Kelly's Reviews > Language in Thought and Action

Language in Thought and Action by S.I. Hayakawa
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's review
Jan 29, 2009

it was amazing
Read in July, 2009

This is one of the most enlightening books I have ever read. Hayakawa is the kind of incredibly bright mind whose writing can make you think more methodically, conclude things more confidently, and feel smarter yourself. Somehow he seems like a friend at tea - but his observations are so clear that you wonder how he can outside enough to notice all this, and inside enough to feel familiar and patient and maybe kind. Thus, this non-fiction book was far, far more of a page turner for me than most books of fiction that I've read (and liked) lately. If he has a moral message it is unobtrusive, unassuming, and the kind of lesson that any reader who's heard any of what he's said simply must draw for herself. Come to think of it, he argues rather like lawyers should - so that the conclusion the author desires, never once spoken, is inevitable, obvious in the silence after the speech.

Hayakawa compares any use of language to the practice of drawing a map of a physical territory. Depending on how good the mapmaker is and his motivations, that map can resemble the territory very reliably, or not at all. And from this simple metaphor he draws an impeccably conscientious account of the kind of things we do when we use language, and the implications for us as actors in the world. Someday I hope to have read it enough times that I can hold all the concepts in my head at once and provide something like a summary - but until then all I can say is that more than one of Hayakawa's descriptions rang true for me in a way that clarified things about myself and my world that I'd always suspected emotionally, but never been able to articulate.

I think this book should be required reading in schools - I think we should all take courses on how we use language, why we use it those ways, what it says about us that we do, and--especially--how our ways of using language affect our ways of thinking and, ultimately experiencing and behaving in the world.

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