“It is easier to die and kill for a cause
than to live and learn for a cause.” Weilgart
“Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence
by means of our language.” Wittgenstein
As a youth, John Weilgart enjoyed wandering in the Alps. One time, he wandered so far he had to find his way home in a storm by night by feeling for which side of trees moss was growing. Perhaps it was here, at some point, that he had a boyhood vision of an extraterrestrial creature imparting a transparent tongue — the language of space. Though a local science fiction author (Brad Steiger) included a somewhat sensational rendition of this in one of his novels, Weilgart’s family remembers him speaking of the original idea for aUI as an act of imagination that seemed almost real to him, a vision that inspired his own creation (see Dr. Weilgart’s Story for original notes). Still, the outer space theme conveys the universal, transcendent aspect of Weilgart’s work: he saw reflected within the fundamental elements of the language the macrocosm of the universe. In addition, it appealed to the imaginations of the youth of the 60s and 70s — who were inspired by images of space and space exploration (for example, the good adventurers in Star Trek).
Weilgart was trained as a psychoanalyst at the same school that Freud and Jung attended, and only a generation removed from Jung. His ideas about language were influenced by Freud’s conclusions and by Jung’s ideas about the collective unconscious and universally shared symbols and archetypes. aUI most certainly rests on the idea of a shared universal unconscious or preconscious truth, which Weilgart considered psychologically healing. He was also a believer in the spiritual idea of an ideal language that emerged from many religions, most notably Christianity. When the snake in Eden whispered the first lie to Eve, it began what to many Christians was a fall not just from grace, but also from truth. This first lie only led to others over the millennium, and then was exemplified in the nationalism and pride of the competing tribes in the Tower of Babel story. This story of the search for a more real or true language was a driving force in Weilgart’s explorations, but the search had been lead by many others before him. It was very popular beginning with some of the most famous thinkers of the Renaissance and lasting through the modern age. Could a language be found that would resonate more exactly with reality? Well, who knows? But Weilgart devoted his life to trying.
Mind Pollution: Slavery to Slogans, Idolatry of Ideologies
The fundamental ideal motivating Weilgart’s work was “Peace through Understanding” among nations and cultures. His greatest concern about conventional language was the power that slogans could acquire, notably under pre-war conditions of political tension and extreme socio-economic hardship. Whereas Mario Pei called “slogans…semantic dynamite [for] political action,” (The Story of Language, 1965), Weilgart saw slogans rather as a trigger that sets off the dynamite, a catalyst or relay that closes the circuit of tension (p. LI).
If national language rallied people together into nations with battle cries, slogans, and commands, then Weilgart reasoned that language bound people with curses against the enemy, not with blessings of peace. Weilgart believed that we were conditioned over thousands of years to obey slogans in crises, when people crave collective confidence. But in the modern age, slogans usually don’t serve as rallying cries against an outer, non-human enemy that threatened death (as would be the case with for early humankind). Rather, they often serve as battle cries against competing rival groups, and thus push conventional language into commercial, bureaucratic, political, and militaristic domains.
Weilgart concluded that a slogan can absolutize a relative value into a focus of positive or negative action, an ultimate to die or kill for, (for example, the McCarthy era, anti-Communist slogan, “Better Dead than Red”). Such slogans work partly at a subconscious level, regressing from informative communication to the pre-rational command state of language. Alliteration and near-rhyme subvert reason. This is what Weilgart, as a young man, experienced first hand as Hitler was coming to power: the pervasive Nazi propaganda, ominously regulated by the state to infiltrate agencies and education, beginning at primary grade levels, before reason is developed fully.
In particular he observed how alliteration (use of the same first sound) and assonance (use of similar vowel sounds) emotionally empowered slogans, so that especially in the crowded settings of mass public speeches, mob mentality could more easily over-take rational thought. For instance, the slogan Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer! (“One People, One Nation, One Leader!”) contains not only the repeated ‘f’ sound of Volk (pronounced ‘Folk’) and Führer, and the ‘ei’ sounds in the three ein words and Reich, but Volk also sounds similar to the command folg! (follow! = obey!). So the nation was subliminally commanded to follow the Führer (leader), who by similar sounding association would lead the defeated starving state to become Reich (a rich ruling empire – since the word has the double meaning of rich as well as empire). And the impoverished conditions were the fault of the scapegoated Jews, associated historically via Judas to all be traitors, evil, or even devils (Jude-Juda-Judas = traitor; Jew-Judah-Judas). Weilgart was committed to imagining and creating a language that might not allow for such manipulation.
