Multiform Grammar: Exploring Communication through a New Lens

Noa Yaari, CRRS 5/30 (detail), 2019. Mixed media. 21 x 28 cm. Toronto

The spaces and times between words and images within a single sequence are a tool with which we can develop effective and creative communication skills. This is due to the resistance of these gaps or “spacetimes” to evaluate the communication through “right or wrong.” Let’s explore this phenomenon using insights about syntax, that is, sequences of only words, and about the gaps between the words.

In Syntactic Structures, Noam Chomsky refers to a model of language that linguist Charles Hockett developed in the early 50s, according to which: “In producing a sentence, the speaker begins in the initial state, produces the first word of the sentence, thereby switching into a second state which limits the choice of the second word, etc. Each state through which he passes represents the grammatical restrictions that limit the choice of the next word at this point in the utterance” (p. 21).

Noa Yaari, CRRS 5/30 (detail), 2019. Mixed media. 21 x 28 cm. Toronto

Hockett’s observation that the progress within a sentence gradually limits the freedom to choose words and thus increases grammatical restriction, does not play a role in verbal-visual sequences or “multiform grammar” (MFG). It cannot, because it is impossible to reduce the visual component of a hybrid utterance into a single word, regardless of the location of the image in it. How would you translate an image of a butterfly into one word? “Butterfly”? What does this word convey about the butterfly’s colours, size, texture, and relationship with its verbal-visual environment? What does it bring into the meaning of the phrase that the image does not?

The spacetimes between words and images, therefore, build up momentum for effectiveness and creativity, rather than limit the choice of the next word for the sake of grammatical correctness. This, in turn, rules out the values of right and wrong to assess the quality of the communication. Furthermore, it implies that MFG, as a system without right and wrong, has a different take on the expression of the unconscious.

Noa Yaari, CRRS 5/30 (detail), 2019. Mixed media. 21 x 28 cm. Toronto

In his 1964-65 seminar “The Freudian Unconscious and Ours,” Jacques Lacan points out: “Impediment, failure, split. In a spoken or written sentence something stumbles. Freud is attracted by these phenomena, and it is there that he seeks the unconscious. There, something other demands to be realized – which appears as intentional, of course, but of a strange temporality. What occurs, what is produced, in this gap, is presented as the discovery. It is in this way that the Freudian exploration first encounters what occurs in the unconscious” (p. 25).

If Freudian slips, that take place between words, are manifestations of the unconscious, how does the unconscious manifest in MFG? For if multiform phrases do not embody grammatical correctness and restrictions, what could we expect to “discover” when something or someone stumbles? In the lack of correctness, what does a stumble look like? On the other hand, does it mean that the spacetimes between words and images are constant manifestations of the unconscious?

Noa Yaari, CRRS 5/30 (detail), 2019. Mixed media. 21 x 28 cm. Toronto

Perhaps the MFG implies that there is no real difference between the conscious and the unconscious. If so, every time we combine words and images, we ask and even discover something about effective and creative communication. As if we hold a new lens in our hand.

 

Bibliography:
Chomsky, Noam. Syntactic Structures. 2nd ed. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 2002.
Lacan, Jacques.  The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis. London and New York: Karnac, 2004.
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