Language forms

Psychology of language

Language forms

narrative and paradigms, propositional calculus, parts of speech, inflectional forms, foxp2

What is said is one of the most specific manifestations of our thoughts, attitudes and preferred ways of action: it can be recorded, written down and subjected to a reliable and precise quantitative and qualitative analysis. Studying language is our passion and the most basic method of work. Let’s move to a few examples.

The Whitefox Statement Coding System consists of 152 language forms.


Yes/no questions

In a situation when I am asking a yes/no question, I have to think in advance of the statement I would like to verify. It is not possible to ask a yes/no question without accepting at least 1 assumption (suspicion, accusation).

Do you avoid talking to Tom because you did not get the bonus for the recently completed project?” Did you tell others what you wanted to do before you started this action?” Was it perhaps that you did not do your part of the job?” Do you call us in connection with a breakdown or in another matter, do you call from Gdańsk , or from Krakow?”

Analysing the transcript of statements, we can see that over 60% of participants in our development programs tend to overuse closed yes/no questions. Their minds constantly formulate a mass of various statements, assumptions and hypotheses. In these situations, others can only respond “yes” or “no”. What will be the communication of the manager with his/her employees and customers if 40 pages of his/her transcripts feature 150 yes/no questions? And only 2 open “what” questions? How will he/she listen and understand what others say? What will happen to the communication of this person if we enrich yes/no questions with the so frequent phrase “yes, but …” and it will appear 80 times on these 40 pages? What is the risk that the person that we work with in this situation hears, above all, his/her own thoughts, ideas and assumptions?



Past tense and adverbial modifier “why” vs. future tense and modal verbs

One of the important exercises during our Development Centre sessions and competency training are superior-subordinate conversations. They usually last 10 to 15 minutes and relate to problems that are most often involved in everyday work with the team, i.e. delays, mistakes and complaints. The transcript of such a conversation takes about 3 to 4 pages. As in the case of yes/no questions, over 60% of people (before the training) conduct such meetings in the past tense, using the adverbial modifier “why?” many times. The following expressions prevail:

“What happened? Tell me specifically… why did you do this? Why did you not provide the information before? Why did you behave like that? What did Tom do then? No, it was not like that… in this situation, you must have known… No, I did not do it, I did not know, it was Tom that did not say, it was he that took… etc.”.

If we talk in the past tense for 15 minutes, it is very difficult to find a reasonable solution to a difficult situation. We would indeed have to talk much more in the future sense and use modal verbs, e.g.

“What can you do in this situation? What do you want to do in this situation? What are you going to do now? Now, we will… I will now… so, summing up, until the end of the month, you will complete the task and, in the meantime, I will find a way to fund your project… I must finish this document by tomorrow by 15:00”

What do we talk about with our employees and colleagues if we talk almost all the time in the past tense, whereas talking about the future is limited to issuing short instructions and recommendations: because we no longer have the time to talk about ideas? What will employees say to us that, at the beginning of our conversation, will feel assessed and attacked? How will the value of their explanations and justifications in this situation be? In what way will we accomplish the goals and tasks set for us on time if we cannot use words: can, want, intend to?


Sentences always true A=A^~A=~A^Av~A

“You can always come to me; door to my office is always open…, you know, you cannot stop the… sometimes, it is very important to be firm and determined, although there are situations in which caution and keeping a distance is extremely important … we must remember that innovation is the basis of our success, and innovations are novelties that are new and not yet widespread… you have to remember that communication is very important in the work of the team … without communication, no effective communication is possible in a nice atmosphere… respect others and politely talk to them, you know … it helps a lot and I will tell you that … etc.

Most of us would describe these as empty words, repeating clichés, rambling, falling into the “I-higher” tone. What do you think? How many of you come across such statements? And we do not mean short two or three interjections. We are talking here about several-minute multiple-sentence good advice that A is important because it is A, and non-As lead to trouble because they are non-As. Over 50% of us cannot resist talking like this. Most often, we do not control this and we do not realise what difficulty we cause to others.


Number (Q*(c-kz))/((Q*(c-kz)-Ks)*EBIT/(EBIT-interest)=DLT

Galileo said that mathematics is the alphabet with which God has written the universe. Numbers help us find ourselves in reality: they make our goals and problems more concrete and real. We are not short of God-knows-what margin until the end of the month: we know that we still need EUR 2,200,000. This number clarifies and details the scope of our actions and possibilities. How will a manager manage his/her department/division if, during an 8-hour Development Centre session that required him/her to count and calculate several times, he/she used numerals only 4 times in his/her statements and records? What happens if what he/she said and recorded is dominated by indefinite pronouns, such as:
someone, something, some, somewhere, sometime or adverbs and expressions:
more, less, a bit, a little, to some extent… ? What will be the consequences of his/her decisions?


“No”, “unfortunately” and “if”

Sometimes, it happens that we work with people who deal with simple customer service. Their conversations usually last 2 to 5 minutes. If employees are not prepared to talk to a lot of people in a situation where they have to deal with difficult problems and conflicts, we may hear the following statements:

Unfortunately no, I cannot do this for you, this is not possible in our system… if you were, then… however, because you are not, this… is contrary to applicable procedures, I am unable to…, unfortunately no, I cannot answer this question… if you would like that, then, however, if you are subject to “Z” regulations, this will not be possible… this is not included in my responsibilities… I do not have access to the information… I have told you already that unfortunately no…”

Leaders of saying “no”, “unfortunately” and “if” in the conversations we have recorded can use these words several dozens of times in a few minutes (e.g. 2 conversations, 3 minutes each: 21 “nos”, 18 “unfortunatelys”, 12 “ifs”). Other people, without preparation, hardly do better. If you only have a hammer in your hand, everything resembles a nail. If you cannot name needs and emotions of the people you are talking to, if you cannot speak in the future tense about what you can, intend to and will do… “no”, “unfortunately” and “if” will be a reasonable solution and sometimes the only way out of a difficult situation.

