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June 1953


Author Affiliations


From the Massachusetts General Hospital Branch of the Hall-Mercer Hospital, the Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Department of Neurology and Psychiatry of the Harvard Medical School.

AMA Arch NeurPsych. 1953;69(6):684-694. doi:10.1001/archneurpsyc.1953.02320300017002

THE FORMAL linguistic categories grammar and syntax seem at first sight remote from psychological significance. Psychiatric literature contains relatively few studies of this aspect of language. The reason lies partly in the fact that psychiatrists are especially schooled to look beyond and through words to the things for which they stand. Yet there has long been an awareness that this formal dimension of language, apart from content, is capable of giving certain kinds of information about habits of thought and feeling.

Comparative language studies lend support to this view. In peoples in whom the mental set differs from ours, grammatical categories of a different order dominate the speech pattern. In the Mayan tongue1 the leading idea is the purposiveness and use of things, in contrast to our own emphasis upon a relation between things. Our language mirrors this "mental set" in the primacy of subject-predicate relationships, whereas the Mayan

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