WordPlay 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.