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The World of Words
The Nature of Language
       Language is Symbolic

• Symbols are Arbitrary

• Symbols are Ambiguous

• Symbols are Abstract
         Language is Rule-Guided
•   Phonological Rules – how language sounds
•   Syntactic Rules – how symbols are arranged
•   Semantic Rules – meanings attributed to symbols
•   Pragmatic Rules – inform about appropriate
    interpretations of symbols
    – Regulative rules
    – Constitutive rules
       Language is Subjective
• We each ascribe different meanings to the
  same words/language.
• “Meanings are in people, not in words”
• Punctuation
   Discuss your group’s quotation, and come up with a concrete
        example of the point being made in the quotation.

Group 1: “I know you believe you understand what you think I
      said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not
      what I meant.”
Group 2: “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather
      scornful tone, “it means just as I choose it to mean – neither
      more nor less.”
Group 3: “Learn a new language and get a new soul.”
Group 4: “What ’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any
      other name would smell as sweet.”
The Impact of Language
We can think about language as being…

   Naming and Identity                        CAT

      • Language shapes our identity
• Language shapes our perceptions of others

  • Naming something makes it real to us
            • Naming the problem
                 • Validation
             Credibility and Status
• Your use of language influences how credible others
       perceive you to be, and how much status they afford you.
• You make judgments about others’ credibility and status based
      on their language use.
• By monitoring how you use language, you can help
       others see you as having more power and credibility.
• But we also stereotype about others based on what we think is
        “proper” or “improper” language, and others stereotype
   Affiliation, Attraction, and

The language we use helps us to fit in with others, or to
         differentiate ourselves from others.

• Powerful (?) speech         • Less powerful (?)
  mannerisms                    speech mannerisms
   – Directness                  –   Hedges
   – Conversational control      –   Hesitations
   – Less responsive             –   Intensifiers
                                 –   Polite forms
                                 –   Tag questions
                                 –   Disclaimers

              Gender and Culture Variations
                   Racism and Sexism
• Language defines race and gender
   – Can be inclusive or exclusive (e.g., firemen vs. firefighters; he vs. he or
   – Definitions based on different criteria (e.g., Smith wins election! Vs.
     Black leader wins election! Vs. Smith becomes first lady governor!)
   – Language names what exists (e.g., discrimination)
• Language organizes perceptions of race and gender
   – (e.g., girl, chick, lady, bitch, woman)
   – (e.g., Negro, Black, African-American, person of color)
• Language evaluates race and gender
   – Language is frequently demeaning to women and people of color
• Language allows self-reflection
   – Language allows us to think about ourselves and how we want to define
     ourselves and others
• Language is a process
   – Language can change to be more inclusive and less oppressive (e.g., Ms.,
     harassment, racial profiling)
Communication Cultures
       Communication Cultures…
• “Exist when people share norms about how to use
  talk and what purpose it serves.”
• Are defined by shared understandings of how to
• Have distinct “rules”
• Can be based on:
   –   Ethnicity
   –   Gender
   –   SES
   –   Less formal characteristics (age, occupation, etc.)
  Some Specific Types of
Language and Suggestions for
     Improving Verbal
      Communicating Precisely or
• Equivocal Language
   – Words/Phrases with multiple meanings
   – Listeners questions and feedback are important
• Abstractions
   – Can lead to stereotyping, confusion, relationship
   – Using behavioral descriptions can be helpful
• Euphemisms
• Relative Language (e.g., fast, slow, easy, hard)
   – Try giving specifics, or scaling
• Static Evaluations
   – Stable characteristic vs. behavior
     Conveying Responsibility
• “It” Language
• “You” Language
• “I” Language
  – “I” Statement
     • The other person’s behavior
     • Your feelings
     • The consequences the other person’s behavior has on you
• “We” Language

• “But” Statements
        A Few Common Errors
• Fact-Opinion Confusion
  – Can clarify when a statement is an opinion

• Fact-Inference Confusion
  – Identify the facts that have led to your interpretation,
    and ask for feedback (Perception-Checking)

• Emotive Language
  – May be helpful to use more neutral language
         Some Suggestions…
         • Strive for Accuracy and Clarity
   (especially when you don’t have much shared
     understanding &/or when conflict is present)

     • Own Your Own Thoughts and Feelings

     • Engage in Dual Perspective (Empathy)

• Respect What Others Say About Their Feelings and

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