In Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) a 4-tuple is the internal sensory representation of a word. According to the 4-tuple model, words are symbols that refer to sensory experiences.

The 4-tuple model:

      Word 
        |
        |
       \/
     image, 
     sound, 
     touch,
     olfaction/gustatory

Example:

      Cat 
       |
       |
      \/
  picture of cat,
  sound of cat purring/meowing etc.,
  softness of cat's fur,
  smell of cat's breath

According to the model, the meaning of any word for any particular person is equivalent to their 4-tuple of the word. The word is an anchor for the 4-tuple.

The specific qualities of the 4-tuple may differ depending on context. Different people will have different 4-tuples as well.

Exercise for discovering your 4-tuple

  1. Think of a word.
  2. What is the first thing you think of when you hear this word? (What are your internal images, sounds, feelings/emotions, smells, tastes?)
  3. That's your 4-tuple for that word!
Exercise for changing your 4-tuple

  1. Find your 4-tuple
  2. Ask yourself: "Is there anything missing from this 4-tuple that would make it more representative of my overall life experience?"
  3. Now find out if the 4-tuple has changed!

Given that understanding of language is based on sensory experience, try to use concrete sensory examples (rather than abstract or conceptual examples) when introducing people to new terms. This is much more efficient because, in general, people create maps of reality, theories, models, etc. from their sensory experience. Sensory experience, on the other hand, rarely follows from models.


Sources:
"Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics" by Alfred Korzybski
"Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson Vol. II" by John Grinder, Richard Bandler, et al.

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