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Author Topic: On Words - a talk by Eugene Halliday
Bob Hardy
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Post On Words - a talk by Eugene Halliday
on: November 28, 2012, 09:22
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This might not be what you're expecting. So before you start reading this, I must tell you that this posting is not designed to serve as my 'explanation' of Eugene Halliday's talk on 'Words', but as a partial account of my interaction with it.

To that end I have divided this talk into three main sections - numbered below as 1, 2, and 3.

Sections 1) and 2) relate to the very beginning and very end of the talk respectively; and part 3) relates to the remaining, largest, section 'in the middle' ...

The method I invariably use when working with one of Eugene Halliday's talks is simply to focus on those sections that strike me as important, after first listening to the whole thing from start to finish… If you like, I begin by focusing on what it is that I can 'remember' easily....

This is followed by an attempt on my part to work out the reasons why I might have been affected emotionally by certain parts of this talk - was I intensely irritated, or 'knocked out', or vaguely suspicious, etc. of some parts .... Anyway here they are ... I've used my own 'numerated paragraph transcription' of this talk as a reference here - which you can, of course, download from Josh's transcription site (see the Links section of this blog)

1) Paragraphs 1 - 3,
I have noticed that, apart from: The Bible; Shakespeare; William Blake; and Jacob Boehme, Eugene Halliday very rarely mentions authors, or actual book titles in his talks. Consequently then … if ever he does ... a little red light goes on in my head.

The book he mentions here (and in my opinion mentions in a slightly disparaging way), The Meaning of Meaning' is, I believe, one that Eugene Halliday did indeed read, and that I also believe informed much of what he speaks of when he talks of 'words', or 'language' throughout his many later talks

The Meaning of Meaning - written in 1923, is, as of today I believe, in its ninth edition, and was still being cited by in 1983. ... So I would say, that for some people at least, this book still 'does the business'.

The Meaning of Meaning was actually co-authored, and it is the author that I don't mention in the transcription of ‘Word’ who is really important here. This is C K Ogden who, amongst (many) other things, was the founder of Basic English, and also one of the translators of Ludwig Wittenstein's Tractatus. ... These two accomplishments alone would, I maintain, look good on anyone's CV.

I don't propose to elaborate much on the content of this book here, primarily because I am only interested in discussing it with those who have bothered to read it for themselves. But I will state, that in my opinion, it was a book that was of seminal importance to Eugene Halliday. To mention just one of my reasons for thinking so here, the 1989 edition that I have (which contains an introduction by Umberto Eco, the title of which is ironically enough, 'THE MEANING OF The Meaning of Meaning' ), in Chapter 3, on pages 52-53, contains an explanation of, what Ogden refers to, as an 'engram'; this 'engram' apparently being the brainchild of one, Richard Semon, who wrote at length on this idea in his book Die Mneme - which was subsequently translated and published in English in 1921 (available for free as an iBook if you’re interested). Also of interest here, perhaps, is Ogden's, The Meaning of Psychology, published in 1926, in which he critique's Semon's ideas (not available as an ebook as far as I know, but I did pick up a first edition of this very cheaply).

Another fascinating fact about this book was that, in the first edition, published in 1923, the second chapter, titled Word Magic, was very long, so much so that later became the subject of a separate book with the same title (one that I have never been able to locate - but I'm still trying) and all subsequent editions of The Meaning of Meaning now contain a considerably shorter chapter, the title of which is The Power of Words (!) ....

2. Paragraphs 200 - 215
This part of the recording concerns a question that was asked immediately after the main talk was over. It concerns Eugene's ideas on the role of 'pleasure' in the formulating of ideas. This was, by far, the most significant segment of this talk for me. It was one of those ideas of Eugene's that has the affect of stopping me completely in my tracks... And that I found I could take it on board almost immediately, and work with…. So the idea he expresses here immediately became one of the central components of my own system ('my own' simply being the one that I personally use). ... Does anyone else find this idea important? ... Or not?

Incidentally … is it me ... or does EH sound a tad 'ratty' here in these closing moments? ...

3. Paragraphs 4 - 200 (most of the talk in fact!)
a). Because EH's ideas here are centered around phonetics, I have to tell you right away that this approach to 'unpacking words' does not work for me at all... Or, to put that another way, 'I can’t do this'.

I can appreciate what it is that Eugene 'ends up with' here when he talks of words in this way, but I have never had any luck with this system of his myself, neither have I ever heard anyone else ever 'doing this' properly.... When I do witness others 'having a go' here, I usually find myself becoming uncomfortable and embarrassed....

Don't get me wrong, I've heard a number of people attempt it (including David Mahlowe) but I have to say that I found all of them to be completely unconvincing. Most of those attempting this approach were clearly parroting Eugene, which is obviously not going to work ... That said, it's obvious (to me at least) that Eugene himself was able to get a great deal from his method ....

I would be very interested to hear from others here about their own experiences with this technique..

If you’re interested you might like to know that Ogden, in his The Meaning of Meaning has something to say re 'phonetics' in Chaper VI - The Theory of Definition. ....

But even if this take on language doesn’t work for me, do I really think that there's anything in the idea of a 'proto-language' ? ... Read on….

b) It's the 22nd of November 2012, and I am on a ‘mini-break’, celebrating Thanksgiving with a number of family and friends..

I am sitting down at a table editing some blog material, and at the same time I'm keeping an eye on Indi, who is the 18 month-old daughter of a friend of mine.

Indi is very smart; she can already say a few words, and is continually attempting to communicate with one and all.

She can also operate an iPad well enough to 'play' a simple game. Which is kind of scary! She can't obviously 'win' the game, but that's only because she hasn't formulated the idea of winning yet! However, she can already get the little cartoon figures to do things that she wants them to do - such as jump, or run faster ... Which all makes her very happy ...

Anyway, she has just been installed in one of those bouncy seats that you hang from a doorframe, with her feet just touching the floor, and is clearly delighted with just bouncing up and down … I am enjoying just watching her...

Then she starts making noises.... She has already established an up and down rhythm - which she clearly appreciates…. Suddenly - on the way ‘down’ - she starts making the sound 'v' (as in 'vole'). ... Her legs are slightly bent, and she is still off the floor, but by pushing down, she can hit the floor with the ball of her foot, and on doing so, she immediately makes the sound 'i'. She then quickly extends her legs, pushing the balls of her feet down against the floor (actively contributing to the movement of the seat) such that she rebounds upwards. Upon doing so she immediately makes the sound of a long, and sloppy, 'pf'...

Indi now begins to repeat this word of hers, "vi-ppf" rhythmically, in time with her bouncing … This goes on for quite some time, during which she deliberately stops the whole process from time to time, only to initiate it once more … and she is clearly, absolutely delighted with herself ...

When she was placed in this bouncy seat the next day, she immediately got into her "vi-ppf" routine ....

'Out of the mouths of babes'! ….

Bob

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