Reading the Magical Letter Page

Until Monday when I begin the discussion of Lingua-U and philosophy, there is another important body of work that requires serious attention and study. It is the field of phonosemantics with a leading voice in the prominent and unconventional linguist Dr. Margaret Magnus.

Magnus has gifted the world with an extensive website on topics that revolutionize the study of language, or ought to, if more linguists were not blinded to the evidence she has compellingly presented. She provides a variety of resources from the scholarly (her entire doctoral dissertation at M.I.T.) to the popular (a series of informative looks at the “magical” properties of the English consonants and more).

I do not dispute her strongest claim: that she has successfully demonstrated the validity of Plato’s “Socratic Hypothesis” regarding the nature of language. This is how she tells her story on the opening page of her website:

I read dictionaries. And I write dictionaries. It was an occupation which seemed initially thrust unfairly upon me by financial necessity, one which over the years I have come to love deeply, one which I now practice fervently at my economic peril. It has taught me to experience words and language quite literally as living beings, as beings who outlive each of us, who are recording within their very selves the patterns of our thoughts, as beings who care a great deal how they are employed. I wander into their dominions ever more deeply moved, ever more faithful that there is after all a reason behind this chaos of experience….

These voyages into the forest of dictionaries have rewarded me with what for me was a major insight into how word semantics works, though, of course, my understanding of the Word continues to evolve daily. I literally begin to feel the words in a different way than I did before, and there’s no doubt in my mind that what I feel actually is there. What I see runs counter in a big way to what most linguists assume about word meaning. The gist of what I see can be stated fairly simply:

The Socratic Hypothesis

Each consonant and vowel in a language has a meaning, in the sense that every word containing that sound has an element of meaning which words not containing that sound do not have. What underlies this sound-meaning is the form of the sound, i.e. its pronunciation – a sound means what it is. For example, to pronounce a stopped consonant [b, d, g, p, t, k], you completely block the flow of air through the mouth. Consequently all stopped sounds involve a barrier of some kind. The nature of that barrier varies depending on whether the sound is voiced [b, d, g] or unvoiced [p, t, k], whether it is labial [b, p], dental [d, t] or velar [g, k], and so forth. This meaning is different from the referent, which is what we normally think of as the meaning of a word. Reference is a separate process from sound-meaning, and is layered on top of it. Reference is less central to word semantics than sound-meaning, although it is much more obvious to the casual observer. This aspect of meaning which is determined by sound lies much closer to what we call the connotation than the denotation. Sound meaning does tend to predispose referents, but does not largely determine them. That is, you can’t predict what a word will refer to based on its sound, but you can predict that a high percentage of words beginning with /b/ in every language will involve explosions, birth and loud noises. You can also predict that if a word referring to a sound begins with /b/, the sound will either begin abruptly or be very loud or usually both. Sound affects meaning in every word in every language. However, because of the way reference interacts with sound-meaning, its effect is not as obvious at first glance in concrete nouns and other words with very inflexible referents. What all the various referents or senses of a word have in common is their sound-meaning. Thus by virtue of its sound, the ‘get’ in ‘get up’ is the very same word to the English-speaking ear as the ‘get’ in ‘get away’, ‘get involved’, ‘get through’, ‘get fat’, ‘get a Lamborghini’. The glue that holds all these senses together is the meaning of the /g/ followed by the meaning of the /e/ followed by the meaning of the /t/. All of this can be and has been verified empirically by simply cataloguing the relationship between sound and referent and taking statistics.

I have come closest to this mysterious encounter with the Word by spending time within speech sounds and their relationship to the meanings of the words which they form. I am not a lone wanderer in this particular forest. I count among my more prominant predecessors none less than the gods!

So you see, I have verified the Socratic Hypothesis for all the English monosyllables in a commercial spelling checker word list. The fact that this test has been carried out on all the words in a well-defined portion of the vocabulary is important, because it constitutes scientific verification of a fact which is very central to the workings of language, and which is not in general acknowledged to be true. If only those words which fit nicely into a pattern are accounted for, you have demonstrated nothing. For example, you may show that lots of ‘gl’ words concern reflected light, but unless you show that all letter combinations are similarly limited and that other letter combinations do not contain a similar percentage of words concerning reflected light, you have demonstrated nothing, and you have no solid foundation from which to go forth and make really general and far-reaching claims about the nature of language. This Socratic Hypothesis could in principle be proven false, but can in fact be verified as true by repeatable experiments, such as those outlined at this Web site. I therefore strongly encourage readers who are at all interested in whether the Socratic Hypothesis is true to check it out for themselves. In addition, in myAnnotated Bibliography, the interested reader can find references to other accounts of comprehensive tests which have been conducted for other languages.

Explore Margaret Magnus’s website.

How does the proof of the Socratic Hypothesis inform my reading of Ken Wilber’s Integral Semiotics and the nature of Lingua-U? We’ll turn to that question next week.

Reading Integral Semiotics

While I’m taking a few days off, I recommend reading Ken Wilber’s “Integral Semiotics” before I return. We’ll be discussing how it relates to Lingua-U starting next week.

Ken Wilber begins:

The following deals with a topic I find essential: the nature of linguistic meaning—or semiotics—and how a truly Integral approach fundamentally changes how we understand this. One of the basic moves is to understand that the referent, or “real object,” being represented by any linguistic sign doesn’t exist “out there” in a single, pregiven, unchanging reality, but rather exists in a particular and specific worldspace—a particular quadrant, or level, or line, or state, or type—and can only be “seen” or “experienced” by yourself finding that particular worldspace and moving your consciousness to it.

