Lasswell Dictionary


As described on pages 46 - 53 of Dynamics of Culture

By J. Zvi Namenwirth and Robert Philip Weber

Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1987


(Text optically scanned)





As noted, we take Lasswell's scheme as a set of commonsense categories of meaning that proved useful in actual research. Table 2.2 summarizes the architecture of the dictionary. Beside the eight basic value categories (WEALTH, POWER, RESPECT, RECTITUDE, SKILL, ENLIGHTENMENT, AFFECTION, and WELLBEING), the dictionary scheme distinguishes between substantive goals and the elements and attributes of the process of distributing values-that is, personal evaluation and social allocation. The latter elements and attributes are transactions. The classification of content maintains these distinctions. Concerns with particular values are classified under particular substantive goals. The classification scheme also distinguishes several kinds of value transactions:



TABLE 2.2.

Classification of the Value Dictionary

I. Category........

Substantive values...

Value Transactions

1. Power


Authoritative Power

Cooperation Solidarity







General Participants

Authoritative Participants

2. Rectitude






3. Respect




4. Affection





5. Wealth




6. Well-being






7. Enlightenment






8. Skill




II. General value transaction indicators

1. Transaction Gains

2. Transaction Losses

3. Transaction

4. Means

5. Ends

6. Arenas

7. Participants

8. Nations

9. Self

10. Audience

11. Others

12. Selves


III. Anomie

1, Anomie


IV. Sentiments

I. Positive Affect

2. Negative Affect

3. Not

4. Sure

5. If


V. Space-time

1. Space-Time


VI. Residual categories [now discarded]



N-Type Words



At times it is possible to determine the specific substantive goal of a particular transaction. This is the case, for instance, with the entry admire, which is classified as RESPECT GAINS. Inspection of the meaning of a word usually cannot determine the substantive goals of a transaction. In that case we can determine only the general transaction component of a given entry, and ask whether it indicates an actor, loss, gain, or whatever. A good example of such entries are the personal pronouns. The dictionary distinguishes among various classes of actors: for example, SELF, AUDIENCE, and OTHERS (first-, second-, and third-person pronouns, respectively). Such indicators of value unspecific transactions are called general value transaction indicators.


The scheme of the LVD is logically incomplete; there are not the same number of subcategories for each of the major categories. This asymmetry results from the confrontation between Lasswell's theory and the actual rules of language usage. These two are by no means coterminous. It is perfectly feasible, and at times even useful, to introduce concepts such as SKILL LOSSES, but this is not to say that there are many words in present-day language that would show such a transaction. In fact, there are not. (note 34) The scheme of the dictionary, therefore, meets the facts of language rather than the abstract mandates of Lasswell's theory. With this overview in mind, we now offer more specific definitions of the dictionary categories.


Deference Values


There are four deference values (p. 55; see note 22). POWER "is a special case of the exercise of influence, it is the process of affecting policies of others with the help of (actual or threatened) severe deprivations for non-conformity with the policies intended" (p. 76). Having defined power as a relational process, power as a value pertains to this process as a desired good, RECTITUDE "comprises the moral values ... virtue, goodness, righteousness, and so on" (p. 56). RESPECT "is the value of status, honor, recognition, prestige" (p. 56). AFFECTION comprises "the values of love and friendship" (p. 133).


Within the POWER category, the dictionary distinguishes between five substantive subcategories and six transaction subcategories. The category AUTHORITATIVE POWER includes entries indicating a concern with or description and invocation of formal power, "the expected and legitimate possession of power" (p. 133) (govern, decree, statute, authorize). Entries of the category COOPERATION denote "the integration of diversified perspectives" (p. 30) (colleague, consent, mediation, overtures). Usage of this category therefore shows a concern with the use of power and group action for the coordination of individual pursuits. The category CONFLICT contains entries that describe and denote the collision among actions and actors in the pursuit of power, whereby the use or threat of violence (both physical and psychological) is often a final arbiter among contending parties (discord, oppose, deadlock, patrol). The category DOCTRINE contains the names of various recognized systems of thought describing "basic expectations and demands concerning power relations and practices in the society" (p. 117) (democracy, socialism, totalitarianism, laissez-faire). The category POWER OTHER is a residual category that contains all entries indicating a concern with power but not defined by any of the other POWER subcategory (note 35) (concession, conformity, response, diplomatic).


34 An interesting question asks why certain categories are well represented by entries in the English language while entries for other categories are missing (cf. Whorf, 1956). Questions of this kind raise important issues for the sociologies of language and knowledge and also have implications for the foundations of culture analysis itself.

