General Semantics and . .

By Levinson, Martin H. | et Cetera, April 2010 | Go to article overview

General Semantics and . .


Levinson, Martin H., et Cetera


General semantics, a process-oriented, problem-solving system, helps individuals better evaluate and understand the world and therefore make more intelligent decisions. It was originally formulated by Alfred Korzybski, a Polish engineer and intellectual who came to the United States during World War I. Since then, many thinkers, educators, therapists, and other professionals have contributed to the system and general semantics ideas and formulations have been taught in many college courses throughout the world.

From the beginning, Korzybski and his students considered general semantics a pragmatic discipline, to be used by individuals, groups, and organizations to solve problems. The first two popular books on the subject, The Tyranny of Words (1938) by Stuart Chase and Language in Action (1941) by S. I. Hayakawa (later titled Language in Thought and Action) reflected the practical approach as each author used general semantics to examine and assess the influence of language on thought and behavior. Subsequent individuals have employed general semantics to analyze and solve problems in a wide variety of fields, including the areas of education, communication, negotiation, management, social science, journalism, and personal adjustment.

Over the years, numerous articles on the benefits of general semantics have appeared in the General Semantics Bulletin and ETC: A Review of General Semantics and more than 150 doctoral- and master's-degree theses have demonstrated its efficacy. As the following quotations show, general semantics is a highly useful methodology with a wide range of applicability in diverse areas of human endeavor.

General Semantics and Education

From "General Semantics and the Future of Education" by Rachel Lauer: General semantics has made a great contribution toward freeing the human race to be fully human. I believe our educational system can and will increasingly use general semantics toward that end because general semantics has features that make it acceptable to educators. It is academic enough for the most bookish scholars, scientific enough for the most critical rationalists, and realistic enough for the most down-to-earth pragmatiste.1

General Semantics and Teacher Training

From Introductory Lectures on General Semantics by Francis P. Chisholm:

Training in general semantics is especially important for teachers; it should result in increased efficiency of instruction. . . . Among the improvements, which might reasonably be predicated (from learning GS) are:

1 . Increased awareness by teachers of "mental" blockages and difficulties in learning by students and improved techniques for removing them.

2. Increased awareness by teachers of the importance of language habits in learning and personality.

3. Better measurement of individual differences.

4. Better understanding of the relationship between subject-matters which are traditionally kept too separate in graduate school training.

5. Better adjustment and understanding of their own (linguistically conditioned) problems by the teachers themselves.2

General Semantics and Journalism

From Journalism Ethics by John C. Merrill:

Journalists work in the field of language; words are the basic tools of their craft. Along with other communicative symbols, such as pictures, words construct the "maps" of the territory of reality. Since language affects thought, and thought affects action, it is easy to see how the meanings we attach to words relate to the field of journalistic ethics. The orientation, called general semantics, expounded by the Polish philosopher, Alfred Korzybski, provides seminal concepts related to words, their meanings, and their implications. An orientation to general semantics will raise the linguistic consciousness of journalists, bring them to a higher level of sophistication, instill in them a recognition of the weakness and the power of words, and generally help them overcome the enslaving tendencies of language.

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