Friday, November 28, 2014

Interview with Glenn Bassett, author of Wordplay

Wordplay Title: Wordplay
Author: Glenn Bassett
Publisher: Organization Diagnostics
Pages: 270
Genre: Business
Format: Paperback/Kindle

 WordPlay lays out the functions of language as the foundation of what is loosely called mind. Studies of language in primitive cultures by anthropological linguists demonstrate the existence of a basic set of words called semantic primes in every cultural setting. Language is extended and elaborated on the foundation of semantic primes to construct a mental map of the perceived phenomenal world. Once in place, a rich culture of language is passed on from each generation to the next by example. Words ultimately become so ubiquitous and necessary that they take on a reality all their own. Mental maps become more real than the reality of direct experience. Establishment of a critical capacity for knowing truth demands a study of psycholinguistics. The fund of social psychological research made available through research over the past century offers a window on the way words are used to captivate, illuminate, intimidate, inform and imbue us with intelligence. WordPlay is a compilation of the most salient research that pertains to language use. It is a layman’s introduction to psycholinguistics. The emphasis is on how words shape behavior and become the substance of the mind. This is knowledge of those habits of mind that can interfere with straight, clear thinking. It is antidote to functional social ignorance of our rich language culture.

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Q: Thank you for this interview, Dr. Glenn Bassett.   Can you tell us what your latest book, WordPlay is all about?

The sub-title of WordPlay is How Words Captivate, Illuminate, Intimidate, Inform and Imbue Us With Intelligence.  The book explores the ways that language shapes us as individuals, determines how we think and sometimes takes over and runs our lives.  The first chapter concludes with this rhetorical comment, The ultimate question may be, who is in control, the words or the human being.  That tees-up the book precisely.  If you choose to be academic about it, this is popular psycholinguistics, quite unlike any other treatise on the subject you can find.

Q: How did you come up with the idea?

A: One of the two legs of my doctoral program was Social Psychology, which is probably the most solidly practical kind of Psychology you can find.  Social Psych often deals with the ways that words manipulate and confuse people.  My long time interest in primate language acquisition took on meaning when I noticed that teaching chimps to communicate with their trainers with American Sign Language was based on behavioral conditioning, the most practical and applied form of Social Psych.  Imagine, chimps can be turned into social beings using standard psychological protocol.  Wow!  Everything took off from there.

Q: What kind of research did you do before and during the writing of your book?

A:  I was already partially steeped in Neuropsychology from deep exposure to the split brain experiments of Nobel lauriate Roger Sperry and his colleague, Michael Gazziniga.  I needed to fill out that field to get clear on how the brain handles language at the neurological level.  In my preparatory research I came across reference to the early twentieth century cross-cultural language research of Edwin Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf.  That led to the work of Anna Wierzbicka, a present day cultural anthropologist who specializes in comparisons of meaning across diverse cultures.  That opened the door to the power of culture in forming and transmitting language.  The influence of philosophy on the intellectual development of language required a thorough review of the history of Philosophy.  The psychological study of essences, words that seem to reflect reality but do not, brought me full circle. 

Q: If a reader can come away from reading your book with one valuable message, what would that be?

A:  You can either be in control of the effect of language has on your life, or otherwise, language will be in control of you.

Q: Can you give us a short excerpt?

A:  Here are two paragraphs from the first chapter –

The importance of language as a primary means of social connection gives words much of their emotional power.  Personal status, access to food, clothing, housing, and mating all require language competence.  A complex economy of skill specialization where few grow their own food, build their own shelter or spin fabric for their personal clothing requires each person to find a place in the social system.  Negotiation of personal need within the cultural envelope demands language use.  Language itself becomes a survival, or at a minimum, a coping tool.  Without language, life is hard, very hard.  Words loaded with emotion become cultural messages that describe and forewarn of life’s opportunities and threats.  

The sense of real concreteness that saturates words is equally amazing.  Even before they become associated with sentiments, words are more than mere labels for things, events and ideas.  They are permeated with meaning so rich that they become those things, events and ideas.  Branded deep in the inner recesses of the brain, they are our world, our environment, ourselves.  Language is a remarkable capability that sneaks up on and takes over the mind.  Language is not so much learned as it is absorbed.  A child listens, imitates and, somehow, finds meaning in the words spoken by parents, siblings, relatives, neighbors, and others in the common speech culture.  Once speech is mastered, there is no memory of former speechlessness, no awareness of having learned.  Once acquired, the words that play on our lips are as familiar and unnoticed as the air we breathe.  We cannot imagine living and acting without them.

Q: In your own experience, is it hard to get a nonfiction book published today?  How did you do it?

A:  Academic quality books written by credentialed professors can usually find a publisher but the price of the book will be far out of range for the standard book store.  Popular non-fiction of a social science sort is treated as entertainment and is often very limited in depth.  Real social science that is readable and entertaining probably seems to be too big a risk for a mass publisher to take on.  This book and its distribution would not happen without the self-publishing support of New Shelves.

Q: What’s next for you?

A:  The power of ideology to drive lives and governmental policies both disturbs and fascinates me.  I have partially drafted a study of the influence of ideology on economics and government policy over the last century.  Much important experience with the power of ideology has been forgotten and deserves to be recovered.

Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Dr. Bassett.  We wish you much success!

A:  Thank you for the opportunity.  It has been a pleasure!!

  Dr. Glenn Bassett is Professor Emeritus of Management and former Dean of Business at the University of Bridgeport.  A graduate of Berkeley and Yale, as well as a former corporate staffer at General Electric, Dr. Bassett’s career has focused on applied Social Psychology.  WordPlay is the result of exended research into the science of psycholinguistics. He is the author of numerous articles and published books, including The Managers Craft. For More Information

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