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The English Language: Nonverbal Communication

Updated on April 1, 2013

Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal communication, sometimes called "Body Language" is any sort of communication which is done without words. Please note, American Sign Language other national sign languages are NOT nonverbal communication, because sign language is infinitely creative, and as equally complex as spoken language.

Universiality of nonverbal communication

Many nonverbal signs are universal. For example, smiling and frowning mean the same thing (amongst humanity) regardless of where one travels on this globe. Often, nonverbal signs are involuntary and physiological. Blushing is a nonverbal signal showing the quality of being embarrassed. Unlike verbal signals, nonverbal signals often resemble their referents; that is to say, nonverbal signals resemble that to which they refer. Words do not resemble,except when one is being onomatopoetic, the subject to which the word refers. The word "Anger" Doesn't sound angry, and the word "Wonderful" doesn't sound so wonderful. While words are arbitrary, non-verbal signs are not.

Alternatively, there are many non-universal nonverbal signs. Signs that mean something in America may very well mean something very different somewhere else (if they mean anything at all).

Untaught Language

Nonverbal signals, unlike their verbal counterparts, are not things that are taught. While they are largely culturally defined, they are not learned in the traditional sense. While a young child who receives socks for Christmas may say "Thanks grandma...", his disappointment shows clearly on his face. The nonverbal signals representing his disappointment are merely physiological reactions to his current emotional state.

Encoding and Decoding Nonverbal Messages

Nonverbal messages are encoded in a variety of ways; this variety is broken down into two categories: simple and complex. Simple encoding happens naturally and is such that the receiver of the message can easily decode the message and retrieve the meaning. Simple encoding is often (if not always) involuntary. Complex encoding requires a thoughtful effort. One form of complex encoding takes place when we decide how we wish to communicate. We do not, one would presume, speak in the same manner with our professors and employers that we speak with our friends or family. Neither do we dress the same way for a job interview that we would for a night at the movie theater. Also, a form of complex encoding is used when coordinating verbal signals with their nonverbal counterparts. An example of this would be nodding while agreeing verbally. Nonverbal communication also serves to complement our spoken communication. Saying that we're really excited about something is one thing, but unless it is visible on our faces and in our gestures, it does not carry the same message.

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    • DaniellaWood profile image

      DaniellaWood 

      8 years ago from England

      Yes! I couldn't have put it better myself; letters are just shapes, yet we look at them and understand meanings from these shapes. Fascinating! It's nice to find someone else who shares my interests :)Daniella

    • Epsilon5 profile imageAUTHOR

      Epsilon5 

      8 years ago from Eastern Pennsylvania

      Indeed! Thanks for reading, Daniella. I, too, find it fascinating that we humans can do relatively strange, arbitrary things, and, yet, we understand each other perfectly. On the other side of the coin, it's fascinating how we can read these arbitrary symbols and understand exactly what I'm trying to say.

      Thanks for stopping by! :)

    • DaniellaWood profile image

      DaniellaWood 

      8 years ago from England

      Absolutely! Language and means of communication among all species, not only humans, fascinates me. It's funny how we make sounds from our mouths or move our hands or wink with our eyes and others immediately understand the pragmatics of our actions. Language in all its forms is fascinating!

    • Epsilon5 profile imageAUTHOR

      Epsilon5 

      8 years ago from Eastern Pennsylvania

      Thanks for reading! I'm glad you enjoyed the Hub. Isn't it interesting to study different languages and ways to communicate?

    • DaniellaWood profile image

      DaniellaWood 

      8 years ago from England

      Cool hub! I'm studying A Level French and I was having a lesson with the French assistant the other day who was telling me all about signs they have over there. Many were similar - like the thumbs up - but there were a few that I didn't understand and visa versa. For example, she didn't understand what I meant when I tapped my nose (the sign to show "I know something you don't know!") and she flicked her thumbs off her chin, which I didn't understand!

      Body language does play a huge role in the portrayal of meaning. Sometimes it's even stronger than words. As a well known song goes: "You say it best when you say nothing at all"!

      Thanks, Daniella

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