A further interpretive bias is logocentrism, which privileges linguistic communication over the revealingly named 'non-verbal' forms of communication and expression, and over unverbalized feelings. Logocentrism also privileges both the eye and the ear over other sensory modalities such as touch (see Synnott 1993; Classen 1993).
For many of us, verbal language is central to our sense of identity: it is not a neutral vehicle for communication but the primary way in which we know ourselves. In any academic discussion of the spoken and the written word romantics may reveal some sense of loss or longing for existence in a pre-literate culture, whilst rationalists may champion writing as 'the technology of the intellect' (Goody, 1968, 1977). Romantics echo the poet Shelley in a vision of experience as a mystical sense of oneness, of being within a universal continuum: 'Let us recollect our senses as children. What a distinct and intense apprehension we had of the world and of ourselves... We less habitually distinguished all that we saw and felt from ourselves. They seemed as it were to constitute one mass' ('On Life', 1815).
Since such holistic visions emphasize the unity of the knower and the known, childhood experience is portrayed as virtually 'unmediated'. And yet all but the most naive epistemology suggests that our experience of the world is unavoidably mediated. For the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead 'actual experience is for each person a continuum, fragmentary, with elements not clearly differentiated', but 'language... foists on us exact concepts as though they represented the immediate deliverance of experience' (1917, cited in Moore & Carling, 1988: 26; 55). Our apprehension of the world is unavoidably a product of acts of selection, foregrounding and symbolization. Language plays a major part in these acts: it is almost impossible to disentangle what we experience from the categories with which we organize our experiences. As Gabriel Josipovici puts it, 'Language... is never neutral. To make sense of the world we have to impose a pattern on it; to speak is to make as well as to report' (1982: 45). For some empirical commentators (as for Locke) linguistic mediation is expressed in terms of language coming 'between' them and 'reality'. Such a view presents language as 'distorting' an 'objective reality'. But constructivists (in sociology, social psychology and the psychology of perception) emphasize the role of language in the construction of reality (e.g. Berger & Luckman, 1967).
Language creates and separates 'knower' and 'known', 'subject' and 'object'. 'We know what a thing is by cutting it off from other things' (Ong, 1977). We categorize even that which is not clearly discrete or bounded: as in the case of a 'hill' or a 'corner'. Indeed, things do not ex-ist (or stand out) until we call them into being: we create rather than discover the worlds we know through the categories we draw from language. In this sense we live in the word, and all words are 'abstractions': there can be no direct correspondence between the word and the world. 'The world' only exists in language.
We might say that language extends our sense of the world as a thing, whilst at the same time tending to reduce our awareness of its mediation (at least in the apparent 'transparency' of everyday usage). Every routine linguistic reference to a phenomenon refreshes a sense of its independent existence 'out there' but numbs us to the labelling.
Marcel Proust declared that 'it is our noticing them that puts things in a room; our growing used to them takes them away again' (cited in Jackson, 1946: 108). Noticing something represents a fleeting moment of categorical breakdown. Some sensitive and experienced users of language experience a sense of loss in our categorization of the world. Writing in 1905, H. G. Wells lamented that 'the forceps of our minds are clumsy things and crush the truth a little in the course of taking hold of it' (cited in Koestler, 1970a: 174). But, of course, without categories, as the psychologist Jerome Bruner pointed out, we would be 'slaves to the particular' (Bruner et al, 1956). Silvano Arieti also argues that generalization is a psychological necessity:
Language extends our 'grasp' of the ungraspable. 'If the past, the future, the distant, the abstract are to exist, there must be signification systems to create and reference them' (Anderson and Meyer, 1988: 16). However, the use of language can either enhance or inhibit the evolution of ideas. Arthur Koestler suggests that 'often some promising intuition is nipped in the bud by prematurely exposing it to the acid bath of verbal definitions; others may never develop without such verbal exposure' (1970b: 56).
The American sociologist Joseph Gusfield accepts that 'reality is too ambiguous, uncertain and inconsistent to correspond to categories which render it unambiguous, certain and consistent' (1981: 69). However, Agnes Heller, a philosopher, suggests that:
Terence Moore and Chris Carling suggest that 'the limitations of language' include 'what we cannot easily say, what we should not even expect to be able to say', and that such limitations 'can never be wholly overcome, only diminished' (Moore & Carling, 1988: vii). 'Words can both help us impose some order on our experience of living while at the same time deceive us into believing this order is greater than it is' (ibid.: 4).
Gabriel Josipocivi argues that: 'To use language at all is to use an instrument which is forged by others. It is not that the purely personal cannot be uttered in [English]; it cannot be uttered in language at all... All languages are foreign languages - foreign to us, that is to say... It is never my language, for "I" have no language' (Josipovici, 1982: 71-2; original refers to Latin). We are born into the contractual obligations of a language already in use. Individuals cannot break this contract, although literary artists may contribute to bending the rules. As Jean- Jacques Lecercle notes, 'language is undoubtedly social and collective. Meaning belongs to the community before I make it mine, and in spite of the individuality of my style I can only state what is made available to me by the system' (Lecercle, 1990: 106).
Whilst, as Chomsky would argue, most of our sentences are probably unique, the grammatical templates we use are not. In this sense language is a conservative medium, a feature which, whilst tending to discourage radical innovation in everyday use, extends the communicative power of the medium. Josipovici (developing Roland Barthes' perspective) goes further: 'We are in fact being spoken, or being written, by forces outside us. We are not speakers so much as parrots. Of course these forces do not constitute some transcendent being or historical necessity, but rather the multiplicity of conflicting and ever-changing pressures which make up what we take to be "reality"' (ibid: 73).
Bruner (1966) observed that for pre-school children 'thought and the object of thought seemed to be one', but that during schooling one comes to separate word and thing, becoming aware of 'the distinctness of oneself and of one's own point of view'. Some romantics may (at least retrospectively) identify with a childhood sense of growing separation from that which can be described. The verbal description of certain human experiences is widely considered to 'spoil' them. Indeed, people often say 'there are no words to describe how I feel'. As Edward Ballard puts it:
It is unlikely that there is anyone who has not experienced the frustration of being, on some occasion, 'at a loss for words'. All we can say is that 'I can't explain' or 'I don't know how to say this'. Where I feel obliged to use language which I nevertheless find inadequate, I may feel that language is 'coming between' 'me' and an 'experience'. Or I may feel that I have been lured by language into allowing an experience to be shaped by the words I 'find myself using'.
Lest such occasional frustrations and literary licence lead us to exaggerate the limitations of language for everyday purposes, it is as well to remember that the ways in which speech is used are often more expressive than the words themselves. As an admittedly extreme example, Stanislavski is reputed to have auditioned actors by demanding the expression of 40 different meanings with the phrase 'this evening' (cited in Anderson & Meyer, 1988: 17). And all of us are quite used to 'reading between the lines' in speech: in making meanings out of what has not been directly expressed in the words chosen. Nevertheless, that we are able to say to ourselves that what we have 'put into words' isn't always quite what we meant is a reflection of a widespread acknowledgement of the importance of the non-verbal element in thinking (which was denied by early behaviourists: see Harding, 1974: 172).