Language: Gesture, Speech, & Symbol


What is language?


For many people, the answer to that question lies in the spoken dimension: Spanish, French, Arabic, English, etc. Speech is indeed a part of language but strictly speaking😉 it’s only one aspect of it. Gesture and symbol are as integral to language as what comes out of our mouths. Gesture is the oldest form of speech and dates from the time of our earliest ancestors. Gesture also amplifies spoken language, helping the speaker to be understood and remembered. Symbols are abstract and laden with meaning that gets unpacked via narrative, dialogue and relationships. Martin Heidegger refers to language as “the house of being.” We live in language the way fish live in water, it’s so transparent to us that we rarely give it a second thought.


Let’s give it a second thought, even a third one. Recall from the last post that we have three specialized and interoperating brains. Now, consider that we have three intertwined and interoperating dimensions of language. Hmmm… Could there be a connection?


What if the gut brain (instinctual intelligence) is the brain that senses into and makes coherent the intelligence available to us via gestural, nonverbal, sub- and unconscious channels? Even more provocative, what if the gut brain connects us to and interprets the more than human world? Ancient Indigenous teachings that the whole world is alive, i.e., a field of networked intelligences, are now being proven by modern science. More attention to the realm of our instincts and microbiomes may well be critical to healing ourselves, our communities, and our world.


What if the heart brain (emotional intelligence) is the brain that senses, synthesizes and responds to the emotions present in our relationships? What if it maps to a coordinate system of social and relational navigation cues and pathways that determine our ability to live amicably with others?


What if the head brain (executive intelligence) has become specialized over our evolutionary history to deal with the symbolic coordinate systems of language? For example, making sense out of the glyphs on a page that might be written in French, Arabic, Spanish, English, Hindi, Cantonese, math, music, C++ or any language that uses symbolic representations.


Working with all three brains is required if we want to be smarter as individuals and groups. Vocabulary is a good starting place. Each brain has a specialized vocabulary that belies its presence in conversation. The words we utter give us clues as to which kind of intelligence is being languaged in any given situation – remember, all three are always operating. As you read over the list of phrases below see if you can match the phrase to its brain:


I see what you did there. • Let’s make sure we’re all on the same page. • Feel me on this? • What I hear you saying is… • What’s the logic here? • That was really ballsy! • I’m fed up! • What do you think? • We’ll be the envy of the whole company. • I feel so badly for her. • I’m under so much pressure. • That resonates with me • I love our team spirit! • I swallowed my pride and talked to him. • This brings me alive! • I’m so grateful for your help. • We need to think this through carefully. • How does that land with you? • We all need forgiveness now and then. • Can you sense into what’s happening here?


Exercise: For the next two weeks, work on using vocabulary words from all three brains when describing situations and events in your life. What do you notice when you do this?