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Surface Structure and Deep Structure.


The terms deep structure and surface structure were introduced by Noam Chomsky as a part of his work on transnational grammar.

As per Chomsky, deep structure refers to concepts, thoughts,ideas  & feelings whereas surface structure refers to the words / language we use to represent the deep structure.


The NLP Meta Model is a series of Language Patterns used in Neuro linguistic programming. The use of the NLP Meta Model is extremely specific. NLP Meta Model Language pattern is all about Information gathering.

   The NLP Meta Model consists of:

  1. The Surface Structure

  2. The Deep Structure

  3. The Experience. 1) The Surface Structure: If you hear people in NLP speaking about the Surface structure they are speaking about the "Tip of the Iceberg" which is the person's way of using language via Stories, Metaphor, explanations and details that they want to share with you at any given time. This communication, has been prepared to be the most pleasing or effective in getting their point across coming from the Conscious Mind and is not necessarily congruent with the whole person.

     2) The Deep Structure: Is the way in which a Person sorts for information and processes through their own Communication Model.          

This Involves their:

  • Beliefs

  • Sensory experience

  • Preferred Processing Style

  • Meta Programs

  • Past Experience

  • Perceptions of Choice and possibility

  • Sub modalities

       And all Unconscious Behavior

 Just like their Knee Jerk reactions and responses, that they may not want to make public info. 


   3) The Experience:

       Is their Conclusion

       “ The Roundup “

       What they have summarized before they respond to a question you have asked

       Their Map and their Reality.

       It is the way they have coded and Re Presented the Experience into their Neurology.

The Linguistics of Therapy: Noam Chomsky, Richard Bandler and John Grinder Richard Bandler and John Grinder's new application (1978) of the linguistics of Noam Chomsky to psychotherapy has won the assent of some famous therapists for this illumination of the healing arts. According to Chomsky's conception of generative grammar and syntactic structures, the mind is free to generate an infinite number of lawfully structured sentences.

This much-reduced model of vast memory stores is essential to avoid inundation by trivia. Yet, in forming this map, generalization, deletion and distortion occur. All of us generalize, from leaning on the back of a rocking chair to rocking chairs in general for instance, but some overgeneralize to 'all chairs'. Similarly we all have to make deletions, but in this process live options may be sacrificed. Distortion in fantasies, ideals and ambitions can affect our perception of reality and cripple our model for living. In therapy, the client seeking help may state, for example, 'I became angry and hit him'. In Chomsky's terminology this is called the surface structure of a statement, the origin of which lies in a more complete linguistic representation called a deep structure.  


However, when the client transforms from deep to surface structures the generalizations, deletions and distortions may be clues to his distress. For example: the passive transformation on the map weakens the hitter's responsibility; the permuted transformation blames his feelings; the deleted structure omits mention of the boss and the employment implications; the normalized structure turns anger from a process to a 'thing' that commands; the ambiguous structure (common in schizophrenia) confuses hitter with hit; the missing reference structure omits the victim and so overgeneralizes; the presupposition transformation includes a hint of provocation.

As Bandler and Grinder have pointed out the therapist's intuitive task is to uncover the deep structure beyond surface statements and then probe this depth for the generalizations, deletions and distortions involved in forming the linguistic representation itself. This map therefore makes considerable sense of earlier maps. For example, it vindicates Freud's notion of pre-verbal, primary processes which unconsciously shape awareness and a variety of defenses and repressions. It also supports lung's work on word-association and his advocacy of progressively deeper descent into a collective unconscious, linguistically structured with archetypes, and discover-able by intuitions and feelings. And it substantiates Laing's idea of a truer, deeper self, betrayed by false surface manifestations and driven mad by oscillations between levels. Linguistic structures are also clearly involved in the stages of moral development evolved by Piaget and Kohlberg. Finally, modern therapeutic techniques of enactment, relaxation, psychodrama and guided fantasy can be seen as ways of comparing the client's often impoverished map with the more vivid realities experienced in action.

This map is derived from Bandler and Grinder's analysis of a person's linguistic map in the context of psychotherapy. Although aI/linguistic maps represent and reduce experience, persons with problems in living can be said to suffer from impoverished and inadequate maps. Thus a client's statements about a problem are likely to consist of several Surface Structures or variations of a Deep Structure, in this case, 'I became angry and hit my boss with the dicta phone'; each surface structure suffers in some way from generalization, deletion or distortion. By using his intuition as a native speaker of the form of syntactic structures, the therapist can recognize the various surface structures and the deep structure from which they derive. However, the deep structure statement is not itself the whole truth; it is only part of the client's linguistic map and is itself a generalized, deleted or distorted linguistic transformation of the client's general experience. It is the therapist's task to probe the generalizations, deletions and distortions involved in forming the linguistic map itself.

“Wisdom is not in words; wisdom is meaning within words‟


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