesting read and will make you think about how we communicate, I think we are complacent about it because we use it every day.

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      • Morgan

        10/03/2015 at 20:15

        Linguistics was a favourite course in high school, so I am sure I will find it fascinating 🙂

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        • Ste J

          10/03/2015 at 20:17

          You will, so many facets to explore and get involved with, next stop for me will be a big book on etymology when I find one.

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  2. shadowoperator

    10/03/2015 at 19:49

    Great stuff! Thanks for your post; it captivated, illuminated, intimidated (in a kindly way), informed, and (I hope) imbued me with intelligence. Furthermore, it sounds like a great book, and I can already think of other people who will want to know about it as well.

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    • Ste J

      10/03/2015 at 20:09

      Excellent, I thought this one would have a wide appeal, especially to us bloggers, the purveyors of word combinations that we are. I have never had a post that intimidated before, I am not sure whether to celebrate or feel like a kindly bully, lol.

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  3. Alastair Savage

    10/03/2015 at 20:03

    I think Goethe once said that it’s only when you learn a foreign language that you truly understand your own. Or words to that effect, because it was German so it was probably much longer with the verb hanging at the end.
    One thing that concerns me about this book is that description in the blurb of “primitive cultures”, which seems worryingly dismissive from a book that aims to explore how language works. Did that come across in the book or is it just an unfortunate phrase?

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    • Ste J

      10/03/2015 at 20:12

      Primitive cultures is used in terms of the depth of language they use, it is an unfortunate phrase and doesn’t specifically go on to pick out any specific peoples. It is a jarring word and it is quite interesting that it got into the book which holds language in high regard. Perhaps it is to get us to think after all. I like that Goethe, must read something more than quotes sometime soon.

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  4. Maniparna Sengupta Majumder

    10/03/2015 at 21:54

    Wow! it sounds like a great stuff on words… 🙂

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    • Ste J

      11/03/2015 at 14:18

      It is, well worth a look if you fancy being illuminated.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  5. readingwithrhythm

    10/03/2015 at 22:38

    hmmmmm. Captivating and illuminating! Thanks!

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    • Ste J

      11/03/2015 at 15:10

      Always happy to offer something intriguing for your potential perusal.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  6. Claire 'Word by Word'

    11/03/2015 at 06:21

    I love how our use of language changes when we encounter another language, for it is indeed not just words but a way of thinking, my English is often peppered with French words, some of which as a family we even create a present continuous version of, like the word embêter in French , which means to annoy, but it seems much more physical and robust than the word annoy, so I’ll often say to my son “Stop embêting your sister!”

    Just yesterday I replied to a message to one of my adult students and I always reread what I write to make sure I am not using an unfamiliar metaphor, that even when looked up can confuse, like, “I hope your English isn’t getting rusty”, 🙂 Anyway, it is certainly fun, some of the French expressions even after explaining them to me, are very hard to get!

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    • Ste J

      11/03/2015 at 21:47

      Its like German humour, I struggle to get it! I like the idea of learning bits of another language through peppering another language with words. To get everybody involved with new terms is a good idea, especially when a word is a better fit.

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  7. writersideup

    11/03/2015 at 12:06

    This definitely sounds like a fascinating book, Ste J. Love the Scrabble cover, too 🙂 I’ve considered the differences in language within cultures, but never analyzed it, for sure. Language shapes us because the truth is, we don’t have clear thought before we learn it. We basically operate on emotion before that and I see that as being directly related to how far back we may remember our childhood.

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    • Ste J

      11/03/2015 at 21:25

      That is a good point covered in the book, we do not remember incidents we can’t put into words, we only remember the events that when have the words so and the better the vocabulary the better the memory. Each chapter focuses on different aspects so you can digest them over time or all at once like the greedy glutton that I am.

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  8. nancyrae4

    11/03/2015 at 13:30

    Wow, fascinating! I cannot WAIT to read this. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what language really means, how difficult it is to understand word meaning from a cultural stand point and how to deal with the “Lost in Translation” factor. Thanks for adding something unique to my reading list.

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    • Ste J

      11/03/2015 at 15:21

      I am happy to do so, it is a thought provoking read and has made me view how I process English words let alone English words which are from people translating from their own language. There need to be more books like this around but then again it wouldn’t be unique so perhaps I should just be happy to have found this one.

