Friday, May 8, 2009

Linguistic Empathy: The Art Of Words

We have discussed this topic to a certain degree in another blog called Linguistic Empathy. We have looked at the process of Empathic Listening, as a tool of Linguistic Empathy. We have looked at the senses and their importance to this process in blogs such as Empathic Senses and Senses & Empathy. We have discussed the use of metaphor during the practice of being an Empath in blogs like Metaphors Of Life and Empathic Symbology. As well, we have discussed the importance of having a strong foundation of Emotional Intelligence. Now what I'd like to do is to interconnect these three ideas, so that the process of Linguistic Empathy come into sharper focus.

So with that idea in mind, lets start by taking a look at their definitions.


Linguistics is the study of the nature, structure, and variation of language, including phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, sociolinguistics, and pragmatics.

Empathy is the capability to share your feelings and understand another's emotion and feelings. It is often characterized as the ability to "put oneself into another's shoes," or in some way experience what the other person is feeling.

Empathic Listening is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding and trust. It enabling the listener to receive and accurately interpret the speaker's message, and then provide an appropriate response. It is also called active listening or reflective listening.

A Metaphor is language that directly connects seemingly unrelated subjects. It is a figure of speech that connects two or more things.

Symbology is the study or interpretation of symbols or symbolism.

Emotional Intelligence is describes an ability, capacity, skill or a self-perceived ability, to identify, assess, and manage the emotions of one's self, of others, and of groups.

Imagination, also called the faculty of imagining, is the ability of forming mental images, sensations and concepts, in a moment when they are not perceived through the sight, hearing or other senses. Imagination helps provide meaning to experience and understanding to knowledge; it is a fundamental facility through which people make sense of the world, and it also plays a key role in the learning process.

Intelligence is an umbrella term used to describe a property of the mind that encompasses many related abilities, such as the capacities to reason, to plan, to solve problems, to think abstractly, to comprehend ideas, to use language, and to learn.

Examples Of Linguistic Empathy

Linguistic Empathy then is the ability to share another person's perspective, or 'see through their eyes' through the linguistic patterns of their speech. What this means is that a single word can evoke an emotion, because the speaker imbued it with that emotion.

A good example of this would be an adolescent daughter fighting with her father. The moment the words, "I hate you", leave her lips, because she is not getting her way, the intensity of her emotions is conveyed on the listener, her father. The undercurrent of emotion, beneath the surface of the word 'hate' is filled with anger, resentment, and sorrow. The father then reacts, without conscious thought, in the heat of the moment, in rising anger, as well, and offers up punishment for the offense of using such a word in context with him.

Both sides are hearing what is being said and are interpreting the meaning of the words, based on the emotions found beneath the surface of the words. And in turn, the fight escalates because each of them is behaving in a reactionary way toward the undercurrent of emotions floating around in that given moment.

Another excellent example would be that of an romantic empathic relationship. In this, the Empath becomes a receiver, while the other partner is the transmitter. The emotions being conveyed by the transmitting partner are those of adoration, love, affection, and joy through words like 'love', 'adore', 'beautiful/handsome'. The Empathic Partner, acting as a receiver, is swept up in the tidal currents of these feelings, which are picked up through discussion and discourse, and gets lost in them.

This occurs because some Empaths are purely reflectory, which means they offer up to the people around them, what they receive from other people. This reaction occurs on the superficial levels of communication, as well as, on the deeper levels of communication, where emotion is conveyed. And then one day, the Empath wakes up and realizes, those were not their feelings to begin with. They were the vicarious emotions of the partner. And so they walk away, without much explanation given to their partner, because they themselves are unsure of the answers.

The Pattern

Can you see the pattern in those two examples? The first example is a typical family fight, with regular people as the anchors. The second one is a bit more complex, and yet, it is based on the same principle as that of the family fight example. So the pattern in itself would not be reserved to Empaths alone, because we all pick up on the undercurrents of emotion being thrown at us through verbal and nonverbal communication. Empaths, for the most part, are simply better at interpreting the information they receive, at the conscious level, and recognizing the fact that they are utilizing this process.

The Process

The process of Linguistic Empathy involves using all of your senses and your imagination, as well as, Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence.

We use our senses to pick up extra information, which might not be conveyed verbally. Or, if conveyed verbally, might only be subtly alluded to in passing during a conversation. So we watch, we listen, and we open ourselves to the possibilities of what they are saying, without prejudgment, because this could force you to miss a key piece of information, and thus leave your interpretation incomplete.

We also use the other senses, beyond sight and sound, such as smell, taste, and touch. But these are used to a much lesser degree, because these are dependent on how close you are to the other person. Examples of these would include, but are not limited to, the smell of perspiration and/or the goosebumps along a person's arm.

The other pieces of this process; imagination, intelligence, and emotional intelligence, enter into it when the information we perceive through our senses is interpreted by the brain. We use intelligence to interpret the information. And we use emotional intelligence, through that large storehouse of personal experiences, to determine what emotions flow beneath the currents of words. And we use imagination through the words and emotions being pushed at us, to literally see through the other person's perspective, based on their words.

All of these are pieces of a much larger process which brings us together and allows us to connect with the world around us. All of these singular things blending together into a tapestry of understanding based as much on nonverbal and verbal communication, as all of the other pieces which come together to form the linguistic empathic process. And all of this, from one singular word.

What Is In A Word?

What is in a word? I've often found comfort in the pages of beloved books and set sail into dreams of my own imagining when I write. To me, a single word is something powerful, that has the power to strike fear, convey deep meaning, offer metaphor, and/or express emotions both good and bad. It is a unique ability to weave a spell around the reader, bringing them, for a small amount of time, into the writer's mind and imagination. It is, in itself, a type of empathy all its own.

When I write I choose my words carefully, for the image they invoke in the reader's mind. A metaphor easy enough for the reader to associate with, and yet poignant enough to make the emotion I am trying to convey come into focus. And it doesn't matter what I write about, because a blank page or a blank text box, to me, are the canvases upon which I paint with words.

I'd love to say all of my words are offered up with altruistic intent, but they are as much for me, as they are for others. They are as much my passion, as working with people here. And I am overjoyed when anything I write touches another person, but I am equally as happy with my work when no one sees it or comments on it.

For all of those who have the courage and strength enough to come on here and share the same with me, because of the venue which we speak of, through written words, it doesn't matter how simple the statement or how deep the words flow, it is all a wonder and a joy to me. Each of your stories is brought to life through the words you share and the emotions you embed into those words. Anger, sorrow, joy, love, and all the other emotions, brought to life in sparkling color, even if the words are full of typos. lol (mine have a tendency to do that on occasion, as well)

Each and every one of you, is brought to life on this site, not by your picture, but by your words, you emotions, your needs, and your willingness to share with all of us. And I can think of no better place to be, than sharing all of this, right now, with all of you.

So here are some quotes on words, for all who are interested:

“Love is just a word until someone comes along and gives it meaning.” ~~ Unknown

“Words are only postage stamps delivering the object for you to unwrap” ~~George Bernard Shaw

“Words are the voice of the heart” ~~ Confucius

“Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning.”
~~ Maya Angelou

“A bad word whispered will echo a hundred miles” ~~Chinese Proverbs

“Anger repressed can poison a relationship as surely as the cruelest words” ~~Dr. Joyce Brothers

“Words can make a deeper scar than silence can heal”
~~ Unknown

“We lay aside letters never to read them again, and at last we destroy them out of discretion, and so disappears the most beautiful, the most immediate breath of life, irrecoverable for ourselves and for others.”
~~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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