ozarque (ozarque) wrote,
ozarque
ozarque

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Verbal self-defense; sensory mode clash, continued

In yesterday's post about the argument between John and Jane resulting from a sensory mode clash, I said that an eye person could ask "How did she look?" and an ear person could ask "How did she sound?", but a touch dominant person had no analogous question available to ask. A number of commenters suggested that the proper/normal/acceptable question would be "How did she feel?" or "How was she feeling?"

I understand why those are the two utterances that come immediately to mind. However, as pointed out in this comment from undauntra:
" 'How was she feeling?' already has a meaning... and a different one. It asks about the mother's perception, rather than about Jane's perception of the mother."

Exactly right. "How did she look?" means "How did she look to you?", and "How did she sound?" means "How did she sound to you?" But the analogous touch mode question -- "How did she feel to you?" -- is almost always going to be an unacceptable utterance.

The touch dominant person checking on a sick relative or friend is going to want to do things like these: touch the sick person's forehead and cheeks and throat to find out if the skin is hot with fever, or clammy/cold with weakness or shockiness or chills; touch the veins in the sick person's hands to find out if they're slack or firm; hold the sick person's hand to find out if the grip is returned weakly or strongly; hug the sick person to find out whether she offers a strong or weak hug in response -- and whether she seems to "cling" as if she were frightened or in distress. Things like that, to the extent that her relationship with the sick person will allow them to be done.

Suppose both John and Jane were touch dominant. In that specific situation, John could be confident that Jane would have done things like those I've just listed while visiting his mother, John would be able to ask "How did she feel to you?" and could expect a response offering touch details -- "She didn't feel feverish at all, and her skin was moist but not wet. And when I hugged her, she hugged me back" -- the sort of details that he would be most interested in. But because the percentage of TD adults in mainstream American culture is so low, this is a rare situation. And asking a sight or hearing dominant person that question -- "How did she feel to you?" -- is going to get at best a blank or puzzled look in response. Or a response along the lines of "She was feeling a lot better," based on an assumption that the question was supposed to be about the other sense of "feel."

This isn't a problem for the majority of American English speakers, no. Of course not. Most are sight or hearing dominant, and the question that will solicit the information they want is available and convenient and appropriate.

The touch dominant person does have ways to use English to get touch information. He (or she) can ask a series of questions. "Did you check her forehead? What did it feel like -- was it hot?" And "Did you hug her?", and -- if the answer is yes -- "Did she hug you back? Did it feel to you like she was hugging with her normal strength?" And so on. The TD person could give specific instructions to the spouse who'll be visiting about what should be done and what information should be collected, and hope for cooperation. But the fact that "How did she feel to you?" isn't ordinarily going to be available makes the language interaction slow and cumbersome, even between people whose relationship is intimate; when the relationship is distant, things are even worse.

I don't believe that most adult women in the American mainstream are a muted group, although I do believe that most men -- because of power and status differences -- are more privileged in their communication. I do, however, believe that most touch dominant individuals are genuinely a muted group. Most -- not all. There are exceptions at both ends of every continuum, and that is as true for language as it is for any other area of human life.

Suzette
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