Tag Archives: language

The Voices Within

A fascinating talk at the Royal Institution last night, on The Voices Within. Lead by psychologist Charles Fernyhough, the talk questioned what it it means to think, what it is like to have a thought. His research leads a new field in developmental psychology around cognitive development, and how language and thought are related.

His main premise is that thinking itself is most often a verbal process – a type of speaking by, and listening to, the multiple voices of our consciousness. Thinking by its very nature is linguistic. He introduced this idea by showing us a model for how language development / thinking occurs through childhood and into adulthood.

First comes the social dialogue. Children are taught to talk in relation to other people. Their parents say hello to them, as to do other people – so develops the ability to hold an external conversation. From here, children begin to have conversations out loud with themselves – a sort of problem solving by talking to yourself as you would someone else – which the psychologists call private speech. As we get older, more of this private speech becomes internalised, and condensed, into what is known as inner speech. These are the voices which are always in your head.

The phrase ‘internal monologue’ is well known, and each of us have experienced such a stream of thinking – perhaps when reading the paper going over a scenario, practising a speech and so on. However, research has shown that if people are asked to pinpoint the nature of their spontaneous thoughts at a random time of day, most of our thinking is in fact a dialogue: a dialogic interaction as Professor Fernyhough put it. This is us talking to ourselves, where ‘me’ is the speaker and ‘me’ is the interlocutor. The second me could in fact be a representation of anyone – we might imagine ourselves talking to a loved one, or the boss etc – but critically we are still having a conversation, talking, listening and hearing all inside our heads: this is the stuff that thoughts themselves are made of.

In a great article online here, there is info on the importance of this inner speech to our sense of self itself: “inner speech plays an important role in self-awareness and self-understanding. People who lose their capacity for use inner speech due to brain impairments have reported memory problems as well as a reduced sense of identity.”

Overall, it was the best talk at the RI I have been to, and Prof F was an eloquent and captivating speaker. I have been thinking about how this idea of language and self like together in relation to making a final decision about how to display my poetry for the final show work. I like the idea of bringing out the aspects of self as a conversation – a more refined, developed form of the steam of consciousness poems perhaps – although not so far that it reads as a screenplay.

Show: T-9 weeks



Wordless words

I have been thinking more about how to take forward my hedgerow library idea, and whether to leave the pages blank (similar in spirit to the River Library work of Racquel Rabonovich which inspired it), or whether to inscribe more knowledge upon them. I quite like the idea of capturing some sort of hedgerow folk knowledge – old wisdom, recipe, herblore or the like – using the paper which embodies directly the plant being discussed. I realise this leans slightly back towards the ritual magic of my old project proposal – well, some interests are ingrained I guess!

As a way forward, I have been looking into historical written languages as well as the asemic, content-less forms. I started with the two scripts I know from Northumbrian folklore – namely Runes and Ogham, both native and isolated to Northern Europe. During my exploration, I discovered some very interesting facts about Ogham script. Used as an alphabet (not a language), it was used around the 4th century AD to write old Irish (mainly) as well as old Welsh and Pictish, through carvings on wood and stone monuments across the British Isles. It is thought that the script was designed as a code to write secret messages between people (some sources claim it was reserved for use by senior members of the Druids, so ordinary folk would not understand).

The Ogham alphabet (vertical)*

The pronunciation of the letters shown is for Primitive Irish the language used in the majority of Ogham inscriptions. The names and sounds represented by of the letters uath and straif are uncertain. There are many different version of the letter names – the standard ones are used here [with the Primitive Irish ones, where known, in brackets]

The Ogham alphabet (vertical)


I discovered an exquisite book in the library special collection which used the basis of Ogham as a code to create a limited edition artists book.

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Here are a few photos of the pages themselves – so beautifully done.

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Much inspiration which can be gleamed from this. I started off by thinking of using stitch to directly copy some Ogham letters onto paper, however once I started stitching I ended up creating something different – and more uniquely my own “language”. Unexpected and quite pleasing, I let the stitches follow the curve of the thread and lie where they wanted to lie. This was my first samples using paper yarn:

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the second was using some of my hand-dyed papers

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I quite like how these have come out, and although still just tests, this could be a valuable strand of work to follow up. An outstanding question springs to mind though: do I want these stitched messages to be pure expression? or do I want to create some deep and involved cryptographic stitched script? I want to beware crossing the line into over-literal and over-baked ideas.

…and where to go next?

Summer term stock-takeI’m

As the final term of this academic year rolled into action, I had a tutorial with the lovely Bridget, who I was pleased seemed excited about my change in direction. This is the first tutorial I have had since the MYR – I’ve actually made quite a lot of progress over the holidays. Following on from our chat, I thought it would be useful to get my thoughts in order on where I am and where I can go next. I need to keep developing my idea and experimenting with new processes – not get stuck on resolving one idea (although I want to do this too). I also want to draft an artist’s statement of sorts – after being posed the question by one of the class – I think it is about time for us to be able to answer this, even as a first draft.

My research question as it stands, is “how can we use the boundaries between material, place and time to explore our sense of place?”. All the research I have done so far into place, identify and psychogeography has lead me to my own hypothesis that I want to explore through my MA project. That is – that our connection to place is defined by knowledge: be that specific local knowledge related to the nature or culture of the place, or knowledge from mind or memory which is overlayed onto place creating a unique experience in space-time.

The French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961) had a complementary view on our relationship with knowledge. He wrote on the fundamental role that sensory perception plays in how we understand the world. He argued that “knowledge is ‘felt’…consciousness, the human body and the phenomenal world are therefore inextricable intertwined…and the material world itself is therefore not the unchanging object presented by the natural sciences, but instead endlessly relational“.

If place is defined by knowledge, then I believe knowledge is defined by language. It is the ability to articulate our experiences which allow us to fully understand them. Spoken, written or visual….readable or codified, the purpose is the same, the communication of ideas. Roger Macfarlane in his book Landmarks [1], comments that “the contours and colours of words are inseparable from the feelings we create in relation to situations, to others and to places“. However as knowledge of places are lost, so is something of the experience of those places. Macfarlane goes on to discuss the words for our natural phenomenon and entities, that “there are fewer people able to name them and once they go unnamed they go to some degree unseen”. Leading geographer Yi Fu Tuan [2] also supported this view; he proposed that “it is precisely what is invisible in the land that makes what is merely empty space to one person, a place to another”. 

So with all of this said, where do I position my work? Currently, my intention is to create a language which allows us to experience a sense of place, capturing unspoken or unknown/unknowable meanings. A wordless language that is before and beyond the specificity of naming, embedding meaning through local knowledge: the wisdom of the cunning man, the path of the flâneur.

Practically, I am still looking at processes which embed elements of wildness into my materials – wildness through releasing energy, free-will, serendipity. This will bring in the natural dyeing I have been exploring and the transformation of materials with factors not all under my control. I want to expand this from just the material to look into the language of mark-making as well. I have a few ideas of where to explore this term, using handmade pigments and paints as well as more of the asemic calligraphy work which has been bubbling away in the background.

Overall, I’m excited about what’s ahead.

Whatever we remember, and the manner in which we remember, we get a different past, a different sense of place, and a different landscape every time“.³

[1] Landmarks, Robert Macfarlane (2015)
[2] Space and Place, Yi Fu Tuan (1977)
[3] Christopher Tilley, IntroductionIdentity, Place, Landscape and Heritage Journal of Material Culture July 2006 11732