LANGUAGE AND SELF:
THE ROLE OF LANGUAGE IN PERSONALITY DEVELOPMENT
JOHN JEFFREY GORRELL
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE COUNCIL OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
by John Jeffrey Gorrell
To Art Combs for your belief in me throughout my course of study,
for your guidance and support during the planning and writing of this
dissertation, and especially for teaching me what it is to be a
"professional," thank you. To Walt Busby for your warm and wise touch
in all dimensions of our relationship, thank you. To Vernon Van De Reit
for teaching me much about Gestalt therapy, about human dynamics and
about myself, thank you. To Pat Ashton for being a willing sounding
board for my every half-baked idea, thank you. To Jean Casagrande for
lending your command of linguistic theory and your good-will to this
enterprise, thank you.
To Priscilla Munson, for swapping your typing skills for my
baby-sitting skills in early versions of the manuscript, thank you.
And to Sheryl Snyder for your beautiful typing on the final version,
A special thank you and a hug for you, Pat Korb. Our intellectual
discussions on language and experience have produced a felicitous state
in which I do not know where my ideas leave off and yours begin. That's
the way it should be.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
List of Figures vii
Scope of this Work 4
Valid Theory Building 5
I. SELF AND SYMBOLIC SELF 11
Description of the Self 11
Self as Role Relations 12
Self as Psychosocial Identity 13
Self as Dynamic Force 15
Self as Traits 17
The Eastern Conception of Self 19
The Subjective Experience of Having a Self 20
A Perceptual Approach to the Self 21
Perceptual Field 23
Organization of the Self 26
The Phenomenal Self 28
Self Concept 29
The Symbolic Self 32
Language and the Symbolic Self 35
II. THE SOCIALIZATION OF SELF THROUGH LANGUAGE 38
The Capacity for Self-reflection 40
Cultural Assumptions 43
Overlapping Perceptions 51
Channelling of Information Modes 53
The Elaboration of Self through Role
Exterbal=Perspectives on Self 57
Primary Socialization 61
The Creation of Common Meanings and a sense
of Cooperation 63
III. SYMBOLIZATION 67
The Extension of Perception through Language 67
Perception of Continuity 68
Labeling Experience 69
The Perception of Patterns and Relationships 73
The Symbolic Function
Symbolizing Personal Experience
Three Dimensions of Speech
The Adequacy of Knowledge
Language and Self in Daily Life
IV SOCIAL AND PRIVATE SPEECH
Inner Speech and Deep Structures
Inner Speech and the Preconscious
V INNER SPEECH AND THE SELF CONCEPT
Development of a Complex Self Concept
The Complex Self and Preferred Performances
Differentiation in the Complex Self
Levels of Abstraction
Abstraction and the Perceived Self
Intensional Self Concepts
Self Concept in a Double Bind
VI EXPERIENCE AND EXPRESSION
The Integration of Language and Experience
The Ideal Communicant
The Inner Flow of Experiencing
The Split Between Language and Experience
Distortion and Seperation
Circularity of Personal Myths
Congruence of Experience and Expression
VII LANGUAGE AND THE FULLY FUNCTIONING SELF
The Self Actualizing Self
The Adequate Personality
Toward Disvocering Universal Linguistic Processes
Gramatical Universals 201
Linguistic Universals from a Transformational
Grammar Perspective 205
Phrase Structure Rules 205
Transformational Rules 206
Morphophonemic Rules 208
Developmental Psycholinguistics 214
Innate Capacities 217
Deep Structures and Personal Meaning 219
Personal Experience 223
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 236
LIST OF FIGURES
Continuum of Figure/ground Differentiation
Pyramid of Abstracting
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
LANGUAGE AND SELF:
THE ROLE OF LANGUAGE IN PERSONALITY DEVELOPMENT
JOHN JEFFREY GORRELL
Chairman: Arthur W. Combs
Major Department: Foundations of Education
A person's use of language as the basis for his representing and
exploring the world around him channelizes his thinking processes. It
affects the ways in which he abstracts from his experiences, the ways
in which he establishes a sense of his relationship to others, the ways
he generates and manipulates symbols and images about himself, and the
ways in which he makes his experiences available to himself. Thus,
language permeates the individual's experience at many levels, providing
him with the means of freeing himself from superficial appearance on one
hand, and of chaining himself to distortions and misperceptions on the
If we look at the speech process itself, we see the individual
finding ways of bringing to public shape his personal thoughts, feelings,
impressions, and ideas. In so doing, the individual discovers more about
the experience he attempts to communicate to others; he has to reflect
upon it, symbolize it, and transform it into some communicable state.
The other side of the speech process, speech for oneself, highlights
the exploratory, bringing-to-an-understanding process even more, for
through it the individual develops his characteristic modes of perceiv-
ing himself and of relating his experiences to each other. Operating
at a lower level--in most cases, probably a prior level of functioning--
a person's inner speech affects his overall psychological structure,
particularly his ability to function fully throughout his life.
The fully functioning person has as one of his primary characteristics
a firm sense of his own identity. That is, he is aware of himself as
a responsive organism with continuing meanings and values. Being in
touch, on the whole, with his experiencing and having the capacity to
make his experiences available in other experiences, he has differentiated
himself rather completely from his environment and from other people.
This has occurred through his capacity to symbolize his experiences in
a variety of ways and to use his symbolic functioning as an abstracting
process. He is in command of his perceptual organization in'that he
does not mistake symbols for the things symbolized. He is reality-
oriented in that he bases his conceptions of himself upon an accurate
appraisal of situations and events without the distortion that comes
from feeling threatened in some ways.
The inadequate or partially-functioning person has different
perceptual and symbolizing characteristics. He is limited to two-
valued terms in defining himself so he tends to be more rigid percep-
tually, operating in either/or terms. Thus, he is likely to define
himself in negative terms, in respect to what he is not instead of what
he is. He confuses symbols and the things they represent, which leads
him to reacting to the wrong elements frequently and distorting the
situations he finds himself in, he acts with a great quantity of unchal-
lenged assumptions about what is and what is not.
Furthermore, if he uses his language in ways that remove him from
direct reference to his experience he becomes experientially empty,
incapable of knowing what he feels and what he thinks. Thus, he has a
limited amount of personal experience available to him in new situations,
so he is limited in his being able to respond fully and well.
Finally, out of his lack of participation in experiential modes,
his symbols and meanings are constantly being shuffled through into a
mythological structure, representing not so much what really is but
what he thinks is; this inadequate means of organizing his perceptions,
having little or no means of sorting out levels of organization and
meaning, severely limits his sense of identity.
Benjamine Lee Whorf (1956) once said that language is the best show
man puts on. It certainly is the most characteristic and pervasive means
man has of understanding and representing his experience. Language cuts
across man's every activity. It is not merely a behavior that he exhibits;
it has impact upon man's perceptions, mental functions, relationships with
other men, beliefs and meanings. Thus, the study of language in all its
forms and functions is a study of man's capacities and predilections for
experiencing. My purpose in this work is to explore the role of language
in personality development, particularly in relation to development of the
One of the essential human experiences is the experience of one's
self. An individual develops a sense of his own identity through his
experiences. He forms perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, and meanings
about himself as he grows up; this constellation of meanings is organized,
dynamic, and changeable. It is a self-system in that it is systematic,
hierarchical, and understandable. Language capacity and language use
provide the individual with the necessary conditions for perceiving
himself in his environment and for organizing his perceptions into a
Developments in self theory in the last century have moved towards
understanding the self from the individual's own perceptual field.
Beginning with William James' description of the self as an object of
knowledge for each individual and extending through the phenomenological
approach of Combs, Lecky, Rogers, Raimy, etc., self theory has attempted
to account for the individual's experience of himself as the dominant
organizing feature of his existence. These developments have produced
a wide range of studies on the effects of self concept on performance
(Purkey, 1970) and have generated countless discussions about the validity
of the self concept as an explanatory device (Wylie, 1961).
Generally self-theorists have agreed to orient their explanations
of self at the level of describing the dynamic and organizational features.
Studies revolving around this level of understanding of the self have
introduced sophisticated evidence for the centrality of self concept in
a person's life. The effects of environment, history, and experience
upon a person's self concept have been explored (Combs, 1959) and psycholo-
gists have found ample evidence for determination of a person's self
concept by social interaction.
The phenomenological approach, which describes a person's self in
terms of his perceptual field, places greatest importance upon the percep-
tual process in the forming of a self concept. The perceptual process is
described in Gestalt field terms and thereby is able to account for the
dynamic, holistic features of perception. Understanding of the perceptual
process, however, has not sufficiently considered the role of language in
the development of perception. Since language is man's most characteristic
and influential form of knowing, it has great impact upon the individual's
The study of language encompasses investigations from a broad
spectrum of human knowledge: philosophy, anthropology, sociology, linguis-
tics, semantics, speech, and psychology. In recent years linguistics as
a discipline within itself has emerged as a major theoretical area and
investigations in the relation among language, thought, perception, and
experiencing are generating fascinating new understandings of the role of
language in human life. Out of this study in new frontiers of language
and out of the investigations from the past comes important information
for the psychologist, particularly for the self-theorist who wishes to
account for all levels of human experience.
Two important results can be obtained from a study of language and
of the self: we can increase our knowledge about the role of language
in the individual's experience of himself and we can enlarge our own
perspectives on human functioning by incorporating knowledge from other
disciplines. The cross-fertilization of areas of knowledge leads to a
more synthesized holistic conception of human nature. Just as the intro-
duction of new experiences enlarges and alters an individual's perceptual
field, the introduction of new approaches to understanding enlarges the
professional's perceptual field.
The matter of relationships between language and perception has
long intrigued me and it is for this reason that my investigations have
proceeded in the direction they are now taking. In addition, I have been
struck by the problems involved in describing a person's self-system,
the total organized systems of perceptions he has, particularly in the
area of describing the growth and development of the self-system in
children. At present there exists much information regarding the organi-
zational features of the adult and there are applications of this knowledge
to the developing child and adolescent. However, essentially the descriptions
we obtain are based on either an assumption of the social origin of
the self concept--in which significant people in a child's experience
present him with attitudes about himself which he incorporates--or
based on personality dynamics of adults.
While both of these approaches to the growth of the self-system
are highly suggestive and valuable to self-theorists, another approach,
one which considers the development of thinking processes in the indivi-
dual, could extend our present knowledge and afford a more complete
picture of the development of the self. My contribution to the field,
then, would be to provide a rationale for considering the cognitive
processes as they relate to the dynamics of personality and perception.
The means for joining these aspects is, I believe, found in psychlinguistic
research and theory.
Scope of this Work
Beginning with a discussion of the self in psychological terms and
the problems attendant in trying to describe the self in terms other than
the individual's own perceptions, I enter into a description of the phenom-
enal self and self concept as determiners of behavior. From this point I
outline the socializing effects of language. Following chapters formulate
the role of language in extending the individual's control and understanding
of the environment and of himself--.he ways in which he learns what to
anticipate and how to construe the world. Then, the development of an
inner language, an inner symbol system based upon the external symbol
system, is presented, and its importance in the individual's total
personality is elaborated upon in chapters five and six. The learned ways
of symbolizing himself affects the degree of openness and complexity in his
self concept, and the degree to which he develops an adequate process of
symbolizing and making available his experiences determines how fully he
will be able to function in his daily life. An appendix, dealing with
the search for linguistic universals and psychological processes rounds
out the work.
I have investigated and am continuing to investigate the best
evidence that exists in psychology, linguistics, etc. I draw upon the
research and analysis of such figures as Benjamin Lee Whorf, Alfred
Korzybski, S. I. Hawakawa, Noam Chomsky, David McNeill, Jean Piaget,
Jerome Bruner, A. R. Luria, L. S. Vygotsky, George Herbert Mead, Ernst
Cassirer, Charles Morris, Eugene Gendlin, and Gregory Bateson. My own
position in regard to the development of language and emergence of the
self-system owes a lot to the above men in addition to the work done by
self-theorists in psychology, such as Combs & Snygg, Rogers, Maslow, etc.
Valid Theory Building
The validity of my position should be testable on both the theoretical
and empirical levels. In this current study I intend to define the theore-
tical foundations of a psycholinguistic approach to the self-system.
Therefore, the rigor of my investigation is directed by criteria for valid
theory building. Gordon Allport (1947), reporting the results of the
Social Science Research Council on the validation of social theory, lists
six criteria: feelings of subjective certainty; conformity with known
facts, mental experimentation, predictive power, social agreement, and
internal consistency. I propose to follow the same criteria in the formu-
lation of my theoretical position, using such criteria as touchstones to
insure that my theory is not only a sound presentation of present
evidence but also a sound generation of explanatory constructs from
the available evidence.
Allport's first criterion, feelings of subjective certainty in
theory building, underscores the intuitive or organismic side of know-
ing. To someone who has wrestled regularly, extensively, and vigorously
with a body of knowledge, a "feel" for the material develops. He
maintains a subjective sense of the logicality, the relatedness, the
impact, and the adequacy of the total sum of information he has encount-
ered. Out of this "feel" for the material the individual is sometimes
able to organize his subjective impressions into a logical framework
that can be communicated to others, but the initial basis for forming
the finished product may lie in the nomothetic or intuitive sphere.
Allport points out the "subjective certainty is one sign that suggests a
good fit for nomothetic knowledge with specific evidence, though it can
never be taken alone"(p. 170). In my own investigations of psycholin-
guistic areas--taking me into philosophy of language, linguistics,
anthropology, developmental psychology, psychotherapy, self theory, and
social psychology--I have long believed that the symbolic functioning in
man, in all of its diverse dimensions, related together at some level of
analysis that could be ordered, organized, communicated, and tested. The
result of this subjective impression is the following dissertation.
In attempting to pass from intuition to analysis, which is the
process of justifying subjective feeling states or nomothetic knowledge,
I have examined the range of existing evidence for all dimesions of
language development. Moving into this sphere of investigation, actually
confronting the body of evidence, satisfies Allport's second criterion:
conformity with known facts.
Although I am well aware that "known facts" are themselves subject
to scrutiny and challenge, particularly in social science, and that there
are apparent contradictions and inconsistencies in the available evidence,
there is a far greater agreement than disagreement, and greater consistency
than inconsistency. Allport says, "to include known facts and to exclude
none is demanded as a test for the adequacy of theories in physical science.
Important as this criterion may be it is not always easy to apply to social
data (e.g. personal documents) where the facts are subjective and often
ambiguous. But at the same time, salient events in the life cannot
remain unaccounted for by an interpretation that pretends to be valid"
(pp. 170-171).;; My attempt to account for the characteristics of language
development and emergence of the self-system will consider all the events
While accounting for the existing evidence and organizing it into
a coherent body, I will subject this evidence to mental experimentation--
Allport's third criterion. This means that alternative explanations are
to be considered, levels of analysis are to be extended, and implications,
both short term and long term, are to be examined.