Comments to your statements in individual reports and communication tips provided during training courses usually refer to the fields of knowledge and language sciences listed below. Here, we would like to list only the most important ones.

A. Anthropology and beginnings of speech development

Hominidae: 99% development without language

It is assumed that the language as we know it, i.e. based on the syntax, was created about 45,000 years ago with the appearance of the new species, Homo Sapiens. With 6 million years of development of hominids, speaking is something really new (it involves less than 1% of the development time for humans). The mathematical model of evolutionary dynamics of language development (Nowak, Komarova) has shown that the transition from the proto-language in which there were still no parts of speech became beneficial when the vocabulary of humans exceeded 400 components (a syntax with a vocabulary of this size could be used faster and more precisely) . Indeed, we are fascinated by such research and analyses: knowledge about the beginnings of speech helps us understand what we work with every day. We can, for example, ask what was the original use of acts of speech; whether action and collaboration were more important, or was it perhaps creating real and reliable representations about the world? We face this dilemma in almost every report, and participants of our training courses can be divided into those who treat their language as a useful tool for action, and those more stubborn who attach much greater importance to the description of the world made possible thanks to language.

B. Neurolinguistic research

How to explain the fact that mice with an implanted FOXP2 gene are more effective becoming familiar with a new maze? What is the significance of increased ability to repeat the same procedures and habits for language? Is it possible to lose reading, but not writing skills, and is it possible to lose the ability to speak using verbs, but keep the ability to use nouns? Answers to these questions can be surprising.

  1. FOXP2 is a gene discovered on human chromosome 7 the lack of which, inherited in accordance with Mendel’s law of heredity, causes specific language impairment (SLI), especially in the aspect of using grammar, which is a set of rules and language routines.
  2. Yes, you can lose the reading ability and retain your writing ability as a result of a stroke.
  3. Yes, you can also have serious difficulty speaking in verbs and much less using nouns.

FOXP2 is the human gene responsible for linguistic competency, especially in respect of grammar, which is a set of rules, routines and patterns.

Knowledge in this respect helps us understand what results in small specific mistakes in speaking and writing. What the meaning of significant agrammatism and paragrammatism may be for everyday organisation of work.

C. Language development in small children

This is a particularly fascinating area of knowledge because it involves not only the development of language, but the development of the entire person. From our perspective, two issues seem particularly interesting:

The decomposition of “holophrases” of small child, e.g. „Shoes!” into a prediction/argument structure and all parts of speech and inflectional forms, i.e. in this case:

“Mum, please put on my shoes because I would like to go out into the yard now and run with other children. I can hear them through the window… it’s open, didn’t you notice?”..

In the transcripts of conversations and statements that we analyse, we see a different level of decomposition: only some of us can fluently use complex abstract concepts, and we are even less aware of their limitations and the mistakes we make if we absolutise them.

Development of theory of other people’s mind. Let’s conduct a short test of false beliefs. Two children are invited into a room. When they are together, we hide the toy in a wardrobe. Then, we ask one of the children to leave the room. When the child closes the door behind him/her, we take the toy out of the wardrobe and hide it in a desk. We are now asking the child who witnessed what we did (and who is tested) where his/her colleague will look for a toy when we invite him/her back into the room. The children who will answer that the other child will be looking for the toy in the desk do not have the THEORY OF OTHER PEOPLE’S MIND. We classify such responses as autistic. What is the world of a person who cannot take other people’s perspective? What world does he/she live in? What is empathy in this situation? Although it may sound paradoxical, many of us have serious difficulties with decentration (which does not mean, of course, that we will not solve the test of false beliefs): it happens that we cannot empathise with our customers and employees; we often speak what we are convinced of and often to ourselves.

D. Psycholinguistics

The following are important from the viewpoint of our work:

Lists of primal expressions and words i.e. those that are repeated in all languages of the world. Swadesh’s finding may be interesting in this context: that we can distinguish a list of 100 such words, but not 200 because in some languages there will be no equivalents,

Speech banks and frequency lists of the contemporary Polish language in which we can verify the frequency of individual words,

Theories and studies in the field of generative-transformational grammar (Universal Grammar), describing functions and meaning of particular parts of speech and inflectional forms,

Speech act theory formulated by John Austin and developed by John Searle. It features lists and breakdowns of performative verbs, i.e. those that distinguish such statements in our communication as: informing, denying, questioning, ordering, asking, promising, congratulating, threatening, apologising, thanking, appointing, announcing, etc. Our analyses of statements are full of this type of behaviour. Here, of course, it is important whether or not a conversation with the team involves such performative verbs as: questioning, transferring information or, alternately, asking, threatening and intimidating. A lot of managers uses questions and paraphrasing of statements of their employees and associates to a limited extent.

Methods to analyse key words. E.g.: Significant overrepresentation of statements: always, never, should, need, must not, everyone, no-one, totally, absolutely, undoubtedly, according to Suitbert Ertel’s studies shows an elevated or high level of dogmatism. Each of us knows how difficult it is to work with people who are infallible and know everything better.

Theories and methods in the field of discourse and narrative analysis.

E. Philosophy

Our favourite authors include: Wittgenstein I, Wittgenstein II, Gadamer, Chomsky, Popper, Khun, Buber, Levinas.

But words roam the heavens and carouse – And they pretend that mean something more than they do!…

B. Leśmian

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