Language and "Self-Expression"

Salinas17 at Salinas17 at
Sat Apr 28 03:09:05 UTC 2007

In a message dated 4/27/07 4:34:58 AM, amnfn at writes:
<<The motive for sound-to-meaning mapping on the part of speakers can be 
self-expression, even though the overall effect is communication with others.  In 
all likelihood, self expression was the initial motive of speakers, even 
though it was communication with others that served as the force that kept that 
motive a part of our human behavioral repertoire.>>

This is an example of how absolutely critical *common reference* is to 
language.  Are Aya and I talking about the same thing when we talk about 

I'm not sure what Aya means by "self-expression."  I've heard the term of 
course many times.  But I'm unsure what it specifically refers to, in this 

The term "self-expression" has been used in discourse analysis, general 
sociolinguistics and even marketing research to refer to the individualistic 
element in language or how something is congruent with one's own sense of identity.  
In these areas, it's not really separate from communication, but more like 
the opposite of "group-expression"  -- conformity of ideas, styles or ways of 
thinking.  Look up "self-expression" on Google and you'll see that, in the 
vernacular, it usually doesn't mean anything like "non-communication"  -- quite the 
contrary.  I believe Chomsky has used the term in connection with his Free 
Speech position, which is also inherently about communication.  (Nobody has to 
be concerned about Free Speech if they never intend to express their ideas to 
anyone else.)

Chomsky has also distinguished "self-expression" from communication, but I 
must confess I don't understand the contrast.  "Self-expression" seems to be 
about the origin of the message, not about who it's meant for.   When Lincoln 
spoke the Gettysburg Address, that was self-expression.  If I just quote the 
Gettyburg Address in a speech, without regard for what the words mean, that is not 
self-expression -- it's somebody else's.  This seems to be a logical 
understanding of the word.

But the context of Aya's message seems to suggest that there is some kind of 
non-communal use of language called "self-expression."  

I take it that this means talking to one's-self instead of anyone else.  I 
would call this "self-communication", I guess.  There's no doubt it happens all 
the time, but just as a matter of sequence in the acquisition of language, it 
can only be a secondary effect.

In order to talk to myself in English, I have to learn English first.  
English is a communal language, shared by billions of people who spoke it before I 
was born.  Every single one of those people without exception were not born 
speaking English.  It had to be shared with them.  Communication is how every 
single person in the world learns a language.  No one speaks raw Universal 
Grammar and that's a good reason to think no one speaks it to himself either.

Now, let's say I have another language -- my own private language -- my 
"self-expression" language.  Since I don't use it for communicating with anybody 
but myself, it is not a normal language.  

But let's say I constantly violate the rules of grammar in my private 
language.  What is the consequence of my violation?  Are those expressions I make to 
myself "unacceptible", "incomprehensible" or simply "ungrammatical?"  In those 
cases, would I say I do not understand my own private language?  Do I rap 
myself on my knuckles for using bad grammar and correct myself?

Of course, there is an advantage to this private language.  I don't have to 
worry about sharing common references with anybody else.   In English, I need 
to call a horse a "horse", or a self-expression a "self-expression" or I will 
have poor hope of being understood.  However, in my private language, I can 
call a cow a "horse", a spotted dog a "horse" and a self-expression a "horse" and 
have no problem with understanding myself.  I even always know which kind of 
"horse" I am referring to, and can also use the word as a verb or a pronomial 
because I always know what I am referring to, even if I'm using the same word 
all those different ways.

And no one's going to correct my "self-expression" because communication with 
others has no importance.   Turning this into audible speech, however, can 
present a problem.

We don't hear such private "self-expression" languages spoken out loud much 
around town.  People who spout incomprehensible "self-expressions" on a regular 
basis are not treated with much understanding by most folk.  They are often 
diagnosed as having mental problems.  Perhaps it would be more enlightened to 
consider them just people who have choosen to use their LADs and UGs for 
non-communicative purposes.

Steve Long

<BR><BR><BR>**************************************<BR> See what's free at</HTML>

More information about the Funknet mailing list