Bradley Hunt
10 min readMar 13, 2021

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Three Concepts from Language in Thought and Action That Have Benefitted Me:

Building Rapport, Ritualistic Language, and Affective Connotations

Bradley Steven Hunt

Northwood University

ENG 4010: Communication and Interpersonal Relations

Professor Mary Ann Kost

March 13, 2021

Language is studied by different kinds of people for different reasons. For this essay, I will only classify two kinds of people: communicators and intellectuals. Communicators include all whose lives and professions rely heavily on communicating, that is, informing, persuading, and motivating others. Intellectuals include those who are interested in studying language for the purpose of discovering better ways to think. There is overlap between these two classes; they are not opposites. Intellectuals often become communicators to inform, persuade, and motivate others in ways relating to the new ways of thinking they formed. In my life — and I am sure many people can relate — I have been an effective intellectual but fell short of being a good communicator. It is useless to be an intellectual divorced from good communication skills because communication is required to advance the ideas intellectuals create. In pursuit of the noble idea of being a participant in the illumination of truth for humankind, I have stumbled upon the book Language In Thought And Action by S.I. Hayakawa and Alan R. Hayakawa. This book has helped me become a better communicator by informing and persuading me of the benefits of building rapport and using ritualistic language and affective connotations.

Building rapport is an essential function of communication that intellectuals often disdain. One cannot interact with a gathering of people without participating in this social ritual. In fact, even among intellectuals who may disdain this ritual, one may notice them participate in it before they speak out against it. Imagine such a situation: two intellectuals who are lifelong friends meet for the first time in a year. Before they proceed in heavy conversation, they first greet each other and participate in small talk. The greeting and small talk may appear in various forms, but it is conducted, nonetheless. Afterward, they begin discussing the worthlessness of small talk perhaps not even realizing their recent participation in it.

There is a social necessity for building rapport. As the Hayakawas stated in Language In Thought And Action: “The purpose of [small] talk is not the communication of information… but the establishment of communion” (58). Communion must be established before proceeding to deeper conversation because small talk is a test to inform the users of the potential benefits or detriments of continuing the conversation. In life, there are many things a person can spend their time on so it is important to know if it would be a waste of time to engage in conversation with specific others. The Hayakawas explained it a little differently: “… we are careful to select subjects about which agreement is immediately possible… With each new agreement… the fear and suspicion of the stranger wears away, and the possibility of friendship enlarges” (58). Either way, small talk is a test to determine whether there is a purpose to continue a conversation and it allows the user to gauge the motive of the opposing communicator.

Before I go on to explain how this has benefitted my life, I believe it is important to include a similar piece of advice from another book: Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. It is important to know how to build rapport, but what about the instance that precedes the act of building rapport: first impressions. First impressions are an important precursor to small talk because small talk will be more productive if a good first impression is made. There are many ways to leave a good first impression, but Carnegie mentions one trick that is extremely easy and beneficial, yet often ignored: smiling. In his book a whole section is written on smiling; most of it is stories of its successes. But I think he says it best here: ‘“Actions speak louder than words, and a smile says, “I like you, You make me happy. I am glad to see you”’ (75). Hayakawa senior explained how small talk and agreements build rapport and gave an example of when he was in a train station during World War Two. Keep in mind that he is Japanese, and America warred with Japan at that time. He said that other people in the station stared at him suspiciously. One couple with a child was whispering to each other, so he decided to ease the tension by striking up small talk. It worked! With each new agreement, the man became more comfortable, participated in the conversation more enthusiastically, smiled, and even invited him to their home for dinner (58, 59). What the Hayakawas failed to mention is that Hayakawa Senior likely used the power of the smile as well. If the goal of building rapport is to ease fear, then a smile is a very valuable tactic to use as a first impression.

Throughout my life, I have been one of those intellectuals who disdained small talk. I found it pointless and boring; I wanted to get straight to the deep stuff. Over time, my resentment built because I started believing that most people were too shallow or stupid to have deep conversation and I was often lonely. I was one of those intellectuals who had an inflated self-image that often caused my image to be deflated in the eyes of others. People do not like people who look down on them, and they do not like people who fail to build rapport. However, one thing I always got right is that I am open-minded and persistent. I continuously seek to improve myself and the way I interact with others. Language in Thought and Action helped me understand the value of building rapport. It mentioned how intellectuals commonly frown upon small talk, so I immediately related. Then, the Hayakawas hit me with the hard truth that I was wrong, and that small talk is an essential part of human interactions. With this new knowledge, I am confident that making friends will be much easier.

The next concept I enjoyed exploring was ritualistic language, which includes the Lord’s Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. The Hayakawas explained how it is used at sermons, political caucuses, pep rallies, and more. They explained that ritualistic language’s “principal function is not to give the audience new information, not to create new ways of feeling, but something else altogether” (60). Many intellectuals would assume that this makes ritualistic language useless since it does not actually have a purpose. However, it does have a purpose; its purpose is just not to give new information but rather, like building rapport, to bring people closer to one another. The Hayakawas state that ritualistic language “is the reaffirmation of social cohesion: The Christian feels closer to [their] fellow Christians… the American feels more American… as a result of these rituals” (61). For this reason, ritualistic language is necessary for the success of any social organization.

