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Non-verbal Communication


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Non-verbal Communication

Remember: verbal communication (CT1): linguistic vs. communicative competences

Does any of them involve non-verbal communication?

What do you think is non-verbal communication and does it belong to verbal communication?

Remember: interpreting / interpretation: - retrospective (referring back in the discourse)

- prospective (referring forward in the discourse)

Interpreting = 1. assimilation of meaning (= understanding), but also

2. discrimination = ability to tell between important information and supportive issues, with relative significance.

But: another point should be made about interpreting, i.e. that interpreting does not just operate on verbal text, but on discourse as a whole, which is not purely verbal. Most discourse involves a verbal component, but the verbal component, which can be isolated and treated as usage, is only a dependent part of the communicative event. Spoken discourse illustrates this quite clearly, as: communication through the spoken mode is not realized by speaking, which is by definition only verbal, but by saying, which employs such paralinguistic devices as gesture, facial expression etc., which are conveyed through the visual medium

Thus, speaking and hearing – relate only to the verbal elements of language manifested by means of the aural medium,

While: saying and listening – have communicative abilities and thus operate on both the verbal and the non-verbal features of discourse. They are manifested through both the aural and the visual medium.


i)           The communicative abilities operate on everything that is communicative in the discourse as a whole;

ii)           The linguistic skills can by definition only operate on what is verbally manifested.

Non-verbal Aspects of Communication in Speaking

(Halliday 1992)

Non-verbal aspects of discourse have been neglected in communication studies and language teaching, but teaching language by association with other subjects in the school curriculum (which include non-verbal devices) would be very useful, but a difficult task to achieve.

But, the disadvantage is that the learner loses contact with the outer/real world, therefore no conversation takes place.

The practice of complete conversation would be necessary as non-verbal aspects are part of oral communication. All the people involved in it use it to contextualize, give various nuances to the meanings they express, and, generally, to facilitate the receiver’s full understanding of the message.

The fact that members of a society communicate with each other using more than words is common sense nowadays. Moreover, some researchers believe that 80 to 90 percent of all information is transmitted among members of a culture by means other than language.

Non-verbal elements of communication are acquired by children before the language proper. They learn them by means of imitation, as expressive elements (non-verbal symbols) that they understand as an “implicit language”, i.e. it needs no explicit explanation. By understanding and using these signs, an individual asserts his membership to a certain group.

The eye contact between two interactants in conversation provides a series of contextual information necessary in the interpretation of the messages they exchange by means of other channels.


- the direction of gaze can indicate the interlocutor’s interest or intentions;

- the eye movements are also indicative of certain feelings and intentions;

- the ‘eye-contact’ (i.e. looking straight into somebody’s eyes) indicates the interlocutor’s attention to the message as well as the reactions that the message arises in him (sympathy, aggressiveness, etc.);

The look has significant functions in communication, expressing positive or negative emotions. The meaning of a look varies in positive vs. negative contexts of situation, and depends also on the frequency and duration.

In a positive context, a long-lasting look can express liking, attraction or sympathy, whereas in a negative context it can stand for aggressiveness or threat.

The facial expression is the most complex means of non-verbal communication. It starts as a reflex mode in children by means of inborn neuro-muscular mechanisms. It serves, long before verbal communication, at expressing the fundamental emotions: surprise, joy, anger, fury etc.

Later on, in years, the cognitive abilities (perception, thinking) develop so that people get control over their emotional expressions. They learn to conscientiously control the face muscles in order to diminish or hide or, on the other hand, to intensify such emotional expressions. 

The gestures are less controlled than the facial expression, so they are more likely to give away the real emotions. They involve the entire body or parts of it, and can take various functions:

a)      Illustration gestures: to certify the verbal message

e.g. negating by shaking one’s head

b) Adaptation gestures: when they indicate emotions but are only sequentially part of the behaviour

e.g. we cover our eyes or turn our head when we don’t want to see something

c) Emblematic gestures: they replace the verbal message, are culture-

specific and strictly ritualized

e.g. the bow or greeting involve precise gestures

Hand gestures can be:

intended, i.e. having a definite purpose in communication with others, or

self-directed, such as nervous rubbing of hands, scratching, covering one’s mouth etc.

The latter category communicates in matter of features or emotional states of the communicator/speaker rather than aid at delivering information.

The Voice

It is intrinsically linked to speaking, and has various particularities that provide the spoken discourse with various significations. The same word acquires different meanings according to pronunciation, intonation, accent, pauses, rhythm etc. The signification can vary mainly in terms of emotional states, but can also give away additional information as regards the speaker’s social origin, education, and even character.

Hence, the voice is an important channel in face-to-face conversation, but more so in indirect communication, such as telephone conversation. This type of communication relies only on the features of the voice as non-verbal aspects of communication, lacking the face expression, gestures etc. to complete the significance of the message.

Some other features of the voice – highly expressive ones – are shouts, shrieks, yells, sighing, groaning, grumbling a.s.o. – expressing an entire range of emotions, like: surprise, fear, terror, pain, threat, sorrow, grief etc.

