Linguistics and Safety


imageWhen I was teaching Linguistics in Secondary and Tertiary contexts, I would always repeat the well-known aphorism: ‘say what you mean and mean what you say’.

How unfortunate that the safety industry has no interest in Linguistics and thinks it is fine to speak gobbledygook to people (https://safetyrisk.net/believe-the-impossible-and-speak-nonsense-to-people/ ).

I have discussed messaging many times before (https://safetyrisk.net/congruence-in-messaging-in-safety/; https://safetyrisk.net/all-that-you-dont-see-in-messaging/ ) in blogs in terms of: ‘grammar’, semiotics, language, discourse, paralinguistics (eg. gesture, poetics), structure, philosophy and ideology. What a strange industry that takes no interest in these things and then wonders why its messaging doesn’t work or indeed that it invokes the opposite of intent.

Most often language is not spoken consciously. Language emerges from our worldview just as the words we use reflect our worldview. It is rare indeed that we think rationally and slowly about language. Language emerges from our unconscious as we speak.

Unfortunately, an industry that speaks so much religion and theology of ‘saving’, ‘faith’, ‘belief’ and ‘spirit’ can’t then stand on some engineering platform and claim it is NOT religious. Remember all the zero zealots standing in front of the ‘we believe’ Hillsong banner? (https://safetyrisk.net/no-evidence-for-the-religion-of-zero/ ). Have you watched the Spirit of Zero (https://safetyrisk.net/the-spirit-of-zero/ ) video from global safety? Now tell me that the linguistics and semiotics are not religious.

Linguistics reveal philosophy. We chose words consciously and unconsciously these tell us one’s hidden worldview.

Any study of literature will tell you that text is evidence of meaning, purpose and worldview. That is why we study novels, poetry and drama in High School. It is one of the foundational skills in analysis in Literature to learn about language and what it communicates. For example, you can’t speak the language of hate and claim the message is about love. We know the worldview of King Lear (and Shakespeare) by what he says.

If you are interested in learning about Linguistics you could start here:

  • Lakhoff and Johnson (1980) Metaphors We Live By
  • Stamenov and Gallese (eds.) (2002) Mirror Neurons and the Evolution of Brain and Language
  • Wiggins (2019) The Discursive Power of Memes in Digital Culture, Ideology, Semiotics and Intertextuality
  • Kramsch (2021) Language as Symbolic Power
  • Johnson (2007) The Meaning of the Body
  • Velmezova, Hull and Cowley (2015) Biosemiotic Perspectives on language

There is so much to study in the discipline of Linguistics. And here is the thing, all Disciplines use language to express worldviews eg. engineering language, science language.

Linguistics is both specific and generalist, like the Discipline of Education or Semiotics in that, they study across all disciplines. Whereas other disciplines are quite insular and don’t even study their own linguistics, semiotics or pedagogy.

Similarly, a study of metaphor will reveal that all metaphor is conceptual, embodied and unconscious. In many ways, we are what we speak and what we speak tells us what we believe. How fascinating that when it comes to speaking about culture that Safety is silent on Linguistics (https://safetyrisk.net/culture-silences-in-safety-linguistics/ ). When Safety talks about culture it always ‘behaviours’ and ‘systems’.

So, this brings us to the dominant worldviews in Safety (Behaviourism, Positivism, Scientism, Individualism), whether articulated consciously or not. Whether one claims to be a Behaviourist of not, if you speak behaviorist language (products, outputs, capacities, measures, productivity, behaviours, components) then that is the meaning given. There can be no separation between language and identity. The brand might be ‘differently’ but the message is Behaviourist (https://www.artofwork.solutions/measurement-differently ).

Behaviourism is the first language of Safety (other than religious language), that dominates safety discourse. And there is nothing wrong with such language as long as it is ‘owned’ by the speaker. It is unethical to pretend one is one thing (eg. pragmatic in propaganda) and yet another thing (Behaviourist) in discourse. In Linguistics, we also study the difference between discourse and Discourse.

Unfortunately, many don’t own their worldview in safety. Sometimes we are only able to work out worldview by language and discourse.

The challenge then is to recognize the validity of other Disciplines and ‘schools of thought’ in order to work in dialectic to some sense of balance. Without a Transdisciplinary approach this is highly unlikely. Unfortunately, the echo chamber of safety loves to spruik the language of ‘learning’, ‘debate’ and ‘critical thinking’ but has no intention of entering into dialectic with ‘the other’.

Similarly, the language of ‘heroics’. The language of heroics is metaphysical language, adored by Safety (https://safetyrisk.net/no-gurus-no-stars-no-heroes-needed-in-safety/ ). This is the language of movies, fiction and semiotic unreality, mapped here: https://safetyrisk.net/culture-silences-in-safety-semiotics/

It is nonsense to speak the metaphysical language of ‘heroics’ to fallible people (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/fallibility-risk-living-uncertainty/ ). Indeed, the language of ‘heroics’ alienates ordinary people to the everyday messages of safety. If only heroes can be safe, then why bother? If safety is about heroes then safety is other worldly.

When the medium of the message (https://safetyrisk.net/the-medium-is-the-message/ ) is contradiction, the outcome is confusion, alienation and disorientation.

One of the things I respect about Dominic Cooper is that he owns his worldview. You don’t hear any equivocation or ‘game playing’ with Dominic and this deserves respectful debate. Indeed, there are elements of such a worldview I agree with and accept, but there are other views, Transdisciplinary views that could also enter the dialectic.

Indeed, my own worldview of an existential dialectic welcomes the exchange of worldviews. We just need the mutuality in language so dialectic can occur. This is why Dr Ashhurst’s work (https://www.researchgate.net/scientific-contributions/Craig-Ashhurst-2132771207 ) on Collective Coherence and Boundary Objects is so important for learning and dialectic. We actually need a common language to undertake such a dialectic and this requires an openness to Transdisciplinarity.

The only impediment to dialectic is a binary absolute eg. Zero. Zero doesn’t accept nor countenance (by its own ideology) the non-absolute This is the nature and language of the binary worldview. In Zero there can be no dialectic.

The first step to a dialectic in safety (aside from zero language) is to learn the language of the other, to understand its meaning and give equal validity to a mutuality in discourse. Without such movement there is no learning.



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