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Language in Thought and Action

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  913 ratings  ·  105 reviews
In an era when communication has become increasingly diverse and complex, this classic work on semantics—now fully revised and updated—distills the relationship between language and those who use it.


Renowned professor and former U.S. Senator S. I. Hayakawa discusses the role of language in human life, the many functions of language, and how language—sometimes without our
Paperback, Fifth Edition, 224 pages
Published January 1st 1991 by Mariner Books (first published 1939)
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4.20  · 
Rating details
 ·  913 ratings  ·  105 reviews

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Mar 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Linguistics schlinguistics… this is also a book about politics and public policy (Language in Thought and ACTION), and the best one about either subject that I’ve ever read. It gives me hope that there is possibility for greater cooperation among us all, despite all of our real and, more importantly, perceived differences.

Yeah, there’s a lot of “common sense” in there, but it’s put in a framework that makes it much easier to identify and understand how others are speaking or thinking.

I suppose
Nov 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: language, 1930s
Wow! This was great! Answers such questions as, why do we have language at all? How do words and the things words represent get mixed up by our brain? How does all of this impact our lives, and our civilizations? Perhaps I'm just new to reading about semantics, but I found the book's subject matter highly engrossing.

Along the way it also systemizes a lot of common sense notions of language. Admitting my ignorance of Wittgenstein, this sounds a lot like him. The book also reminded me of the Black
Dec 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
p 19
The first of the principles governing symbols is this: The symbol is not the thing symbolized; the word is not the thing; the map is not the territory it stands for.

p 21
We all inherit a great deal of useless knowledge, and a great deal of misinformation and error, so that there is always a portion of what we have been told that must be discarded. It should be noticed that there are three ways of getting false maps of the world into our heads: first, by having them given to us; second, by mak
Sukhneet Singh Virk
Sep 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Language in Thought and Action shifted my thought process in so many ways.

I'm able to extract much more quality information from conversations than ever before.

An example of what you learn: we get information 2 ways, direct experience (extensional) and everything else (verbal). Extensional info gives us a VERY limited view of the world. I have no way of knowing Obama is a real person, that South America exists, or becoming a billionaire is a possibility.
I learn about those things through verbal
Erik Graff
Mar 07, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: semanticists
Recommended to Erik by: Mr. Silkowski
Shelves: psychology
I read a library copy of this book in high school, probably on assignment from my senior English teacher, Mr. Silkowski. It was the first book I'd ever read on communication theory and semantics other than Marshall McLuhan and it left far less of an impression, perhaps because it had been assigned by a teacher I didn't particularly like rather than recommended by an older friend whom I admired. The notion of General Semantics, however, I did find intriguing.
Mar 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
The entire Sequences, condensed.
Jan 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Matthew Brown
Aug 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Language in Thought and Action is one of the most insightful books I’ve read to date. Hayakawa masterfully distills how we use one of the most basic human mechanisms - words - and the avalanche of implications that follows. I can only wonder whether Hayakawa knew how ahead of his time he was when he authored this book as the lessons and themes within apply to an even greater degree now than they did when the first edition was released. If you are in search of a deeper understanding of the use an ...more
Nov 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book is an interesting, concise, and well-written book about linguistics, particularly semantics. It particularly deals with how we know what we know, and how we frequently systematically misunderstand or miscommunicate because of limitations of language - or our use of language - for conveying what we mean.

In many ways, it is about the evolution of prejudice in individual minds as a consequence of confusing levels of abstraction, so that "Pigs are dirty" implies that Hampton is dirty beca
Nathan Hatch
Jul 03, 2016 rated it liked it
Why I liked it

I highly recommend the chapters "Reports" and "Affective Communication". The former gives good advice for objective writing, i.e. writing in such a way that pretty much everyone will agree with you. The latter is a highly insightful survey of literary devices: what they do, why they work. You might like reading those chapters even if you don't read the rest of the book.

The idea of the "abstraction ladder" rings true. It's one of those concepts that you might not notice until someon
Dane Rodriguez
Mar 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Personal Notes

-Language is the relationship between "maps" and "territory". The words used to describe certain things are supposed to accurately describe the process it refers to in a way that is relevant and important to the present situation. What you say and why you say it
-Words can have built in judgments and inferences, snarl and purr words are examples
-There is a level of abstraction for everything, a cow is a process referring to the organism (low) which is a bundle of cells (lower) that
Jul 03, 2010 added it
Read this book -- It helps to open one's mind!: S. I. Hayakawa's "Language in Thought and Action" is an excellent read. There isn't much that I can add to what has already been said by other reviewers. In terms of writing and speaking, this book will help me to remain cognizant about the words I use, their meanings, and their contexts. As a reader of books, articles, ads, etc., as well as one who "listens" to what others are saying, this book will help me to recognize that I must discern the "me ...more
Kim Marshall
Oct 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lingustics, favorites
In my mind this book should be required reading for all freshman in college ... and then they need to reread it again just before they graduate ... just in case they were not yet emotionally prepared for the depth of this work as freshman and to strengthen its message as they step out into the world as "adults".