The process of mental manipulation is admirably explained by Sir
Arthur Conan Doyle's (1967) fictional character, Sherlock Holmes:
'The ideal reasoner," he remarked, "would, when he has
once been shown a single fact in all its bearings,
deduce from it not only all the chain of events which
led up to it, but also all the results which would
follow from it. As Cuvier could correctly describe a
whole animal by the contemplation of a single bone,
so the observer who has thoroughly understood one link
in a series of incidents, should be able accurately to
state all the other ones, both before and after. .
To carry the art, however, to its highest pitch, it is
necessary that the reasoner should be able to utilize
all the facts which have come to his knowledge .
The predictive power of any theory, alluded to in the quotation
above, must be a major consideration. Allport suggests that this
fourth criterion is not sufficient in itself for concluding that a
conceptualization is adequate, but if a theory has predictive power
or heuristic value, then it is greatly improved. In my theory I will
seek to account for those predictions and further questioning that
would be derived from the stated position. For example, if I show
that the abstracting process is mediated on several levels by language,
I would then predict that perceptions, as it is derived from abstracting
processes, would be affected by changes in language. This would lead
to further predictions of how a person's conception of his world and of
himself would be altered through language.
While predictive power can be approached on levels ranging from
simple historical/sequential predictions (as in predicting what behavior
a person will next exhibit) to highly abstract predictions (as in
predicting changes in personality structure or in mental functioning),
a valid theory would maintain means for predicting on all levels of
analysis. Refinement of my theory would increase the amount of specific-
ity in predictions with the increase in empirical data. My expectations
for the present, however, are to be predictive on more general and
There is a great deal of agreement among experts in the area of
language that language itself affects perceptions, actions, thinking,
and feeling. Also among laymen we find a subjective realization of
living in "semantic space"(Hayakawa, 1953), in contexts where the
words used in communication have essential effects upon personal exper-
ience. This is one form of social agreement that encourages my
investigation. Although Allport indicates the danger of "prestige-
suggestibility, of scientific fad and fashion, and of common prejudice"
(p. 171),' consensual agreement must be reckoned with. It is here that
I expect to have to wait for validation of my theory.
Drawing upon a variety of agreed-upon conceptualizations as I will
be doing, I can expect to find initial agreement on parts of my formula-
tion, but I will have to wait for judgments on my interpretations until
they have been thoroughly presented and their implications explored.
Modifications of my theory might come out of the impact it has on other
investigators in the field.
Finally, the validity of a theory rests on the internal consistency
of the conceptualization. As Allport concludes,
Parts of an interpretation can be made to confront one
another. Logical contradictions raise the suspicion of
invalidity. True, the lives to which the interpertations
apply are not themselves without contradictions and
inconsistencies. And yet, just as a personality has
an intricate integration wherein even the inconsistencies
often find a deeper resolution, so too should an inter-
pretive scheme applied to the personality have the same
intricate properties of self-confrontation and congruence.
No parts of it should fall out of character (p. 171).
My attempt to realize consistency in the theory comes in the form of a
deeper resolution of seemingly disparate elements.
As a phenomenologist I am aware of the need for self-consistency
within an individual's perceptual experience. As a psycholinguist I
see a similar need for self-consistency among the various parts of my
formulations. This is provided for in each chapter as I relate a
body of linguistic evidence to understanding about the self. Consistency
is also provided in the total organization of the study around man's
capacity to symbolize his experience in many ways.
SELF AND SYMBOLIC SELF
Description of the Self
For centuries mankind has debated the existence and the properties
of the self. In the second half of the seventeenth century Blaise Pascal,
mathematician, scientist, philosopher and religious polemicist, wrote an
impressive array of thoughts on human nature. In Pensees (1660-1662) he
confronts the issue of what man really is, not only in relation to God
but in relation to other men. Few people study man, he says, because it
is a difficult project and they do not know how to go about it. The main
problem is in locating the object under scrutiny. In daily life as well
as in formal study we often confuse external attributes of someone for the
person himself, which leads us away from our goals. Pascal says:
What is the self?
A man goes to the window to see the people passing by; if
I pass by, can I say he went there to see me? No, for he
is not thinking of me in particular. But what about a
person who loves someone for the sake of her beauty; does
he love her? No, for smallpox, which will destroy beauty
without destroying the person, will put an end to his love
And if someone loves me for my judgment or my memory, do
they love me? Me, myself? No, for I could lose these
qualities without losing my self. Where then is this
self, if it is neither in the body nor the soul? And how
can one love the body or the soul except for the sake of
such qualities, which are not what makes up the self,
since they are perishable? Would we love the substance
of a person's soul, in the abstract, whatever qualities
might be in it? This is not possible, and it would be
wrong. Therefore, we never love anyone, but only
qualities (p. 245).
I would rather say that we never observe anyone, but only qualities.
In the position of an outside observer I can only see attributes which I
have abstracted from behaviors of others. Thus, in looking at individuals
and attempting to understand them, I am constrained by the impossibility of
knowing another person fully. I may recognize patterns of behavior and
even be able to infer consistent motives for his actions, but if I try to
specify a self in these terms I can only, at best, relate attributes with
each other, not with that person himself. Yet, in psychology the self is
a valuable and widespread construct.
Self as Role Relations
George Herbert Mead (1934) distinguishes between two aspects of
self, the "I" and the "me," both arising out of the social context. The
"me" of personality is the organized set of attitudes and roles that an
individual internalizes from his interactions with others. It is a
composite self, an add-sum relation based upon his social experiences
and expectancies. Roles are not necessarily conscious roles as in play-
acting; they constitute any regular interaction between the individual
and his environment.
The individual also reacts to the "me" of his identity. Since
the "me" is formed through complex role relationships, it is observable
by each person as a patterned identity. The "I" of the self is aware of
his roles and his behavior. According to Mead the "I" is conscious of
social expectancies and acts in some particular context. Once it has
acted the "I" becomes a "me," a part of the individual's knowledge of
himself. Mead says:
He has their attitudes, knows what they want and what
the consequence of any act of his will be, and he has
assumed responsibility for the situation. Now, it is
presence of those organized set of attitudes that
constitutes the: "me" to which he has tiicl an "I" is
The "I" is his action toward that social institution
within his own conduct, and it gets into his exper-
ience only after he has carried out the act. Then he
is aware of it (p. 230-231).
The self in Mead's conception is the product of social interaction,
which is established through language. He does not consider a person to
have an innate self or a particular set of innate characteristics that
develop in his growing up. Representative of the pragmatic school of
sociology, Mead's theory stands against biological explanations of identity
and personality. Seeking a functional description of the relationship
between the environment and the individual, he settles upon the self as
that which is the most salient product of interaction. This is discussed
more extensively in chapter two.
Self as Psychosocial Identity
Erik Erikson (1968) takes the position that psychosocial identity
in each person is the anchoring point for his whole personality. The
organism unfolds in a prescribed, biologically based sequence. The
inherent biological mechanisms are the controlling elements of identity,
but they come in contact with the social environment and have to adjust
to it; thus, each person develops a psychosocial identity throughout life,
one which is constantly becoming more elaborated and fixed. Erikson says:
in the sequence of his most personal experience the
healthy child, given a reasonable amount of proper
guidance, can be trusted to obey inner laws of devel-
opment, laws which create a succession of potential-
ities for significant interaction with those persons
who tend and respond to him and those institutions
which are ready for him. While such interaction
varies from culture to culture, it must remain
within "the proper rate and the proper sequence"
which governs all epigenesis. Personality, there-
fore, can be said to develop according to steps
predetermined in the human organism's readiness
to be driven toward, to be aware of, and to interact
with a widening radius of significant individuals
and institutions (p. 93).
The self in Erikson's terms has an intrinsic existence apart from
the culture that shapes it. In fact, one of the most telling pieces of
evidence cited in this respect is what happens when the individual overcomes
developmental crises. In Erikson's proposed stages of development there are
crisis points where the individual must establish his identity anew in
relation to others. If he overcomes the crisis point, which balances a
sense of estrangement against a sense of fulfillment and participation, he
becomes more fully functioning, and more capable of further identity forma-
tion. Erikson points out that resolution of a crisis produces a more
integrated personality: "some new estrangement is resolved in such a way
that the child suddenly seems to be 'more himself,' more loving, more
relaxed, and brighter in his judgment--in other words, vital in a new
This description of the resolution of crisis highlights an
important dynamic in human functioning. The experience of being more
oneself through the overcoming of crises is common to many, many people.
Although it does not settle the problem of what the self is and how a
person is to know when he is himself, this experience of identity is
part of the individual's subjective experience of having a self that can
be more fully elaborated. In fact, Erikson proposes that the identity-
seeking pattern is maintained throughout all stages of development.
Thenotion that the self has its own existence within each person,
apart from society and the physical environment, has many adherents,
particularly those steeped in the psychoanalytical tradition (Rapaport,
1959). Essentially, the problem with proposing an innate self or dynamic
force that has the motive of actualization or "becoming" is that we have
not explained where the self comes from.
Self as a Dynamic Force
Jung (1945) suggests that the self is the mid-point of personality
and also the goal of all activity in the organism. Throughout his life a
person seeks to extend and realize all aspects of his potential. If he is
successful at this he develops an organized, well-rounded, fully realized
personality--a coherent self. The attributes of the self constellate
around the center like planets.
The self in these terms is both a force for existence and a
product of the "urge to become." How can it be both? Maslow (1954)
answers the question by citing a hierarchy of needs common to all people.
The needs for food, shelter, warmth, safety, belonging, love, respect,
self-esteem, and so forth are universal needs, he says, and as people
satisfy basic needs they are able to progress to "higher" needs. Thus,
the process of self-actualization is a dynamic and constant reorganiza-
tion of needs on increasingly complex levels.
The single holistic principle that binds together the
multiplicity of human motives is the tendency for a
new and higher need to emerge as the lower need fulfills
itself by being sufficiently gratified (Maslow, 1962,
Each person has an identity at any point of his life; in addition
there is the possibility of becoming more and more of what one is capable.
Self-actualization, as a psychological concept, incorporates both aspects
of self: it is both process and product. Whether couched in terms of
tension-reduction principles, pleasure-pain balances, hierarchies of needs,
or biological drives, the self has largely been seen as an elegant energy
system, composed of personality dynamics which can be specified both in
function and in form.
A description of the self in these terms often is based upon the
Freudian model of psychological functioning, and accords greater knowledge
of a person's personality structure to the expert external observer than
to the person himself. For example, Otto Rank (1956) states, "The
knowledge of the average man about his own psychic processes and motiva-
tion proves to be so false that it works really only in its complete
spuriousness, in all illusion troubled by no kind of knowing"(p. 71).
If the individual is, himself, so imperfectly aware of his own
motives, then it becomes the province of the psychoanalyst to describe
or otherwise reveal it to him. But another consideration is that psycho-
analysts may be wrong in their descriptions of personality and their
formulations may not fit with individual experience. It has been pointed
out (London, 1969) that psychoanalysis is essentially a means of training
the individual to see and describe himself in the analyst's terms, not
in his own terms. For the purpose of understanding the self, however, we
have to confront the problem of tallying an abstract, conceptual system
with private experience. They may not be the same at all. As Rollo May
(1961) points out, "The more absolutely and completely we formulate the
forces or drives, the more we are talking about abstractions and not the
living human being"(p. 14).'
Personality theories organize inferred attributes of man into
coherent descriptions of the relationship between the indicated parts.
While most theories focus upon one main attribute of personality and
relate other attributes to it in lesser importance, the avowed purpose
of personality theories is to present a picture of the whole person,
one which will account for all personality dynamics. It is often
assumed that the self in such descriptions is the sum total of person-
ality structure. Psychologists are guilty of confusing the map of
personality structure with the territory when they rely more upon
their mappings than they do upon the person himself. The self can be
abstracted from intricate theories of personality dynamics, but it is
an abstraction from a host of abstractions, and therefore, often far
removed from the real person.
Self as Traits
The concept of the self in personality theories in which the
self is used to explain motives, intentions, and behaviors, risks
becoming no explanation at all. Gordon Allport (1955) reflecting
upon the problem of assigning functions to the self says that there
is a danger "that a humunculus may creep into our discussions of
personality, and be expected to solve all our problems without in
reality solving any. Thus if we ask 'what determines our moral
conduct?' the answer may be 'The self does it.' Or, if we pose the
problem of choice, we say 'The self chooses.' Such question-begging
would immeasurably weaken the scientific study of personality by
providing an illegitimate regressus"(pp. 54-55).
Allport's solution to the problem of defining the self, which he
calls proprium, is to talk only of traits. He suggests that the proprium,
which incorporates all traits and habits that are central to a person's
existence and which make for inward unity, is a valid alternative to
positing an inner self. From the point of view of an outsider traits
are the building blocks of the individual. As with Pascal's lover,
however, when the traits or qualities we observe in others disappear,
so does our conception of that person.
Traits as the object of study may help the psychologist organize
his conceptions of personality, but they are no better than well made
maps. We could become cartographers of personality and refine our
conceptualizations to pinpoint accuracy, but nowhere would we have the
self. All we would have would be the map of our own devisement, and,
although that is valuable to the social scientist,it is not all of the
self. Furthermore, there is a danger in believing that someone can be
understood completely on the basis of traits. While concentrating upon
traits reduces the chance of proposing a model of personality too far
removed from the individual in daily life, it still implies that we know
someone when we know all his traits.
There are areas of each person's experience and personality
that remain hidden from the probing of outside forces. Tolstoy (1950) says:
One of the most widespread superstitions is that
every man has his own special, definite qualities;
that a man is kind, cruel, wise, stupid, energetic,
apathetic, etc. Men are not like that.. Men
are like rivers: the water is the same in each,
and alike in all; but every river is narrow here,
is more rapid there, here slower, there broader,
now clear, now cold, now dull, now warm. It is
the samewith men. Every man carries in himself
the germs of every human quality, and sometimes one
manifests itself, sometimes another, and the man
often becomes unlike himself, while still remaining
the same man.
The Eastern Conception of Self
In Eastern philosophies the self is not an individualistic
identity, but a transcendence of identity, a merging of the individual
and the other into a cosmological whole. D. T. Suzuki (1970) describes
it this way:
When we say 'self' we distinguish it from non-self,
that is, others, but the self that Zen people
strongly emphasize is not that kind of self, but
Self that is Absolute, Absolute Self. Therefore,
the absolute self might be termed absolute other,
Absolutely Not-self (p. 14).
Self in these terms is beyond the daily experience of most people. I
seriously question if a person's experience of himself in Eastern
cultures is truly different from the Westerner's experience. A highly
refined philosophic viewpoint, like Zen, actually may reflect very
little of the individual's common experience.
In America Walt Whitman probably comes closest to expressing
the transcendent aspects of self that are voiced in Eastern philosophy.
He identifies broadly with all existence and defines himself in "Song
of Myself" (1855) as an all-encompassing identity:
I pass death with the dying and birth with the
new washed babe, and am not contained between
my hats and boots,
I peruse manifold objects, no two alike and
The earth good and the stars good, and their
adjuncts all good.
