Reporting: Synthesis

Exercise 28

Read the articles below and, in a paragraph of not more than 150 words, discuss the importance of non-verbal communication.

As far as the technical study of body language goes, perhaps the most influential pre-twentieth-century work was Charles Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals published in 1872. This spawned the modern studies of facial expressions and body language and many of Darwin's ideas and observations have since been validated by modern researchers around the world. Since that time, researchers have noted and recorded almost one million non-verbal cues and signals. Albert Mehrabian found that the total impact of a message is about 7 per cent verbal (words only) and 38 per cent vocal (including tone of voice, inflection and other sounds) and 55 per cent non-verbal. Professor Birdwhistell made some similar estimates of the amount of non-verbal communication that takes place amongst humans. He estimated that the average person actually speaks words for a total of about ten or eleven minutes a day and that the average sentence takes only about 2.5 seconds. Like Mehrabian, he found that the verbal component of a face-to-face conversation is less than 35 per cent and that over 65 per cent of communication is done non-verbally.

Most researchers generally agree that the verbal channel is used primarily for conveying information, while the non-verbal channel is used for negotiating interpersonal attitudes, and in some cases is used as a substitute for verbal messages. For example, a woman can give a man a 'look to kill'; she will convey a very clear message to him without opening her mouth.

Regardless of culture, words and movements occur together with such predictability that Birdwhistell says that a well-trained person should be able to tell what movement a man is making by listening to his voice. In like manner, Birdwhistell learned how to tell what language a person was speaking, simply by watching his gestures.

Many people find difficulty in accepting that humans are still biologically animals. Homo sapiens is a species of primate, a hair-less ape that has learned to walk on two limbs and has a clever, advanced brain. Like any other species, we are dominated by biological rules that control our actions, reactions, body language and gestures. The fascinating thing is that the human animal is rarely aware of his postures, movements and gestures that can tell one story while his voice may be telling another.

(Allan Pease wrote the book this is from. It is called Body language. The extract is from pages 9 and 10. It was published in London by Sheldon Press in 1995.)


1. Bodily contact is of interest since it is the most primitive kind of social act, and is found in all animals. In addition to aggressive and sexual contacts there are various methods of influence, as when others are pushed, pulled or led. There are symbolic contacts, such as patting on the back, and-the various ways of shaking hands.

2. Physical proximity is important mainly in relation to intimacy and dominance. The normal degree of proximity varies between cultures and every species of animal has its characteristic social distance.

3. Orientation signals interpersonal attitudes. If person A is sitting at a table, B can sit in several different places. If he is told that the situation is cooperative he will probably sit at next to A; if he is told he is to compete, negotiate, sell something or interview A, he will sit opposite A; if he is told to have a discussion or conversation he usually chooses across the corner

4. Bodily posture is another signal which is largely involuntary, but which can communicate important social signals. There are distinctive ' superior ' (or dominant) and ' inferior' (or sub. missive) postures.

5. Gestures are movements of hands, feet or other parts of the body. Some are intended to communicate definite messages; others are involuntary social cues which may or may not be correctly interpreted by others.

6. Head-nods are a rather special kind of gesture, and have two distinctive roles. They act as ' reinforcers', i.e. they reward and encourage what has gone before, and can be used to make another talk more, for example.

7. Facial expression can be reduced to changes in eyes, brows, mouth, and so on. The face is an area which is used by animals to communicate emotions and attitudes to others; for humans it does not work so well since we control our facial expression, and may smile sweetly while seething within.

8. Eye movements have an effect quite out of proportion to the physical effort exerted.

9. Appearance. Many aspects of personal appearance are under voluntary control, and a great deal of effort is put into controlling them - clothes, hair and skin; other aspects can be modified to some extent by clothes and plastic surgery.

10. Non-linguistic aspects of speech. The same words may be said in quite different ways, conveying different emotional expressions, and even different meanings, as when ' yes ' is used as a polite way of saying 'no'.

11. Speech is the most complex, subtle and characteristically human means of communication.

(From a book by Michael Argyle titled The psychology of interpersonal behaviour. It was published in London by Pelican in 1967 and this extract was from pages 36-37.)

The Body is the Message: A Science Called Kinesics

Within the last few years a new and exciting science has been uncovered and explored. It is called body language. Both its written form and the scientific study of it have been labelled kinesics. Body language and kinesics are based on the behavioural patterns of non-verbal communication, but kinesics is still so new as a science that its authorities can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Clinical studies have revealed the extent to which body language can actually contradict verbal communications. A classic example is the young woman who told her psychiatrist that she loved her boyfriend very much while nodding her head from side to side in subconscious denial.

Body language has also shed new light on the dynamics of interfamily relationships. A family sitting together, for example, can give a revealing picture of itself simply by the way its members move their arms and legs. If the mother crosses her legs first and the rest of the family then follows suit, she has set the lead for the family action, though she, as well as the rest of the family, may not be aware she is doing it. In fact, her words may deny her leadership as she asks her husband or children for advice.

But the unspoken, follow-the-leader due in her action gives the family set-up away to someone knowledgeable in kinesics.

(This is from a  book called Body Language. It was published in London by Pan in 1971 The book was written by Julius Fast and the extract is from pages 11 & 12.)

We speak with our vocal organs, but we converse with our entire bodies; conversation consists of much more than a simple interchange of spoken words. The term paralanguage is increasingly commonly used to refer to non-verbal communicating activities which accompany verbal behaviour in conversation. Anyone with a professional interest in spoken language is likely, sooner or later, to have to take an interest in paralanguage too.


Paralinguistic phenomena are neither idiosyncratic and personal, on the one hand, nor generally human, on the other. They must, therefore, be culturally determined, and so, as one would expect, they differ from social group to social group. They differ a great deal, and the differences go with language differences, even with dialect differences within languages, though they sometimes cut across linguistic boundaries. These aspects of human behaviour are bound therefore to interest language teachers, psychiatrists, anthropologists, speech therapists, and of course linguists and phoneticians too. Their systematic investigation started comparatively recently, though a desultory interest in them is of long standing. However, a great deal has been done during the last few years - particularly, interestingly enough, by, or in collaboration with, psychiatrists; and I would like here to summarize, sometimes critically, what has so far been accomplished in this area.

Paralinguistic phenomena are non-linguistic elements in conversation. They occur alongside spoken language, interact with it, and produce together with it a total system of communication. They are not necessarily continuously simultaneous with spoken words. They may also be interspersed among them, or precede them, or follow them; but they are always integrated into a conversation considered as a complete linguistic inter-action. The study of paralinguistic behaviour is part of the study of conversation: the conversational use of spoken language cannot be properly understood unless paralinguistic elements are taken into account.

(The extract is from an article by David Abercrombie called 'Paralanguage'. The article was published on pages 55-59 of volume 3 of the journal British Journal of Disorders of Communication. This extract is from pages 55 to 56.)


A gesture is any action that sends a visual signal to an onlooker. To become a gesture, an act has to be seen by someone else and has to communicate some piece of information to them. It can do this either because the gesturer deliberately sets out to send a signal - as when he waves his hand - or it can do it only incidentally - as when he sneezes. The hand-wave is a Primary Gesture, because it has no other existence or function. It is a piece of communication from start to finish. The sneeze, by contrast, is a secondary, or Incidental Gesture. Its primary function is mechanical and is concerned with the sneezer's personal breathing problem. In its secondary role, however, it cannot help but transmit a message to his companions, warning them that he may have caught a cold.

(From Manwatching by Desmond Morris. It was published in London by Jonathan Cape in 1977. This extract is from page 24.)


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