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  9. Sherri

    11/03/2015 at 18:56

    Goodness, a book about words! How we communnicate…that is a very poignant concept in light of today’s culture riddled as it is with textspeak and slang. Language is fascinating. When I lived in America, even the most simple of expressions, if emphasised even slightly differently, caused some amusing misunderstandings. For instance, when I first visited LA, (bearing in mind this was in the late 1970s!) I didn’t understand when I was asked ‘what’s up?’ I replied, ‘nothing, I’m fine!’. But they were asking how I was up to , not how I was. Took me a while to figure that out!

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    • Ste J

      11/03/2015 at 21:42

      I love to try many Englishisms on my chums from abroad which is bewildering and fun, especially rhyming slang, I find the some Americans and all Australians seem to raise make all statements sound like questions, it’s all very confusing but fun. For something we take for granted this book gives words fresh enjoyment and proves that we should develop our vocabulary to make our own experiences and understanding of things much better.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  10. Sherri

    11/03/2015 at 18:58

    Sorry…meant ‘what I was up to’, not ‘how I was up to’!!!!! Talk about words, ha!

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  11. Jilanne Hoffmann

    12/03/2015 at 00:26

    I have this vague sense that I own this book. Will have to shuffle through the piles….

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    • Ste J

      13/03/2015 at 20:43

      Excellent and a good shuffle will always remind you of forgotten books you may have.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Jilanne Hoffmann

        13/03/2015 at 21:23

        That’s what I’m afraid of. Finding all those books I’ve been meaning to read….

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  12. Sheila

    13/03/2015 at 01:50

    I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard the word “niggle” but I love the sound of it. There should be more fun sounding words like that around. Another one that has fascinated me lately is “kittywampus” – supposedly only people from the Midwestern area of the US use it. But the best sounding words I’ve ever encountered are Italian – or maybe it’s all in the way the words are said. You can’t help but say Italian words in a fun way, so then you have to wonder if the sound of that language automatically makes people happier or if that just goes along with living in Italy.

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    • Ste J

      13/03/2015 at 21:27

      Niggle is all too common over here, it is nice to know that is new to you. I have never come across kittywampus, I will try and use it in everyday language now to make it more popular. Its an interesting theory about the Italian language, they always seem so dissatisfied over there despite the language, perhaps hearing it all the time ruins the effect, still its easier to pronounce than German!

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  13. Christy Birmingham

    14/03/2015 at 17:46

    It sounds like a fascinating read. When I took a Linguistics course in University my mind was blown by all of the assumptions I had made about language!

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    • Ste J

      15/03/2015 at 18:50

      It makes me feel less educated but then more educated as I read, if that makes sense. it is amazing how much we take for granted.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  14. Letizia

    14/03/2015 at 19:33

    This is a good book, I agree. The study of language is so intriguing. As is etymology – I can never get enough of that! I sometimes open up the dictionary just to look up the root of a word (oh, my exciting life).

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    • Ste J

      15/03/2015 at 18:46

      Me too, Aardvark means earth pig in Afrikaans, I love what dictionaries teach. I think your life is high octane, it’s cheaper than car chases and explosions at any rate.

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  15. Chelsea Brown

    16/03/2015 at 00:31

    It sounds like a book that everyone should read, especially those who make a career out of the written word. I’ve been trying to familiarize myself with different words so that I’m not constantly wearing out the same words. I think I’ve become more aware of the words and phrases that I use since I began focusing on my novel, and after reading this post you’ve inspired me to keep searching for new words.
    Thanks

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    • Ste J

      16/03/2015 at 20:52

      I think we all tend to lapse into the same word patterns and it is good to mix it up as well sometimes. I think you would like this book for the sheer depth of words and subjects. Nuances are so subtle that sometimes no matter how erudite we may be we need to be reminded of the worse we forget. I am glad I can inspire you, although if in doubt, make your own words up, it worked for James Joyce!

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Chelsea Brown

        16/03/2015 at 22:18

        You raise excellent points and I’m sure that I would enjoy the depth of the words; however making up my own words might be a challenge. Although I suppose that I could be creative and try the James Joyce approach.

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  16. RoSy

    20/03/2015 at 17:22

    Words…Maybe I can learn a thing or two.

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    • Ste J

      20/03/2015 at 20:45

      That’s the beauty of language, ever evolving and lets be honest, if there weren’t things to learn, life would be a bit boring.

      Liked by 1 person

       

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