I am not an earth nor an adjunct of an earth,
I am the mate and companion of people, all
just as immortal and fathomless as myself
No matter if a person identifies himself with a cosmological force,
with all of mankind, with a small group of people, or with no one at all,
he still identifies himself as an existing organism. What he identifies
with is less important here than the fact that he does identify himself
in some way.
The Subjective Experience of Having a Self
All people have unique experiences of themselves and of their
world. Each person has many characteristics that are common to other
people also; these are the data of the behavioral scientist. But the
individual's unique physical and mental experiences--that is, his total
perceptual framework--contain elements that are not reproducible in
others. No one else sees through his eyes or feels with his fingertips.
His individual reality is his own datum from which he distinguishes his
Each person has a corporeal identity. He is a body, an organism
that acts in the physical world. He also has a personality identity.
Because he can think, he is more than a physical organism. He is capable
of realizing a continuity in his experience from memories of the past
and anticipations of the future, and because he has a continuity of
experience he can depict patterns in his behavior that are organized into
a coherent whole. Merleau-Ponty (1964) suggests that the body and the
self are one process:
Our body is not in space like things; it inhabits or
haunts space. It applies itself to space like a hand
to an instrument, and when we wish to move about we
do not move an object. We transport it without instru-
ments as if by magic, since it is ours and because
through it we have direct access to space. For us the
body is much more than an instrument or a means, it is
our expression in the world, the visible form of our
intentions (p. 5).
Although the individual may experience himself as being more than
or different from his physical being, he is inseparable from his body in
applying himself to the world. That is, his personal experience is
first grounded in his biological, physiological existence.
A Perceptual Approach to the Self
She was the single artificer of the world
In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea,
Whatever self it had, became the self
That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we,
As we beheld her striding there alone,
Knew that there never was a world for her
Except the one she sang and, singing, made (Stevens, 1954).
As distinct perceiving and behaving organisms we, each of us, are
artificers of our world. What we believe about it, transforms it, for us,
into our conceptions. In this sense each person creates his own reality.
He interacts with the world, participates in full and ever-extended
experiences, and establishes relationships with his surroundings. Out
of his endless experience the individual formulates his own reality. As
George Kelly (1963) points out, "events do not come around and tell us
how to do the job--they just go about their business of being themselves.
The structure we erect is what rules us"(p. 20).
Each person's behavior is absolutely determined by his total belief
system at any one moment. What he believes to be real is the structure of
his personal reality. He can act only in terms of this structure of beliefs.
What he believes to be true is his total perceptual field. Thus,perception
and belief are one and the same thing. The perceptual model of knowledge
serves as an appropriate model for the structure of personality, for each
person is capable of representing his environment like the visual image
represents the environment. A person does not collect willy-nilly the
impressions that bombard him from the physical world. The perceiving
organism selects from the available impressions, organizes perceptions,
arid creates meaning out of the stimuli that confront him.
A comprehensive theory of personality based upon the individual's
phenomenological relationship to the world is proposed by Snygg and Combs
(1949, 1959) in Individual Behavior. This approach to personality is
called perceptual psychology, sometimes also called phenomenological
psychology. Based in part on the Gestalt psychology of Kohler, Koffka,
and Wertheimer, and on the field theory of Kurt Lewin, perceptual psycho-
logy affords a holistic look at the role of perception in the individual's
development of personality.
It is the construction aspect of perception and knowledge that
most concerns the phenomenological psychologist. How does one organize
his experience? What principles are involved in the construction of
personal reality? In the act of constructing his world, which is a complex
activity and not immediately accessible to the observer, a person trans-
forms his impressions of external reality in to what he experiences as
being a true representation of the world. The constructive aspect of
perception is not apparent to the perceiver unless he separates himself
from his perceptual mode in some way and scrutinizes his activity.
The experience of having straightforward untransformed perceptions
accounts for the fact that a person acts totally in regards to his percep-
tions of the moment. He cannot do otherwise. Yet we do know that the
individual does affect what he perceives. It is not purely an intake
process. If perception were merely imitation of external reality it would
at best have a one-to-one correspondence with external impressions. However,
in mental activity, which encompasses perception, people go beyond simple
absorption of impressions. We draw inferences, conclusions, assumptions,
generalities, abstractions; we imagine details, goals, motives, etc.
The field of impressions for an individual is composed of a back-
ground and a foreground (Combs, 1959). At any moment a person's perception
is a result of a particular pattern of impressions that emerges for the
perceiver from the total field. The intensity, clarity, stability and
relatedness of particular impressions determine the degree of differen-
tiation of the figure from the field. All phenomena that are available to
the senses make up the field; those that have a certain meaning for the
individual become the dominant figure or image that determine what actions,
if any, the perceiver takes.
One of the goals of Gestalt learning theory has been to describe
the holistic, momentary creation of meaning or understanding, what is
sometimes called the "aha" experience. Wertheimer (1959) claims that true
knowing involves knowledge of the structural characteristics of an event.
In his classic discussion of teaching children to find the area of paral-
lelogram (1959) he notes that what makes it possible for some children to
draw the appropriate perpendicular and generate a productive answer is not
adherence merely to simple rules or the blind following of a formula, but
a recognition of the Formal properties of the geometric figure. The children
had to be able to perform some kind of mental operation on the figure that
not only perserved their sensorial knowledge of it but that also enriched
their total perception of the structural characteristics.
In a more personal vein each person determines the structural
characteristics of his own experience. That is, he constructs his
experience in a way similar to that described by Gestalt psychology.
His understanding of the world and of himself is a product of the
constructive process. The meaning of his knowledge in a function of
figure/ground relations and of their relationship to himself.
There arelimitations to what someone can see visually. For
example, a person cannot perceive both a figure and a field equally
at the same time. He establishes a context for his perception by
relating the two, thereby providing cues to the identities involved,
but he cannot scrutinize a small segment of the visual field and,
at the same time, take in all of the impressions globally. We are
selectively attentive to the visual environment.
All other things being equal, perceptions are differentiated
in terms of their nearness, similarity, intensity, common fate,
novelty, and movement or direction. For example, as I write this I
have several stacks of books on my desk; I perceive each stack as a
unit of books because they are nearer each other in their respective
stacks than they are to books in different stacks. Within one stack
all the books with pale bindings stand out because of that similarity.
The sound level of traffic outside my window is sometimes altered by
the sound of a motorcycle with a different intensity of noise. Like-
wise, bright colors, more pungent odors, objects making extreme
movements attract my attention and, momentarily, stand out from the
other impressions. The objects on my desk have a common fate. Notebook
paper, pencils, ballpoint pens, eraser, scotch tape, scissors and
pencil sharpener make up the objects used in writing, so I perceive
them as a unified whole. A new style ballpoint pen which I have just
purchased stands out because of its novelty, but once the novelty has
worn off the pen will recede into less prominence for me. Finally,
all the trees and bushes outside my window are swaying in the same
direction when the wind blows; I perceive their common movement as a
From the patterns that a person reacts to in differentiating
his perceptions come fairly simple conceptual schemes. For example,
I take the swaying of trees in the same direction as evidence that
the wind is blowing from the north. If they were swaying in many
different directions at the same time, I would not know how to concep-
tualize the apparent chaos. My understanding of events comes from
the ability to perceive patterns that aid in differentiating objects
and events, and also from my past experience. My past experience
presents me with the concept wind, to account for the visual pattern
Two processes interplay to produce a person's perceptual
field. One is the capacity for organizing perceptions, for seeing
patterns, abstracting common features, etc. The other is the individ-
ual's capacity for building upon his past experiences in order to
understand and interact with his current experiences. Actually, it
is misleading to separate these two processes, for they are not
separate but merely two aspects of the same perceptual process.
A person's perceptual field is his unique experience. Through
his ability to perceive, in all the dimensions of the work, he develops
a means of exploring the world and of extending himself into the world.
As Henry James (1888) says:
The power to guess the unseen from the seen, to
trace the implications of things, to judge the
whole piece by the pattern, the condition of
feeling life in general so completely that you
are well on your way to knowing any particular
corner of it--this cluster of gifts may almost
be said to constitute experience (p. 107).
Organization of the Self
The organism grows and extends itself through increased ranges
of perceptions. In fact, the human organism has as one of its most
important features an internal organization that makes it whole. This
has been pointed out in many places. Goldstein (1939), for example,
cites the holistic nature of the organism. He says that organization is
the natural state of the organism, that anything that affects part of the
organism affects the whole, and that disorganization is the stuff of
pathology. Thus, we can look at the self in terms of its organizational
If the degree of organization of the organism is a central factor
in the maintenance of the self, we would expect the stable quality of the
self to be disrupted whenever events occur that produce disorganization.
This is exactly what happens. Leon Festinger's (1957) work on cognitive
dissonance indicates that incompatible beliefs or cognitions (arising
from logical inconsistency, conflict with cultural mores, contradictions
between specific opinions and larger, more encompassing opinions, and
past experience) produce an uncomfortable state, which the organism
attempts to rectify.
A more embracing theory about the requisite organization of
personality has been elaborated by Prescott Lecky (1945) and modified
by others. The urge for self-consistency in each individual derives
from his being a unique organism placed in the world and from his
needing some systematic way of understanding his environment and his
relation to it. Lecky says that:
The ability to forsee and predict environmental
happenings, to understand the world one lives in
and thus to be able to anticipate events and
prevent the necessity for sudden readjustments,
is an absolute prerequisite for the maintence
of unity .
The interpretations which serve as the basis for
prediction, however, rest upon no other ground
than individual experience. Immersed in an
environment which he does not and cannot under-
stand, the individual is forced to create a
substitute world which he can understand and
in which he puts his faith. He acts in consis-
tency with that conception, derives his standards
of value from it, and undertakes to alter it
only when convinced by further experience that
it fails to serve the goal of unity. Since
this self-made scheme of life is his only
guarantee of security, its preservation soon
becomes a goal in itself. He seeks the type of
experience which confirms and supports the
unified attitudes, and rejects experience
which seem to promise a disturbance of this
attitude (p. 50).
As a goal of his behavior, then, the maintenance of a unified,
self-consistent organization of perceptions, beliefs, cognitions encompasses
all of his experience. An individual constantly receives impressions from
his environment, often on a very complex scale, and sorts out these
impressions in terms of their fitting with his existing conceptions. His
perceptual field, then, is affected by the need to maintain a particular
organization, not just any organization. This is where the ability to
perceive patterns and to incorporate past experience become most important.
The Phenomenal Self
Since everything a person perceives is seen in relation to himself,
the maintenance of an organized system of perceptions is essential to the
maintenance of himself as the perceiver. The phenomenal self consists of
all aspects of himself and his relations to others that a person exper-
iences at any one time. His phenomenal self is constantly changing with
his circumstances. It lies between his perceptions of his environment
and his concepts about himself as a whole. Thus, the phenomenal self is
his organized perceptions of himself in a particular situation. Combs
(1959) describes the phenomenal self as:
the individual's own unique organization of ways of
regarding self; it is the Gestalt of his concepts of
self. Whereas the concepts of self describe
isolated aspects of the person, the phenomenal self
is the organization or pattern of all those which the
individual refers to as "I" or "me." It is himself
from his own point of view. The phenomenal self is
not a mere conglomeration or addition of isolated
concepts of self, but a patterned interrelationship
or Gestalt of all these (p. 126).
The phenomenal self is most real to the individual himself. The
outsider cannot see it or touch it; he may be able to infer an approximate
version of the individual's phenomenal self from observed behavior.
However, since each person can experience only his own phenomenal self,
it is not something that can be maintained from the outside. We seek
to maintain our phenomenal selves, not that of someone else.
In maintaining the phenomenal self the individual needs to be
able to anticipate events and alter himself in ways that will best
preserve himself in the future. Combs (1959) points out;
man seeks not merely the maintenance of self but
the development of an'adequate self--a self capable
of dealing effectively and efficiently with the
exigencies of life, both now and in the future.
To achieve this self-adequacy requires of man that
he seek, not only to maintain his existing organiza-
tion, but also that he build up and make more adequate
the self of which he is aware. Man seeks both to
maintain and enhance his perceived self (p. 45).
The individual's self perceptions, how he sees himself in relation
to the rest of the world and in relation to himself at other times, maintain
the organization of the phenomenal self.
While the phenomenal self is the total perceptions a person has of
himself at any one time, the self concept is a more stable, abstract percep-
tion of himself. There are many activities, for example, that I engage in
during any one day. Some are fleeting and even uncomtemplated activities;
others are part of enduring patterns and goals; still others are one-of-a-
kind events. My perception of myself at any one moment will take in all of
the activities and relationships I am engaged in; my perception of myself
as a constant entity, that is, my self concept, is abstracted from my
continuing activities and experiences. Hence, it is largely composed of
the more stable and generalized conceptions I may have of myself. It is
more resistant to change because it has accrued from my total past
Combs (1959) points out the necessity for recognizing that the
self concept is an abstraction from each individual's continuing exper-
iences. It is not all of his experience, nor is it all of his phenomenal
self. He says:
Though we may sometimes use the self concept as
a convenient device for understanding the indivi-
dual, it should never be forgotten that people
always behave in terms of the total phenomenal
field, never in terms of an isolated part. The
self concept is a useful approximation of a
larger organization; it is not synonymous with
it. The self concept is never a sufficient
explanation of behavior by itself (p. 128).
A person's self concept, being an abstraction that he has
formed on the basis of his personal experiences,is changable through
experience. As a child grows up he differentiates aspects of himself
in light of his experience. What begins as a global distinction between
himself and others progresses to more elaborated conceptions of his
abilities, identity and relationships with others.
The sharpness and clarity of a person's self concept may vary
from time to time and situation to situation. Some self perceptions
become crystalized and remain clear throughout otherwise rapidly changing
circumstances; a person's identification of himself with his family often
is a central and stable concept. His concept of himself as a student,
for example, would be replaced by concepts of himself in career situations
once he has finished with formal education.
Overriding beliefs in one's adequacy or worthiness may cut across
specific role-related perceptions of oneself. These perceptions tend to
be even more stable and resistant to change because the indivudal does
not depend upon only one kind of relationship (e.g., student, mother,
athlete) to perceive himself in a particular way. To change such
persistent beliefs about himself an individual would have to build up a
new body of experiences that supplant his earlier formed conceptions.
For this reason the self concept is marvelously consistent.
Victor C. Raimy, who first defined and described the self concept
in 1943, believes that the self concept is a "learned perceptual system
which functions as an object in the perceptual field (1943, p. 97),"
and that its organized, systematic structure makes it an important
determinant of behavior. He says:
If such structure exists as assumed in the above
discussion, the Self-concept assumes more behav-
iroal significance than if only a multitude of
relatively independent "Self-observations" are
present in the perceptual field. Without such
a structuring or unifying process, the self-
observations take on the appearance of scattered
objects which have little effect on more than
isolated segments of behavior. With structuring,
the Self-concept has importance for behavior as a
differentiated but organized system with qualities
of dominance and subordination (p. 103).
