Laurel King & John Minasian                                                                            10/13/08



Chapter Four: Verbal Communication




                                I.      Language is a structured system to signs, sounds, gestures, and marks that is used and understood to express ideas and feelings among people within a community, nation, geographic area, or cultural tradition.

A.      Without language, there would be little or no human contact as we know it.

B.      Language allows us to encounter our world in meaningful ways, because it allows us to share meaning with others

C.      Language is a powerful tool! But it is only as effective and efficient as the people using it.

D.     Language communicates about what we are and what we think therefore it must be carefully used.

                              II.      Language is Powerful

A.      Inclusive language ensures that people at least perceive that they are included in a discussion.

B.      Language has the power to portray an image or a viewpoint in our minds

C.      Language gives distinction, such as gender, for example upon hearing words such as “doctor” or “nurse” the general image perception would be a male would be a doctor and female would be a nurse.

D.     Our names are international, and distinguish us from a group, at the same time associate us within a group.

                            III.      Language Affects Thought

A.      The misuse of language involves more than misuse of words. Misusing language causes an affect to our ability to think. Thought and language are inseparable.         

B.      Words help express thought effectively and efficiently, finding the right word will help express thought on a much higher scale.

C.      It is important to carefully consider language choices before we speak, language is powerful, what you say is permanent, regardless of how much we regret or wish we did not say something, it has been uttered.

·        Functions of Verbal Messages

·        Messages Are Denotative and connotative

§         Denotation has to do with the objective meaning of a term, the meaning you would find in a dictionary. It’s the meaning that people who share a common language assign to a word.

§         Connotation is the subjective or emotional meaning that specific speakers or listeners give to a word.

§         Semanticist S. I. Hayakawa coined the terms snarl words and purr words to clarify further the distinction between denotation and connotation.

§         Snarl words are highly negative: “She’s an idiot.”

§         Purr words are highly positive: “She’s a real sweetheart.”


·        Messages Vary in Abstraction and Concrete

§         An abstraction is a general concept.

§         Verbal messages vary from general and abstract to specific and concrete.

§         Effective verbal messages include words from a wide range of abstractions.

§         Generally the specific term will prove the better choice.

§         The notion of concrete words is a symbol for a specific thing that can be pointed to or physically experienced (seen, tasted, smelled, heard, or touched).

D.     Communication that is based on concrete words leaves very little for any misunderstanding, and any disagreements can be resolved quickly by referring to the object itself.

E.      The symbols for an idea, quality, or relationship are known as abstract word(s)¸ because they represent things which cannot be experienced through the senses, their meanings depend on the experiences and intentions of the persons using them.


·        Messages Vary in Directness

F.       Do Words Contain Meaning?

G.     Words are symbols that represent, such as people, objects, concepts, and events; a word does not actually have meaning but what it has been arbitrarily associated with.

H.     A sender might intend a specific meaning for a message, and the receiver might intentionally or unintentionally give the sent message a different meaning, same goes for words and how they are defined.

§         Indirect speech: Attempts to get the listener to say or do something without committing the speaker, without the speaker having to take responsibility.

§         Indirect messages allow you to express a desire without insulting or offending anyone; they allow you to observe the rules of polite interaction.

§         Direct speech: More clearly states the speaker’s preferences and then asks if the listener agrees.

§         The initial reaction is to favor direct statements as more honest and more open.

·        Language Can Obscure Meanings

I.        Words mean different things to different people, based on each person’s experiences and the direct relationship of those experiences to particular words.

J.        The meaning of words, like words themselves, change from time to time and from place to place.

K.      There are some words or phrases that might be too specialized to be understood by the general public. This unique language is referred to as jargon, or more specifically defined, language used by certain groups or specific disciples that may be technical or too specialized to be understood by the general public.

L.       Language used by groups to keep the meaning of the communication within the group is known as slang, these slang words change frequently and are specific to a specific region or group(s).

M.   Language is used to share meaning, but it also can be used to obscure, distort, or hide meaning. Known as euphemism, which is the use of an inoffensive or mild expression in the place of one that might offend, cause embarrassment, or suggest something unpleasant.

N.     Language can also be used to create deliberately ambiguous messages. On the other hand, doublespeak, is the deliberate misuse of language to distort meaning. Doublespeaking, is harmful and dangerous, where most scholars believes corrupts reality by cloaking a false image of what has really occurred.

                          IV.      Meanings Can Be Misunderstood

O.     What is meant by a speaker and what is heard and understood by the listener often differ. This is known as bypassing, the misunderstanding that occurs between a sender and a receiver because of the symbolic nature of language.

P.      Who’s mostly at fault during “bypassing”, the sender for not being clear, or the receiver for not asking questions to what may have seemed unclear?

