Language and Communication

By George A. Miller | Go to book overview

FOREWORD TO THE TEACHER

Since few courses in language and communication are currently offered in departments of psychology, a few words of advice may prove helpful to psychologists who contemplate introducing such a course.

The first point concerns the order in which the subject matter is introduced. Some experimentation has led to the conclusion that there are two satisfactory orders. One is to begin with the molar, social phenomena of communication and then to proceed by more and more detailed analysis to the molecular facts of perception and phonetics. This order has the advantage of catching the student's interest initially and of keeping fairly good morale. The second possible order is exactly the reverse of the first and is the order adopted in this book. Proceeding from the detailed to the general, from the dull to the interesting, costs something in student enthusiasm. There are two reasons for paying the price. The first is that for most students language is a magical and subjective affair. It is not easy for the beginner to think scientifically, objectively, about language and communication. If a course of this sort is to have any permanent effect upon the student, it will probably be in the replacement of this magical attitude by a more scientific and reasonable one. The best way to introduce this kind of thinking is in terms of phonetics, perception, and statistics. Then when the more highly personalized functions of language are introduced, there is far less resistance to a continuation of this attitude.

The second reason for beginning at the molecular level is that we know better what we are talking about. The percentage of speculation is much lower for the discussion of phonetics than it is for the discussion of propaganda. As a consequence of this better factual support, it is possible to outline certain basic concepts about communication in a relatively compelling way. Once these concepts are established as valid in the regions where the evidence is well known, it is then much easier to generalize them for regions where the evidence is yet to be gathered. Thus the detailed study of the mechanical parts of communication can provide a firm foundation for the interpretation of more ambiguous subjects. The opposite approach, unfortunately, provides only the most ephemeral basis for the perceptual and phonetic studies and encourages students to waste too much time resisting ideas they cannot fully understand.

There is also a certain historical justification for beginning with phonetics and perception. Our knowledge of language and communication has grown in that order. Studies of the social aspects of communication are recent inno-

-xi-

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Language and Communication
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Preface to Revised Edition vi
  • Preface vi
  • Contents ix
  • Foreword to the Teacher xi
  • Chapter 1 - By Way of Introduction 1
  • Chapter 2 - The Phonetic Approach 10
  • Selected References 46
  • Chapter 3 - The Perception of Speech 47
  • Selected References 79
  • Chapter 4- The Statistical Approach 80
  • Selected References 99
  • Chapter 5 - Rules for Using Symbols 100
  • Selected References 118
  • Chapter 6 - Individual Differences 119
  • Selected References 139
  • Chapter 7 - The Verbal Behavior of Children 140
  • Selected References 158
  • Chapter 8 - The Role of Learning 159
  • Selected References 173
  • Chapter 9 - Verbal Habits 174
  • Selected References 198
  • Chapter 10 - Some Effects of Verbal Habits 199
  • Selected References 222
  • Chapter 11 - Words, Sets, and Thoughts 223
  • Selected References 248
  • Chapter 12 - The Social Approach 275
  • Bibliography 276
  • Index 287
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