In the same way, the Nazi’s motto, Blu-Bo – from “Blut und Boden” (Blood & Soil) is an alliteration such as ‘Soil & Soul’. The perverted analogy says, as soul and soil fit in sound, so they must fit in meaning: only those whose blood grew out of this soil have a ‘right’ to live on this soil (for only they have a soul). But, of course, the slogan confuses humans with plants.
It almost goes without saying that the Nazis were not the only ones to use language in this way. Even in peace time, slogans are used to bypass reasoning. In a study of 195 English advertising slogans, Piller (1997) found that some form of stylistic rhetorical device occurred in 65% of them: either assonance, consonance, alliteration, polysemy, repetition, parallelism, or rhyme. By far the majority were of assonance (70%), consonance (46%), and alliteration (35%).
Homonyms = Synonyms
Weilgart’s idea that similar sounds in a slogan speak to the subconscious was apparently founded on Freud’s conclusion (LI) from Gregory Razran’s semantic conditioning experiments begun in 1939. L. A. Schvarts’ experiments in 1948 & 1949 (as described by Luria and Vinogradova, 1959) and those in 1954 & 1960 (as described by Razran, 1961) perhaps best illustrate the conditions for transfer of a paired response from classically conditioned words to semantically and phonetographically related words. That is, bilingual subjects were first conditioned to Russian words (such as ‘doktor’ or ‘dom’ [house]) by repeatedly pairing the spoken word with a measurable stimulus (inducing light sensitivity of a dark-adapted eye in one, and vasoconstriction in the other experiments).
In the next step, it was found that semantically related words (such as ‘vrach’ and ‘lekar’, both meaning physician, and ‘house’) also induced the measured physiological reaction (= conditioned response). This was then tested with words that had a similarity in sound but had no relation in meaning (‘diktor’ [announcer] and ‘dym’ [smoke]). After the pairing was well established, these similar sounding words did not act as equivalent stimuli, and did not provoke corresponding changes in the conditioned response. There was no transfer in this lucid state in which the subjects were. However, when the cortex was put into an inhibitory state – their mental abilities compromised with an injection of chloral hydrate – the drowsy subjects did respond to the similar sounding words, which provoked the same conditioned reflex changes, while the synonymous words lost this previous ability.
Luria and Vinogradova concluded: “…in normal adult subjects [the] dominant links [between words in a definite system of mental connections] are meaningful links…Words…having the character of synonyms…provoke the same reaction, while words linked on an outward sound basis are braked and practically inactive. These facts further show that when the cortex is in a state of inhibition, this real correlation of dominant and suppressed links can alter, so that the relatively simpler sound connections may become dominant, and the more complex semantic connections inhibited.” (p. 90)
Razran formulated his conclusion: “The experiment thus demonstrates, first, that semantic conditioning is a manifestation of a higher level of our learning potentialities and, second and moreover, that the lower level, the phonetographic manifestation, is not non-existent in us but is held in abeyance and reasserts itself in periods of lower organismic functioning.” And further, “As such, the results are seemingly in line with those of Riess (1940, 1946) on the positive correlation between semantic conditioning and age, with Luria and Vinogradova’s (1959) comparisons of semantic conditioning in normal and feebleminded children, [and] with some of my own findings…” (p. 104) That is, similar dominant connections with similar sounding words were found with decreasing age and mental ability.
Thus, Weilgart posited that while the conscious mind predominantly links synonyms, the subconscious – or mind compromised in some way by drugs, sleep, young age, or other conditions inhibiting lucid, rational thought – more easily associates assonances. Thinking back to the effect of slogans characterized by similar sounds, their use in crowd conditions under a fear-based mentality such as under Hitler’s manipulated mob manifestos, it is possible that these stylistic devices have a compounding effect on ‘thought’ in linking dangerous, disparate concepts through sound. Gordon Allport writes that “the homogenous behavior of the crowd is said to have a particular character — it is emotional and stupid….irrational.” (p. 843)
But even under normal, everyday conditions, Weilgart believed that the discrepancy between sound and meaning in conventional language set a partial obstacle to full mental health and inner harmony. This is the key concept motivating aUI’s design: to introduce a consistent relationship between sound, symbol, and meaning, so that words containing similar sounds (and hence similar symbols) also have a relation in meaning. When you play with the aUI symbols and sounds, see what you think. Do the relationships seem intuitive? Do they help you to remember the meanings?
In Search of Semantic Primes
The other main principal upon which aUI is built is its proposed set of semantic primes. Similar to philosopher Gottfried Leibniz‘s concept of an “alphabet of human thought” made of primitive elements, these are concepts that Weilgart deemed virtually irreducible — unable to be further defined in simpler terms. He came to them by continuing to look up candidate words in the dictionary — and then look up the simpler words in their definitions — until he could find no simpler words. He hypothesized them to be universal across cultures (the concepts they represent, if not their exact lexicalizations), but since this is difficult to know beyond doubt, they may rather be considered ‘near-universal’.
