Verbal Communication & Language and Meaning
Kyle, why do you keep obfuscating the plan?
Now just a minute, Derek. There’s no need for you to get obscene with me. I may not have looked at the job the same way you did, but I wouldn’t, uh I’m not going to lower myself to repeat your language.
Obfuscating means confusing. What in the world did Derek mean when he accused Kyle of obfuscating the plan? And why did Kyle think Derek was talking obscenely? Many years ago. A Richards (1965) observed that communication is the study of misunderstanding and its remedy. And in this instance, we have a classic example of misunderstanding. The remedy? Clearer and more appropriate language.
Whether you are trying to iron out a problem with a friend or explain your views on reducing domestic violence in a group discussion or a public speech, your effectiveness will depend on your verbal and nonverbal communication usage, In this chapter, we discuss verbal communication how people use language, the relationship between language and meaning with emphasis on denotation, connotation, and cultural and gender differences, and the skills that help us speak.clearly and appropriately.
The Nature of Language
Language is the body of words and the systems for their use that are common to the people of the same language community.
Uses of Language
Although language communities vary in the words that they use and in their grammar and syntax systems, all languages serve the same purposes.
1. We use language to designate, label, define, and limit. Thus, when we identify a, house as a Tudor, we are differentiating it from another that may be identified as an A frame.
2. We use language to evaluate. Through language we give positive we give positive
slants. For instance, if you see Hal taking time than others make a decision, you could describe Hal positively as thoughtful or negatively as dawdling.
3. We use language to discuss things outside our immediate experience. Language enables us to speak hypothetically, to talk about past and future events, and to communicate about people and things that are not present. Thus, we can use language to discuss where we hope to be in five years, to analyze a conversation two acquaintances had last week, or to learn about the history that shapes the world we live in.
4. We can use language to talk about language. We can use language to discuss how someone phrased a statement and whether better phrasing would have resulted in a clearer meaning or a more positive response. For instance, if your friend said she would see you this afternoon, but she didn’t arrive until 5 o’clock, when you ask her where she’s been, the two of you are likely to discuss the meaning of this afternoon.
Language and Meaning
On the surface, the relationship between language and meaning seems perfectly clear. We select the correct word, and people will interpret our meaning correctly. In fact, the relationship between language and meaning is not nearly so simple for two reasons: Language must be learned, and the use of language is a creative act. First, we are not born knowing a language. Rather, each generation within a language community .learns the language anew. We learn much of our language early in life from our families much more we learn in school. But we do not all learn to use the same words in the same way.
A second reason the relationship between language and meaning is complicated is that even though languages have systems of syntax and grammar each utterance is a creative act. When we speak, we use language to create new sentences that represent our meaning. Although on occasion we repeat other people’s sentence constructions to represent what we are thinking or feeling, some of our talk is unique.
A third reason complication is that people interpret the meaning of words differences have two kinds of meaning denotative and connotative. Thus, when Melissa tells Trisha that her dog died, what Trisha understands Melissa to lean depends on both word denotation and connotation.
Denotation The direct, explicit meaning a language community formally gives a word is its denotation is the meaning found in a dictionary. So, denotative, when .Clarissa said her dog died, she meant that her domesticated canine no longer demonstrates physical life. In some situations the denotative meaning of a word clear. Why? First, dictionary definitions refile Frequent and past practice in the language community; and second, the dictionary uses words to define words. The end result is that words are defined differently in various dictionaries end of tell include multiple meanings that get over time.
Moreover, meaning may vary depending on the context in which the word is used. For example, the dictionary definition of gay includes both having or showing a, merry, lively mood and homosexual. Thus, context, the position of a word in a sentence and the other words around it, has an important effect on correctly interpreting which denotation of a word is meant. Not only will the other words and the syntax and grammar of a verbal message help us to understand the denotative meaning of certain words, but so will the situation in which they are spoken. Whether the comment. He’s really gay” is understood to be a comment on someone’s sexual orientation or on his merry mood may depend on the circumstances in which it is said.
Connotation The feelings or evaluations we associate with a word represent the connotation and may be even more important to our understanding of meaning. C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards (1923) were among the first scholars to consider the misunderstandings resulting from the failure of communicators to realize that their subjective reactions to words are based on their life experiences.
For instance, when Melissa tells Trisha that her dog died, Trisha’s understanding of the message depends on the extent to which her feelings about pets and death her connotations of the words-correspond to the feelings that Melissa has about pets and death. Melissa, who sees dogs as truly indispensable friends, may be trying to communicate a true sense of grief, but Trisha, who has never had a pet and doesn’t particularly care for dogs, may miss the sense of Melissa’s statement.
Word denotation and connotation are important because the only message that counts is the message that is understood, regardless.