Language – Linguistics in NLP

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

The map (words) is not the territory (experience); the representations that a person utilises to describe their experience of the world are in actuality not the real world.

Language is therefore a powerful descriptive secondary representation (or filter) of the individualistic subjective experience. Language is not tangible; words are merely substitutions that are utilised to express the things that a person sees, hears, feels, tastes and smells; this usually occurring without conscious awareness.

This however is not to insinuate that words are inconsequential or arbitrary; indeed words are extremely powerful. As we already know, experience is highly unique on an individualistic level, and this will undoubtedly be reflected in the linguistic expression, and the words that are spoken to express the personal meanings that have been perceived.

Language does not hinder our thoughts, but can seriously impede our ability to express the richness of them. The words used may be inadequate to transmit the original thought, or the words used may not imply the intended meaning to the recipient; indeed the same word may mean something quite different in the other person’s model of the world.

To further compound this, deletions, distortions and generalisations occur frequently when we speak – to this end the real experience is yet further compromised! As a consequence it stands to reason that if these meanings are misinterpreted then miscommunications, misunderstandings and problems will occur.

Words can be extremely ambiguous – often limited by the sender or receivers own range of vocabulary or understanding of such.

In real terms language is not merely a means of communication; when mastered it also creates desired results and forms the basis of our perceptions. NLP can be described as the science of excellent communication; it therefore studies the ways in which thoughts (Neuro) are influenced by words (Linguistic) and are the catalyst for subsequent actions (Programming). 

Good communicators are able to comprehend this. True masters of communication such as Milton Erickson (1901-1980) and Virginia Satir (1916-1988) were particularly adept at successfully manipulating language to influence those that sought their counsel. This being done so with a level of benevolence and care that is in retrospect both highly commendable and incredibly humbling.

Both Erickson and Satir were worthy of being modelled by Richard Bandler and John Grinder during the formative, embryonic stages of NLP. The result of this was the Milton model and the Meta models; both subsequently becoming significant cornerstones of core NLP linguistic skills.

The careful study and use of these set of skills and resultant models allows not only for excellence in respect of individual linguistic ability, and importantly the ability to influence others – but also serves to continually to keep alive the unique skills that Erickson and Satir bestowed upon those lucky enough to have found themselves in their benevolent care, long after their own physical demise. Their work continues to receive extended exposure, and thus lives on.

The Milton Model

“Now, you need to know the difference between knowledge…and knowing….”. – Milton H Erickson.

Thinking is often misconceived as being wholly conscious – but this is a fallacy; rarely do we engage in conscious thinking at all!

This can be validated by virtue of the fact that we simply cannot stop thinking.

At this stage it is prudent to discuss the unconscious mind; which is in all essence a nominalisation – it is not empirical, or an actual thing…but it is a process.

The things that occur outwith present moment conscious awareness are happening on an unconscious level, such as deep thought processes that break the conscious surface like the type of small bubbles that many fish release as they seek to mate…or make a nest…. both deep life-sustaining functions….these bubbles often rise higher and higher and higher from the deep, deep depths …on their journey towards eventually bursting onto the surface

We can only be mindful of a small part of our thinking process, of the memories that we have of the things that have occurred throughout our life – but we are potentially aware, on an unconscious level, of everything that has ever happened to us.

Most of us will have experienced suddenly, and quite randomly remembering an event or episode from many years ago that had been forgotten…then remembered to forget it shortly afterwards! Where did it come from?

The answer is that the memory has been triggered by a certain experience and that the unconscious mind has made a connection and reminded you. Some neurological experiments suggest that the older a person becomes the more vivid early lifetime memories become. Indeed the unconscious mind is a veritable gold mine of skills, resources, dreams, aspirations, experiences and memories.

We respond unconsciously to indirect, ambiguous communications, responding to metaphors and symbols; facilitating deep level benevolent changes. 

Milton Erickson was the master of helping clients to help themselves; often by sidetracking conscious awareness (resistance) and directly accessing the unconscious mind via his communication skills (Language patterns/trance/hypnotherapy/embedded commands/story telling) to facilitate life changing, solution based, lasting, meaningful empowerment.

Erickson knew that most changes will happen on an unconscious level…the conscious mind only becoming aware of these changes when it is ready….! Erickson appeared to have a skeleton key that allowed seemingly unlimited access when carrying out his solution centred therapy. He would often use a myriad of techniques to empower others; one of which being language pattern sentences.

The patterns that he used with his clients were modelled and became the Milton model; the second NLP pattern to be published. The Milton model provided the perfect counterweight to the specific nature of the Meta model, and rebalanced NLP (Yin & Yang).

At times Erickson skilfully used language to alter states, and to confuse the conscious minds of patients; thus misdirecting them as he accessed their innate unconscious resources. The vagueness of his language would often require the listener to instigate a trans-derivational search to ascertain meaning. 

Now, we know lots of things, but have now forgotten lots of things that we know now, no?” – (phonological ambiguity). 

“Right, if you write with your left hand then left is right, and right is wrong…a rite, right?”– (Syntactic ambiguity).

“Who knows how a nose knows, but a nose does know….no”- (Phonological ambiguity).

Read more about….The Milton model and  the Meta model,