35 Similar residual categories have also been used for other subcategories to secure logical exclusivity.


Among the transaction subcategories, the category ARENAS contains the names of political places and environments except for the names of nation states (Africa, realm, territory, nonaligned). Entries in the category POWER GAINS denote transactions in the power process resulting in an increase in power (appoint, assert, defend, take). Conversely, entries in the category POWER LOSSES denote deprivations in this process (block, restrict, resign, suppress). The subcategory POWER ENDS is composed of entries showing a concern with the intrinsic values or goals in the power process (ambition, leadership, persuade, prevail). The category POWER AUTHORITATIVE PARTICIPANTS consists of a list of individual and collective actors in the power process, each being able to make or enforce authoritative decisions (administrator, agency, governor, senate). The category POWER PARTICIPANTS includes all actors in the power process not defined as either POWER AUTHORITATIVE PARTICIPANTS, ARENAS, or NATIONS (note 36) (actor, candidate, faction, volunteer).


Finally all entries defined in any of the above subcategories are also classified under a summary category, POWERTOTAL. (note 37)


Among the RECTITUDE subcategories there are two substantive categories and three transaction categories. The category ETHICS includes all those rectitude values that invoke in the final analysis the social order and its demands as a justifying ground (conscience, sincerity, trust, wicked). Conversely, the category RELIGIOUS includes all those entries that invoke either transcendental, mystical, or supernatural grounds (awe, church, holy, soul). Among the possible transactions concerning rectitude, the dictionary distinguishes among RECTITUDE GAINS (pardon, reparation, forgive, worship), LOSSES (convict, sin, denounce, implicate), and ENDS (almighty, forgiveness, virtue, ought). The meaning of these concepts follows from previous definitions.


In regard to RESPECT, the dictionary distinguishes between two transaction categories, RESPECT GAINS (congratulation, admire, complement, honor) and LOSSES (admission, insinuation, shame, ridicule), and a residual category, RESPECT OTHER. The latter contains all entries denoting respect concerns not otherwise defined and in so doing describes largely a concern with substantive respect values (maturity, unworthy, vulgar, noble).


The dictionary categorized AFFECTION entries into three transaction subcategories: GAINS (caress, engage, love, sympathize), LOSSES (alienation, divorce, impersonal, alone), and PARTICIPANTS. AFFECTION PARTICIPANTS contains the names of recognizable roles in the pursuit of this value (brother, kin, humanity, mistress). The remaining entries that suggest concern with substantive affection concerns are grouped into the residual category AFFECTION OTHER (amicable, ardor, nest, tender).

36. Where the category NATIONS includes the names of all the nations in the world not otherwise classified.

37. 'Similar summary categories were created for each of the other seven minor categories. The rationale of this procedure and the ensuing problems of double classification were discussed before.


There are four welfare categories. WEALTH is defined as "income [or] services of goods and persons accruing to the person in any way whatever" (p. 55). This category includes all references to production resources and the accumulation or exchange of goods and services. All references to "the health and safety of the organism" (p. 55) belong to the category WELL-BEING.


ENLIGHTENMENT denotes a concern with "knowledge, insight and information concerning personal and cultural relations" (p. 55). Therefore, all entries denoting and describing academic matters and the processes that generate and communicate information, thought, and understanding belong to this category. SKILL is "proficiency in any practice whatever, whether in arts or crafts, trade or profession" (p. 55). Entries thus classified exemplify a concern with the mastery of the physical environment and the skills and tools used to that purpose.


The WEALTH category contains three subcategories. WEALTH PARTICIPANTS contains the generic names of the trades and professions involved in the wealth process (banker, corporation, employee, profiteer). References to the pursuit of wealth constitute the category WEALTH TRANSACTIONS (auction, buy, loan, repaid). Finally, all remaining references to this concept constitute the residual category WEALTH OTHER. Again, most of its entries denote substantive concerns (agriculture, corn, oil, tariff).


Within the WELL-BEING category, the dictionary distinguishes among two substantive subcategories and three transaction subcategories. PHYSICAL WELLBEING contains the references to physical health and the issues of life and death (blood, clinic, nutrition, wounds). PSYCHOLOGICAL WELL-BEING, on the other hand, contains references to happiness and other preferred or avoided psychic states (anxiety, excitement, sad, unhappiness). Among the possible WELL-BEING transactions, WELL-BEING GAINS (amuse, comfort, heal, clothe), LOSSES (depression, infirmity, low-income, wound), and PARTICIPANTS (alcoholic, counselor, dentist, victim) were selected as defining categories.


ENLIGHTENMENT consists of four transaction subcategories and one residual and largely substantive subcategory. The former include GAINS (detection, define, see, trace), LOSSES (deception, forget, misunderstand, perplex), PARTICIPANTS (advisors, faculty, media, spokesman), and ENDS. The ENDS subcategory contains entries denoting the pursuit of intrinsic enlightenment ideas (ask, observer, reflect, think).


