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Language. 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

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The World of Words

language is symbolic
Language is Symbolic
  • Symbols are Arbitrary
  • Symbols are Ambiguous
  • Symbols are Abstract
language is rule guided
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
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.”

naming and identity
Naming and Identity


  • Language shapes our identity
  • Language shapes our perceptions of others
  • Naming something makes it real to us
    • Naming the problem
    • Validation
credibility and status
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.
  • so…
  • 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 us.
affiliation attraction and interest
Affiliation, Attraction, and Interest

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



Powerful (?) speech mannerisms


Conversational control

Less responsive

Less powerful (?) speech mannerisms




Polite forms

Tag questions



Gender and Culture Variations

racism and sexism
Racism and Sexism
  • Language defines race and gender
    • Can be inclusive or exclusive (e.g., firemen vs. firefighters; he vs. he or she)
    • 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 cultures1
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 communicate
  • Have distinct “rules”
  • Can be based on:
    • Ethnicity
    • Gender
    • SES
    • Less formal characteristics (age, occupation, etc.)
communicating precisely or vaguely
Communicating Precisely or Vaguely
  • Equivocal Language
    • Words/Phrases with multiple meanings
    • Listeners questions and feedback are important
  • Abstractions
    • Can lead to stereotyping, confusion, relationship miscommunications
    • 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
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
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
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 Ideas