Punctuation and Repunctuation

The various forms of chunking (up, down and laterally) provide a powerful set of linguistic tools to help us to enrich, reframe, and "re-punctuate" our maps of the world. Different "punctuations" of our perception of the world allow us to create different meanings of the same experience. For example, in the use of written language, we punctuate a series of words in different ways; as a question, statement or demand. The commas, exclamation points and question marks allow us to know which meaning is implied. A similar action occurs in the organization of our experience.

Punctuation is defined in the dictionary as "the act or practice of inserting standardized marks or signs to clarify the meaning and separate structural units." In NLP, the term "punctuation" is used to refer to how an individual chunks an experience into meaningful units of perception. This type of cognitive punctuation functions analogously to the way linguistic punctuation operates in written and spoken language.

Consider for a moment the following words:

that that is is that that is not is not is not that it it is

At first glance, these words seem like gibberish. They have no meaning. But notice how your experience of them changes if they are punctuated in the following manner:

That that is, is. That that is not, is not. Is not that it? It is!

Suddenly, there is at least some meaning to them. The punctuation, which is on a different level than the words themselves, organizes and 'frames' them in a way that shifts our perception of them.

The words could be punctuated in other ways as well. Compare the previous punctuation with the following examples:

That! That is. Is that? That is not, is not, is not! That it? It is.

That? That is!

Is that that?

Is not!


Not that!

The content of our experience is like the first string of words. It is relatively neutral and even void of any real meaning. Cognitive processes, such as chunking, time perception, and representational channels, determine where we place our mental and emotional question marks, periods and exclamation points. Our mental punctuation influences which perceptions are clustered together, where our focus of attention is placed, what types of relationships are perceptible, etc. For example, considering an event in terms of its 'long term future' implications will give it a different significance than evaluating it with respect to the 'short term past'. Viewing a particular detail with respect to the "big picture" is different than seeing it in relationship to other details.

People don't usually argue, become depressed, or kill each other over the content of their experience and maps of the world in and of itself. Rather, they fight over where to place the exclamation points and question marks that give the content different meanings.

For instance, take a piece of information like, "Profits were down last quarter." A dreamer, realist and critic would perceive or 'punctuate' the exact same data in different ways, based on different beliefs, values and expectations.

Critic: Profits were down last quarter. This is terrible! We're ruined (exclamation point)!

Realist: Profits were down last quarter. We have had difficult times in the past (comma), what can we do to make ourselves 'leaner'(question mark)?

Dreamer: Profits were down last quarter. It's just a bump in the road (semi colon); we're past the most difficult phase now. Things are bound to look up.

Sleight of Mouth is largely about how language leads us to punctuate and repunctuate our maps of the world, and how these punctuations give meaning to our experience.

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