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Symbols. Qualities of Symbols. Symbolic Abilities. Arbitrary Abstract Ambiguous. Definition Evaluation Organization Hypothetical Thought Self-Reflection. Words are Symbols. Arbitrary—they are not intrinsically connected to what they represent

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of Symbols









Hypothetical Thought


words are symbols
Words are Symbols
  • Arbitrary—they are not intrinsically connected to what they represent
  • Ambiguous—their meanings are not clear cut or fixed
  • Abstract—they are not concrete or tangible
language and culture reflect each other
Language and Culture Reflect Each Other
  • Language and cultural life are intricately interconnected.
  • Communication reflects cultural values and perspectives.
    • As we learn language we also learn the values, perspectives, and beliefs of our culture.
  • The language we learn shapes how we categorize the world.
  • Communication changes culture.
meanings of language are subjective
Meanings of Language are Subjective
  • Meanings are never self-evident or absolute.
  • We construct meaning in the process of interacting and through thought.
  • Because symbols require interpretation, communication is an ongoing process of creating meanings.
language use is rule guided
Language Use is Rule-Guided
  • Communication rules are shared understandings of what communication means and what behaviors are appropriate in various situations.
    • Regulative rules regulate interaction by specifying when, how, where, and with whom to talk about certain things.

When is it appropriate to show affection or disclose private information.

    • Constitutive rules define how certain communicative acts are to be interpreted.

Affection (hugs and kisses)

Rudeness (interrupting)

punctuation of language shapes meaning
Punctuation of Language Shapes Meaning
  • Punctuation defines beginnings and endings of interaction episodes.
    • When we don’t agree on punctuation problems may arise.
the demand withdraw pattern of punctuation
The Demand-Withdraw Pattern of Punctuation

I withdraw

because you

pursue me.

I pursue




I pursue






I am withdrawing

more because you

are pursuing


symbols define
Symbols Define
  • Labels shape perception.
    • Language reflects our subjective opinion and shapes and fixes our perception.
    • The labels we apply to people shape how we evaluate and respond to them.
  • Labels can totalize when we respond to a person as if one label totally represents who he or she is.
symbols define1
Symbols Define
  • Labels affect relationships.
    • The language we use to think about relationships affects what happens in them.
    • People who use negative labels to describe their relationships heighten what is wrong.
    • Partners who focus on good facets are more conscious of virtues in partners.
  • Definitions can create self-fulfilling prophecies. Once we select a label we tend to see the experience in line with our label.
symbols evaluate
Symbols Evaluate
  • Values in language reflect and shape perceptions.

“casual” “messy” “slob”

“assertive” “aggressive” “bully”

  • Loaded language strongly slants perceptions.

Rush Limbaugh’s “feminazi” instead of “feminist”

“geezer” or “old fogies” rather than “senior citizen”

symbols evaluate1
Symbols Evaluate
  • Language can degrade others.
    • Hate speech radically dehumanizes others.
  • Language is powerful.
    • Each of us has an ethical responsibility to guard against engaging in uncivil speech as well as not tolerating it from others.
symbols organize perceptions
Organization of symbols allows us to think about abstract concepts such as justice, integrity, and good family life.

Abstracting can distort our thinking by stereotyping whole classes of people in a generalization.

Symbols Organize Perceptions
  • We have to generalize to organize our
  • thoughts. But we must reflect on
  • stereotypes and be alert to differences
  • among people.
symbols allow hypothetical thought
Symbols Allow Hypothetical Thought
  • We can think beyond immediate, concrete situations.
  • We live in three dimensions of time.
    • We infuse our lives with knowledge of the past and plans for the future.
  • Personal growth requires that you remember yourself at an earlier time, appreciate progress made, and keep an ideal image for the future.
symbols allow self reflection
Symbols Allow Self-Reflection
  • There are two aspects to self—the I and the ME. (Mead)
    • The I acts and the ME reflects and analyzes the I’s actions.
  • Self-reflection allows us to monitor communication.
  • Self-reflection allows us to manage our image.
speech communities
Speech Communities
  • A speech community exists when people share norms about the use and purposes of talk. They -
    • Share perspectives outsiders do not have
    • May not understand the communication in other communities
      • Can explain why cross cultural communication is sometimes difficult
gendered speech communities
Gendered Speech Communities
  • Women and men are socialized into different understandings of how communication functions.
    • Children’s games are a primary agent of gender socialization.
      • Girls games such as “house” involve few players, requires talk because there are not rules, and depend on cooperation and sensitivity.
      • Boys often play organized sports which involve more players, have clear rules, and are competitive.
  • Rules taught in childhood tend to remain with us into adulthood.
Feminine rules

Include others. Use talk to show interest in others, and respond to their needs.

Use talk cooperatively. Communication is a joint activity; people have to work together.

Use talk expressively. Talk should deal with feelings and build relationships.

Masculine rules

Assert yourself. Use talk to establish your identity, expertise, and knowledge.

Use talk competitively. Communication is an arena for proving yourself, gaining, and holding attention.

Use talk instrumentally. Talk should accomplish something such as solving a problem or giving advice.

engage in dual perspective
Engage in Dual Perspective
  • Recognize another person’s point of view and take it into consideration when speaking.
    • Understand both our own and another’s point of view and give voice to each when we communicate.
    • Understanding and hearing others’ viewpoints paves the way for affirming relationships.

Using I-language allows you to own your own feelings while also explaining to others how you interpret their behaviors.




You hurt me.

I feel hurt when you ignore what I say.

You make me feel small.

I feel small when you tell me that I’m selfish.

You’re so domineering.

When you shout, I feel dominated.

rephrase each statement so that it is expressed using i language
Rephrase each statement so that it is expressed using I-language
  • You are so arrogant.
  • You embarrassed me in front of my friends.
  • You’re so understanding about my situation.
  • You really are self-centered.
abstract to concrete
Abstract to Concrete






rephrase each statement so that it is less abstract and more concrete
Rephrase each statement so that it is less abstract and more concrete
  • Edward always finds something critical to say.
  • Most people have lost any sense of personal responsibility.
  • Let’s keep our trip from getting too expensive.
qualified language
Qualified Language
  • Increases the clarity of communication
    • Qualify generalizations to avoid making a general statement an absolute one.

“Politicians are crooked.”

“A number of politicians have been shown to be dishonest.”

Static evaluation refers to assessments that suggest something is unchanging.

“Don is irresponsible.”

Indexing reminds us that our evaluation applies only to specific times and circumstances.

“On the Task Committee, Don was irresponsible.”