However, two more fun examples come to mind as well: a scene from The Wolf of Wall Street and a Youtube video of a Russian Muslim communal dance. The scene from The Wolf of Wall Street is when the protagonist Jordan Belfort, after being investigated by the feds for various financial crimes, uses a chest beating, humming song to rile up his office so they have more energy to sell more stocks. Next, the Russian Sufi circle dance is a communal event where they all participate in chanting, stomping, and dancing in a circular pattern while in unison and proximity. For the purpose of having even greater understanding of ritualistic language, it is imperative that the reader watches these two videos before continuing to read.

From the Wolf of Wall Street

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHjronXyeqI&ab_channel=SinzEdits

The Russian Sufi circle dance

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5goISKPSH8&t=46s&ab_channel=Nakwenda

Now that you feel the power of ritualistic language, it is time to discuss how it can be used in the workplace and in the world. As mentioned before, it is used at places of worship, political caucuses, pep rallies, and more. One thing worth noting is that ritualistic language seems to be used to unite a group of people against other groups of people. At a high school pep rally preceding the Homecoming football game, ritualistic language is used to motivate the home team to win against the visiting team. In religion, ritualistic language is often used to unite them against other religions. During political speeches, it is used to unite them against opposing views. Even in benign cases, it is worth noting that even though ritualistic language is not used for the primary purpose of uniting a group against another group, that is often the indirect effect. If a Christian feels closer to their fellow Christians, for example, there will be a larger division between them and people of other religions, because their identity has been solidified, and the purpose of identity is to discriminate between various possible labels. The purpose of this essay is not to judge whether an “us versus them” mentality should be encouraged or discouraged, but I will note two things: Firstly, there is a feeling of love when uniting with your comrades and there is a feeling of ecstasy that cannot be denied when you and your comrades are motivated to go to war against an opposing faction; this may add value to the human experience. Secondly, if you do not like the manipulating effects of ritualistic language, then the understanding that the Hayakawas and I provided can help you resist those effects and better think for yourself.

Finally, I will discuss affective connotations. Affective connotations affect our everyday lives. As the Hayakawas state, “…affective connotations… are the aura of personal feelings [a word] arouses…” (44). They can arouse positive emotions or negative, and one word may in fact arouse a positive emotion in one person but a negative emotion for another. For example, the word “war” may arouse negative emotions, because one thinks of all the death that results. On the other hand, one may become excited upon hearing tales of war due to their fantasy of fighting for a cause they believe in. Affective connotations are important to everyday life because they influence the way we think and feel about various topics. They can be used to express feelings or distort information, and otherwise influence others in ways they would not suspect. For this reason, they are powerful, and everyone should have a basic understanding of this power, so they do not become unwitting subjects to it.

In Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language,” he discusses euphemisms, which are words used in place of other words to alter the connotation. Euphemisms are used to control thoughts and feelings; euphemisms are used to control people. Orwell writes, “In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible… Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out to the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification” (). The government and its “advertisers-in-effect” (the mainstream media) are perhaps the most professional users of euphemisms. It is impossible to tune into, read, or listen to mainstream media without being subjected to euphemisms meant to control your thoughts and feelings on matters that are of import to the broadcasters or their sponsors. Here are some examples: “terrorist” is a euphemism meant to dehumanize enemy combatants who are likely honest in their intentions (they may see themselves as defending their families, lands, and religions from foreign invaders such as the western imperialists of the Americas and Europe. Similarly, during the American Revolution, the British state called it an insurrection which carries a negative affective connotation instead of a war for independence which is perhaps more neutral and accurate. Even in common everyday words, they carry affective connotations that most people would not suspect. For example, “taxation” is itself a euphemism for extortion. When an organization uses threats to force a person to surrender some of their income, it is extortion, whether the organization is a state or the mafia; both are protection rackets, only the former is legalized, and the latter is outlawed by the former. I realize this last sentence may have aroused a negative reaction in the reader, but please try to put away judgments for now; the purpose of this essay is not to argue taxation, it is to explain how euphemisms have infected everyday language to its core. Taxation may or may not be necessary, but even if it is necessary, it is still extortion. Another example is the word “arrest,” which is a euphemism for kidnap. Again, whether the kidnappers are justified or not, they are still committing the act of kidnapping and calling it by another name to defend their actions in the eyes of others. The reason for pointing out these euphemisms is so that the reader is better prepared to exist in a society engorged in all kinds of misinformation and thought distortions; think for yourself and try to disallow the users of affective connotations to control your thoughts and feelings. When one is aware of these everyday euphemisms, even if some level of mass murder (war), extortion (taxation), and kidnapping (incarceration) are necessary for a healthy society, these actions have power and should not be used lightly. It is important to know them for what they are.

In conclusion, the book Language in Thought and Action has left me a better thinker and communicator by convincing me of the benefits and/or threats of building rapport, using ritualistic language, and using affective connotations; These three concepts are very important in my life, the workplace, and the world. Without them, society itself could hardly function. With them, an individual can improve their communication ability; I certainly have.

Works Cited

Hayakawa, S. I., Hayakawa, A. R. (1992). Language in Thought and Action: Fifth Edition. Harcourt, Inc.

Orwell, G. (2013). “Politics and the English Language.” Penguin Classics

Carnegie, Dale. (2009). How to Win Friends and Influence People. Simon & Schuster.

Hypnotizing circle dance by Sufi Zikr. (2013, April 3). [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5goISKPSH8&ab_channel=Nakwenda

The Wolf of Wall Street — Chest Beat Office. (2014, January 12). [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHjronXyeqI&ab_channel=SinzEdits

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Bradley Hunt

I am a student at Northwood University, a cryptocurrency investor, and the founder of Prisoners for Liberty.