Language and Neuro Linguistic Programming

This study is founded in the patterns and distinctions of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). NLP examines the influence that language has on our mental programming and the other functions of our nervous systems. NLP is also concerned with the way in which our mental programming and nervous systems shape and are reflected in our language and language patterns.

The essence of Neuro-Linguistic Programming is that the functioning of our nervous system ("neuro") is intimately tied up with our capability for language ("linguistic"). The strategies ("programs") through which we organize and guide our behavior are made up of neurological and verbal patterns. In their first book, The Structure of Magic (1975), NLP co-founders Richard Bandler and John Grinder strove to define some principles behind the seeming "magic" of language to which Freud referred.

All the accomplishments of the human race, both positive and negative, have involved the use of language. We as human beings use our language in two ways. We use it first of all to represent our experience - we call this activity reasoning, thinking, fantasying, rehearsing. When we use language as a representational system, we are creating a model of our experience. This model of the world which we create by our representational use of language is based upon our perceptions of the world. Our perceptions are also partially determined by our model or representation ... Secondly, we use our language to communicate our model or representation of the world to each other. When we use language to communicate, we call it talking, discussing, writing, lecturing, singing.

According to Bandler and Grinder, language serves as a means to represent or create models of our experience as well as to communicate about it. The ancient Greeks, in fact, had different words for these two uses of language. They used the term rhema to indicate words used as a medium of communication and the term logos to indicate words associated with thinking and understanding. Rhema (pr|jia) meant a saying or 'words as things'. Logos (Xoyoa) meant words associated with the 'manifestation of reason'. The great Greek philosopher Aristotle described the relationship between words and mental experience in the following way:

Spoken words are the symbols of mental experience and written words are the symbols of spoken words. Just as all men have not the same writing, so all men have not the same speech sounds, but the mental experiences, which these directly symbolize, are the same for all, as also are those things of which our experiences are the images.

Aristotle's claim that words "symbolize" our "mental experience" echoes the NLP notion that written and spoken words are 'surface structures' which are transformations of other mental and linguistic 'deep structures'. As a result, words can both reflect and shape mental experiences. This makes them a powerful tool for thought and other conscious or unconscious mental processes. By accessing the deep structure beyond the specific words used by an individual, we can identify and influence the deeper level mental operations reflected through that person's language patterns.

Considered in this way, language is not just an 'epiphe-nomenon' or a set of arbitrary signs by which we communicate about our mental experience; it is a key part of our mental experience. As Bandler and Grinder point out:

The nervous system which is responsible for producing the representational system of language is the same nervous system by which humans produce every other model of the world — visual, kinesthetic, etc. . .The same principles of structure are operating in each of these systems.

Thus, language can parallel and even substitute for the experiences and activities in our other internal representational systems. An important implication of this is that 'talking about' something can do more than simply reflect our perceptions; it can actually create or change our perceptions. This implies a potentially deep and special role for language in the process of change and healing.

In ancient Greek philosophy, for instance, 'logos' was thought to constitute the controlling and unifying principle in the universe. Heraclitus (540-480 B.C.) defined logos' as the 'universal principle through which all things were interrelated and all natural events occurred'. According to the stoics, 'logos' was a cosmic governing or generating principle that was immanent and active in all reality and that pervaded all reality. According to Philo, a Greek speaking Jewish philosopher (and contemporary of Jesus), 'logos' was the intermediate between ultimate reality and the sensible world.

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