Not only is the self concept a product of the individual's total
experiences, it also is a template against which all further experiences
are matched. A person who believes that he is fundamentally an uninter-
esting person, for instance, will find in his contacts with others
evidence abounding to attest to his uninteresting personality.
Once the phenomenal self has become established,
experience thereafter can only be interpreted in
terms of the self. Thus all perceptions which
are meaningful to the individual derive their
meaning from their relation to the phenomenal
self already in existence (Combs, 1959, p. 131).
This dual functioning of the phenomenal self--as a product of
experience as a template against which new experiences are evaluated--
is an important region of human experience. The capacity for the
individual to abstract from his experience in the formation and
transformation of his phenomenal self is part of his symbolization
processes. I will elaborate on this in the next chapter.
The Sy*bolic Self
Each person has as his most characteristic endowment the ability
to symbolize all aspects of his experience. In understanding even very
simple phenomena the individual draws upon his capacity for symbolization
in diverse ways. He may symbolize an event in order to communicate it
to another, or in order to remember it for himself, or so that he may
explore its characteristics more fully. Mental activity in itself,
whether it is engaged in abstruse theoretics or in every day manipu-
lation of objects, represents phenomena. Not only does it mediate
experience, it re-presents them to each person.
In psychological thought it is recognized that some phenomena
may be both process and product (Combs, 1959; Allport, 1955; Raimy,
1943; Lecky, 1945). In interpersonal relationships, for example, a
person's conception of another is progressively differentiated and altered
through his contacts with the other. Likewise, one person's concept of
the other influences the kinds of contact that he establishes. On one
hand, a concept is the product of interaction and on the other hand it is
part of the process of interacting. The self concept functions similarly.
Raimy (1943) points out that "the Self-Concept not only influences behavior
but is itself altered and restructured by behavior"(p. 98).
Both in the developing and in the elaborating of self concepts we
find a product and a process. The nature of symbolizing activity affects
these concepts, for the human symbolizing act is itself both product and
process. Symbols that are formed become the means of shaping further
symbols. Symbolizing events opens the way to further symbolization.
The universality of symbolization is so basic to human life that
some scholars suggest that it is the distinguishing characteristic of man.
Susanne K. Langer (1951), for example, has this to say:
I believe there is a primary need in man, which
other creatures probably do not have, and which
activates all his apparently unzoological aims,
his wistful fancies, his consciousness of value,
his utterly impractical enthusiasm, and his
awareness of a "Beyond" filled with holiness.
Despite the fact that this need gives rise to
almost everything that we commonly assign to
the "higher" life, it is not itself a "higher"
form of some "lower" need; it is quite essen-
tial, imperious, and general, and may be
called "high" only in the sense that it
belongs exclusively (I think) to a very complex
and perhaps recent genus. .
This basic need, which certainly is obvious only
in man, is the need of symbolization. The symbol-
making function is one of man's primary activi-
ties, like eating, looking, or moving about. It
is the fundamental process of the mind, and goes
on all the time. Sometimes we are aware of it,
sometimes we merely find its results, and realize
that certain experiences have passed through our
brains and have been digested there (p. 45).
There may be some confusion over Langer's citing of symbolization
as a need. Symbolization is not a need in the sense that it is a basic
biologic or human need. As elaborated in perceptual psychology (Snygg &
Combs, 1949), the basic human need is the maintenance and enhancement of
the phenomenal self. In those terms, then, the only need is the need for
adequacy. Other areas of human functioning are means toward fulfilling
the basic need for adequacy, or they are merely expressions of that need.
Certainly, symbolization is one of man's most distinguishing
activities, and it operates as the best way he has of fulfilling the
basic need. Through the symbol-making function man is able to extend
and transcent raw perceptual events in pursuit of personal and cultural
In the symbolizing process mental activity transforms undifferentiated
impressions into recognizable patterns, such as figure-field arrangements,
which are related by the individual to the whole of his synthesized
experience. Thus symbolization is the essence of mental life, giving the
individual the ability to go beyond mere absorption of incoming impressions.
The ability to symbolize allows the individual to remember past experiences,
anticipate future events, establish interchanges in the present, and
determine the personal meaning of them all.
In terms of the phenomenal self symbolic functions enable the
individual to experience his existence in a self-reflexive manner. That
is, on one hand the individual is immersed in his perceptions and completely
controlled by them; it this were his only means of behaving he would not
be able to reflect upon his actions; he would merely be doing and reaching
in the way that the autonomic nervous system reacts to stimuli. On the
other hand, he is capable of construing his experience in daily life and
is, thus, ruled more by his constructions.
Man to the extent that he is able to construe his
circumstances can find for himself freedom from
their domination man can enslave himself
with his own ideas and then win his freedom again
by reconstruing his life (Kelly, 1963, p. 21).
Thus it is that most of our lives are lived on a symbolic level.
Not that the physical events and activities are secondary to the symbolic--
we do need basic physically satisfying circumstances to maintain our
bodily selves, but that the symbolic realm contains the meaning that
circumstances have for us. This is another way of saying that the phenomenal
self, however it is construed by the individual transcends the physical self.
S. I. Hayakawa (1958) links symbolic function in man with the
phenomenal self by calling it the symbolic self:
Once it is understood that human beings are a
symbolic class of life--once it is grasped that
all human behavior is conditioned, shaped, and
mediated by symbols--then the idea of self-
perservation as the first law of life can be
modified to include almost all of the complexi-
ties of human behavior: the fundamental motive
of human behavior. the perservation of the
symbolic self (p. 37).
As he forms meanings about himself, the individual is constantly
discovering ways of symbolizing his existence. It is this symbolizing
process--one which we only partially understand--that distinguishes
mankind. Thus in perception of himself the individual takes the
externally generated symbols--good, bad, big, pretty, energetic, intel-
ligent--and combines them into a symbolic representation of himself, and
of his world.
Language and the Symbolic Self
As a person grows from infancy to adulthood, he develops patterns
of behavior, styles of expression, skills in manipulating objects, know-
ledge about the world, ways of perceiving, attitudes about himself and
others. His progression from a state of almost absolute dependency to
a state of high independency occurs in a variety of ways. By learning
about the construction of the environment, that is, by learning gradually
what the properties of physical objects are and how they may be manipulated,
the child extends his ability to control his environment. By learning
about the nature of human contact, through his mother, his father, his
siblings, and significant others, he acquires social skills that enable
him to communicate, negotiate, and relate with people. By learning about
his own specific abilities, his strengths and weaknesses, his desires, and
needs, the child learns ways to satisfy his needs and extend his abilities.
Through a rich influx of sensations, experiences, perceptions, and oppor-
tunities the child learns to conduct himself in diverse manners through old,
continuing, and new experiences.
The symbolic function in the child cuts across and influences all
of these activities of exploration, manipulation, understanding, communica-
tion, and conceptualizing. It influences the character of his experience
and the direction of the growth of his self-system. In this respect the
symbolic function is permanently linked with mental activity of all types.
The most pervasive form that the symbolic function takes is language. As
he learns a system of representation in language acquisition the child is
learning dominant modes of directing his current and future experience.
The early stages of symbolization order his progress in understanding
and manipulating his environment and in differentiating aspects of himself.
The phenomenon of language is interesting because it has both
representational functions and explorational functions. Language is used
to communicate perceptions of physical reality, private experiences, and
communal experiences; in that sense it is representational. Language is
also used to investigate the quality of human experience, to extend
knowledge about objects, and to create new experiences (e.g., novels,
poetry); in this sense language is exploratory. An individual's use of
either mode may be appraised by the individual or others in order to
further their knowledge about existence.
At least one researcher (McElroy, 1972) has proposed that language
is a search for self. I take this to mean that the self is discoverable
through linguistic processes, and what is "discovered" is contingent upon
a person's use of language. In fact, that is a major theme of this work,
one which will be elaborated more fully in the following chapters.
Language plays a major role in the development of the total
personality and in the development of the self concept. The representa-
tional aspects of language inform the individual of the essential features
of the world and of himself. The exploratory functions of language enable
him to extend his perceptions and to build up comprehensive perceptual
processes. The kind of symbols, linguistic and non-linguistic, that a
person has available to him determine the openness and flexibility of his
self concept, and the modes of language use that he establishes determine
the degree to which he is able to make his experiences available to himself.
These dimensions of language, as I indicate in the rest of this work, are
ingegral to the individual's personality structure. As such, they are
important areas of investigation for psychologists interested in the
factors contributing to personality development.
THE SOCIALIZATION OF SELF THROUGH LANGUAGE
Each individual is at one time a private entity in his own
right and also a member of a larger social identity. Kelly (1962)
points out that we do not need to talk about the individual or
society, because the individual is formed in social contexts. Adler
(1929) cites social interest as the most important factor in an
individual's development of a healthy personality. Goffman (1959)
suggests that a person's "performance" in the social sphere "will
tend to incorporate and exemplify the officially accredited values of
the society"(p. 35), and therefore he affirms the moral values of the
community through his presentation of himself to it. Cooley (1909)
sees "human nature" as being produced and developed through the cooper-
ative associations established in group membership. The phenomenal self
is so linked with the environment, both physical and social, that its
formation cannot be considered as going on outside the social process.
Although each person is the architect of his experiences, social-
ization influences the tenor of his subjective experience and, through
the symbolic representations that are made available to him, influences
his sense of the rightness of his self. That is, the social context so
informs him of his identity that, if he is faced with a duality between
the social representation of experience and his private representations,
he is inclined to choose the socially agreed upon representation. About
this Berger and Luckmann (1967) say:
By the very nature of socialization, subjective identity
is a precarious entity. It is dependent upon the indivi-
dual's relations with significant others, who may change
or disappear. The precariousness is further increased
by self-experiences the "sane" apprehension of
oneself as possessor of a definite, stable, and socially
recognized identity is continually threatened by the
"surrealistic" metamorphoses of dreams and fantasies,
even if it remains relatively consistent in everyday
social interaction (p. 100).
As the symbolic self is developed through representation of private and
social experiences the individual generates a sense of his relationships
with others. It is through the communication experience, through the
development of a language, that he is able to increase his contacts with
the world at large. Roger Brown (1956) calls this process of first-
language learning the "Original Word Game," or "cognitive socialization."
Through awareness of his relationships to others, as established in
early language learning, the individual learns to look at himself as a
separate, yet related being.
In the social realm language affects the emergence and development
of the self through: 1) the individual's development of a capacity for
self-reflection; 2) the cultural assumptions embedded in it; 3) the
establishment of overlapping perceptions for members of society; 4) the
channeling of information for individuals; 5) the elaboration of self-
through role relationships; and, 6) the creation of common meanings and
a sense of cooperation. These dimensions of socialization through
language overlap, as we shall see, forming a complex interactive rela-
tionship among the individual, society, and language.
The Capacity for Self-reflection
Early in life the child develops a consciousness of his own body,
the fact of its existence in space and time. Merleau-Ponty (1964),
drawing upon the investigations of child psychologists, proposes that
at the point where the child recognizes himself in a mirror he develops
a new sense of himself. This occurs in the latter months of the first
year, and perceptual change that accompanies the recognition of oneself
in the mirror--what Merleau-Ponty calls the specular image-- parallels
the development of a sense of self through language and social inter-
action. Merleau-Ponty says:
At the same time that the image of oneself makes
possible the knowledge of oneself, it makes
possible a sort of alienation. I am no longer
what I felt myself, immediately, to be; I am that
image of myself that is offered by the mirror. To
use Dr. Lacan's terms, I am "captured, caught up"
by my spatial image. Thereupon I leave the reality
of my lived me in order to refer myself constantly
to the ideal, fictitious, or imaginary me, of which
the specular image is the first outline. In this
sense I am torn from myself, and the image on the
mirror prepares me for another still more serious
alienation, which will be the alienation by others.
For others have only an exterior image of me, which
is analogous to the one seen in the mirror. Conse-
quently others will tear me away from my immediate
inwardness much more surely than will the mirror.
The specular image is the "symbolic matrix," says
Lacan, "where the I springs up in primordial form
before objectifying itself in the dialectic of
identification with the other.(pp. 136-137).
This phenomenon of seeing oneself from an external point of
view enlarges aha changes the individual's perceptions of himself. He
is not merely behaving directly in his environment; he is also part of
the environment for others, and he is capable of seeing himself in the
context of others. His private experience and his public experience,
however, become separated. In language these two identities mingle and
merge. They offset each other by producing a synthesized experience.
He experiences himself as object.
Consciousness of oneself and consciounsess of language appear at
about the same time. It is through the taking on of external perspec-
tives that the child becomes capable of self-observation, for external
perspectives offer the possibility of defining boundaries. The "me"/
"not me" differentiation of the infant evolves into a "me" and "I" differ-
entiation that encapsulates the child's internally generated perceptions
and his externally generated ones. Relatively late in his acquisition
of language the child adopts the use of the pronoun I, after he has
developed the use of his proper name (Guillaume, 1925). When he does
this he becomes fully aware of his own perspective in opposition to
those of others, and he stabilizes his perceptual modes into fairly well
defined inner and outer forms. Merleau-Ponty says:
The pronoun I has its full meaning only when the
child uses it not as an individual sign to desig-
nate his own person--a sign that would be assigned
once for all to himself and to nobody else--but
when he understands that each person he sees can
in turn say I and that each person is an I for
himself and a you for others (p. 151).
The incidence of perceptual relativity, occasioned by the development of
a full awareness of the I, extricates the child from perceptual monism.
He develops a conception, however hazy, of the perceptions of others
and of himself as someone with personal perceptions.
The development of personal perspective in social situations is
often exhibited in the young child's declaration of "no" to his parents.
To say "no" is to experience oneself as an agent apart from the immediate
context and to seek to affect the course of this situation in direct,
verbal ways. As he comes to see himself as maintaining a particular
perspective and not merely living in the things around him, the child
solidifies his own self identity. Merleau-Ponty (1964) says:
At around three years the child stops lending his
body and even his thoughts to others. He stops
confusing himself with the situation or the role
in which he may find himself engaged. He adopts
a proper perspective or viewpoint of his own--or
rather he understands that, whatever the diversity
of situations or roles, he is someone above and
beyond these different situations and roles.
It may be too much to say that the child develops an ability for
self-reflection from the linguistic evidence cited above. However,
reflection has two components that are available to the child at this
point. First, reflection--as in a mirror or as in mental operations--
distinguishes an outline in the here and now situation. The individual
sees himself from the outside in and thereby possesses himself in the
same way he "possesses" physical reality. Second, reflection is
historical; to reflect is to place oneself in a historical context, to
see one's actions, thoughts, perceptions in time. At least this is the
phenomenological position enunciated by Husserl (1931) and Merleau-Ponty
If the child is capable of establishing a sense of perceptual
relativity through the differentiation of himself and others in context,
he is capable of reflecting upon himself. In short, he is capable of
creating a self-concept through the patterned perceptions afforded him
in his language and action. He is symbolizing his experiences of the
world, of others, and of himself in the language he develops. Combs (1959)
points out that differentiation of the self is accelerated through the
development of language; "language provides a 'shorthand' by which
experience can be symbolized, manipulated, and understood with tremendous
efficiency. Above all, the possession of language vastly facilitates
the differentiation of self and the world about"(p.134). But not only
is language an efficient means of differentiation, it also affects the
direction the differentiation will take. This will be explored more
fully in the following sections of this chapter.
