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Language in Thought and Action

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  1,070 ratings  ·  119 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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 ·  1,070 ratings  ·  119 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
Patrick Adekunle
Aug 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A very illuminating read.

Many thanks to the much admired person who inspired my foray into linguistics (I owe you beer!).

This book helped me explore the characteristics of language and how we use it. Key takeways for me include:

Reports, inferences, judgements and directive vs informative language

The power of affective language

An understanding of intensional and extensional orientations.

The powerful statement - "The map is NOT the territory", and its implications.

A deeper understanding into ho
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
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
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. ...more
Sep 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Hayakawa has written a masterpiece on how language impacts our thoughts and actions and in a way that is approachable to everyone. I was making connections nonstop to advertising, the Internet, politics, & our recent Covid mess. I only wish I’d known about this sooner as I’d highly recommend using it in homeschool high school.

The only possible negative is that it predates the Internet, but much of what Hayakawa says about television translates to the Internet only more so. Some of the author’s
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
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
Eduards Sizovs
Not going to give this book a rating, because it's written well, but my expectations didn't match.

I was looking to learn more about the deep interconnection of language and psychology, but this book covers only some generic basics – such as how a certain choice of words can influences people, how people understand the same words differently depending on a context, experience, biases, etc.

So, if you are already deep into psychology and communication, you should probably skip this book. If you're
Oct 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A very fascinating book on language and words, how they affect us and others, their function and usage. Dated for sure but has some relevant ideas. A good, short intro into semantics. I wish some of the ideas would be more fleshes out but its more of a condensed version. Still got a lot of valuable things from it, tho I had my disagreements.
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: favorites, lingustics
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
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
Ahmet Uçar
Jul 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
A most charming popular semantics book! I had quite a lot of fun reading it. I suggest it to anyone.
What is red?
Why, red is a colour.
What is a colour?
A colour is a quality things have.
what is quality?
say, what are you trying to do anyway?!
Andria Craig
Feb 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Linguistics for the average person and day to day life situations.
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.
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
Jorge Fuentes
Sep 16, 2020 rated it liked it
Old books are a great reminder that our society and ideas are really not that unique and unprecedented. This book has many points I wish everyone knew, but unfortunately, misunderstanding language still causes much unnecessary confusion today. The ideas should be required reading for a more educated population and show how many common, circular arguments especially political are really just confused misunderstandings of language. Perhaps this is the origin of the ideas, but I personally didn't l ...more
Jermaine Tucker
May 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As an english major and as a lover of all things language-related, this book is amazing. It taught me the difference between meaning and definition, connotation and denotation, definition and denotation. It gave interesting and unique perspectives on language and its interaction with different fields of study. One of my favorites quotes from this book is the following: it is NOT the act, but the meaning that one ascribes to it and what it symbolizes to them. As a result of this quote, I have bee ...more
Sep 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
a fabulous book
A beautiful journey how the words occupy the language and how our language stimulate our thought and action
Final chapter, the left hand door again was the master piece
The concept discussed how we are plunged into two valued orientation. A new insight for me to learn this and how we moved to multi and infinite valued orientation for better result
Very few book can walk a walk with you
Absolutely the best book..
Some chapter filled with common sense and help you to fit in your soci
Bill Reilly
Dec 21, 2020 rated it liked it
Dated, but still relevant. An excellent study of how we let language shape our beliefs, and how others use language to manipulate them. Many of the later chapters are analyzing what effects television may have on government, society, and interpersonal relations, so it was a little difficult to get through but nonetheless there were some interesting things within those chapters.
I was hoping for more information about how language shapes thoughts, emotions and the subconscious, but I guess I'll ha
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.
Suzanne Duncan velarde
Jul 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
We take language for granted. We consider it absolute and defining. We think a thing means what the dictionary says it means. Why, then, do we fight and argue and never come to an actual conclusion? I started this book in university and just couldn't give it the mental energy when I had parties to attend and naps to snatch in the day time. I wanted a challenge, and this book gave it to me. It opened my thinking and encouraged me to open my mind. So glad I finally took the time to read it. ...more
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.
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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.

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