Language and Communication

By George A. Miller | Go to book overview

Chapter 10
SOME EFFECTS OF VERBAL HABITS

The old idea that words possess magical powers is false; but its falsity is the distortion of a very important truth. Words do have a magical effect--but not in the way that the magicians supposed, and not on the objects they were trying to influence. Words are magical in the way they affect the minds of those who use them.

- ALDOUS HUXLEY

Why is easier to remember than nonsense? Such a simple question seems hardly worth the asking. It is like asking why apples fall downward out of trees or why day is different from night. That is just the way things are. But there is one very important thing about such simple questions: sometimes we can answer them. And after we have answered enough of these simple questions, we can usually go on and answer some that are not so simple.

Take the question seriously. The first point it raises is, What is the difference between sense and nonsense? Things are sensible if they are familiar, habitual. Things are senseless if they are strange, unpredictable. The difference between sense and nonsense boils down to a matter of habits. The habits we have formed determine for us what is sensible and what is senseless. When the strange, unpredictable, senseless event occurs, we cannot perceive it accurately, remember it accurately, or think accurately about it. Our habits make us see it as something else, distort our memory of it, and lead us to wrong conclusions about it.

All of our habits have the effect of making us more efficient in familiar situations but of betraying us when the unfamiliar occurs. In this chapter and the next we shall explore the ways in which certain particular habits, our verbal habits, influence what we see, what we learn, what we remember, and what we think.


EFFECTS OF VERBAL HABITS ON PERCEPTION

The intimate relation of verbal habits to the way we perceive the world about us is a familiar fact to psychologists. Many of the differences we perceive among things and events would not be noticed if society had not forced us to learn that they have different names. The process works both ways. (1) The perceptual objects we deal with daily come to possess a unity and continuity that demand they be named. We discriminate an object or

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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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