When we look at society as an organism we observe that one of its
organizing modes is communication among all its diverse parts. The
cooperation necessary to maintain an organismic balance is established
and maintained through the language of the society. This occurs on two
basic levels. First, the fact of having a common language and a common
set of assumptions expressed in the language provides some of the unity
among the parts. Second, the act of communication itself establishes
agreements and cooperation among the people in both private and public
sectors. The first is an interesting yet limited means of maintaining
cooperation; the second, an expansive and powerful one.
Whorf (1956), an anthropologist studying the languages of several
southwest American Indian tribes, proposes that "the forms of a person's
thoughts are controlled by inexorable laws of pattern of which he is
unconscious"(p. 252). These laws of pattern are embedded:inthe indivi-
dual's language, said Benjamin Lee Whorf. Particularly when we compare
languages from different linguistic families, such as English, Sanskrit,
or Hopi, we see the vast differences in the ways an individual cuts up,
labels, and organizes perceptions. Whorf says:
And every language is a vast pattern-system,
different from others, in which are culturally
ordained the forms and categories by which the
personality not only communicates, but also
analyzes nature, notices or neglects types of
relationships and phenomena, channels his
reasoning, and builds the house of his con-
Whorf's conclusions concerning the effects of language upon
thinking have been named the "Whorfian Hypothesis" and investigators
since his time have attempted to formalize and extend it. However,
attempts to verify Whorf's observations have proven inconclusive and
we are left with an intriguing and partially illuminating theory about
linguistic relativity (Diebold, 1965). It is true that our unconscious
assumptions about the world have great impact upon our subsequent
perceptions and behaviors. A person is word-bound if he does not
realize that the words he uses and the things they refer to are not the
same, and a person is culture-bound if he believes that the forms
described by his culture are absolute.
The suggestion that a person is automatically prey to the
unconscious assumptions of his language reduces the individual to a
blind follower of hidden structures. Whorf (1956) says:
to restrict thinking to the patterns merely of
English, and especially to those patterns which
represent the acme of plainness in English, is
to lose a power of thought which, once lost, can
never be regained. It is the "plainest" English
which contains the greatest number of unconscious
assumptions about nature (p. 244).
The fact is that people have an ability to transcend the superficial
linguistic levels. This transcendence frees him from the patterns
that Whorf describes. Investigators (Bruner, Goodnow & Austin, 1956;
Carroll,1964) find that the individual engages in sorting, analyzing
and conceptualizing procedures that in themselves go beyond mere word-
boundness. Thus, although Whorf's assumptions are logically derived,
they do not account for the complexity of the human mind. If there
are people who restrict themselves linguistically in the way that
Whorf proposes, they likely will exhibit the kind of limited perception
he describes; but such people may not exist.
Carroll (1963) offers the following revision of the Whorfian
hypothesis, accounting for the individual's experience and his thinking
being greater than his use of language.
Insofar as languages differ in the ways they encode
objective experience, language users tend to sort
out and distinguish experiences differently accord-
ing to the categories provided by their respective
languages. These cognitions will tend to have
certain effects on behavior (p. 12).
If languages do exert influence on cognition and behavior, they do so
mainly in the hidden assumptions with which the individual works.
In Bruner et al. (1956) concept attainment strategies are
studied in order to understand the non-reportable thinking processes
in individuals, those processes that influence the way he forms
concepts but which he is largely unable to describe for himself. In
seeking knowledge of what is entailed in making a conceptual distinc-
tion about objects or events in the physical world, he says, there are
three questions that may guide the investigator. These are:
a. How do people achieve the information necessary
for isolating and learning a concept?
b. How do they retain the information gained from
encounters with possibly relevant events so that it
may be useful later?
c. How is retained information transformed so that it
may be rendered useful for testing a hypothesis still
unborn at the moment of first encountering new information
(Bruner, 1973, p. 132).
Answering these questions has been the goal of concept attainment
studies over the last twenty years. Problems of acquisition of know-
ledge, of memory, and of application in new situations are still
perplexing to the psychologist. My suggestion that the assumed
structure of events in our language plays a vital role in the way that
concepts are attained, or, at least approached is suggested also by
Bruner (1956) when he notes that subjects in his studies, when not
given specific instructions about the nature of the concept to be
will tend to assume that they are looking for a simple
conjunctive concept of the certainty type. Is it
indeed the case, as the late Alfred Korzybski urged,
that Western man is burdened with a preference for
conjunctive classification stemming from the tradition
of so-called Aristotelian logic? Does the difficulty
of dealing with disjunctive, relational, and probabil-
istic concepts reflect the difficulty of such concepts
or does the difficulty perhaps reflect certain cultural
biases in problem solvers (pp. 57-58)?
Since we do have classificatory biases inherent in the structure
of our language, they point us toward certain conclusions about our
world and about ourselves. Further investigations in cognitive studies
may be able to illuminate the relationship more clearly. If conjunctive,
two-value (either/or) classification is indelibly linked in language and
thinking, we would find it operating powerfully in the person's percep-
tions and in his assumptions about how events are related.
Further considerations about the controlling aspect of language
come from Alfred Korzybski's seminal principles of General Semantics.
In his book Science and Sanity (1933) Korzybski proposes that the basic
mode of thinking is an abstracting process. The individual abstracts
from his object experience "meanings" that are organized in levels
that extend further and further away from the initial events. Levels
of abstraction are intimately connected with language. Through the
assumptions of Western languages, at least, we tend to believe that
what we can say about something is what that thing is, so we tend to
disregard characteristics and events for which we have no labels. We
devise labels that select only some features of an event and we react
to them in terms of the labels we have devised. Further abstractions
may successively limit a person's perceptions and beliefs until he has
reached a rigid, uncompromising conclusion on the basis of the control-
ling assumptions behind his abstractions.
Korzybski (1958) proposes that we can become conscious of our
abstracting so that we avoid the pitfalls of the assumptions of our
language. He says:
If, through lack of consciousness of abstracting,
we identify or confuse words with objects and
feelings, or memories and 'ideas' with exper-
iences which belong to the unspeakable objective
level, we identify higher order abstractions with
lower. Since this special type of semantic iden-
tification or confusion is extremely general, it
deserves a special name. I call it objectifica-
tion, because it is generally the confusion of
words or verbal issues (memories, 'ideas,') with
objective, unspeakable levels, such as objects,
or experiences, or feelings. If we objectify,
we forget, or we do not remember that words are
not the objects or feeTings themselves, that
th2e verbal levels are always different from the
objective levels. When we identify them, we
disregard the inherent differences, and so
proper evaluation and full adjustment become
impossible (p. 417).
If, indeed, proper evaluation of events becomes cluttered up
with unconscious assumptions that distort the accuracy of a person's
perceptions, then the plumbing of these assumptions should free the
individual from misevaluations and distortions. This notion is a
highly suggestive one. We know on one hand that the degree of distor-
tion of events by an individual is proportional to his own feeling of
adequacy in the situation (Combs, 1959). That is, if someone exper-
iences an event as a threatening event he restructures it in order to
fit it into his existing perceptual field. His need to maintain a
consistent perception of himself may lead to severe denials of "reality."
Combs (1959) explains how inadequate, distorted perceptions interfere
with functioning in the world:
Distorted perceptions, it is clear, are unlikely
to prove effective in helping individuals to new
and better adjustments. To deal effectively with
life requires the clearest possible perceptions
of oneself and his relationships to the external
world. The failure of adequate perception is
the most obvious of the characteristic of inade-
quate personalities, and at the same time, the
most vital factor in serving to keep them inadequate
What Korzybski proposes is that a person's perceptions can be made
more adequate through changes in his language and through consciousness
of his abstracting. This would lead to more adequate perceptions of
oneself and a greater feeling of personal adequacy. In addition, Combs
(1959) points out that "when we find ways of helping people change the
ways they see themselves and the world in which they live, it may not
be necessary to change their environments"(p. 316).
Of course, perception is not directly manipuable from without.
The individual ultimately is the artificer of his own perceptions.
However, given new words, he has available to him new concepts around
which he may order his perceptions, and this may lead him toward greater
accuracy of perception. On a different plane, if the person is presented
with the implications of his assumptions this may be an occasion for
perceiving anew, and if he comes to see how he uses words to maintain
beliefs that are not necessarily so, this, too, may present him with
an occasion for perceptual change.
The General Semantics approach--based on the work of Alfred
Korzybski--is to concentrate upon the linguistic aspects of perception.
This level of analysis of perception is fairly abstract in itself; it
lends itself to overstatement. For example, Korzybski (1933) claims
that the word is is the most insidious linguistic phenomenon because it
gives the wrong impression that there is an absolute and exact identity
between the things linked by is. "The cat is brown," he would say,
suggests that browness and cat-ness are necessarily joined together.
However, since we cannot reasonably expect to alter the whole fabric
of all languages, we have to look to the individual's uses of language
to discover ways to improve perceptions. If we followed Korzybski
literally we would be seeking an overhaul of all of Indo-european
languages and we would be too removed from the dynamics of the indi-
There are ways in which an understanding of cultural relativity
and unconscious assumptions within language can be utilized for increas-
ing the adequacy of perception. Generally Whorf and Korzybski (and
those who have come after them) alert us to the fact that persons may
be carrying around assumptions on the more formal, cognitive end of
their experience that affect the more operational and emotional ends
of their experience. Since feelings that a person has are a product
of self-perceptions, perceptions of theworld, and the meaning of the
relationship to that individual, an understanding of the ways that a
person has of relating these perceptions will lead to further under-
standing of the role of language in the perceptual process.
As members of the same culture we carry around similar means
of appraising our experiences. In this sense we cooperate in our
perceptions of events and in many of the meanings of those events.
In perceptual psychology terms, commonly held perceptions make commun-
ication possible (Combs, 1959, p. 31). The degree of overlap of the
phenomenal fields of individuals determine the degree to which they
are capable of sharing their meanings and enlarging their experiences
with each other. In the social sphere what is considered to be
adequate, veridical perception of concrete reality is generally agreed
upon by people as a whole.
What a person can say about anything is always limited. The
pattern of any language, like the pattern of personality traits, is
unified and consistent at some point of analysis. All systems are
organized and structured and this organization means that the things
organized are transformed. The creation and utilization of symbols
(words, in this case) inevitably transforms the things symbolized.
Hayakawa (1958) points out:
human beings live in a "semantic environment,"
which is the creation of their symbol systems,
so that even the individual who believes
himself to be in direct contact with reality,
and thereforefree of doctrines and assump-
tions, thinks in terms of the symbols with
which he has been taught to organize his
perceptions, namely, the visual or verbal
symbols, or images, which are the currency
with which communication is negotiated in
his culture (pp. 131-132).
Living in an environment that shapes the form of one's symbols,
while influential, does not absolutely determine the individual's
thinking. Just as the word is not the object it represents, the symbol
system in language is not the whole of perceptual processes. There is
not a one-to-one correspondence between words and a person's concepts.
The individual is also a word user and a word manipulator. Goodman
(1971) points out that, above all, language is a coping behavior:
The common code is not identical with the power
to speak and the actual speech of individuals,
intimate groups, and functional groups, and the
latter is normally always still plastic--it shapes
the code as well as being shaped by it .
language is not a lifeless tool, but an act of
coping.. It is because our power of speech is
not in absolute correspondence with its code that
we can pick up another way of saying things and
tell it to ourselves, and so begin to understand
the other culture--especially when, o! in the
other culture we find human actions that are
relevant to ourselves (p. 49).
The finding of human actions relevant to oneself is the basis
for communities and societies. Communities are held together and
progress to the extent that members within that community see them-
selves as participants in common experiences and goals. The indivi-
dual in a community fits in to the degree that he finds himself
involved in shared activity. Thus, when the goals of the individual
and of society coincide, the individual experiences himself as a member
of a significant group and he sees his actions as being human actions.
Common experiences and common goals promote a feeling of belonging and
As an organism in itself, a society has to have organization and
structure. The different parts must cooperate in common functions. This
places great importance upon communications with the social organism,
and the symbols that are generated to hold together groups of people
(e.g., religious, technological, economic, political symbols) help
maintain the basic levels of communication. J. Z. Young (1951), the
eminent biologist, links the function of the brain to a communications
system that has developed in social contexts as an organ of communication.
Saying that "the use of words to ensure cooperation is the essential
biological feature of modern man"(p. 98), he cites man's creation of
symbols of greater and greater power as the dominant link between the
individual's mind and society as a whole.
The development of modes to ensure cooperation begins early
in the child's socialization. There is, of course, the cooperative
endeavor of feeding the infant that forms earliest senses of mutuality
between child and mother (Sullivan, 1953). Later developments of
cooperative human behavior extend further and further into the social
world, and necessitate more communication between the child and others.
As he learns how to express his needs or desires in ways that will
elicit responses, the child builds up a repertory of behaviors and
expressions that lead to further elaboration of social behaviors.
The structure and patterns of the language he is learning will
provide him with basic descriptive capabilities and a sense of what is
important to describe, but it is in the development of language as a
coping device that he begins to formulate a social identity and a social
mode of responding to others.
Channelling of Informational Modes
The information that a child possesses about himself and his
environment maintains the overall relationship between him and society.
If we look at the child for a moment in terms of cybernetic principles
(Wiener, 1961)--also called information theory and, sometimes, communi-
cation theory,--we see that he develops means of acquiring, storing,
using, and transmitting information about himself and his environment.
Strictly speaking, "information" in cybernetics is "a statistical
function of alternations within a communication system including: (1) a
sender capable of selecting a specific set of messages states out of
a range of possible states; (2) a channel through which the selection
of the sender can be indicated; and (3) a receiver capable of decoding
this indication to determine the specific message states selected by
the sender"(Sayre, 1967).' In these limited terms information is
merely a quantitative term, not associated with human intentions,
meanings, desires. It is a measure of the uniqueness of the symbol
combination used at any time; low frequencies of symbol combinations
(phonetically, lexically, or syntactically) have higher information
value; high frequencies of symbol combinations have low information
In earliest verbal learning the child receives what to him is
communication with high information value; that is, utterances are
novel; he does not know the sound or the words that will follow. He
is capable of hearing and imitating a wider range of sounds than those
produced in any single language, but as he hears the words spoken around
him certain sounds recur frequently, some others seldom, and others not
at all. As he learns to discriminate the sounds that are produced the
information value is reduced on the phonetic level. He can anticipate
certain sounds and disregard others. As information decreases, that is,
as uniqueness decreases, meaning, in cybernetic terms, increases.
