Word(l)y Wednesdays: Move Your Body

(Language and Emotion)

Body language, while not exactly “language” in the strictest sense of the word, is definitely a tool we use along with language to communicate with others–and in a video I recently saw, we can even use it to communicate with ourselves.

Hug by flickr user jk+too (Jiunn Kang) under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license 2.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en

Language, like so many of the other topics we discuss at Philosophy Matters, is so interdisciplinary that its boundaries are really tough to define. On one hand, language is limited to words and phrases and paragraphs, and for some people that means that the study of language should stop there. But then there are non-verbal or “extralinguistic” features of language and communication, such as body language, that are so steeped in our philosophy (and psychology) of communication that when we take them out–via letters or texts or even just talking on the phone–we struggle to make sure that our meaning is transferred the way we intend.

Because non-verbals are so essential to the way we communicate, I want to make sure that everyone’s on the same page about what the difference between “verbal” and “nonverbal” is. In general, “verbal” communication refers to words themselves, and “nonverbal” communication refers to everything else. But it’s not always that clear-cut:

A sarcastic tone of voice? The tone itself’s definitely non-verbal, even though the words depend on that tone to make sure they’re understood correctly.

Sign language? Definitely verbal. Sign language depends on the same types of lexicon and syntax that any other verbal language demands.

Waving hello? Probably non-verbal. Is the wave trying to communicate a message, or is it just a gesture of politeness?

Giving someone an “OK” sign? Possibly verbal. It’s a complex and voluntary movement that means a pretty specific message in this culture.

Once again, there just aren’t any clear, easy classifications and each instance has to be looked at on its own.

The great thing is that we’ve found ways to incorporate nonverbal information into our written verbal communications. From basic punctuation to express how we trail off… or to show– an abrupt stop– as with Bill Shatner’s– delivery, all the way up to our frequent use of emoticons (which at the very least is a good way to irritate your composition teacher ;-P ), we’re finding more and more ways to code our extralinguistic information into quasi-linguistic forms. Will it forever change the way we speak English?


For me, the most exciting part is that it opens the doors to all sorts of language innovation that will lead to our communicating (and probably miscommunicating) in ways we haven’t ever experienced before.

AND! That includes communicating with ourselves. This, the video I mentioned at the beginning of the post, is a TEDTalk about ways we can fake out, not only other people, but our own bodies (and by extension, our minds) by adopting several body-language habits.

I have to tell you, nearly my entire repertoire of postures and body positioning comes from her list of submissive poses. So, against my better judgment, really, I actually tried some of the poses–both the facial expressions she briefly mentions and the full out body poses. For me, it definitely worked, at least in small doses.

The critical side of me wonders how much of it is placebo, even though in the moment it didn’t really feel like placebo. It felt more like my attitude was changing against my will. It’s something I’m going to have to try more in the future to see if there are any more widely spread effects than just my momentary mood.

What do you think?

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