The SKILL category has one transaction subcategory, SKILL PARTICIPANTS. It contains the generic names of actors specialized in the pursuit, production, and transmission of skill values (artist, inventor, manager, technician). AESTHETICS is a special substantive subcategory containing references to a special proficiency: the pursuit of beauty and cultural creativity as a mode of mastering the physical and natural environment (architecture, music, graceful, poetic). Finally, the category SKILL OTHER contains all entries showing concern with skill not otherwise defined (failure, labor, compose, unattractive).


As in the case of the four deference values, the entries in each of the four welfare categories are also placed in a TOTAL category, such as WEALTH TOTAL.


Remaining Categories


There are 12 general transaction indicators, most of which were defined before. Of the three types of transaction categories, TRANSACTION GAINS includes all entries denoting an exchange whereby the actor of the transaction will gain in the process. However, the entries do not reveal the specifics of the exchange (acquisition, inducement, grant, reward). Conversely, for TRANSACTION LOSSES, the actor will lose (accident, fall, hinder, upset). Finally, the category TRANSACTION is a residual category. Its entries do not suggest either gain or loss but merely the process of exchange (sort, throw, transmit, wipe).


There are six categories of actors. The category NATIONS includes the names of all nation-states. The category SELF includes the first-person singular pronouns; AUDIENCE, the second-person-singular and -plural pronouns; OTHERS, the third person-singular and -plural pronouns; SELVES, the first-person-plural pronouns.(note 38) The category PARTICIPANTS, finally, is a residual category containing the generic names of all actors not otherwise defined (client, women, men, nobody).


The dictionary contains one unusual category: ANOMIE. This category usually shows a negation of value preference; people consider one value as good or as bad as any other. Frequent usage of this category therefore indicates a loss, or at least a lack of, value preference. (note 39)


The categories so far discussed allow inferences to be made about substantive preferences and about concerns with various parts of transactions. But what about different and changing feelings toward such preferences and concerns? To assess these feelings, the dictionary includes five categories of sentiment. POSITIVE AFFECT is a list of entries denoting positive feelings, acceptance, appreciation, and emotional support (favorable, thank, warm, and welcome). Conversely, the category NEGATIVE AFFECT includes entries denoting negative feelings and emotional rejection (cry, awful, pernicious, and disgust). The category NOT includes entries that show the denial of one sort or another (no, neither, nothing, and deny). SURE indicates a feeling of sureness, certainty, and firmness (fact, particular, unmistakable, and very), whereas the category IF includes entries denoting feelings of uncertainty, doubt, and vagueness (chance, doubt, perhaps, seem).


The three last sentiment categories make it possible to extend the range of inquiry into the feeling tone of communications beyond mere acceptance and rejection. (note 40) Therefore, the classification of an entry in one or another value category (rather than sentiment category) has no affective implications whatever; the entry does not by itself suggest acceptance of the value category because it is thus classified. This explains why, for instance, both the entries poverty and wealth are classified as WEALTH OTHER and the entries death and health are classified as WELL-BEING PHYSICAL.


Time and place are important dimensions of all human actions (valuation not excluded) (Catton, 1966). To preserve this information, the dictionary contains a general SPACE-TIME category (note 41) (long-range, next, north, and toward).


Finally the dictionary includes three residual categories. The category N-TYPE WORDS contains entries with no semantic meaning. Most of the entries in this category are high-frequency words with little meaning if taken individually. Examples are a, about, am, an, and, as, and at. The category UNDEFINABLE includes entries that have no value implications or that have value meanings that the present category scheme cannot define (prohibitive, quaint, unreal, and cling). The category UNDEFINED includes words with value implications that vary from context to context and that, despite disambiguation routines, present procedures cannot assess reliably (order, maximum, molecular, and visual).


38. These pronoun categories were adapted from the General Inquirer (Stone et al., 1966, pp. 144, 176-177).

39. ANOMIE contains words such as anarchy, disillusion, and dishearten. Thus far, this category has been of little use. Actual documents rarely contain words that fit this concept. There are relatively few words in the category to begin with. In addition, we suspect that collective actors seldom acknowledge the possibility of anomie since their continued existence depends in part on the continuity of culture. Culture, as we noted in the first two chapters, entails preference.

40. These three categories were adapted from Stone et al. (1966, pp. 175-176, 180).

41. Were the dictionary to be revised, we would probably divide this category in two separate categories, one for space and one for time. Such a division would increase the precision and semantic validity of subsequent text classification. [The Harvard dictionary has separate categories.]