Meaning for the individual develops out of recognizable patterns
and forms. If there is too much uniqueness in the communication, it
becomes chaotic, distorted, unpredictable, and unintelligible. Thus,
a random series of words, unpatterned by grammatical structures or
intention, would have high information value but make no sense. Too
redundant a message, such as the same word repeated over and over
again, loses whatever meaning it may have had. Information encompasses
a greater area of perceivable phenomenon than does meaning, for meaning
relies upon distinguishable patterns from a personal perspective. What
is meaningful and coherent to an electrical engineer will be maximally
"informative" but meaningless to a three-year-old.
In terms of an individual's perspective as a receptor of
information there must be a balance between novelty and redundancy.
The child learning to pick his way verbally through a jungle of sounds
and expressions discovers meaning in the repeated and extended content
words. He learns a variety of contexts and usages for the same word.
The redundancy of the word is balanced against the new applications he
discovers for it. Thereby, his information input is kept at a sufficiently
high level to extend the range of his verbalizations and his activities
without overloading him with too much information to assimilate.
In his relations with others the child must develop sufficient
skill in communicating internal states or external actions to be compre-
hended by those around him. The goal is to maximize the mutuality of
information, to facilitate the transfer and comprehension of as much
information as possible. Interference in this process, called noise in
information theory, reduces the mutual possession of information F. J.
Crosson (1967) says:
S. the mutual information will be the amount of
information which they Lthe sender and the receiver]
share. For a perfectly noiseless channel and no
ambiguity in coding, the mutual information will be
maximal. As noise and equivocation increase, there
will be less correlation between input and output
ensembles, and the mutual information will decrease
The mutual possession of information is the first building block of
the socialization of the child through language.
In an experiment conducted by Luria and Yudovich (1969) in the
Soviet Union identical twins, who at the age of 5 years had not developed
a common stock of words except for amorphous exclamations and privately
shared expressions, were separated and given speech training. In three
months they had developed relatively socialized speech. But the impor-
tant changes occurred in their playing behaviors. Prior to the special
linguistic training they exhibited the speech patterns and play activity
of a child 1 to 2 years of age. They did not draw, sculpt, or construct
objects from blocks; they did not engage in normal role and object
play; and they did not engage in meaningful play. However, Luria
with the development of speech, all the activity
of these children was reorganized: role and
object play appeared; disorderly drawing with a
pencil on paper was replaced by meaningful content-
centered drawing; disorderly rolling of clay was
replaced by modeling; constructive activity, which
had been absent earlier, appeared; and typical
forms of intelligent and intellectual behavior
were observed. The short time required to develop
full-valued speech in these children eliminates
maturation as an explanation and permits one to
attribute the shifts in the structure of their
activity to the development of new modes of
speech (p. 145).
Since their social behavior, particularly their play, altered
significantly after they acquired a socialized language, Luria concludes
that language, as an internal representation of external relationships,
has a regulative social function. As children develop a common language
they also develop a common perceptual framework. Therefore, the overlap
of perceptions held in common with each other and with society as a
whole produce conditions for socialized behavior. About this process,
Luria (1971) says:
With the appearance of speech disconnected from
action, indicating an object, action and rela-
tions, it was to be expected that there should
also arise the possibility of formulating a
system of connections transcending the bound-
aries of the immediate situation and of
subordinating action to these verbally formu-
lated connections. It was to be expected
that this would also lead to the development
of complex forms of activity, manifested in
play as 'the unfolding of subject matter'
which would give play a steady character (p. 84).
On one level we can say that the mutual possession of information,
the shared language and concepts, makes available to the child socialized
play, for they both derive from a special perspective of the individual.
To communicate a message a person has to consider in some way the person
receiving the message. He has to separate the symbols he uses from
actions in order to formubte an understandable message; that is, in
information theory terms, he learns a coding procedure that has a high
probability of being decoded accurately. In short, he learns to attend
to the effects of his verbalizations. Likewise, in activity with others
he learns appropriate roles for interacting socially.
Luria's analysis, that the reorganization of the child's mental
processes through speech development permits him to evaluate his activity
and produces objectively, suggests that one of the conditions necessary
for regulated activity is the taking on of an outside perspective. This
also suggests that the internal reorganization, as a product of the
external perspective, becomes the rudimentary self system, that it arises
out of the sharing of information and perceptions. The child begins to
see himself in the context of others; his actions and his expressions
are affected as is his sense of self.
The Elaboration of Self through Role Relationships
External Perspectives on Self
In social psychology, which considers the social context as the
most salient dimension of human functioning, the self is described as
a product of the interaction of individuals through the communication
process. The person adopts external perspectives on himself, and treats
himself as an object of knowledge. That is, he sees himself through
the eyes of others and comes to know himself in ways that he comes to
know objects, events and other people. Thus he develops a theory of
himself. Seymour Epstein (1972) suggests, in this respect, that the
a theory that the individual has unwittingly
constructed about himself as an experiencing,
functioning individual, and it is part of a
broader theory which he holds with respect
to his entire range of significant experience.
Accordingly, there are major postulate systems
for the nature of the world, for the nature of
the self, and for their interaction (p. 409).
And recently Raimy (1975) has proposed that self-examination by a
client in therapy can lead to the changing of misconceptions about
himself in the same way that people change their conceptions in every-
Self-examination is practiced extensively in
everyday life when problems develop which
interfere with living. If we suspect that we
may be at fault, we customarily examine our
behavior and our conceptions in the hope of
discovering our faulty conceptions. If self-
examination fails to provide us with suitable
alternatives, we may then seek the advice of
others (p. 48).
Since an individual understands himself through the taking on
of an external view of himself, he may also mis-understand himself in
the same way. Through the use of symbols the individual takes on the
attitudes and assumptions of significant others. In his language these
symbols channel his perceptions of himself along general cultural lines,
but in the communication process itself, more specific self-perceptions
are generated. To develop a "theory" or an "understanding" of himself
the individual holds the attitudes of others before him as a mirror.
The effect of mirroring himself in others is circular (Combs,
1959), for as he sees his actions and their implications in terms of
others' perceptions he modifies his actions and also his perceptions.
His perceptual field becomes enlarged through his consideration of the
effects of his behavior on others. The process becomes a self-fulfilling
one when his beliefs about the effects of his behavior produces those
effects he anticipates.
As the individual adopts the attitudes of others he learns to
see himself as others see him. He controls his actions in relation to
others; he develops attitudes about himself consistent with the attitudes
others have. At least initially this is his primary mode of realizing
his existence as a separate entity. He experiences himself as a self
from the standpoint of external roles he finds himself in. He begins
to see that he has a variety of roles and a variety of ways of looking
at himself. He is his parents' son, his sister's brother, his neighbor's
friend, etc. The dimensions of his experience are extended to his rela-
tions with others and to what these relations imply about how he is and
how he should be. Hugh Dalziel Duncan (1968) says:
To become conscious of his self, the child must
learn to take the attitude of others (who are,
of course, different and indifferent and who
hate as well as love) Thus, it is only be
taking the attitude of individual and general
others into account that he can exist within
the group, and get the kinds of responses he needs
to stimulate himself to relate to others.
It is the child's ability to take roles, not
simply to talk to himself or to 'think,' which
determines his development. That is, the basic
form of communication as a social act, whatever
its content, is histrionic. When the child talks
to himself he addresses himself in roles (p. 79).
Role in Mead's conception is not merely the conscious roles or
masks that a person may adopt, but instead encompasses all of his
relationships with others. As the child adopts and modifies his
roles vis a vis others he develops attitudes towards himself in terms
of his experienced relationships. This is not set about in deliberate
ways; it comes about as a perceptual process through which the indivi-
dual becomes increasingly aware of his identity.
Using the common symbols of the group and the common attitudes
of others as his basis for conversation with himself, he treats himself
as an object of knowledge. He can know himself through the roles he
experiences through others; he can consider himself as an external
object by looking at himself through the eyes of others; he can talk
to himself (what Mead calls "the inner flow of speech") and formulate
intelligent responses to his various attitudes. With the development
of an inner speech he then possesses the communicative modes that consti-
tute the mind. As Mead (1938) says:
The essential condition for the appearance of
what has been conceived of as mind is that the
individual in acting with reference to the
environment should, as part of that action, be
acting with reference to himself, so that his
action would include himself as an object.
This does not mean that the individual should
simply act with reference to parts of his
organism, even when that action is social,
but it does mean that the whole action toward
the object upon which attention is centered
includes as a part of this action a reaction
toward the individual himself. If this is
attained, the self as an object becomes a part
of the acting individual, that is, the indivi-
dual has attained what is called self-consciouness--
a self-consciounsess that accompanies his conduct or
may accompany a portion of his conduct (p. 367).
This sense of self, elaborated through social relations, is in
only some ways the complex, dynamic self which we are investigating.
As a source for internal regulation of behavior and of perception on
a limited scale, the self that arises through primary socialization is,
indeed, an identity. According to Mead there are as many selves in
each person as there are roles that they engage in. However, these
roles do not remain isolated from each other. A person is not entirely
different in each of his roles. He may select out of his possible
ways of behaving certain characteristics which will be organized into
a coherent role, but it is unlikely that he will involve all of himself
in any of the roles he maintains.
Roles, as social expectancies, particularly in the young child,
exert tremendous pressure upon his conceptions of himself. The roles
that he participates in promote self-perceptions that begin to stabilize
to the same degree that the roles stabilize. When asked who they are
most, people enumerate the roles they have: husband, student, sister,
businessman, friend. Children gradually learn this response. They
may begin with their name, knowing that is is a label they can apply
to themselves, and then generate other labels, socially defined, to
further describe themselves.
Primary socialization (Berger & Luckmann, 1967) is the process
of creating in the child a concept of the "generalized other," setting
up the conditions for the child to enter the social sphere. The
communication modes employed in primary socialization maintain pervasive,
but not absolutely obligatory, concepts about society, self, and one's
roles. Socialization is a stabilizing process. The child orients his
perceptions in line with those around him. Although his internal
experience is relatively amorphous and undifferentiated in relation to
his external experience, which very early begins to be structured and
differentiated, he learns to transform his external experience into a
recognizable internal experience.
Berger & Luckmann point out that early in the socialization
process the child does not distinguish the objectivity of natural
phenomena from the objectivity of social phenomena. That is, in the
terms that he has of dealing with them they both seem to be permanently,
irrevocably the way they are. In Whorf's terms the child is word-
bound and culture-bound by his unchallenged belief in the permanency
of the forms he experiences. Social conventions are seen as unchange-
able. They are not the product of human agreement or cooperation.
Likewise, his roles and the language he has for communicating through
his roles are fixed. They are experienced as objective reality.
As the child develops a social self he develops a concept of
the "generalized other," in Mead's terminology. This concept of what
an individual in society does and does not do becomes internalized as
a guideline and touchstone for future activity through the process of
considering himself as an object. Thus, standards of behavior become
formalized. Berger & Luckmann say:
The formation within consciousness of the generalized
other marks a decisive phase of socialization. It
implies the internalization of society as such and of
the objective reality established therein, and, at
the same time, the subjective establishment of a
coherent and continuous identity. Society, identity
and reality are subjectively crystallized in the same
process of internalization. This crystallization is
concurrent with the internalization of language.
Indeed .language constitutes both the most impor-
tant content and the most important instrument of
socialization (p. 133).
As the child develops a sense of generalized other his private exper-
ience and his public experience begin to coincide. We would be hard
pressed to determine the point at which one begins and the other leaves
In phenomenological terms, the individual's experience is his
own perceptual field and the meaning of his experience or of an object
depends upon his perception of the relationship between the object and
himself. However, the concept of the generalized other urges certain
perceptions of meaning in terms of society. He is told, explicitly or
implicitly, that "big boys don't cry," that one should always tell the
truth, that people don't run around without their clothes on. Thus, he
learns to evaluate the meanings of an action in terms of the social
meanings, which have become in many ways his private meanings.
The Creation of Common Meanings and a
Sense of Cooperation
A person draws upon his own individual experiences and upon his
experiences as a social and socialized being in forming perceptions
about himself. The process of communication with others necessitates
a bridging of the inner and the outer experiences, and it is this
bridging of the two that directs the individual's sense of himself as
a unique organism on one hand, and of himself as a member of a
sustained group with common ties on the other. His personal meaning
is tied up in the balancing of these two experiences.
Personal meaning in any experience derives from the individual's
perceptions of himself, his perceptions of the situation, and the rela-
tionship he perceives between them. If his overall perceptual field is
organized in accordance with society's dictates, as has been suggested
in the previous sections, the meanings he creates will reflect social
expectancies. He may not be absolutely bound by them, but he certainly
is not free of them either. His past experience, having many elements
of commonality with others and of individuality, directs his expecta-
tions about whatever new situations he may encounter.
The development of social identities and of a stock of words,
gestures, and meanings that help the individual interact smoothly with
others, assumes social consequences of actions. Meaningful social
actions derive from the individual's perceptions of the relationship
between himself and others. Grounded in the cooperative dimensions of
communication, interaction between individuals--even those involving
disagreements--transform private individual experiences into public,
common experiences. Anton C. Zijderveld (1971) calls this movement of
sensibility "meaningful intentionality." He says:
It is this meaningful intentionality that transforms
movements of the body into social actions and inter-
actions of persons. To this, the internalization of
behavior as a cybernetic principle may be added: we
are able to steer our actions in a meaningful way
because we internalize the gestures and actions of
others and feed them back in further communication--
as in a spiral movement.
Participation is a function of this internalization.
If man is no longer able to internalize actively, he
will store up in his self meaningless, disconnected
pieces of information--abstract images and empty
stereotypes which are continuously reflected upon
but do not stimulate any further communicative
behavior. Moreover, in such a situation the actor
will gradually lose the capacity to question or
criticize the incoming information. He will slowly
develop into an easy object for manipulation.
Opinions are consumed passively and stored up in
consciousness for abstract reflections (p. 87).
Zijderveld's conclusion on this matter is that the process of internal-
ization is essential not only to the development of a social self but
also to the maintenance of a fully functioning personality.
The picture we obtain at this point is one of an individual
who assimilates the language patterns and the communicative modes of
his culture in such a way that he develops an internal representation
of the gestures, actions, and meanings of others. Through his internal-
ized meanings he is able to organize further events into coherent
patterns and he is able to participate meaningful in social activities.
Thus, cooperation in the daily experience, particularly if this cooper-
ation is perceived as a fulfillment of one's own identity, coincides
with personal meaning.
Zijderveld's description of the effects of loss of the ability
to internalize reminds us of Korzybski's description of the word-bound
individual (1949). Both suggest that under certain conditions the
individual forfeits the unique, productive ability to relate his
language and his nonverbal experience. For Korzybski a person who
confuses objects and words, who thinks that all things with the same
name are the same, who reacts to words automatically, and who general-
izes and stereotypes experiences and people blindly, is an intensionall"
being. He is caught in rigid, unchanging, narrow attitudes. He deals
with surface similarities and ignores differences; he is uncirtical of
his experience and he is uncompromising in his perceptions. In short,
he has not internalized the basic symbolizing principle: symbols are
not the things they symbolize.
