A major unit of psycholinguistics that I have not seen described: convertations

When we consider psycholinguistics from the point of view of interpersonal communication (especially psychologically rich communication) we can identify a unit of communication that springs from the working memory as it indexes deeper and more extensive information stored elsewhere in the mind/brain.

This unit of communication is used to start a conversation and then maintain it.

For example, my partner recently had a performance review at her job. This morning I asked her about it. When I asked her, I intended to start a conversation. Along with my intention, I knew a few things:

  • that she would be interested in the topic
  • that she would have new information
  • that I knew a good deal about it but not as much as her
  • that we would almost certainly engage in a conversation that is of practical as well as psychological interest to both of us

In raising the subject, I held an amorphous notion in my working memory roughly described by the text just above. I embarked on the subject with a pointed yet open-ended question, “So how is the job review going…”

That question signaled in my mind, and it turns out in may partner’s as well, that I wanted to converse with her about her job review.

I want to call what I did there the initiation of a convertation,(which is the word conversation with a “t” in place of the “s”). I am using a special term because I want to isolate and describe it as a psycholinguistic unit of major importance to both speech and psychology.

I submit that a convertation, which the above is merely a single example of, is a major psycholinguistic unit; a major piece of psychology and language both together and separately.

A convertation springs from the working memory where it appears as an index of much more. Many convertations could be described as “gambits,” but gambits are only one type.

Loosely speaking, a convertation includes an intention, a purpose, somewhat defined content, and open-endedness. In the example above:

  • My intention was to converse with my partner, listen to her speak, enjoy the morning, have fun talking with her, and find out how her job review was going.
  • My purpose was to get new information and assess how the review was affecting her and if I had any role to play in it.
  • The content (once it began) of now our convertation was the job review and my partner’s psychological responses toward it. Less important but also significant were my psychological responses to hers.
  • The open-endedness could be anything sparked by the original premise of the convertation.

In the case above, everything went smoothly. My partner was not stressed by the review. It seemed to be going well. I felt some relief but was not surprised. At some point, we began a discussion of why her employer did the review the way they did. Lastly, I said our talking constituted a good example of what I mean by convertation.

Convertations can be fruitful and very pleasant as in the above example. Or they can be fraught with dangerous misunderstandings, misplaced emotions, psychological and linguistic harm.

Sometimes a convertation constitutes an entire conversation. Sometimes a convertation is a sub-unit of a larger conversation. If you isolate convertations and view them as units in themselves, sharper distinctions can be made about how and why people speak to each other.

The Secret Speech of General Chi Haotian

This speech should be read by everyone interested in China. Draw your own conclusions about how much it has to do with recent events. Chi Haotian was the defense minister of China from 1993-2003. An excerpt from his speech can be found just below. Be sure to read the whole speech. More information about it is provided at the link below.

…Conventional weapons such as fighters, canons, missiles and battleships won’t do; neither will highly destructive weapons such as nuclear weapons. We are not as foolish as to want to perish together with America by using nuclear weapons, despite the fact that we have been exclaiming that we will have the Taiwan issue resolved at whatever cost. Only by using non-destructive weapons that can kill many people will we be able to reserve America for ourselves. There has been rapid development of modern biological technology, and new bio-weapons have been invented one after another. Of course, we have not been idle, in the past years we have seized the opportunity to master weapons of this kind. We are capable of achieving our purpose of “cleaning up” America all of a sudden. When Comrade Xiaoping was still with us, the Party Central Committee had the perspicacity to make the right decision not to develop aircraft carrier groups and focus instead on developing lethal weapons that can eliminate mass populations of the enemy country.

From a humanitarian perspective, we should issue a warning to the American people and persuade them to leave America and leave the land they have lived in to the Chinese people. Or at least they should leave half of the United States to be China’s colony, because America was first discovered by the Chinese. But would this work? If this strategy does not work, then there is only one choice left to us. That is, use decisive means to “clean up” America and reserve America for our use in a moment. Our historical experience has proven that as long as we make it happen, nobody in the world can do anything about us. Furthermore, if the United States as the leader is gone, then other enemies have to surrender to us.

Biological weapons are unprecedented in their ruthlessness, but if the Americans do not die then the Chinese have to die. If the Chinese people are strapped to the present land, a total societal collapse is bound to take place. (The Secret Speech of General Chi Haotian)

I have posted the translation found on J.R. Nyquist’s blog because this version contains parts left out of other versions I have seen, particularly Chi’s introductory discussion of an online survey.

As far as I have been able to determine, this translation is an accurate rendition of a real speech given to high-level Communist Party leaders.

Below are some quotes from Sun Tzu:

“The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.”

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”

“Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”

Sun Tzu, The Art of War