Q.     Bypassing mostly occurs because most words often have multiple meanings and definitions.

R.      Reducing Bypassing-

1)      Be person-minded, not word minded: By constantly questioning your own interpretation, this will help you understand what the meaning of a word might mean to you and what it may mean to a listener

2)      Query and paraphrase: Always question and paraphrase your message whenever there is a potential for misunderstanding

3)      Be Approachable: Encourage open and free communication, always respectful and accept other people’s feedback, this may not be easy at times but it will ensure a much clearer message to be channeled.

4)      4) Be Sensitive to Contexts: Considering the verbal and     situational context in which communication occurs

·        Language Can Cause Polarization

§         The tendency to view things in terms of extremes is known as polarization.

·        Examples: rich or poor, beautiful or ugly, large or small, high or low, good or bad, intelligent or stupid

§         The inter mediums are completely neglected between the either/or extremes. 

§         Polarization can be destructive, and this way of thinking can escalate into many arguments to the point where two communications would find it impossible to communication.

§         This escalation of arguments to come is known as the pendulum effect or in better terms, an escalating conflict between two individuals or groups that results from their use of polar terms to describe and defend their perceptions of reality.

§         The pendulum represents a person’s perception of reality, which includes feelings, attitudes, opinions, and value judgments about the world.

o       Language Can Shape Our Attitudes

§         Indiscrimination is the neglect of individual differences and overemphasis of similarities. Indiscrimination is a form of perceptual set in which a person chooses to ignore differences and changes in events, things, and people. Thus, the distinction on individuals is absolutely ignored, and is resulted in stereotyping.

§         Indexing, which is a technique to reduce indiscrimination identifies the specific persons, ideas, events, or objects a statement refers to.

§         In short an simple terms, everyone is unique and no two people are alike.

§         Another form of reducing indiscrimination is dating; a form of indexing that sorts people, events, ideas, and objects according to time.

§         Static Evaluation

§         People and things change at a rapid rate, but our messages about them may not keep pace.

§         The statements you make about an event or person need to change as quickly and as dramatically as people and events change.

§         When you retain an evaluation despite the changes in the person or thing, you’re engaging in static evaluation.

§         The mental date is useful extensional device for keeping language (and thinking) up to date and for guarding against static evaluation.

·        Using Verbal Messages Effectively

§         Messages Symbolize Reality (Partially)

§         Language describes the objects, people, and events in the world with varying degrees of accuracy.

§         But words and sentences are symbols; they’re not actual objects, people, or events, even though we sometimes act as if they were.

                                                                   o            Intensional Orientation

§         An intensional orientation is a tendency to view people, objects, and events in the way they are talked about—the way they are labeled.

§         Extensional orientation is the tendency to look first at the actual people, objects, and events and only afterward at their labels.

                                                                   o            Allness

§         Allness is the assumption that all can be known about a given person, issue, object, or event.

§         We have to draw conclusions on the basis of insufficient evidence (and we always have insufficient evidence.

§         A useful extensional device to encourage a nonallness orientation is to end each statement, explicitly or mentally, with etc.—a reminder that there is more to learn, more to know, and more to say.

·        Messages Express Both Facts and Inferences

§         A second key principle is the importance of avoiding fact-inference confusion.

§         Often, when we listen or speak, we don’t distinguish between statements of fact and those of inference.

§         An inferential statement can be made by anyone, is not limited to what is observed, and can be made at any time.

§         A factual statement must be made by the observer after observation and must be limited to what is observed.


o       Culture Affects Language Use

§         Just as there are gender differences, there are also cultural differences in the ways people use language.

§         Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is an explanation of how thought influences our reality and how our thought process is influenced by our language.

§         This hypothesis suggests that language helps us think, and that culture and language are bound together.

§         The theory that language determines thought is known as linguistic determinism

§         The theory suggesting people from different language communities perceive the world differently is known as linguistic relativity.

§         The high-context culture is a culture in which the meaning of the communication act is inferred from the situation or location.

§         The low-context culture is a culture in which the meaning of the communication act is inferred from the messages being sent and not the location where the communication occurs.

·        Messages  Are Influenced by Culture and Gender

§         When you follow certain cultural rules or principles in communicating, you’re seen as a properly functioning member of the culture.

§         A variety of principles are listed here:

·        The principle of cooperation: The principle of cooperation holds that in any communication interaction, both parties will make an effort to help each other understand each other. This general principle has four sub principles or conversational maxims.

1.      The maxim of quality: Say what you know or assume to be true, and do not say what you know to be false.

2.      The maxim of relation: Talk about what is relevant to the conversation.

3.      The maxim of manner: Be clear, avoid ambiguities as much as possible, be relatively brief, and organize your thoughts into a meaningful pattern.

