Languaging as Transacting


Martha A. Bartter

C. A. Hilgartner


As the topic for this session, Professor Read suggested that we consider "How language shapes our lives." In our dialect, we treat language as a verb -- to language, languaging. It signifies something humans DO -- including speaking-and-listening, writing-and-reading, signing-and-receiving-signing, etc. It also includes the bodily movements which accompany our speaking-and-listening, etc.


When we translate Professor Read's sentence into our dialect, it comes out as, "How human languaging shapes human transacting, and how our transacting shapes our languaging." Let us show you what we mean by this.


A. Polar term-pairs on a setting

In our dialect, most constructs (terms) come in mutually-necessary or mutually-defining pairs, which we call polar term-pairs. Neither term of such a pair makes sense without the actual or implied existence of the other. The notions of night vs. day, beautiful vs. ugly, good vs. evil, etc., provide sufficient illustration. The notion of day, for example, designates a period or condition of relatively high intensity of incident light out-of-doors. But this makes no sense without the contrasting notion of a period or condition of relatively low incident light. Further, languagers who use this term-pair define it within a context or setting -- they presuppose an environment in which these conditions alternate with predictable regularity, and a group of languagers -- themselves -- to whom this regularity MATTERS.


Then our job here consists of spelling out the terms we use in our revised topic sentence, on the relevant setting, and sketching in how this revision matters.


B. The assumption that humans assume

We ourselves start with a presupposition that provides the setting for our whole frame of reference. Logically speaking, it functions in a manner more basic than words. We assume that to say that an organism LIVES means that it generates MAPS of that TERRITORY composed of "what goes on in and around our organism." With most organisms, these maps manifest themselves in non-verbal "doings." With human organisms, these maps show up as the verbal as well as the non-verbal. This presupposition makes map-making into a defining mark for the living.


C. How we humans use maps

These maps, we assert, serve two functions, for guidance and for self-correcting. Whatever we DO -- e.g. feeling thirsty, finding water and drinking enough to slake the thirst -- we do by relying on these maps. They underlie and enable any alterations of our external and/or internal environments which we successfully bring about, and also any which we initiate but fail to complete. Stated another way, these maps function like predictions -- behavioral hypotheses or guesses -- concerning, for instance, how to get what we need, how to avoid getting hurt or killed, etc. Whatever guidance we get, we get from them. In the process of utilizing our maps, we humans put these predictions or behavioral hypotheses to test. At the end of the encounter, we may, or at least can, judge the maps against the outcome -- against "how things turned out." If, by our criteria, things turned out badly -- the map or prediction in question appears disconfirmed -- then we may, or at least can, discard it and generate alternatives (newer maps) with which to replace it; and then in turn put these maps to test. We call this process self-correcting.


D. Self-correcting vs. self-defending

A great deal in human living depends on whether, or to what degree, we make use of these opportunities to revise our maps. We can, of course, defend our maps instead of testing and revising them -- at the price of practicing denial, self-deception, self-desensitizing, and the like. However we may handle this choice, it entails fundamental change -- to revise our map, at need, or to decline to revise it even at need, alters the life at stake.


E. Transacting

These remarks outline the construct of one particular kind of interchange, namely,


"A two-way interchange between organism and environment, which


o Leaves both components fundamentally altered,


o In a way or ways that make(s) a difference in the living of the organism(s) which take part in the interchange.


o In particular, this kind of interchange leads the living organism(s) present to alter its/their map(s) in an irreversible fashion.


We designate this kind of interchange as transacting. This construct forms one-half of a polar term-pair.


F. Interacting

We have a demonstration which will give a sense of the other half of this term-pair.






We offer these "happenings" as an example of what we call interacting.


Of course, no one can observe, describe, discuss or otherwise deal with those "happenings" which I just produced without generating some nested array of maps that represent "What Happened," "What It Means," etc. By way of defining the construct of interacting, we assert that the maps which humans make of the kind of interchange we just produced REPRESENT the interchange as


o Occurring between "BODIES" (more or less stable "THINGS" that "exist" independent of any observer) -- here, what we call a drinking tumbler and the floor.


o Leading, in principle, to alterations of


Direction, speed, momentum, etc.

Shape and aggregation, etc.

Temperature, luminosity, energy level, etc.

Physical state (solid/liquid/gas), etc.


and the like.


o By supposition, this kind of interchange does not depend on whether or not the "things" which take part in it generate or utilize maps. Instead, this restricted kind of interchange appear characteristic of what we designate as non-living systems. The absence of map-making provides a defining mark for the non-living. In Western physics, we represent such allegedly "purely physical" interchange -- interacting -- as occurring in a one-way, causal fashion. We can describe such interacting with some precision by the use of that branch of Western mathematics known as "calculus" or analysis.


Given these definitions for the polar terms transacting vs. interacting and for the construct of languaging, we arrive at an immediate answer to the revised topic question we started with:


a) We guide what we DO by the maps we make, or in other words, by our languaging.


b) What we DO alters our environment, and alters us.


c) Both kinds of alteration have a DIRECTION -- namely, they push us-and-our-environments toward conforming more and more closely to the kind of relations depicted in the maps we make.


Consider two examples:


1. Today, native speakers of Western Indo-European languages, members of the Western cultures, and Western scientists -- including the best of our biologists over the last 150 years -- have REPRESENTED living organisms as "mechanisms", analogous to a thermostat. But any actual mechanism operates solely and exclusively by interacting. A thermostat can successfully serve a human purpose, e.g. to maintain the temperature in some kind of enclosure within certain limits specified by the human who operates it. But from the "point of view" of the thermostat, whether it succeeds in doing this, or fails to do it. makes no difference to the THERMOSTAT.


To take another instance, contemporary farmers have come to regard their farms as "production facilities" -- FOOD FACTORIES, which they manage as if from the "outside" -- rather than as an ecology which forms part of a larger ecology, within which they play the "internal" role of ONE PARTICIPANT.


When we language living organisms as interacting rather than transacting, we alter the environment so as to make it more hospitable to interacting mechanisms and less hospitable to transacting organisms. (For example, we Americans have paved much of the NorthEast United States -- which seems fine for cars and trucks, but unsuitable for the earthworms.) In the same breath, we alter ourselves so as to make ourselves more like mechanistic mechanism-tenders, and less like responsible, flexible, transacting organisms who participants in an ecology.


As organisms, however, what we DO -- as seen from our transactional viewpoint -- looks more like what we call transacting than it looks like interacting. In other words, we find a conflict between what we EXPECT and what we OBSERVE. But instead of inferring that this conflict casts doubt upon the guesses encoded in the current versions of our languages, cultures, and sciences, we defend our traditional viewpoints by projecting this dissonance as the expectation of conflict on every level of existence we have words and myths to talk about: conflict within Heaven, between the gods or between God and some of his Angels (Devils); between God and Man; between human groups; between Man and Society; between Man and Woman, between Parents and Children; and biologically, between human organisms and their environments.


2. For the second instance, we have no culture-wide worked example to provide us with actual practices to discuss. However, consider what it would look like if we made the linguistic, cultural and scientific changes needed to REPRESENT living organisms as transacting.


a) We would language our maps so that what we DO would (in principle) alter the environment, including other humans, so as to make it richer, more varied, more harmonious and more stable ecologically.


b) We would language our maps so that what we DO would (in principle) alter us so as to make us ever more harmonious and aligned in our relationships with ourselves, and as participants in the ecology of the biosphere, more responsible, more flexible and more adept.


Then our languaging would show us the inescapable unity of organism/environment, and we would stop trying to separate the dancer from the dance.