“Are we to be the master of language or will language be our master?”
Lewis Carroll  (Alice in Wonderland)

Last week, we discussed three central ideas that every successful speaker should utilize when giving an influential speech. The three ideas, thought of by Aristotle, include ethos (credibility), pathos (emotion), and logos (logic or reasoning). This week, we are moving into a new concept called the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, thought of by Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf. Their concept states that language has the ability to create, distort, or destroy a person’s perception of reality. When I first read their definition, in a way, I was amazed by the idea. I began thinking about our blog, news articles, Facebook posts/statuses, music lyrics, poems, movie quotes, movies, my everyday interactions with people, and the list could go on and on! I was extremely intrigued by thinking about how these different forms of language have impacted my life and the lives of others around me.

The foundation for the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is built off the use of words (Verbal Language) and nonwords (Nonverbal Language). For my post today, I want to focus on nonverbal language and how you can effectively utilize four primary areas of nonverbal language when communicating. The four areas we will be discussing today include proxemics, kinesics, haptics, and paralanguage.   

Proxemics is defined as the study of space and distance. When delivering a speech, talking with a group of friends, or simply communicating with an individual, one must keep Hall’s Spatial Zones in mind. First is the intimate distance, which is reserved for closest friends and family (from touching to 1.5 feet). Next is the personal distance which could be used with the rest of your friends, family, and strong acquaintances (1.5-4 feet). Third is the social distance which is used for meeting people for the first time (4-8 feet). Last is the public distance, which is the preferred distance from total strangers (8 feet or more).

Kinesics deals with bodily movements of all types. The three primary areas of kinesics include gestures, eye contact, and facial expressions. Our gestures are either conscious or subconscious and have the ability to add or take away value from our speech (“okay” symbol, arm movement, habits such as playing with nose, ear, chin, etc.). Eye contact is a learned behavior and many cultures exhibit different rules when using eye contact. Use eye contact to your advantage and show your audience or speaker that you are interested! Last, our facial expressions have the ability to show what we feel, more than what we feel, the opposite of what we feel, and they sometimes show nothing! My professor said in class, “Never trust the face!”

Haptics deals with touch and uses it as a communication variable. For example, there are five levels of “touching behavior.” The first is the functional professional touch such as a doctor performing a patient examination. Next is the socially polite touch which is often seen in first encounters (handshake). Third is the friendship warmth touch which is used to express ongoing interpersonal relationships (a hug). The fourth level is the love intimacy touch such as holding hands or kissing. Last is the sexual arousal touch which is the most inmate form of touch. Communication by touch can be very powerful so use these five levels to your advantage when conveying your message to another person.

Paralanguage is defined as sounded, non-verbal communication such as variations in vocal pitch, volume, and rate. This could include special vocalizations such as laughter, cries, and groans. Also included, which many of us use every day, are the common breakers such as err, um, uh, or ah to fill gaps of silence while we think. Here is an interesting story about paralanguage, one of my professors from school wanted to eliminate her use of “um’s” in the classroom. One day during class, she brought in a bowl of candy and said to count how many times she said the word “um.” At the end of the class, who ever had the most tallied won! Keep that idea in mind if you are trying to eradicate your use of um’s 🙂

I know most of these ideas occur subconsciously, but I hope I have surfaced something from deep within your subconscious that will allow you to apply these ideas when communicating with others! Next week, I have saved the best post for last. We will be discussing how you can have a successful speech delivery and together, tackle this crazy idea of Glossophobia!

<< Glossophobia? (Part 2)   Glossophobia (Part 4) >>