Tag Archives: Language structure

Richard Bandler and John Grinder’s “The Structure of Magic”

Goodreads rating 4.06.

Human beings have their personal models of the world. These models are wrong and sometimes very wrong, leaving people with the impression that they have no choice, are being excluded, etc. The authors argue that successful psychotherapies and -therapists all use similar methods to help clients change and correct their models, opening new perspectives for them. In the book the authors systematize this argument.

They emphasize errors that humans make when mistaking models for reality—errors due to inadequate generalization, deletion, or distortion—and they use the language and tools from linguistics (transformational grammar)—distinguishing between the deep structure and the surface structure of sentences—to provide a toolkit for psychotherapists to help identify and correct these errors. Essentially, the therapist and the client are meant to identify the errors in the client’s model by insisting on well-formed sentences.

This quote is from the end of ch. 3:

This set, the set of sentences which are well formed in therapy and acceptable to us as therapists, are sentences which:
(1) Are well formed in English, and
(2) Contain no transformational deletions or unexplored deletions in the portion of the model in which the client experiences no choice.
(3) Contain no nominalization (process -> event).
(4) Contain no words or phrases lacking referential indices.
(5) Contain no verbs incompletely specified.
(6) Contain no unexplored presuppositions in the portion of the model in which the client experiences no choice.
(7) Contain no sentences which violate the semantic conditions of well-formedness.

Languages and Their Structure

Martin Haspelmath has posted a fascinating set of slides (PDF, in German) about languages. Some facts:

  • About 7000 languages are spoken; more than 800 in Papua New Guinea; 170 in the US; 7 in Germany.
  • About 150 languages are spoken in Europe.
  • 280 languages are spoken by more than one million people each, 450 languages by less than one hundred people each.
  • The ranking of languages: 1. Mandarin. 2. English. 3. Spanish. 4. Hindi. 5. Arabic. 6. Portuguese. 7. Bengali. 8. Russian. 9. Japanese. 10. German.
  • Roughly half of the world population speak one of these ten languages.
  • The Georgian language allows for up to 7 consonants in a row.
  • All languages feature words and sentences; questions and negation; names; expressions for “up” and “down.”
  • Not all languages distinguish tempi or feature adjectives or expressions for numbers or for “and, or, left, right.”