Every form of communication is composed of 12 basic ideas and each of these ideas, held singularly, is a separate channel of communication in the mind.
Like a jet lifting off the runway, these 12 concepts will accelerate and elevate your creative expression: speaking, writing, drawing, painting, persuading, acting, photography, sculpting, selling, singing, landscaping, interior decorating, inventing, filmmaking, engineering, and making music.
If I left out your favorite form of expression, just add it to the bottom of the list as you point the nose of your jet toward the sky.
Everything can be explained using these 12 languages of the mind, and each of the 12 can be expounded and expanded by the others.
Let us begin by defining a couple of terms.
Perception: a conscious awareness of a sensation and interpretation of sensations.
Communication: a successful transfer of perceptions to another person.
The impact of your communication is determined by your mastery of these 12 languages:
1. Numbers are a language of the mind.
Math is easier to learn when you think of it as a language. There are things that can be communicated in the language of numbers that can be said in no other language.
2. Color is a language of the mind.
Look at a color wheel. Pink and burgundy agree with red, but that entire family of color is contradicted by green. Add white to a color and you get a tint. Add black and you get a shade. Add grey and you get a tone. Colors, tints, shades, and tones communicate moods and attitudes. Color can be saturated to intensify – or desaturated to drain – a feeling.
3. Phonemes are a language of the mind.
Every spoken language is made of a specific number of sounds, and alphabets are constructed to represent those sounds. English is composed of 44 phonemes. The vowels of a language are its musical notes.1 The “stops” in English are the sounds represented by p, b, d, t, k, g. (Make those sounds in your mind; not the names of the letters, but the sounds the letters represent.) There are also labial, dental, fricative, and palatal phonemes. Obstruent phonemes give words a hard-edged, angular feel, like “taketa.” Sonorant phonemes give words a softer, feminine feel, like “naluma.”
4. Radiance is a language of the mind.
Outward radiance is energy expanding. Inward radiance is energy contracting. Hot and cold. Love and indifference. Dark and light. Dim light and shadows are sonorant. Bright light is obstruent. Likewise, pianissimo-soft is sonorant. Forte-loud is obstruent.
5. Shape is a language of the mind.
Angles are the obstruent phonemes of shape. Curves are sonorant.
6. Proximity is a language of the mind.
It speaks of the relationship of one thing to another. Large and small. Here and there. Left and right. Up and down. High and low. Near and far. Ahead or behind. Backward or forward. Absent or present. Complete or incomplete. Perspective, or angle of view, is another expression of proximity. Brother, sister, father, mother, cousin, co-worker and boss are words that describe relationship, a proximity measured in a “distance” that cannot be expressed in inches, feet, or miles.2
7. Motion is a language of the mind.
Fast and slow. Curved or angular (shapes of motion). Coming or going (proximity of motion.)
8. Taste is a language of the mind.
As a biological tool for identifying chemicals dissolved in liquids, the perceptions of the tongue give us a vocabulary that can easily be assigned to non-chemical perceptions, allowing flavor to be used as a metaphor for a wondrous number of other things. “She is a sweet girl, but her father is a bitter old man.”
9. Smell is a language of the mind.
Smell is a tool for identifying chemicals dissolved in air, so the perceptions of the nose provide us with another vocabulary that can easily be assigned to non-chemical perceptions. “The judge’s ruling in that case stinks like 9 day-old fish.”
10. Feel is a language of the mind.
Rough and smooth. Dry and wet. Painful and pleasant. Relaxed and tense. Outstretched and cramped. Extended and contracted. The words that describe skin and muscular sensations – pain, pressure, position, movement, and temperature – can be used to describe emotional states as well. Or anything else you want to aim them at.
11. Symbol is a language of the mind.
Symbols have specific meanings. Facial expressions and body language are symbols. A stop sign is a symbol. An exclamation point is a symbol. A smiley face is a symbol. Each letter of the alphabet is a symbol for a phoneme. And every ritual – communion, baptism, the dubbing of a knight by the king – is a symbol combined with motion, another language of the mind.
12. Music is a language of the mind.
Music is any sound that carries meaning. The sound of a jet. A dog’s bark. A slither in the grass. A baby’s cry. What we typically think of as music is composed of 1. Pitch (proximity: high and low), 2. Key (shape of sound), 3. Tempo (speed of motion), 4. Rhythm (shape of motion), 5. Musical Interval (proximity: near and far, how wide are the gaps between notes?), and 6. Musical Contour (shape of the melody line). The volume of music is an expression of its radiance. This is an example of what I meant when I said, “each of the 12 can be expounded and expanded by the others.”
Perception is deepened when two or more languages agree, creating concept reinforcement. (Such as dim light combined with slow music in a minor key.) But too much agreement creates a cliche.
Attention is elevated when a language disagrees and contradicts another, creating an interesting anomaly. (Such as a spotted cow that is hot pink and lime green) But too much disagreement creates confusion. (By the way, did you notice how “pink” was modified by radiance – hot – and “green” was modified by the symbol of a lime?) 3
Today’s introduction to the 12 languages of the mind was not meant to be exhaustive or comprehensive. It was merely the cracking open of the door to a forgotten room, an invitation to explore an undiscovered country, a glimpse at the gleaming gold molars of a yawning dawn.
Wasn’t that a colorful way to say, “the beginning of a brand new day?”
Roy H. Williams
PS – “The 12 Languages of The Mind” is a pet theory of mine. Consequently, you won’t be able to find any additional information about this concept online, although you will be able to confirm everything I’ve shared about the 12 languages if you investigate each of them singularly. NOTE: “obstruent” and “sonorant” are technically associated only with phonemes, but I took the liberty of applying these descriptions to other channels of communication. – RHW
1 According to Duke University’s Deborah Ross, musical intervals reflect the sounds of our own speech, and are hidden in the vowels we use. Musical scales ‘sound right’ because they match the frequency ratios that our brains are primed to detect. Her research indicated that this phenomenon is not limited to the English language. The musical scale of China is a reflection of the vowels in Mandarin. Ever wonder about the musical scale of India?
2 When proximity describes a non-spatial reality, such as a philosophical, emotional or perceptual reality, it’s called “shadow proximity.” Likewise, in #4, love and indifference are examples of “shadow radiance,” and in #8, “sweet” girl and “bitter” old man are examples of “shadow taste.” And in #9, a judge’s ruling that “stinks” like 9 day-old fish is an example of “shadow smell.” Optimism and pessimism are additional examples of “shadow radiance.” Does it surprise you that we use the words of objective, physical reality to explain subjective, perceptual reality? Each of the 12 languages has a shadow.
PS: go back to MY vocabulary article