Language and "Self-Expression"

A. Katz amnfn at
Sat Apr 28 03:58:14 UTC 2007

Communication can be intentional or unintentional. Vocalization can be
voluntary or involuntary. In the context of a discussion of the
separability of language structure from communication, "self-expression"
means a form-to-meaning mapping that encodes information where the speaker
had no intent to communicate with another.

Sometimes the vocalization is involuntary. The speaker just couldn't help
himself. He might prefer not to communicate, but the need to express his
thoughts and feelings overrides his concern about sharing information. At
other times, the speaker may be unaware that he has an audience.

When someone cries out in pain, everyone who hears understands the
message. But it is not a message that the injured party necessarily meant
to send out. The urge to cry out is difficult to overcome. We might not want
others to know we are suffering. Nature made sure we would let others
know, because it might save the lives of our group mates, who would be
alerted to the danger.

Babies are born with a repertoire of cries that alert caretakers to their
needs. But a newborn does not know that there are others. The concept of
self versus other develops much later. When a baby cries out, it is
self-expression, regardless of the fact that for hearers the cries
function as a form of communication, in that the baby supplies them with
important information about its needs.

If Abraham Lincoln had composed and spoken the Gettysburg Address without
intending it for an audience, then it would have been mere
self-expression. Since he did intend it for an audience, we can safely say
that it was an intentional act of communication.

Some people with autistic spectrum disorders master both grammar and its
mapping onto meaning, without developing a theory of mind. When they
speak, they comment on reality without taking into consideration what
others will make of their comments. Their speech is motivated by self-
expression, but they are using a language they picked up from their
environment, so anybody listening in can understand what was said.


      --Aya Katz

Dr. Aya Katz, Inverted-A, Inc, P.O. Box 267, Licking, MO
65542 USA
(417) 457-6652 (573) 247-0055

On Fri, 27 Apr 2007 Salinas17 at wrote:

> 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
> "self-expression"?
> 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
> context.
> 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.
> Regards,
> Steve Long
> <BR><BR><BR>**************************************<BR> See what's free at

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