The social context informs the individual of the appropriateness
of his symbols. Through interaction and participation he builds up a
range of responses that both allow him to relate adequately with others
and to discover personal meanings in his relations. He has to be able
to distinguish social reality, which is based upon common agreement,
from natural reality which is not based upon agreement, but which just
is. The difference in these two realities means the difference between
perceiving oneself as a party to agreements and cooperation, and
perceiving oneself as a mere follower of unchangeable patterns.
The Extension of Perception through Language
In order for the individual to form a phenomenal self of
whatever complexity, he must possess a capability of symbolizing his
experience and himself. The symbolizing process itself allows the
individual to perceive patterns, to abstract from sensory impressions,
to draw conclusions, and to hold beliefs. It offers a means of ordering
impressions into coherent, meaningful patterns. Without such ordering
processes perceptual experience would be locked into rigid, non-continuous
actions without a sense of direction or movement.
In listening to a musical piece we "understand" it because we
are able to detect a pattern in the sequence of tones, a rhythm, and
a flow of intervals and notes. Without the ability to represent and
hold the notes in our awareness we would experience each note as an
isolated sound, having no relation to what went before or what is to
come. A person's ability to perceive music as a continuous, flowing,
ordered, acoustic phenomenon is a product of his general.ability to
handle the accumulation of impressions and of his specific orientations
and experiences with music. Brought up on Western musical structures
(symphonies and concertos, for example), he might experience a disorien-
tation upon encountering the structurally different music of traditional
Eastern civilizations, but he would still be able to recognize it as
music and not as random sounds.
Perception of Continuity
Symbolizing activity in man binds the past, present, and future
for him. Before he can abstract from his perceptual impressions he
must be able to experience duration from one activity to the next, from
one impression to the next. Korzybski (1949) calls this distinguishing
activity in mankind "time-binding," and suggests that man's capacity
for abstraction, that is, symbolization, provides him with a continuous
link between impressionistic data and human experiencing. Bergson (1912)
too, claims that individual sense impressions are so "animated by
common life"(p. 11) that we experience them as a flowing from one to
This subjective feeling of continuity of experience opens the
individual to further abstractions about his environment. The child
appears to develop a sense of the continuity of his own existence
before developing a comparable concept of continutiy of objects and
persons (Piaget, 1970). He orders his world around the subjective
states of his own body and then gradually extends his awareness and
symbolizing beyond himself into the physical and social world.
The experiences of living in time, of having a past and future
as well as the present precedes the experience of any other continuous
aspect of the self. To communicate this experience to others one
must have a language, for the past and future cannot be expressed
otherwise. By actions alone the child can only present his current
experience. He might be able to signal the need for food or sleep or
clean diapers, but that in itself is not symbolic activity. To represent
a feeling state requires at least some symbolization of that state,
which means that it also must be felt as part of continuous experience.
The development of language is the development of means for represent-
ing experience, and it extends the representation from the here-and-
now signal to representation of past experiences and future possibili-
ties. This is an important link in an individual's development. By
learning language he learns more than the symbols to use for represent-
ing himself, his thoughts, his feelings. He learns to represent himself,
which is a vast leap in mental functioning.
The representation of reality through symbols begins very early,
but it is the blossoming of linguistic ability that opens the child's
differentiation of elements in the environment. He begins to learn
that people and things have names. Furthermore he learns that several
objects can have the same name. As he learns to distinguish those
objects from other objects with similar properties he is also learning
methods for distinguishing them.
Brown (1968) suggests that in the naming activity the child's
vocabulary is more determined by the practices of adults than by his
cognitive preferences. The child learns the utility of the thing
symbolized by language as well as learning the symbol itself.
Naming each thing in accordance with local
frequencies, parents unwittingly transmit
their own cognitive structures. It is a
world where Prince is unique among dogs
and papa among men, spoons are all alike but
different from forks. It may be a world of
bugs (to be stepped on), or flowers (not to
be picked), and birds (not to be stoned).
It may be a world in which Niggers, like
spoons are all of a kind. A division of caste creates
a vast categorical equivalence and a correspondingly
generic name. Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith do not come out
of racial anonymity until their uniqueness is appreci-
ated (p. 86).
Likewise the child's perceptions and personal experience are organized
by the linguistic symbols he obtains from representing them. A child
learns to see himself through the eyes of others and to describe him-
self through the vocabulary of others. As he learns to represent
feeling states or physical attributes, he learns what states are
significant for representation and what states are trivial or non-
existent in other people's terms. The differentiation of what consti-
tutes himself, his possessions, his capabilities, and his feelings
begins on the linguistic level.
I watched my two-year-old nephew one day as he toddled around
the living room of his grandmother's house. He would approach a
cabinet that was "off limits" with obvious interest, but just before
reaching it he would say, "No, Shawn," in exactly the tone of voice
used by his mother. Other objects in the room elicited either the
learned injunction not to touch, or, in the case of objects that were
acceptable for him to touch and handle, a completion of his initial
urge. Clearly, he was learning the language of limitations and rules
and of subsequent actions that could be performed.
The activity of language orients the individual to attend to
those features of his environment a.id of himself that can be named and
communicated. Communicable phenomena must have a history, a continuity
of existence, and some elements that are held in common with other
phenomena. The unique, the idiosyncratic can be communicated only if
it is related in some way to the enduring and general. Thus the child
as he learns to talk learns to attend to the things around him that
can be communicated. He learns to see similarities in different
objects, and he learns to deal with these objects in similar terms.
In his perception of himself he attends to repeatable physiological
functions and recurrent feelings. Other phenomena he either learns to
ignore because there is no word for them, or he learns to express in
terms of something else. Ruesch and Bateson (1968) suggest that the
limitations of language to recurring phenomena order the activity
of all people around their perception of common occurrences. "Language
can only deal with recurring phenomena: never can it specify the unique,
and especially the uniquely personal developments and complex growth
which are still in the future"(p. 233). This is one aspect of language
development: its orientating effect upon perceptions of constancy,
continuity, and similarity of sense impressions that shapes a person's
attention. He learns how to respond to the facts of existence (that
some things endure) and what facts are worth attention (those that
In organizing his perceptual field, then, the child attends to
impressions that are responsible along certain lines. He differentiates
those elements that have essentially constant characteristics. Those
that exist over an extended period of time, and those that are similar
in features or consequences. He does not learn to distinguish phenomena
for which there are not adequate words or concepts in his language.
For example, childhood synaesthesia, in which more than one sense
modality are experienced together ("hearing" colors; "seeing" sounds;
"feeling" the texture of tastes; etc.) is a common phenomenon, but
it decreases in strength in later years. I suggest that, since we
have no simple ways of expressing those experiences and tend to
disregard them, the capacity for synaesthesia is diminished, if not
It is a common occurence for perceptual fields in people as a
whole to be broadened and their abilities to experience new phenomena
enhanced through the introduction of new words or concepts. In the
last few years serious scientific investigation of auras around people's
heads, sparked by Kirlian photography, has apparently legitimate the
seeing of these auras by many people in their daily life. Now that it
is fairly well accepted as a legitimate experience more and more people
report having seen auras. The precise reasons for this are not clear,
but it is clear that prevailing ways of cutting up and organizing
experience affect the individual's private perceptions.
Adult linguistic practices shape the early perceptions of the
child. Not only is the child learning a vocabulary for expressing his
wants and his perceptions, he is learning the degree to which such
expressions are acceptable. From the simple differentiation of physical
objects to the more complex differentiation of significant aspects of
his body and his experience, the child reflects the attitudes and
assumptions of those he contacts. Eveloff (1971) summarizes this
By interpreting the world around him in an organized
logical manner, the adult reflects facets of reality
for the child that are incomparably deeper and more
complex than those he would have gleaned from his
own experimentation. The incorporated words of the
parent become a tremendous factor which helps to form
the very substance of mental activity.
When the child verbally establishes complex connections
and relations between perceived phenomena with the help
of an adult, the child introduces at each moment essen-
tial qualitative changes in the receptivity and
interpretation of sensory input to his brain, that is,
in the perception and cognition of his world. Thus,
the word not only makes possible the coding of infor-
mation but modifies the nature of that which is to be
coded (p. 1896).
Language, then, is a means of extending one's perceptions into deeper
and richer dimensions. The quality of perceptual experience is height-
ened by the ability of the child to orient his intake of information
around symbols. This important facet of perceptual experiences
suggests that construction of the child's experience goes on from his
earliest symbolizing activities. Since he interprets his world, his
actions, and himself through symbols and since these symbols carry with
them the cultural .assumptions of those who introduce them, his act of
perceiving is a constructive act.
The Perception of Patterns and Relationships
Besides the basic symbolizing of events that comes from naming
or labelling them, language also exercises a further representation of
events through the patterns of words produced. Much of language is
tied to no specific concrete phenomena, as Benjamin Lee Whorf (1956)
points out. Speech, which incorporates the pattern system of the
language--that is, the sentence structure itself--is more important
than the particular words. He says:
That part of meaning which is in words, and which we
may call "reference," is only relatively fixed. Refer-
ence of words is at the mercy of the sentences and
grammatical patterns in which they occur The
sentence "I went all the way down there just in order
to see Jack" contains only one fixed concrete refer-
ence: namely, Jack. The rest is pattern attached
to nothing specifically (p. 259).
This means that the child learning a language acquires a particular
system of patterns that influence his perceptions of the ways in which
objects or persons can be related. Although the effects of this
patternment are difficult to assess, there have been some notable
attempts at describing the role of language patterns in perception:
specifically, Whorf (1956) and Korzybski (1933). I will deal with
these in more detail later.
Accepting for the now that patterning in language is important,
we are led to ask how an understanding of this pattern develops. To
find answers to this we need to look at the symbolic functions in
regard: to the internalization of patterns.
The Symbolic Function
The symbolic function not only enables the individual to
symbolize experiences and manipulate symbols, but it also provides
the modality for internalizing experience, for "making it your own,"
so to speak. Out of each person's unique interactions with the world
he forms a complex organization that not only gives meaning to exper-
ience, but also provides him with a means of ordering experiences to
come. Thus, there is a static element and a progressive goal to
Static elements in perception derive from the labels we apply
to events. There is a tendency to reify experience, to treat as an
object non-physical phenomena or processes. For example, "love" is
not a thing; it is a label attached to a way of behaving and perceiving.
But we often talk about it as if it has real existence. We can fall
in it or out of it. We can give or receive it. We call upon it as a
panacea for splintered social relations. The quality of loving is
almost systematically transformed into a static object. Most abstract
conceptions are reduced to objectifications in this way.
The human tendency toward objectification of experience illustrates
one way of knowing the world. We can know things by acting upon them,
but that means that they must have some real or supposed physical
existence. Love can be analyzed,categorized, and evaluated in physical
terms only if it has been objectified first. Another way of knowing
comes about through understanding relationships among things. To
understand relationships the individual must be able to perceive patterns,
to abstract from experience, to propose and test combinations of phenom-
ena, to transform them systematically. In short, he needs to be able
to bring to his experiences a vast range of synthesizing process.
Objects are not the only things that can be known, but they are
our most ready sources of knowledge and provide us with models for
knowing non-physical things. Piaget 0971b) says:
There are two ways of transforming the object we
wish to know. One consists in modifying its posi-
tions, its movements, or its characteristics in
order to explore its nature: this is action known
as "physical." The other consists in enriching
the object with characteristics or new relation-
ships, which retain its characteristics or previous
relationships, yet completing them by systems of
classification, numeral order, measure, and so forth:
these actions are known as "logico-mathematical" (p. 67).
Systematic procedures for transforming objects mentally, in order to more
fully realize their characteristics, apply combinatorial to the situation.
Although Piaget is concerned primarily with what he calls the
logico-mathematical processes, especially as they are oriented towards
exploration of physical realtiy, such processes are only part of a more
extensive perceptual experience. We know that perceptions are differen-
tiated on the basis of perceived qualities of nearness, similarity, etc.
Piaget's description of the knowing process formalizes the above Gestalt
description of perception in tightly defined areas. His development
theory supported by wide ranging experiments by others that the child
learns systems for transformation of physical reality allows the possi-
bility that the child learns similar systems of transformation for all
of his perceptual experiences, such as concepts about himself.
Evidence cited in the development of cognitive structures is
corroborative but not directly applicable to the whole of experience.
There is a strong suggestion that, if a person's perceptual field is
a product of his mental activity, understanding the structures and
processes in mental functioning will enable us to understand further
the individual's organization of his perceptual field.
Piaget's formulation of logic-mathematical processes in
simplified form looks like this: the individual "knows" reality as
an existing and consistent pehnomenon, that is he knows the basic
properties of physical objects; he also knows and increases his power
to know ways of manipulating and transforming his knowledge so as to
deepen and widen his understanding; these powerful transformational
abilities constitute knowledge in itself and also a means of extending
knowledge; thus, the transformantional processes are the most important
dimensions of knowledge. If we can know how the individual organizes
his understanding and transforming processes we will understand the
nature of thinking itself.
Obviously, mapping the child's total perceptual process is a
massive undertaking, and not likely to yield all the secrets of mental
life quickly or easily. However, even as it stands in a nascent state
this theory of the growth of knowledge contributes an important dimen-
sion in considering the whole phenomenal field. The ways that a person
has of elaborating and extending the personal meaning of his experience
can be understood in this model. A person has as his basic self concept
a range of attributes that are central to himself. He also has as a
part of his perceptual framework a set of logical processes that tell
him how to alter conceptions of himself and of his world. Thus, the
perceptual field of an individual is the total of his perceptions of
himself, of his perceptions of the world, and the relationships he
sees between them; the means he uses to discover relationships would
be his transformational processes.
One of the unique qualities of mental processes is the ability
of the individual to reflect upon his own experience. This is impor-
tant for it means that he is not bound up in the world of sensory
experience but can make his own experiences more extensive by
considering them. This quality of consciousness has ingrigued
philosophers and psychologists alike. Perception refers to the.
quality and vividness of a person's experiences in his conscious
state; self-perception refers, then, to his awareness of himself
as a perceiver. This entails reflection upon his experience after
the fact and a change in the level of his perception. Self percep-
tion or reflection may be extended indefinitely, like the images
generated by two facing mirrors.
A person is initially a perceiving organism. He becomes a
self-perceiving organism with the advent of language, for at this
time he can conceptualize himself apart from his environment and
roles. The degree of complexity in self-perception is a function
of experiences and mental maturation. His experiences inform him
progressively of consequences, patterns, attributes, et cetera in
his world. His mental faculties provide him with powerful abilities
to conceptualize, to abstract from his experience salient features.
