COM 270
Introduction to Theories of Human Communication

Lectures 15-16: Nonverbal Communication


 I. What is nonverbal communication?

A. Ray Birdwhistell (, a pioneer in nonverbal communication research, argues that nonverbal communication can be differentiated from verbal communication o n the basis of the TYPES OF SYMBOLS used to convey meaning.

B. Nonverbal communication relies of NON-LINGUISTIC SYMBOLS. What makes a symbol "non-linguistic" is that it is not recognized as a component of any written or spoken LANGUAGE.

II. Types of Nonverbal Code Systems

A. Kinesics (Ray Birdwhistell)

1. Human communication is complex multi-channel phenomenon--people typically utilize more than one form of symbolism in their efforts to communicate to others.

2. Believed in the existence of a linguistic-kinesic link--direct relationship between language production and accompanying bodily actions.

3. Argued that body movements ("kinesics") that accompany verbal speech is non-random--they have meaning which is related to the meaning of the verbal symbols produced by the individual.

4. Five major types of kinesics:

a. EMBLEMS -- body movements that have a precise meaning for a specific group of people.

Ex: Sign language

b. ILLUSTRATORS -- body movements that accompany speech and illustrate or clarify what is being described verbally.

(1) Pictographs -- gestures that indicate shapes.

(2) Spatial movements -- gestures that indicate size or volume.

c. ADAPTORS -- body movements that facilitate the release of tension, stress, or anxiety.

d. REGULATORS -- body movements that regulate or control the back-and-forth nature of conversation.

e. AFFECT DISPLAYS -- body movements (usually facial) that display feelings and emotions.

B. Proxemics (Edward Hall)

1. Interested in the relationship between talk and distance between communicators.

2. Believed that we maintain certain distances consistent with our perceptions of the nature of our relationship with those we are communicating with.

3. Coined the term "proxemics" to refer to the system of physical distances that communicators utilize in their communication with others.

a. "Public" distance (farthest)

b. "Social" distance

c. "Personal" distance

d. "Intimate" distance (closest)

4. Discovered that this system applies to virtually all cultures; but the specific distances within those categories tend to vary across cultures.

C. Paralanguistics (G.L. Trager)

1. Concerned with the "boarderline area" between verbal and nonverbal communication--focused on sounds that are not a part of language but appear to play an important role in the communication process.

2. Identified a set of sounds that he called the "para" (beside) dimension of language--now commonly referred to as "paralinguistic" symbols.

3. Four general types of paralinguistic symbols:

a. Vocal qualities -- concerned with the stable qualities of speech (e.g., rate, rhythm)

b. Vocal qualifiers -- concerned with momentary variations in the manner in which verbal symbols are presented (e.g., volume, force, pitch)

c. Vocal characterizers -- sounds that can stand alone as symbols because they can be interpreted as having a specific meaning (e.g., laughing, yelling, crying, grunting).

d. Vocal segregates -- sounds that regulate the flow of verbal conversation (e.g., uh, um, ah-ha)




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