Sunday, July 08, 2001

Language & The Assemblage Point

Language is one of the keys to creating shared reality.

In my college years, I experimented with different views of reality and joined a church. I soon discovered that there was a huge vocabulary for the religious experience. It included common words with very specific religious meaning as well as new words that I had not encountered in my pre-religion life. It took quite a while to master the vocabulary, and I remained silent for a long time so I would not make a fool of myself from improper word choices.

Soon, after listening to the speech patterns of others who were praised as examples, I began to string together phrases and sentences that showed my commitment to the religious issues at hand. In those days, my little church was actively protesting the movie Star Wars for it's anti-Christian world view. My sentences soon became longer pieces of language as I joined in the vocal crowd speaking for a deep personal experience and against the world that made a deep personal experience seem unnecessary. But what I discovered is that I was speaking gobilty gook, long phrases that really had no meaning for me.

I made a decision that I was only going to use my own words to describe my experiences. This small decision pushed me to explore and examining my own deep personal experience, and to talk about it in a way that was honest and personally revealing. For me, it was a decision that resulted in greater integrity, and curiously enough, pushed me to an even deeper personal experience. This same decision, however, caused others to look at me with suspicion, and to question the sincerity of my life. In fact, with that one decision, I set in place the events that would eventually lead to the demise of my church membership. Because my words were of my own choosing, I was seen as an outsider, a person who was lacking a deep personal experience, and definite not one of the true believers.

However, I found that talking about my deep personal experience in my own words opened up the communication I had with people outside of my small church. I could talk with people who held different religious beliefs about my reflections on my own life in a way that allowed for honest and real exchanges of ideas, experiences and perspective. I also found that this decision spread into other areas of my life, freeing me from a dependence on slang terms so I could talk about all areas of my life with greater ease and success.

In June 2001, I was working to train employees inside a corporation to use a new computer system, and as always, my training manual included an extensive glossary to support the new vocabulary these workers needed to take on. Most of the terms were required by the software itself, but some of them came from the business decisions made around the software implementation. It allowed me to reflect again on the important of language to coordinate the activities and thoughts of a group of people towards a goal.

I have always been interested in the development and science for creating dictionaries, and believe me, I'm grateful that we have standardized word definitions and spellings. It facilitates the exchange of ideas, allowing our media to thrive and explore the world for us. I'm not suggesting that shared language is harmful in a general sense. I am convinced from my own life that language is part of the bond for factions within subcultural groups, identifying insiders from outsiders. No matter how qualified a TV journalist may be, the newbie to the region is always identified by mispronunciations of names that are known to the long time residents.

There are many stories out there about the localization of language. I've heard that the Navajo have no word for art, and that the Eskimos have 14 words for snow. While language provides us with a set of shortcuts for communicating messages, there is great personal value in examining word choices and consciously deciding to use personal, descriptive words. If words help to hold us within the local assemblage point setting, careful word selection can also free us from blinding membership to any subgroup.

Isn't it ironic that I've chosen a phrase defined by Castaneda as the name for my blog? I suppose this is appropriate, as my goal is to use the column to explore my awareness of assemblage point issues in my life, and Castaneda's work was about pointing out the presence and role of the assemblage point to those who are not aware of it. By choosing this title, I join myself to that subculture faction that is exploring the assemblage point and its impact on personal reality.

I feel like I should illustrate this bit of writing with one of those pictures that shows a person holding a TV that is showing the same person holding a TV, which shows... you get the idea.

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