Overview of the Referential Process: The Operation of Language Within and Between People


Human mentation involves multiple formats of thought, which are connected substantially but partially, and may operate within or outside of awareness. The modes of thought include symbolic processes which are discrete representations with properties of reference and generativity, and which may be images or words, and subsymbolic components which are continuous in format and based on analogic relationships. The organization of experience is based on memory schemas, including emotion schemas organized through episodes that involve related sensory and bodily experiences with particular people in particular contexts. The referential process is a set of bidirectional functions that enable connection between the subsymbolic components operating in multiple sensory channels and the discrete single channel verbal code. The process involves three major functions: Arousal, the activation of an emotion schema not yet in symbolic form; Symbolizing, describing an event in which the schema has been activated; and Reflection/Reorganizing, exploring and elaborating the emotional meaning of such an event. The concepts of the theory concern psychological aspects of thought, but are potentially mappable onto the underlying neural structure.

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  1. 1.

    J. M. Barrie. Kindle Edition.

  2. 2.

    The term symbolic is used in multiple code theory as referring to a particular process of thought rather than in the semiotic context of signs, symbols and signification, or as involving fixed referents as in psychoanalytic theory.

  3. 3.

    The term ‘subsymbolic was initially used by Bucci (1997) as associated with the PDP model, and has remained associated with the multiple code theory. The prefix ‘sub’ is not intended to characterize the process as less developed or less dominant than symbolic forms.

  4. 4.

    McPhee (2013), Draft No. 4. The New Yorker, April 29.

  5. 5.

    Taken from wine descriptions posted by Eddy Le Garrec of the Empire State of Wine.

  6. 6.

    The same process may be identified in arousal and exploration of any memory schema, in solving a scientific problem, or trying understand any past and present event; we focus here on verbalization of emotion schemas, dominated by the affective core.

  7. 7.

    Excerpts are taken from Steinbeck, John. East of Eden Penguin Books. Kindle Edition.


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Correspondence to Wilma Bucci.

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Bucci, W. Overview of the Referential Process: The Operation of Language Within and Between People. J Psycholinguist Res (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10936-021-09759-2

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  • Symbolic
  • Subsymbolic
  • Emotion schemas
  • Referential process