This is one of perhaps a dozen books that has had and immense impact on how I view the world and my relationship to it. It taught me to question the words both I and others use and to und
Chris Wells
Nov 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
There is a lot of "common sense" (or should I say "uncommon sense"?) in this book. This book helped clarify what I already knew but failed to put into practice about the language I use to describe, not just the world around me, but myself. I found the distinctions between descriptions, inferences, and judgments especially helpful. However, I find the structural differential of general semantic "orthodoxy" much more helpful than the abstraction ladder, though the abstraction ladder could serve as ...more
H.L. Balcomb
Jan 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
In my mind, this should become a mandatory read for all instructors, especially those of us who teach humanities. S. I. Hayakawa's book offers key insights into better understanding the complexities of language, symbols, abstraction, and assumptions, to mention a few of the key themes covered in the book. This book is one of those few books that I would recommend to any person who would like to understand the far-reaching possibilities of the human language. The best aspect of this book, althoug ...more
Andria Craig
Feb 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Linguistics for the average person and day to day life situations.
ϟℬig-Heart ℬ0ok Loverϟ.❥
A good refresher for anyone that uses a language... Here are some notes I took, this isn't a formal review.

The two-valued orientation

Pg 116

"We request that every hen lay 130 to 140 eggs a year. The increase can not be achieved by the bastard hens (non-Aryan) which now populate German farm yards. Slaughter these undesirables and replace them..." -nazi party news agency, April 3, 1937

"Intensional orientation":
The habit of guiding ourselves by words alone, rather than by the facts to which words sh
Liisa R
Nov 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
The book opened my mind about language and how it's use affects us. It explained ways how we make conclusions too fast by abstracting based on some unique previous experiences in our lives, or based on distorted media representations, etc. I learned to be more conscious and cautious about my own abstraction processes, going on in my mind.

Sometimes it is better to have concrete examples or ask concrete examples from other people when they're trying to explain something abstract. Else you can get
Kayla Song
Apr 27, 2018 rated it liked it
As difficult and tedious as I sometimes found this to read, it had many interesting moments. I actually “accidentally” picked up this book, thinking it was about something else, but I continued reading it anyways out of sheer interest. This book was less a discussion about language and more a discussion about humanity and it’s habits. If I had to sum up the book in 6 words, it’d be: Quite interesting, but tedious to read.
May 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is great -- my only regret is that I have not read it earlier.

I specifically sought out and bought an older edition (3rd) on Amazon due to hints from some of the reviewers that some parts the later editions were subjected to politically correct castration.
Danielle Braemer
Jul 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Das Buch hat viele interessante Ansätze. Leider irgendwie nicht zu Ende gedacht. Es fehlte mir an Content.
Willis Whitlock
Dec 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: thought
A linguistic classic. Dated, but based on an insightful understanding of human understanding.
Chen Chen
Jul 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Sorry already in love with the book
Feb 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
Although a linguist friend didn't think much of Hayakawa's book, I found it very thought provoking, and therefore meaningful.

My favorite quote from this book wasn’t even by Hayakawa:

"A classic is a work which gives pleasure to the minority which is intensely and permanently interested in literature. It lives on because the minority, eager to renew the sensation of pleasure, is eternally curious and is therefore engaged in an internal process of rediscovery. A classic does not survive because of
Oct 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Stumbled upon this book (although one of a different edition) in the school library and was hooked on it, so I went and bought a copy. Hayakawa has the ability to lay out his ideas in a simple and lucid form. A very insightful piece of work, that elucidates things you've always known, but never realized. Countless 'lightbulb moments'.

I first read this book from 15 October 2011 to 22 March 2012, and the above was my review from that reading. One and a half years later, I'm going to give one of my
Michael David
Apr 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
'The mature mind, on the other hand, knows that words never say all about anything, and such a mind is therefore adjusted to uncertainty. ... Similarly, the intellectually mature does not "know all about" anything. And this does not make him insecure, because he knows that the only kind of security life offers is the dynamic security that comes from within: the security derived from infinite flexibility of mind -- from an infinite-valued orientation.'

I've tried to be more fastidious in my book r
May 27, 2016 rated it it was ok
Bought it thinking I was getting a book from the 40s, anticipating a meaty discussion of language from the perspective of another era. Turns out it is a 1990s revision with all the associated inanities.

Full of truism and littered with falsities. Offers some very basic concept about language suitable for high school level. But some of it is clearly wrong to the point of delusional. For example, it proposes that to create more patriotic feeling, we should educate student with all the details of d
Jan 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is my favorite book regarding language. I was an English major in college. We had a lot of books we had to read, and this wasn't one we picked. A lot of the theory from philosophers that I learned was interesting, but I failed to see how it applied directly to my life. This book did the opposite, and I wish I had found it during college so I could share it with my professors.

This book talks about the most common times that miscommunication occurs. He breaks down what is happening in those s
Jun 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book gave me some wonderful pearls of wisdom and functional models to improve the way I communicate. All in all it was an easy read and made the concepts of General Semantics very approachable. The book seemed to digress a bit in the last third or so into more sociological topics. And for a while I was left thinking that the book was losing its focus a bit. But eventually the author tied those ideas that were floating away back into the topic of the book by being clearer about the fact that ...more
Jan 09, 2013 rated it it was ok
For someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about how language impacts thought, Mr. Hayakawa's insights may not be challenging enough. Since I was already aware of many of the points he made and subsequently repeated throughout the book, I found it to be a bit boring. The very last chapters regarding language and advertising were the most appealing and interesting to me, and other readers might appreciate them as well, especially given the current interest in marketing thanks to Mad Men. Fo ...more
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Samuel Ichiye Hayakawa was a Canadian born American academic and political figure of Japanese ancestry. He was an English professor, served as president of San Francisco State University and then a United States Senator from California from 1977 to 1983.
“Common sense is what tells us the earth is flat.” 322 likes
“It is not true that 'we have only one life to live'; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish.” 96 likes
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