Category Archives: Language

Language and the Brain

How does language provide opportunities for growth and change through conflict?

Years ago, I took an Intro to Linguistics elective at Salt Lake Community College. One of the things that stuck in my mind was the concept of Nativism, that babies are born with the knowledge that languages are patterned, and with the ability to seek out those patterns. This capacity for language acquisition, known as a Language Acquisition Device (LAD), is genetic and not the result of a conscious decision on the part of the speaker. The LAD helps children understand the universal grammar of a language as well as the parameters of that language. This concept changed my interest from the mechanical aspects of language to the social use of language and the ways in which people communicate.

Recently, I tweeted a link to an article about how human brains have the capacity to remember the linguistic pattern of languages heard in a child’s infancy, even if the child no longer speaks/knows that language. Fascinating. The brain retains that information! This shows us how deeply entrenched language is in the human experience.

During my studies as an undergraduate, one of the first communication theories that I found truth in was George Herbert Mead’s theory of Symbolic Interactionism. In it, Mead discusses the connection between Meaning, Language, and Thinking. Meaning is the construction of social reality, Language is the source of meaning, and Thinking is the process of taking the role of the other. Here is a summary provided by (the website for my old Comm Theory textbook).

  • Meaning: The construction of social reality.
    1. First principle: Humans act toward people or things on the basis of the meanings they assign to those people or things.
    2. Once people define a situation as real, it’s very real in its consequences.
    3. Where a behavioral scientist would see causality as stimulus–>response, for an interactionist it would look like stimulus–>interpretation–>response.
  • Language: The source of meaning.
    1. Meaning arises out of the social interaction people have with each other.
    2. Meaning is not inherent in objects.
    3. Meaning is negotiated through the use of language, hence the term symbolic interactionism.
      1. Second principle: As human beings, we have the ability to name things.
      2. Symbols, including names, are arbitrary signs.
      3. By talking with others, we ascribe meaning to words and develop a universe of discourse.
    4. Symbolic naming is the basis for society—the extent of knowing is dependent on the extent of naming.
    5. Symbolic interactionism is the way we learn to interpret the world.
      1. A symbol is a stimulus that has a learned meaning and a value for people.
      2. Our words have default assumptions.
      3. Significant symbols can be nonverbal as well as linguistic.
  • Thinking: The process of taking the role of the other.
    1. Third principle: An individual’s interpretation of symbols is modified by his or her own thought process.
    2. Symbolic interactionists describe thinking as an inner conversation, or minding.
      1. Minding is a reflective pause.
      2. We naturally talk to ourselves in order to sort out meaning.
    3. Whereas animals act instinctively and without deliberation, humans are hardwired for thought.
      1. Humans require social stimulation and exposure to abstract symbol systems to have conceptual thought.
      2. Language is the software that activates the mind.
    4. Humans have the unique capacity to take the role of the other.

Essentially, language creates and sustains our social reality, gives humans the ability to create complex social structures, and has the power to shape the world in which we live. This makes communication one of the most powerful forces on Earth and each person on the planet is born with the ability to use this power.

Okay. What’s the point?

The point is that an individual’s understanding of the world is controlled by the meaning that the individual has assigned, through language, to the world. This is where conflict comes from, because people have assigned different meanings to the same things.

Today I came across this article, How Your Brain Decides Without You.

In it, the author states, “We form our beliefs based on what comes to us from the world through the window of perception, but then those beliefs act like a lens, focusing on what they want to see.” Put another way, we form our beliefs based on what comes to us from the world through the window of our assigned meaningsand then those beliefs act like a lens, causing us to focus on what we want to see.

Basically, Symbolic Intetactionism or seeing life through theory, as Deetz put it.

This may be why individuals seemingly struggle with the same problems over and over again, the same conflicts over and over again. S/he has assigned a specific meaning to a situation/person/group/object, based on experience. Until s/he has an experience that provides him/her with an opportunity to change his/her assigned meaning to a given situation/person/group/object, it will not change. That experience is vital, as pointed out in the Brain article, because, “we are stubborn in our decisions…. Studying subjects’ brain activity via EEG, [researchers] found that people’s “memory signals” were much the same toward… incorrect information as they were toward… things they correctly remembered. Their interpretation of the event had hardened into truth.

“This hardening can happen without our awareness.”

Capital T Truth cannot be changed by information alone. It is changed through experience. Experience changes Truth because experience creates an opportunity for new meaning to be created and assigned by the individual.

When you experience conflict, I encourage you to engage it open mindedly. Use it as an opportunity to change your world.

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Posted by on November 18, 2014 in Conflict Studies, Language, People


Must Read

Tim at Gun Nuts Media has written a must read article. The Idiocy of “Outdated” discusses Michael Bloomberg’s idiotic comments about the Bill of Rights being outdated and needing to be rethought.