4.      The maxim of quantity: Be as informative as necessary to communicate the information.

·        The principle of peaceful relations: This principle holds that when you communicate, your primary goal is to maintain peaceful relationships.

·        The principle of face-saving: Face-saving messages are those that preserve the image of the other person and do nothing to make them appear in a negative light. The principle holds that you should never embarrass anyone, especially in public. Always allow people to save face, even if this means avoiding the truth.

·        The principle of self-denigration: This principle advises you to avoid taking credit for accomplishments and to minimize your abilities or talents in conversation. At the same time, through self-denigration you would raise the image of the people with whom you’re talking.

·        The principle of directness: Directness and indirectness communicate different impressions. Levels of directness also vary greatly from culture to culture.

·        The principle of politeness: Most cultures have a politeness principle, but cultures differ in the way they define politeness and in how much they emphasize compared with, say openness or honesty.


·        Disconfirmation and Confirmation

§         The terms confirmation and disconfirmation refer to the extent to which you acknowledge another person.

§         Disconfirmation is a communication pattern in which we ignore someone’s presence as well as that person’s communications.

§         In effect, you are saying that this person and what this person has to say are not worth serious attention or effort—that this person and this person’s contributions are so unimportant or insignificant that there is no reason to concern ourselves with her or him.

§         Confirmation is when you not only acknowledge the presence of the other person but also indicate your acceptance of this person, of this person’s self-definition, and of your relationship as defined or viewed by this other person.

·        Racism

§         Racist language expresses racist attitudes.

§         It also contributes to the development of racist attitudes in those who use or hear the language.

§         Even when racism is subtle, unintentional, or even unconscious, its effects are systematically damaging.

§         Individual racism takes the form of negative attitudes and beliefs that people hold about specific races.

§         Institutional racism takes forms such as communities’ de facto school segregation, companies’ reluctance to hire members of minority groups, and banks’ unwillingness to extend mortgages or business loans to members of some ethic groups, or readiness to charge these groups higher interest rates.

·        Heterosexism

§         The term individual heterosexism refers to attitudes, behaviors, and language that disparage gay men and lesbians and to the belief that all sexual behavior that is not heterosexual is unnatural and deserving of criticism and condemnation.

§         Institutional heterosexism is easily identified by the fact that only one state legally allows gay marriages, the Catholic church’s ban on homosexual priests, the U.S. military’s prohibition against service by openly gay people, and the many laws prohibiting adoption of children by gay people.

§         Heterosexist language includes derogatory terms used for lesbians and gay men

·        Ageism

§         Although used mainly to refer to prejudice against older people, the term ageism also can refer to prejudice against other age groups.

§         Individual ageism is seen in the general disrespect many have for older people and in their negative stereotypes.

§         Institutional ageism is seen in mandatory retirement laws and age restrictions in certain occupations.

§         In less obvious forms ageism emerges in the media’s portrayal of old people as incompetent, complaining, and lacking romantic feelings.

·        Sexism

§         Individual sexism involves prejudicial attitudes and beliefs about men or women based on rigid beliefs about gender roles.

§         These beliefs may include ideas such as the notion that all women should be caretakers, should be sensitive at all times, and should acquiesce to men’s decisions concerning political or financial matters.

§         Also sexist are the beliefs that all men are insensitive, interested only in sex, and incapable of communicating feelings.

§         Institutional sexism, on the other hand, results from customs and practices that discriminate against people because of their gender, such as women getting paid less than men, and women almost automatically having child custody in a divorce courts practice.

§         Sexist language puts down someone because of his or her gender (but usually language derogatory toward women).

·        Sexual Harassment

§         Sexual harassment is unsolicited and unwanted sexual messages.

§         In quid pro quo harassment, employment opportunities are made dependent on the granting of sexual favors.

§         Quid pro quo harassment also includes situations in which reprisals and various negative consequences would result from the failure to grant such sexual favors.

§         Hostile environment harassment is broader and includes all sexual behaviors (verbal and nonverbal) that make a worker uncomfortable.

§         Putting sexually explicit pictures on the bulleting board, using sexually explicit screen savers, telling sexual jokes and stories, and using sexual and demeaning language or gestures all constitute hostile environment harassment.


·        Gender Influences

§         Verbal messages also reflect considerable gender influences.

§         Generally, studies from various different cultures show that women’s speech is more polite than men’s speech.

§         The popular stereotype in much of the U.S. holds that women tend to be indirect in making requests and in giving orders—and that this indirectness communicates a powerlessness and discomfort with your own authority.

§         Men tend to be direct, sometimes to the point of being blunt or rude.

§         This directness communicates power and comfort with their authority.

§         Men also can be direct, but mostly when expressing emotions other than anger, and whenever what they are saying something that goes against the masculine stereotype.