Non-verbal aspects of communication in the spoken language can be classified as follows:

a) prosodic features: - intonation

- rhythm

- ‘phrasing’

- pausing

= part of the linguistic system; they carry systematic contrasts in meaning, just like other resources in the grammar, phonology, and they spread across extended portions of speech.

b) paralinguistic features: - tamber (=variations of voice quality)

- tempo

- loudness

- facial and bodily gestures

= also part of the linguistic system, but they are non-systematic: they are not part of the grammar, but rather additional variations by which the speaker signals the import of what he is saying.

c) indexical features: - pitch range (soprano – bass)

- resonance

- tension

they are not part of the language at all, but simple properties of the individual speaker.

All these features are “on-the-spot” features of language (Halliday), the things that tie it to the particular moment and context of speaking.

The speaker’s state of mind, the reservation, the doubts he/she may be feeling, the hesitations, the weight given to different parts of an argument – these will have no place in most uses of written language. The particular conditions at the time of writing are not going to be present to the reader anyway, who is usually at some distance from the writer both in time and place. Features like rhythm and tamber are irrelevant to writing. They are inherently features that are present only in spoken language.

Still, in some other languages than English and Romanian, intonation / stress is indicated by different devices in writing as well (Vietnamese, Arabic – long vowels = stress)

Non-verbal Aspects of Communication in the Written Discourse:

There are paralinguistic features as well: maps, diagrams, drawings, formulae, arrows etc. embedded in the verbal text, in books on geography, instruction books, scientific papers etc.

The text and the paralinguistic features form a cohesive and coherent unit of communication.

Theoretically, we can assert that whatever is spoken can also be written – that writing is simply an alternative form of expression to speech.

But practically, writing doesn’t incorporate all the features of speech, leaving out the prosodic, paralinguistic and indexical features (see above). Instead, it has the punctuation and various means of adding emphasis.



The Greek alphabetic writing began as a string of letters without spaces and without punctuation. The first line went from left to right, the second from right to left.

Step by step, over centuries, innovations were introduced that eventually led to writing in our modern form:

the line direction was standardized (not the same in all alphabets)

spaces were introduced between words

a punctuation mark, the stop, was introduced to mark off sentences

capital and smaller letters were systematically distinguished

special symbols were brought in to indicate linkages, interpolations and omissions (hyphen, paranthesis, apostrophe)

other more detailed punctuation marks were added: comma, colon, semicolon, dash

further special purpose symbols came into the system: quotation marks (single and double, ‘inverted commas’), question mark, exclamation mark.


These symbols have 3 kinds of functions:

a)      boundary marking

b)      status marking

c)      relation marking

a)      The Boundary Marking Function:

It establishes the formal relationship between the units of language: sentences, clauses, phrases, words and morphemes, in the way that words are marked off by spaces, sentences by full-stops; comma is used for weaker boundaries, colon for stronger ones; comma is also used to mark off phrases, and even words (in a list, for instance). A very late distinction was made between a colon and a semicolon, the colon having a special cataphoric (forward-referring) implication.

b) Status Markers

It’s not enough to show that a sentences has finished; it is also important to indicate its speech function – is it a statement, question or neither?

Therefore, we use: 1. full stop for statements

2. question mark for questions

3. exclamation mark for: commands, suggestions, offers, exclamations, calls, greetings

[Note: the signs “?” and “!” were introduced in medieval times. The question mark was a ‘q’ reversed and placed above the stop; the exclamation mark was an ‘i’ above an ‘o’].

4. quotation mark – used to ascribe some part of the text to someone other than the writer:

a) either: a quotation: something said by a character in a narrative

b) or: a citation: a word or phrase cited as an example, or highlighted term, such as a technical term.

- it comes in 2 forms: single [‘] or double [“]

c) Relation markers:

The hyphen - signals a link across a space, showing either that 2 or more words are to be taken as forming a compound (e.g.: weak-kneeled, forget-me-not, bread-and-butter), or that 2 letter sequences separated by a line break (typically 2 morphemes) are to be taken as forming a word (e.g.: non-smoker, non-violence).

The dash – signals the following element to be taken in apposition with the preceding one

Parantheses – indicate that the enclosed element is a kind of sub-routine, a loop off the main track of the sentence.

The apostrophe – a kind of place holder signifying that a letter has been omitted or that a noun is possessive (e.g. the synthetic genitive)

Question: Does punctuation relate to grammar and phonology?


Identify between the versions (a) and (b) in terms of punctuation following the grammatical structure, or representing an interpretation of the text from the phonological point of view! (from Halliday)

(a)    Freda leapt down from the gate, and as Sebastian came forward her look of recognition unmixed with any surprise, contrived to suggest that for her, the sudden appearance of someone who had been away for half her lifetime, was the most commonplace event imaginable.

(b)   Freda leapt down from the gate and, as Sebastian came forward, her look of recognition unmixed with any surprise contrived to suggest that, for her, the sudden appearance of someone who had been away for half her lifetime was the most commonplace event imaginable.


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