Intercultural Communication: Verbal and Nonverbal Codes
Hi! Today, we’re going to delve deeper into intercultural communication and see how verbal and nonverbal codes affect our interactions. Through our understanding of the various concepts and cultural practices related to verbal and nonverbal codes, we develop our intercultural communicative competence. So first, let’s look at the difference between the verbal and nonverbal communication through the vocal and non-vocal aspects. So for the vocal aspect of verbal communication, these are our spoken words and, for non-vocal, these are the written words. For nonverbal, the vocal aspect of the nonverbal communication refers to the size, the screams, your pitch, your tone, and others. And for non-vocal—nonverbal communication, this refers to the gestures, we also have oculesics, proxemics and others. And we will be discussing this throughout our discussion today.
In intercultural communication, verbal and nonverbal codes affect interaction. Bremmer highlighted how meaning may be different from the perspective of the listener and the speaker. Thus, miscommunication happens. Hua identifies two factors that create a mismatch in meaning. First, we have inadequate linguistic proficiency and, second, pragmatic mismatch. Have you had any experience where a word choice change the meaning of the utterance? Or you thought you heard someone say something? Or that the sequence of words changed the intended meaning? All these examples refer to the first factor. So, one noted that when the literal meaning is different or how something is uttered, this is where tone, your volume, your speed and the quality of voice [play] a major factor—actually changes the meaning—or that how the listener received the message and responded affect our intercultural communication.
Our intercultural communication is affected by these speech acts or levels of meanings. And problems exist when these acts are not in line or are disconnected somewhere between the speaker and the interpreter. Can you think of other examples where you encountered misalignments between the speaker and interpreter?
The second factor, according to Hua, refers to mismatch that is brought about by cultural differences. For example, in pragmalinguistic failure, a native speaker may have a different nuance or usage of a certain word which a second language speaker may not immediately recognize. A native speaker may have other meanings attached to a word which a second language speaker may not be aware of. So, the second type pertains to violations to cultural norms or rules related to politeness, face, directness, and sincerity. So for example, some cultures frown upon very direct criticism. In the Philippine context, we refer to this as paligoyligoy or mabulaklak na pagsasalita.
And as we have seen, verbal communication affects our intercultural communication. There is another aspect of communication that also greatly affects our interactions—nonverbal communication. So how do we use these nonverbal codes? Samovar and others identifed some basic functions of non-verbal communication. These are to express internal states, to consdtruct identities, to regulate interaction, to repeat the message, or the substitute for words. So for example, if you want to show whether you are hungry or not, then you can just use your nonverbal communication. You can just touch your belly to say that you are hungry or you can also use your hands to wave instead of saying “Hi”. So these are examples of our nonverbal communication.
Now, we go to the types of nonverbal codes. And we have nine codes that we refer to as nonverbal communication codes.
First is physical appearance. This is how we dress, how we decorate or how we present ourselves and indicates our age, our gender, our nationality, our ethnicity, our education, and sometimes even our economic status.
The second type is called proxemics and this is our concept and use of space and distance. We also refer it to as our personal bubble or how we use our space for social and public space and it indicates our relationship with others, our openness to communication, and our submission or sometimes referred to our invasion of others’ privacy.
The third type is called chronemics. This is our concept and use of time. Some cultures are monochronic. These cultures actually view time as linear, sequential, segmented, they measure it and they value it. And we hear these pronouncements like “time is gold” and “you’re wasting my time” as manifestations of monochronic cultures. Others are polychronic and they focus on relationship; so they do not give value to the time spent but on how relationships were harnessed during the interaction.
Kinesics refers to the body movements, and this includes our gestures, the posture, the facial expressions. And these are the most common used nonverbal codes in our interactions.
Next, we have haptics. This refers to touch and it varies in amount, to the location or where we are touched, the type of touch, whether the touch happened in a public or private setting or manifestation, our relationship with the one who touches us and our emotions during that time. So these [aspects] of haptics actually [are] very much heavily affected by our cultural norms.
Next, we have oculesics. This refers to eye movement, our gaze, pupil dilation. In eye contact, it can show our sincerity, our honesty, our politeness, and even power relations. So we have these terms: we “look up” to someone higher or “look down” to others.
Next, we have vocalics. This is our tone, the speed or the rate of our speech, the volume, the pitch, the quality of voice, and it also includes vocalizations or fillers like “uh huh”, “mhmm”, “hmmm”, “oh”, and other fillers that you use when you don’t have any words anymore.
Next, we have olfactics or our smell, and this actually affects how we perceive the other person—whether the person smells good or not.
And lastly, we have silence, because, even without words—even in silence—it means something. So as we can see, nonverbal communication is very much important in our intercultural communication. Through our knowledge of these non-verbal codes, we would be competent in our intercultural interactions.