Go. Read. Now.


Quote of the Day – @markokloos

Truth and reality don’t need misinformation. If you misrepresent the facts to achieve a legislative goal, you harm your own agenda and show contempt for the electorate. That goes for both sides, liberal and conservative alike.


A Specific Enumerated Right

Joe says:

Why should it be surprising the NRA didn’t give an inch? If the propose[d] laws were severe restrictions on the right to attend the church of your choice or the right to read the books you wanted do you think the ACLU would give an inch?

The right to keep and bear arms is no different. Over a hundred million people were murdered or killed in wars in the 20th Century by people who read and took to heart the works of Karl Marx. And I expect there will be millions more death in the conflict over communism in this century. Yet I have never once heard of anyone advocating for the banning of his books. 20 kids murdered by a nut case with a gun is a huge tragedy but millions of kids murdered by leftist monsters is just a number.

I want the people at large to own guns so the risk of genocide and mass murder due to advocates of communism or any other totalitarian government is pushed to near zero. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom to bear arms are a package deal. And there is nothing to negotiate.

I agree


Monday Morning Motivation

Anything is Possible – Author Unknown

If there was ever a time to dare,

to make a difference,

to embark on something worth doing,


Not for any grand cause, necessarily…

but for something that tugs at your heart,

something that’s your inspiration,

something that’s your dream.

You owe it to yourself

to make your days here count.






Know, though, that things worth doing seldom come easy.

There will be good days.

And there will be bad days.

There will be times when you want to turn around,

pack it up,

and call it quits.

Those times tell you

that you are pushing yourself,

that you are not afraid to learn by trying.



Because with an idea,


and the right tools,

you can do great things.

Let your instincts,

your intellect,

and your heart,

guide you.



believe in the incredible power of the human mind.

Of doing something that makes a difference.

Of working hard.

Of laughing and hoping.

Of lazy afternoons.

Of lasting friends.

Of all the things that will cross your path this year.


The start of something new brings the hope of something great, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.


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Posted by on March 4, 2013 in Language, Life, People


A Petition I Can Get Behind

Hopefully you recognize this neat piece of writing by Kathy at Cornered Cat.


A Response

Earlier today, I tweeted Sebastian’s post regarding the House Democrats’ 15-point gun safety plan. One of my closest friends responded on Facebook:

So, I’ve been quiet on a LOT of gun stuff lately, because I’ve felt that things needed to settle a bit–that I should wait until some actual plans ere put forth rather than speculation about what plans would be. Can I ask you a question now?

Looking at these 15 points, with the important exception of numbers 3 & 4, which I grant are easily infringements on the 2A, how is this a bad plan? Allowing sales among the law abiding, strengthening background checks, cracking down on illegal purchasing…how are these things bad or infringements? The Fathers did’t write, and i don’t mean this with any sarcasm, “the right to easily purchase arms,” (I know there’s still the problem of the AW ban…but let’s put that aside for now), a law that slows but does not prevent purchase of a gun doesn’t seem to me to be an infringement.

The gun rights activists that I hear all say that we cannot in any way keep guns from the hands of law-abiding citizens, and I agree with that. But we must find ways of at least TYRING to keep them out of criminals hands. And the mentally incompetent. How is “Clos(ing) the holes in our mental-health system and make sure that care is available for those who need it” a reduction of the Second?

And I must say that the blogger’s opinion that democrats don’t support the First because the want to “Address our culture’s glorification of violence seen and heard though our movie screens, television shows, music and video games.” That’s not a ban. That’s not a restriction. Wanting to talk about the problems that these kinds of speech create is not against the First, it’s addressing the use of the First–it’s having a dialog about how we as a society view and value violence and in what ways. Is talking about that a breach of an amendment?

These and similar questions are ones that I want to understand the answers to. I believe I”m simply operating on a different paradigm that prevents me from seeing how these things are troublesome. Honestly, it seems that the problem is that it came from the mouths of Liberals.

For the sake of these arguments, let’s say that there is NO way of getting a ban passed, and that it’s a non-issue. I know it IS an issue, and I’m against that ban mostly, but I”ve heard so many of the other things attacked that I can’t understand why.

I am answering his questions here because my response is too long for Facebook. I also want to broaden the discussion. If you choose to participate, please be courteous to all parties involved. Discourtesy is not only unproductive, it also shows that you are not yet ready for the discussion.

Here are the 15 points and my response to each:

  • Support the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans

Appears okay, on the surface. However, when laws become too restrictive, you can instantly turn the “law-abiding” into criminals.

