Monday, November 02, 2009

113. Introduction to Paper for NCA 2009, #2

NCA 2009
Paper #2: Words, Mind and World: An Alternate Paradigm for Rhetorical Instruction in the 20th Century
David Beard (
University of Minnesota Duluth

This paper serves to undermine a certain kind of rhetorical history – one that depicts the disciplines of composition and communication as coalescing around the recovery of the Aristotelian rhetorical tradition in the 20th century. Such a history may have helped to legitimate the work of rhetorical scholars among the humanities, but it did so at the cost of erasing decades of good work teaching first-year composition and communication within a different paradigm.

This paper serves to recognize that alternative rhetorical tradition, one that, within the 20th century, was as powerful a force for the teaching of writing and speaking as the Aristotelian tradition – maybe moreso, because it was both immensely popular and immensely accessible to the nonspecialist in ways that the Aristotelan vocabulary never could be. For ease of reference and in the hope that I might coin something that will make my reputation, I am calling it the “word-mind-world” paradigm. The gist of the paradigm is simple: the key to effective communication is a rich understanding of the relationship between words and the world, as understood by or through the human mind.

That tradition begins with the work of I. A. Richards in establishing “triadic semiotics” as the model for language use to enrich the philosophy of language. It develops through the General Semantics program in both Composition and Communication. It terminates, awkwardly, in the composition pedagogy of Anne Berthoff, who develops a composition pedagogy of “forming, thinking, writing” that explicitly references the Ricardian paradigm to build a more sophisticated model for what is, essentially, the same paradigm. “If a speaker or writer can grasp the proper relationship between words and world as mediated by the human mind, they can be a clear communicator.”

This paper glosses the rise and fall of this alternate tradition of rhetorical pedagogy....

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