By internalization I mean the process of assimilating experience
and perceptions into the over all body of concepts that are the indivi-
dual's reservoirof attitudes, thinking styles, symbolizing processes
and meanings. Piaget (1970) relates internalization to the replace-
ment of action with thought. To him actions that are performed on
objects "are the basis for reflective abstraction"(p. 19) and they
are internalized insofar as they "can be carried out in thought as
well as executed materially"(p. 22).' This externalistic view of the
process of making something one's own breaks the perceptual process
into two parts, an event and the idea of that event; but if we look
at the relationship of action to perception, we see that they occur
simultaneously. Thus, the individual differentiates his perceptions
as he acts upon the external world; those differentiated perceptions
become "internalized" as the individual discovers the meaning of them
to himself. Berger and Luckmann (1967) describe internalization as
"the immediate apprehension or interpretation of an objective event
as expressing meaning"(p. 129).
Internalization, then, is a process of making something a
working part of one's perceptual processes. As differentiated
perceptions are dropped out of the immediate experience of the
individual they become part of the process of differentiating
further perceptions. Combs (1959) describes this as a Gestalt
Events learned to the point where they are differ-
entiated in clear figure soon fade into the ground
of the perceptual field, being replaced in figure by
some new or more extensive differentiation .
The economy of the organism requires that we be able
to drop what has been differentiated in clear figure
further and further into the ground of the field.
If every event had to be new and clearly differen-
tiated at every moment, need satisfaction, even
the very existence of the organism, would be
impossible (p. 198).
Symbolizing experience on an overt, linguistic level begins
the process of internalization of symbols and images used by the
individual in creating new symbols. As he learns to abstract
patterns from his experiences, the individual replaces these perceived
patterns with others. The ones that are replaced are not precluded
or eliminated; they become more integral elements in his perceptual
organization. They become his "sets," his assumptions, and his means
of differentiating incoming impressions. What he internalizes, what
he drops into the ground of his experience, then, can have great
impact upon his later perceptions.
An example of this internalization is the objectification process.
In order to express relationships we have to put them into words which
tend to objectify the expressed event. What begins in perceptual exper-
ience as a process becomes a static object or relationship in order to
communicate it. Not only does the speaker learn to apply labels to
events, but he also learns that events are to be labelled like objects.
He learns the objectification process and internalizes it as a part of
his perceptual process. When he encounters new situations he asks
"what is it called?" Eventually this orientation towards naming and
objectifying is so much a part of him that it affects all experiences
he has, including perceptions of himself.
Say for example, that a student uses external, inadmissable
(from the teacher's point of view) sources on an examination. At
the moment of acting the student is merely doing what seems to him
to be the most effective thing he can to succeed on the test. After
he has done this, actually at almost the same time that he does it,
he sees his behavior as interpreted from an external point of view.
The label attached to that behavior is cheating, so that makes him a
cheater. If he is a "cheater" then he may be bad, for having cheated,
or clever for having gotten away with it, but whatever he believes
about himself in that situation will be, partially at least, a product
of his internalized tendency to objectify his experience, to attach
labels and then to react to the labels.
Raimy (1943) describes the concentration of personal observa-
tions into symbolic shorthand as being important in the formation of
one's self concept.
Instead of a retention of all the details which occurred
in actual experience, words or other symbols may be used
to abbreviate and condense the results of personal obser-
vations so that only a vestigial symbol may represent the
content of a large number of personal experiences. For
instance, "I am guilty" may be the simple self-character-
ization which stands for a whole series of guilty
self-evaluations (p. 101).
Symbolizing Personal Experience
The symbolic function, which makes it possible for someone to
abstract from his experience and to deal with his abstractions as "real"
objects or events, becomes elaborated through personal experience. This
functioning is not an object that causes events, even though the essence
oflanguage leads me to describe it as if it were an object. The symbolic
function is inseparable from mental activity, from perception, from
abstraction, from experience.
'Self-perception is possible because symbolization is possible.
Symbolization of experience begins as a simple tool for sorting out
the impressions and events that surround a person. It becomes an
elaborate process of understanding, eventually extending beyond here-
and-now phenomena to phenomena that are not immediately accessible to
the senses because they are displaced in time or position. The self
and the perceptual process are both displaced from immediate experience,
but because they can be symbolized, they become accessible to each
Cassirer (1946) states that symbols and linguistic concepts help
the individual find limits and draw outlines for experience. As this
formation of linguistic concepts orders the internal structure of a
person's perceptions and conceptions it helps lead him to a clear
understanding of himself and of his world.
the primary function of linguistic concepts does
not consist in the comparison of experiences and the
selection of certain common attributes, but in the
concentration of such experiences, so to speak, in
distilling them down to one point. But the manner of
this concentration always depends upon the direction of
the subject's interest and is determined not so much by
the content of the experience as by the teleological
perspective from which it.is viewed. Whatever appears
important for our wishing and willing, our hopes and
anxiety, for acting and doing; that and only that
receives the stamp of verbal "meaning."
Only symbolic expression can yield the possibility
of prospect and retrospect, because it is only by symbols
that distinctions are not merely made, but fixed in con-
sciousness. What the mind has once created, what has been
culled from the total sphere of consciousness, does not
fade away again when the spoken word has set its seal
upon it and given it definite form (pp. 37-38).
As a person learns to organize his experiences along certain
dimensions, abstracting patterns and internalizing them, so he learns to
orgaize conceptions of himself. Erikson (1968) suggests that each
stage of psychosocial development for the individual'is characterized by
an identity formation task that must be resolved successfully for the
individual to increase his growing sense of identity.and personal
adequacy. Identity formation for Erikson is equivalent to self-
concept and it becomes possible through self-perception:
In psychological terms identity formation employs
a process of simultaneous reflection and observa-
tion, a process taking place on all levels of
mental functioning, by which the individual judges
himself in the light of what he perceives to be the
way in which others judge him in comparison to them-
selves and to a typology significant to them; while
he judges their way of judging him in the light of
how he perceives himself in comparison to them and
to types that have become relevant to him. This
process is, luckily, and necessarily, for the most
part unconscious except where inner conditions and
outer circumstances combine to aggravate a painful
or elated, "identity-consciousness (pp. 22-23)."
Even though it may not occur on the conscious level, a person is
constantly relating himself to others in interpersonal terms and abstract-
ing from those relations. He thereby is employing a highly sophisticated
form of cognition capable of complex deductions, comparisons, inferences,
abstractions, and meanings. The individual is capable of reflecting upon
his characteristic ways of synthesizing experience, and making those
abstracting and transforming modes more integral to himself by internal-
What I am suggesting on a broad level is that internalization is
a process in mental activity that derives its existence from the symbolic
function. Only because the individual is capable of reflecting upon
his experience, only because he both perceives and abstracts from his
perceptions, is he able to internalize processes for manipulating and
transforming his experience. First he learns to attach labels, then
to label the labels, then to further label and abstract. Internaliza-
tion of these abstracting processes increases his ability to organize
his experience along certain lines; it also directs the ways in which
he will organize perceptions about himself and his world.
A further indication of the power of the internalization process
in personality development occurs in the social realm. Individuals who
begin, say, disbelieving in their roles, but enact their roles vis-a-vis
others in a prescribed manner often end up believing in those same roles
(Goffman, 1959). For example, someone who moves to a new locale may
find the social customs and manner of speech quaint or bizarre at first.
He, however, enters into the community style with a faint sense of
playing a role and sometime later has internalized these customs and
speech patterns so that he is indistinguishable from the natives.
The acquisition of language may also be viewed as an internalization
of labels (words) and patterns (syntax). The most notable attempt to
describe language in terms of the individuals capacities is in the area
of linguistic theory called transformational grammar.
Transformational grammer attempts to account for the fact that a
normal native speaker of a language is able to understand sentences he
has never heard before and is able to generate entirely novel utterances
(Chomsky, 1957). The fact that all people can grasp intuitively what
is grammatical and what is not grammatical in daily speech suggests that
each person possesses an abstract, although it may be unexpressable,
representation of the grammar of his language which allows him to sort
through utterances and not only know what is a permissible sentence,
but also how to disambiguate, to differentiate possible meanings of
sentences. Noam Chomsky calls this linguistic ability competence.
The concept of competence suggests that the person responds to
several meaningful levels in sentences; he understands the sounds
(phonetics) that characterize his particular language, and he under-
stands the meanings of the words and the syntactic patterns of sentences.
He understands more than the mere surface characteristics of sentences.
The development of linguistic competence proceeds from simple
holophrastic utterances, wherein the child expresses one word that
carries the equivalent in meaning to a sentence (e.g. "pencil" for "I"
see the pencil," or "give me a pencil"), to complex, syntactic, "adult"
utterances. As he moves from one-word sentences to two-word and three-
word sentences, the child is constantly testing out hypotheses, so to
speak, about the relationships among words. He acquires subtler and
richer knowledge about the pattern and structure of sentences as he differ-
entiates grammatical forms and classes. In short, he operates like a
scientist gathering data and organizing it into increasingly powerful
Three Dimesions of Speech
Three dimensions in speech production are learned: the surface
structure of sentences, deep structures, and transformational rules.
First, the surface structure of sentences is the organization of
specific words, phrases, and their phonetic representation. The child
learns to make the appropriate and characteristic sounds of his language;
he learns to distinguish minimal sound differences that affect the
meaning of the words he hears. He also learns the names of objects
and events, and he learns the proper word order in sentences. These
dimensions of linguistic knowledge are available in external (written
or spoken) utterances. With the ability to represent thought in words
the child has a working knowledge of language. However, this by itself
is not enough to account for the richness of linguistic ability.
Were the surface structures the only existing linguistic structures,
language use would be limited to the manifest and obvious. All meaning
would reside on the surface. Information that would be transmitted would
have to express all the assumptions involved; nothing could be assumed
because it would have no structure for being assumed. Since it is
apparent that sentences do carry prior assumptions within their struc-
ture (e.g. personal pronouns, past and future tenses, conditional voices),
we are led to specifying deeper structures which accommodate such aspects
In deep structure (sometimes referred to as Kernel sentences)
basic grammatical patterns of a language are given abstract representation.
Being concepts about the bative speaker's language, they are more general-
ized than surface structures. That is, in deep structure the individual
has an abstract formulation about the acceptable utterances in his lang-
uage. These concepts act as templates in that they allow the individual
to sort out the acceptable and unacceptable sentences and to generate
appropriate utterances of his own. As abstractions about language, deep
structures cannot be expressed without additional components; the surface
structure assigns appropriate sounds to the words thereby giving it
An intermediate step in sentence production occurs by means of
transformational operations. Transformational rules consist of further
abstractions about language. In transformational operations the indivi-
dual applies his knowledge about the structure of phrases and how they
may be recombined to produce variations on the basic phrases. Thus,
at this level grammatical rules (such as the various tense forms, the
changing from active to passive constructions, etc.) are applied to
deep structures, giving the form the sentence will take on the surface.
Transformational rules, it is believed, bridge the abstract level of
representation and the surface level of production and understanding.
A more detailed description of transformational grarmmer may be found in
Coding of a sentence begins at a deep structure level. Semantic
representatations, personal meaning, motives for speaking, ideas and
concepts begin to be formulated in terms of the speaker's language at
this point. Appropriate grammatical constructions and transformations
are applied, and the resultant sentence, being transformed into sound,
is generated. The production of speech is a complex cognitive function
that operates on several levels. In linguistic terms, motives for
speech are not considered as part of the grammatical ability of the
speaker. He may have diverse reasons for saying what he says, but
whatever the reasons, his bringing of his thoughts to the surface
follows this linguistic structure.
The course of language acquisition is two-fold. The child
develops greater mastery of vocabulary and syntax on one hand, while
he subordinates that knowledge to knowledge of transformational rules
on the other hand. That is, he develops categories of words and
phrases which can be generalized from to produce abstract principles
of application. This is similar to Piaget's (1968) description of the
learning of logico-mathematical structures. These principles reduce
the amount of information the child has to store, and through them he
becomes capable of generating all possible sentences from a basic
vocabulary and a string of transformations.
As the child categorizes and differentiates categories, the
deep structure becomes an internalized version of basic English or
French, for example. When it is coupled with the transformational
rules (the operative element), a means of bring forth the internal
structure is available. McNeill(1966) says:
A child seems to operate like a professional grammarian
who takes advantage of the fact that transformations
are intrinsically more powerful than base-structure
deep structure rules and so can express grammatical
relations more economically. The pressure--or, if
you prefer, the motivation--to devise transformation
rules may come from the cognitive clutter that comes
from not having them (p. 61).
The picture of mental and linguistic development that we obtain from
transformational grammar approaches is one of progressive differentia-
tion of specific, surface elements, and a concomitant internalization
of powerful mental constructs which become the guiding principle in
It seems that the child internalizes the structure of his language
in ways similar to how he internalizes his knowledge about physical
objects. In both cases the capacity for symbolizing opens the possibility
of organizing knowledge in systematic ways and it follows that the more
abstract, deep level representations will have the greatest effect upon
the individual's perceptions. They become his unconscious assumptions
in dealing with the world.
The Adequacy of Knowledge
The existence of transformational structure, that is, systematic
ways of relating and structuring basic knowledge of events, although
not capable of explaining all of human functioning, is highly sugges-
tive of the process of knowing for the individual. Piaget (1970)
working in a different framework from grammarians, explains his concep-
tion of knowledge:
Knowing an object does not mean copying it--it means
acting upon it. It means constructing systems of
transformations that can be carried out on or with
this object. Knowing reality means constructing
systems of transformations that correspond, more or
less adequately, to reality. .Knowledge, then, is
a system of transformations that become progressively
adequate (p. 15).
The dimension of adequacy of transformations in representing the
true state of existence corresponds with a similar dimension in percep-
tual experience. A person's perceptions are self-correcting in that
they are testable against reality; this applies particularly in the
realm of physical reality.
If a person's perceptions of the world are wrong, he finds out
when he acts upon those perceptions. If I think that a sliding glass
door is open when it is not, I will discover my error, probably pain-
fully, as I try to walk through it.
When perception of self is explored, however, "reality" becomes
much less testable. Against what can the individual test his percep-
tions? The perceptions of others will elucidate some of his perceptions
of himself, but since no one can know all of other's experience, there
remain some aspects that cannot be checked against "reality." Bruner
(1973) points out:
self cues are probably ambiguous in nature .
they rarely are very appropriate for confirming
specific hypotheses self-information is a
good deal vaguer than the highly salient infor-
mation we get from the external environment (p. 110).
This limitation in knowing places greater importance upon the individual's
actual process of knowing or perceiving than upon the product of knowing,
because the resultant conclusion is less testable in empirical terms.
If a person's processes of transforming impressions into assimmilable
form are based upon adequate ways of representing the impressions he
receives, then the perceptions of the individual are like to be veridicd3.
For example, if a child believes that because his father gets angry with
him he is an unworthwhile person, his perceptions of himself will involve
his unworthwhileness. If, on the other hand, he knows not to conclude
that he is bad or unworthy because of his father's anger, he will resist
forming self-perceptions about his inadequacy. It is in the abstracting
process that his perceptions of himself are generated and it is in the