For the most part, we choose words and sentence constructs unconsciously without realizing it. We learned to do a lot automatically: walking up the stairs, smiling when meeting a friend, washing our hands - and choosing grammatical means. Choosing from a huge variety of linguistic possibilities the only one that we use here and now, we act, although not consciously, but quite systemically. And sometimes we find ourselves in a trap set for us by linguistic demons. Consider one of these traps that prevents, among other things, from starting to control your weight.
There is a section in Russian school textbooks devoted to impersonal sentences. "Freezing", "Evening", "It was cold", "It was dark." They are distinguished by the fact that they do not have a word indicating who is doing all this. This word is called "agent". Agens always denotes an animate being that performs an action of its own accord. Not a group of people ("our generation", "women"), not an abstract concept ("future"), but a concrete person ("Vasily"). There is no agent in the constructions we are talking about. It is impossible to imagine any Vasily who makes it so that it is evening.
What does the choice of non-agent proposals mean?
Automatically choosing constructions without an agent, we unconsciously assert: what we are talking about happened by itself, not by the will of a person, including not by my, speaking, will, but by the will of unknown inhuman entities.
What problems can this create?
There are people who suffer from excess weight for years. They have studied all the literature on the problem, read the latest research in the original language, can tell with enthusiasm how to act in this or that case, while struggling with extra pounds. But they do not apply their deep knowledge in practice.
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This is how those who are trapped in non-agent constructions tell about their problem.
"Excess weight is associated with excess food intake and physical inactivity as an additional harmful factor." It seems to be a perfectly normal phrase that opens many sensible articles about being overweight. What's wrong with it? Let's listen further.
"It is necessary to exclude foods such as X, Y and Z from the diet, eat regularly and maintain a regimen of physical activity."
To the question: "Have you tried to do this?" - the answer follows: “At the present time this is not possible, since the situation at work requires constant presence and regular food is still unrealistic to establish. There is not enough time for sports either."
A charming woman with an intelligent face and a lively smile is expressed in a similar way. This is her way of speaking. In her speech, agent constructions are completely absent. Then in a conversation she will lose her book style, but this will not add agency constructions to her.
“… I tried to eat right. But then there was a family holiday, and there was a salad with mayonnaise, then a cake, it was inconvenient to refuse. In all her statements on the topic of food, this woman finds herself at the mercy of linguistic demons, who represent any of her actions as forced.
She began to lose weight at the moment when for the first time with an effort she said: “I thought about what I want for dinner tonight, I remembered that I like it hot in the evening and so that I could immediately warm up and eat it, cook it the way I like it, and left wait in the refrigerator."
After that, it took her only 4 months to get rid of 10 extra pounds, and pronouncing the scary phrases in which the word "I" stood in the position of an agent required more than six months of training.
How it works
Why is it so difficult to confront the problem and say "I"? It's about defaults. The more pleasant the event is for us, the more detailed we tell about it. The more unpleasant, the more laconic we are. We do not speak the unbearable at all.
It was intolerable for our conditional heroine to feel free. As a child, she, like many of us, experienced a series of small disasters associated with an attempt at freedom. She remembers how in the lesson she said: "I think that …" She was angrily interrupted by the teacher: "I am the last letter of the alphabet!" I wanted to be beautiful like my mother and put on her makeup. "Why did you do this?" - "I wanted …" - "Don't want to, but ask!"
There are such traumas in the experience of many, although everyone has their own cherished desires. You can follow yourself, whether our “I” is not lost in us.
And free action, the fulfillment of desire with her own hand, connected our heroine with unbearable shame and confusion. Growing up, she easily said "I" when it was not about a strong desire. But she really wanted to be slim, and the fear of failure forced her to choose non-agent designs in order to protect herself from unpleasant experiences. Freedom in her picture of the world was inseparable from punishment.
There are such traumas in the experience of many, although everyone has their own cherished desires. You can see if we do not lose our "I" when we dream of speaking good English, or finishing a diploma, or doing repairs. When we change non-agent constructions to agent ones, allow ourselves to say "I", we become freer, begin to control the situation and it becomes easier for us to achieve our goal.
Speaking is often scarier than acting.
* Psycholinguistics is an interdisciplinary field at the intersection of linguistics and psychology. The approaches to this area from the side of linguistics and from the side of psychology differ significantly. Here is a "psychological approach to psycholinguistics" in which psychological goals are served with linguistic tools.
** For reasons of psychotherapeutic ethics, the author does not cite here the real statements of people who applied for help, keeping only the linguistic component unchanged.>