Language is an advanced system of communication based on verbal codes -- spoken, written or signed words that intentionally transmit a message. Although people use language to communicate, humans and other living creatures can communicate without language. Nonverbal communication in humans conveys messages intentionally or unintentionally with cues such as tone, gestures and other bodily and facial expressions. Nobel laureate David Gross, a theoretical physicist, says language distinguishes human consciousness from that of animals.
Symbolic Messages and Interpretation
Both language and nonverbal communication transmit symbolic messages that must be interpreted. It is more difficult to understand the intended meaning of language without seeing and hearing nonverbal clues. In fact, nonverbal communication is more important than language in building trust because vocal and facial expressions convey feelings and attitudes more accurately than verbal communication.
Differences in Cultural Contexts
Interpreting the messages of language and nonverbal communication is culturally specific. Each culture codes, preserves and understands meaning within a certain context. Words, the primary component of language, can be translated using a dictionary, but other forms of communication, such as concepts and customs that are communicated nonverbally, must be explained. For example, Japanese culture demands the use of two hands to offer something to another person; even casually passing an item such as a pencil with one hand is considered rude. To understand this communication, you would have to research the concepts that gave rise to this custom.
Personal and Public Differences
Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher, was one of the first academics to study how language and communication influence others in the public sphere. Mass communication is a psychological and sociological process that involves both verbal and nonverbal communication. Nonverbal communication is a powerful way of communicating with body language on the personal level, and visuals can affect the collective consciousness emotionally. On the other hand, language has the potential to change society sociologically. For example, many contemporary writers and linguists are engaging in a deliberate campaign to change attitudes toward gender roles by instituting the use of nonsexist language.
Identity and Communication
Language creates a particular view of reality, according to Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. The ability to remember and write our linguistic messages and to reform different meanings -- different ideas of reality -- explains how human and animal communication is different. Language gathers humans together in a common quest for identity. Nonverbal communication assists language in shaping identity. Social media trends such as the “selfie” and "groupie" phenomenon show how humans use text messages and photography to communicate symbolic messages in the attempt to create and preserve identity.
- College of DuPage, Glen Elyn: Communication
- Classroom Interpreting.org: EIPA Written Test and Knowledge Standards
- Life Sciences: Why Great Minds Can’t Grasp Consciousness; Ker Than
- SEDL.org: Cognitive Elements of Reading
- Changing Minds.org: Marabian’s Communication Study
- Changing Minds.org: Detecting Lies
- Westside Toastmasters for Public Speaking and Leadership Eduaction: Cultural Differences
- Handbook of Language and Communication: Diversity and Change; Marlis Hellinger and Anne Pauwels, eds.
- Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Social Sciences; Byron Kaldis, ed.
- The Atlantic: When Did Group Pictures Become Selfies?; Adrienne LaFrance
- Photo Credit Huntstock/DisabilityImages/Getty Images