Thus, a word like “dog” can be seen by virtually any sentient being with a brain and eyes, and it exists in the sensorimotor world. But what about “God” or “Buddha-nature” or “Spirit”? Those are simple signifiers like “dog”—that is, a material mark claiming to represent a reality. But that reality is not just lying around “out there” in a single, pregiven, sensorimotor world—and thus those referents have often been taken to be meaningless.

But my point is that they all, in fact, exist in a specific worldspace that can itself be discovered and experienced—such as the causal or formless state of consciousness, particular stages of meditation, specific peak experiences or altered states. When one is in those worldspaces—and not simply staring at the sensorimotor worldspace—then the actual referents (the “real phenomena” of each referent)—can be clearly seen or experienced. And this changes the nature and meaning of semiotics altogether, by asserting that any given referent of a particular signifier exists in a specific worldspace, and in order to experience that referent appropriately (if it exists at all), the subject must get itself into that particular worldspace, and only then look around for the referent.

Integral Semiotics offers a comprehensive map or framework of most of the known worldspaces available to humans, and thus offers a Map that allows us to understand the Kosmic Address of a particular referent, and hence know where to look for any referent indicated by a signifier. Since most of these worldspaces do not possess simple location or material form, they are likely to be denied reality by most realist, empirical, or behavioral schools—where in fact they are home of the vast majority of those things most humans hold valuable. Integral Semiotics is thus a matter, not just of linguistics, but of emancipation.

—Ken Wilber

Download the PDF or read it online.

The Word “Divine” In Lingua-U

I have said that Lingua-U is divine speech. Now let’s look closer at the word “divine”, and I will give you a sneak peek at how Lingua-U functions in an actual application. You  see, there is “divine” in English, and then there is “divine” in Lingua-U, and they both need to be considered.

A closer look at the dictionary reveals not just one commonly accepted definition; there are 18. As we have noted, it means something of or pertaining to a god. To go on, it means godlike; heavenly; celestial; as a noun, theologian or God; as a verb, to discover or declare or perceive or to practice divination.

In a common sense fashion, the definition for this English word is its meaning. Of course, in the real world meaning is indicated by more than the word’s sense, but by context and such factors as intonation. Uttered in a stinking cesspool, the adjective’s use would probably indicate sarcasm. Thus, the meaning of the word contains about 18 different definitions.

The word “divine” can be translated, however imperfectly, into dozens of languages spoken by many millions of people. Theoretically, the word could be translated into about 7,000 extant languages (a constantly dwindling number). In each language that the word can be translated into, there would surely be multiple definitions just as for English.

Thus, in this example, the definition for “divine” consists in a rather large set of specific definitions in many different languages. To divine the meaning of the word in a comprehensive fashion, one could consult hundreds of dictionaries. In each definition, there is an indication of how the word is used by actual speakers of the language. There was no government committee formed to set an artificial definition.

So what is “divine” in Lingua-U? [Read more…]

Addressing The Irreligious And Religious Alike

I will now address myself directly to everyone who noticed the religious language in my previous post, “The New Dharma Arrives Today”. Divine. Sacred. Logos. Tower of Babel.

Not to mention: Magic. Magick. Philosopher’s Stone.

I offended everyone with an agnostic or atheist ear before I even commenced to tell you all about the chief topic of the discourse, Lingua-U. Oh, the unbelievers might be too polite to say they were offended. They might simply be puzzled, confused, bored, or simply aware of a feeling like contempt or a self-superiority coming over themselves as their convictions about religion were seemingly reinforced.

I did this without even using the most ostensibly religious words: God. Gods. Goddess. Jesus Christ. Qur’an. Bible. Buddha. And so on. Irreligious persons noticed my use of religious language with a negative sentiment, while religious persons surely noticed my use of vague spiritual language with a similarly negative sentiment.

Even with carefully chosen language, it is difficult to gain credibility with a wide audience of believers and unbelievers these days. Fortunately, there is no need to appeal merely to one camp or the other. There is a place where the religious and irreligious can meet with common cause: awareness that religious and spiritual language is the source of great and seemingly interminable debate by believer and unbelievers alike.

[Read more…]

Lingua-U: The New Dharma Arrives Today

I am ready to announce something wonderful the likes of which is more exciting than anything I have previously blogged about in over a decade of online writing, with a few possible exceptions. The New Dharma that I have referred to begins today.

What I am about to begin today is unlike anything I have ever previously done. It could very well be the first time that you have seen something quite like it. I for one am not aware of anyone else doing a project online of this nature. If you do, let me know!

Before I begin, I have a few words targeted to my current readership. As you are no doubt aware, has served as a hub for my writings since November 2003. For more than a decade, I wrote well over 1,000 posts. Recently I have chosen to retire several hundred of those, not because they were embarrassingly immature (which is also true in some cases), but because I felt they would be distractions from the New Dharma that I have to offer. I left over 300 posts from half a dozen distinct blogs online, perhaps more than I ought to have, but I feel it’s important to give my readers a sense of where I have come from. I just don’t want you to get hung up on the many shifts in my perspective over the years. Down the road it may not be important to keep them online at all.

So today I have made an editorial move to help simplify my Web presence. Every post prior to today I have labelled with the category “Legacy Post”, and I have eliminated other descriptions. Moving forward, my posts will have the category “New Writings”. This will make no difference to many of you, but it is important for me to say it properly. Like the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein in mid-life, I find myself with the need to re-invent myself in order that I may speak more clearly and be heard.

So now … what is it that is so important for me to say that I need to preface it with a declaration that my old writings are of a constitutionally different category than this one and others to come?

[Read more…]