Language in Thought and Action

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In an era when communication has become increasingly diverse and complex, this classic work on semantics--now fully revised and updated--distills the relationship between language and those who use it.

Renowned professor and former U.S. Senator S. I. Hayakawa discusses the role of language in human life, the many functions of language, and how language--sometimes without our knowing--shapes our thinking in this engaging and highly respected book. Provocative and erudite, it examines the relationship between language and racial and religious prejudice; the nature and dangers of advertising from a linguistic point of view; and, in an additional chapter called "The Empty Eye," the content, form, and hidden message of television, from situation comedies to news coverage to political advertising.


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With this book, I learned to make powerful and useful observations of others’ thinking in conversations. I am grateful for the authors (Hayakawa and later contributors) for this book, it taught me to understand "language" differently, in ways that are not commonly gotten. I shared it with my brother, then my father and some of my colleagues. All of them embraced its value because of real results in their work and lives. I saw them shift in the way they think. The substance of this work, if read without the conceit of judgment and critique, does have this effect.
Some of the low-rated reviews I noticed have an academically philosophical bent. But this book is highly pragmatic; you can do something with what you learn on a day to day basis. Observing others gripped in "two-valued orientation", for instance, enables you to help them "see" a third possibility - and beyond - in life where they might be stopped or gripped because of the two-valued orientation.
This book is not about some flat structured way about semantics. It offers the reader new ways to "listen" to what is being said; to distinguish empty rhetoric from purposeful speech. If you are an analyst dealing with large amounts of information, ambiguous, and from diverse sources, the book offers various categories and distinctions to think with in order to produce analysis of value for its intended purposes.
I highly recommend reading, then studying, then keeping this book as reference for anyone whose profession and success depends on virtuosity in language: Writers, business analysts, executives, screen writers ...

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Read up to 2 chapter


Language and Survival
Reports Inferences Judgments
The Double Task of Language
The Language of Social Cohesion
Making Things Happen The Implied Promises
How We Know What We Know
The TwoValued Orientation
The MultiValued Orientation
Poetry and Advertising
The Dime in the Juke Box
The Empty Eye
Rats and Men

The Little Man Who Wasnt There

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About the author (1990)

S. I. Hayakawa (1906-1992) was a professor, college president, and U.S. Senator.

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