  • Support citizens’ rights to possess firearms for hunting, shooting sports, defense, and other lawful and legitimate purposes

Again, sounds okay. Comes back to your definition of “lawful” and “legitimate.” As I understand the antis, there is no legitimate reason, or purpose, to own a magazine that holds more than 10 rounds. In the case of New York, 7.

  • Reinstate and strengthen a prospective federal ban on assault weapons
  • Reinstate a prospective federal ban on assault magazines

Violation of the Second Amendment, as previously mentioned.

  • Require a background check for every gun sale, while respecting reasonable exceptions for cases such as gifts between family members and temporary loans for sporting purposes

Ah, the much discussed “gun show loophole.” The argument usually goes as follows: “Who could possibly be against a universal background check? What are you afraid of? Or what are you trying to hide? Background checks will prevent criminals or the mentally ill from getting firearms.”

Except, they won’t. Background checks didn’t prevent Newtown, Virginia Tech, or Columbine. One can always wonder how many shootings have been prevented, but that’s all one can do is wonder. A concern arises in that a right can be removed simply by bureaucratic fiat. All it takes is the stroke of a pen to declare that anyone who has taken or is taking an anti-depressant to be determined “mentally ill” and thus unfit for firearm ownership.

  • Strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) database

Strengthen how? I say let the states coordinate with each other. The Federal government does not need to be involved in this any more than it already is. When I purchase a firearm from a dealer, the state of Utah runs a background check on me through both the state and federal databases. A firearm cannot be legally purchased by an out-of-state resident without the firearm being transferred from one FFL (Federal Firearms License) to another, and a background check must be passed before the FFL can release the firearm to the purchaser.

  • Prosecute those prohibited buyers who attempt to purchase firearms and others who violate federal firearm laws

Is this not currently being done? While we’re at it, we should prosecute every single person in the BATFE, Justice Department, Legislative Branch, and Executive Branch who knew about Operation Fast and Furious.

  • Pass legislation aimed specifically at cracking down on illegal gun trafficking and straw-purchasing

Oh, I know, let’s make it MORE ILLEGAL! Also, see #7

  • Restore funding for public safety and law enforcement initiatives aimed at reducing gun violence

Like the funding of school resource officers that the Obama Administration cut.

  • Support initiatives that prevent problems before they start

What does this even mean? Hopefully, it means that the Federal government will start supporting initiatives like the National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program.

  • Close the holes in our mental-health system and make sure that care is available for those who need it

Something that probably shouldn’t have been taken away from the states. Too late now. I’m sure that they’ll find a way to leverage this through the Affordable Care Act, which will continue to push premiums and costs way up. I’d like to know what the “holes” are.

  • Help our communities get unwanted and illegal guns out of the hands of those who don’t want them or shouldn’t have them

This just sounds like a massive smoke screen. “Hopefully, if we keep screaming nonsense about ‘assault magazines’ (I don’t even know what that is), and scare people enough, they’ll demand that we do something.”

  • Support responsible gun ownership

What does “responsible” mean? Is keeping firearms disabled and locked away “responsible?” Are mandatory trigger locks “responsible?” Are magazines with no more than 10 rounds “responsible?”

  • Take steps to enhance school safety

See #9

  • Address our culture’s glorification of violence seen and heard though our movie screens, television shows, music and video games

If they are serious about this, then I applaud them. Unfortunately, our country would have to admit that our two largest economic drivers are pornography and small arms, and by small arms I mean arms sold to foreign military establishments; comparatively, civilian sales are just a drop in the bucket.

“Talk[ing] about the problems that these kinds of speech create…” does not necessarily equal addressing the issue. Addressing may be discussion. Addressing may be doing something because well, it’s what you do instead of something (as SayUncle says). A constructive dialogue is the place to start. Unfortunately, this issue will not be solved legislatively. Not until the people have said, here, this far and no further, will the issue begin to change culturally.

As to some other points. “A law that slows but does not prevent purchase of a gun doesn’t seem to me to be an infringement.” A right delayed is a right denied. Apply this logic to other rights protected by the Bill of Rights.

  • Needing to pass a background check before you can practice your religion, practice free speech, peaceably assemble, or petition the government for a redress of grievances
  • Needing to pass a background check before you can be tried by a jury

When states try to enact voter ID laws, those laws are attacked. All the state is trying to do is run a background check, to verify that person can legally vote.

In the end, this 15-point plan appears to be little more than House Democrats saying, “We support the Second Amendment, but…” and that’s the problem. When you say but, then you don’t support it. Take a look at your significant other. Look deep into his/her eyes and say, “I love you, but….”

This cuts across both political parties and across the political spectrum and forces us to call into question what we truly believe. I encourage us all to do so.

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