Book Review of Language in Thought and Action

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  • Topic: General semantics, Semantics, S. I. Hayakawa
  • Pages : 3 (1305 words )
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  • Published : November 14, 2011
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S. I. Hayakawa and Alan R. Hayakawa. Language in Thought and Action. 5th ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990. Editor's note: S. I. Hayakawa's book was briefly reviewed in the Summer 1990 issue. Recently, a more extensive discussion that provides a thorough historical perspective on Hayakawa's work was submitted to the journal. It is printed below and should be of interest to all readers. This is in effect the eighth edition of Basic Hayakawa--in 1939 and 1940 duplicated spiral-bound editions were tested in college English classes, and in 1941 the book became the best-seller Language in Action. In 1949 it was revised extensively and expanded into Language in Thought and Action. Further editions appeared in 1964, 1972, 1978, and 1990. I first read this book in 1956, while a student in Hayakawa's class at San Francisco State College. My reaction at the time, and I think that of many others, was along the lines of "How come in fifteen years of school nobody ever told me this obviously important stuff about language before?" I remember noticing in late November of that year, for example, that my previous thinking had changed to the extent that if the presidential election had been held a few weeks later, I would have voted for the other candidate. Does this book still have the kind of electric effect on its readers? Probably not. This book and the general semantics movement as a whole do not touch off that "Wow!" reaction anymore, partly because of their success. Many general semantics ideas now are integrated into the common wisdom and no longer strike people as new and exciting. Hayakawa originally wrote the book for introductory freshman college English classes, and it also found a market among the general book-reading public. Nowadays the book is not generally available in bookstores; you usually must go to a college bookstore to find it. It is st01 required in some freshman and sophomore college classes. How much has the book changed over the...
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