The mainstream research area most closely related to this idea is referred to as cognitive lexical semantics and has been most intensively focused on by Drs. Anna Wierzbicka and Cliff Goddard (Australian National University) since the early ’70s. They call their analysis methodology a Natural Semantic Meta-language and currently have 61 primes, a third of which overlap with those of aUI. Their purpose, as Dr. Wierzbicka pointed out in a letter to Andrea Weilgart, differs from that of aUI. They are intent on cross-cultural analysis of any language’s word using this set of primes. aUI adds a morpheme (or symbol) and a phoneme (or sound) assigned to each prime. This makes it possible to organize the primes into more complex meanings for actual verbal communication. aUI could be considered an experiment in applied cognitive lexical semantics, with potential as an auxiliary language.
Beyond their primal and near-universal nature, these elementary concepts represent, in Weilgart’s view, the essential elements of a healthy human mind: “In the elements of meaning, the microcosm of the mind meets and mirrors the macrocosm of the universe.” (aUI, The Language of Space, p. LVI). He saw learning aUI, therefore, as an education into the essence of meaning, a therapeutic play that leads toward the ethos of mental health. He dreamt of offering youth another medium for creative self-expression in an effort to help dissolve destructive drives in our society. After learning a dozen languages, and examining the process of linguistic expression of peoples from many cultures and continents, Weilgart reluctantly concluded that existing languages, even if combined or revised, could not meet his qualifications. He had no desire to add to the thousands of existing languages and dialects unless he could find a system singular enough to transcend traditional tongues and could therefore justify any heroic effort to learn yet another language. Weilgart, aware of archetypes as Jung envisioned them – as innate psychic structures that mysteriously guide our perceptions, saw in these universal elements a potent clue to formulating a symbolic—yet less arbitrary—language.
Allport, G., 1959, The historical background of modern social psychology.
Luria, A. R. & O. S. Vinogradova, 1959, An objective investigation of the dynamics of semantic systems. Brit. J. of Psych. 50:89-105.
Razran, G., 1961, The observable unconscious and the inferable conscious in current Soviet psychophysiology: interoceptive conditioning, semantic conditioning, and the orienting reflex. Psych. Review 68:81-147.
Schvarts, L. A., 1948, 1949, Knowledge of the word and its sound form as a conditioned stimulus. Bull. Exp. Biol. Med. 25:292-294; 27:412-415.
Schvarts, L. A., 1954, The problems of words as conditioned stimuli. Byull. eksp. Biol. Med., 38(12):15-18.
Schvarts, L. A., 1960, Conditioned reflexes to verbal stimuli. Vop. Psikhol., 6(1):86-98.
Riess, B. F., 1940, Semantic conditioning involving the galvanic skin reflex. J. exp. Psychol., 26:238-240.
Riess, B. F., 1946, Genetic changes in semantic conditioning. J. exp. Psychol., 36:143-152.
Piller, I., 1997, Englische Werbeslogans. Anglia 115(2):193-222.
Weilgart, W. J., 1979, aUI, The Language of Space, 4th ed., Chand & Co.
Examples of assonance, or a more general term, parachesis, the repetition of the same sound in several words in close succession (from simple:Nazi Party; Glossary of Nazi Germany; de:Sprache des Nationalsozialismus):
- Heil Hitler! (healing, salvation, wholeness, safety – related to ‘hail’, Old English ‘health’) This was the ubiquitous alliterative greeting and lexification of the Führerprinzip, “leader principle”
- Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer! (One people, One nation, One leader!), one of the most repeated slogans of the NSDAP
- Blut und Boden (Blood and Soil: only those whose blood grew out of this soil have a ‘right’ to live in this homeland, and should fight for the Fatherland).
- Die Juden sind unser Unglück! (The Jews are our misfortune!)
- Lang lebe unser ruhmvoller Führer! (Long live our glorious leader!)
- Meine Ehre heißt Treue (My honor means loyalty)
- Kinder, Küche, Kirche (Children, Kitchen, Church)
- All-Deutschland gegen All-Juda! (All-Germany against All-Jewry!)
- Arbeit macht Frei! (Work sets you free)
- Arbeit adelt (Labor ennobles)
- Volk ohne Raum (A people without space/room)
- White Pride, World Wide (adopted by neo-Nazi and white supremacist organizations)
- Kill the Kikes, Koons, and Katholics (slogan of the KKK, from reference #5 below)