A new theory of language

An excerpt from Conversation: A New Theory of Language by Carl H. Flygt

A new theory of language? That would be a theory of origins, and the present theory, if it is applied by the right people in the right way, may prove ultimately able to meet that very ambitious goal. But it would be more accurate to call the present essay a new theory of language use, a theory of how language can be used and how it ought to be used in the common society. The theory is that the whole of the human potential, which is an objective and unambiguous spiritual capacity, perhaps not always exhibited but certainly always available, is sociologically destined to be developed, refined and fixed by the correct use of language in certain formally defined circumstances. For a progressive and worldwide spiritual enlightenment in which everyone’s dream life and everyone’s waking life merge into something like a universal grammatical attitude and a unitary state of consciousness, language must be used in the right way in some strategic venues of culture. From there, spiritual and material effects will trickle down.

Until recently, no formal theory of human conversation has seemed possible. Language appeared simply to contain too much freedom for people to use it as a well-defined and objective game. Freedom, after all, usually confounds social solidarity. That situation changed in 1979 with the publication of John R. Searle’s A Taxonomy of Illocutionary Acts. This was the essay that showed that users of language, any language, are limited to a finite number of operations in their actions with that language. As a consequence of Searle’s analysis, language use, in its ideal application, has been shown to be rather mechanical, and if enough contextual support is available, rather transparent. It is as if we are each in possession of a social tool, namely language, that is capable of an unlimited range of possible employment, and is thus profoundly free, but that can be handled in only a small number of readily identifiable ways, and is thus in principle perfectly transparent. Searle’s intellectual breakthrough puts us into a position in which, in theory at least, we are collectively in a position to observe and remediate that usage directly and in real time, and according to veridical standards, like ethereal spirits hovering with an earnest, guiding interest above and within our bodies, our emotional impulses and our self-conscious movements.

Conversation, of course, is the great medium of human experience. If conversation is ontologically profound, unambiguous and essentially meaningful, human experience may be predicted to become ontologically profound, unambiguous and essentially meaningful. If conversation is not, and I hold that in contemporary society in general it is not, then we can be certain that individual experience is not. I also hold that these features of profundity, of disambiguation and of meaning are universally valued and in basic ways constitute human self-consciousness and the human capacity to act voluntarily. It only stands to reason that if science were able gain some perspective on the phenomena of conversation, of human self-consciousness and of human freedom, and if it became able to operate on them, to engineer them and to mold them into ideal forms, society would have in its grasp a tool of enormous evolutionary power. I favor our developing this tool and taking control of this evolution.

My theory is simple, two-fold in essence, and stands as a whole to be taken up and developed by those willing and able to do so. It says on the one hand, following Searle, that everybody in a conversation can know exactly what was just said, and by extension exactly what the deep inner soul content of the person who said it is. It says on the other hand, on the Kantian maxim, that if the conversation is to be well-formed, everyone must have this knowledge. When this basic formula is put into practice, it turns out to be a very subtle affair, requiring significant intelligence, tolerance and artistry of everyone involved. It also requires perseverance and a willingness to learn. I teach this conversation theory in weekend workshops, in all its subtlety, seriousness and sublimity, with an emphasis on the social integrity and continuity of local groups. I particularly enjoy teaching in concert with others who have something of artistic substance to give to the local group, and to groups that may in turn give something ethereal to the world.