NCSU COM 112 - COM 112 Chapter 5 (45 pages)

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COM 112 Chapter 5



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COM 112 Chapter 5

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Pages:
45
School:
North Carolina State University
Course:
Com 112 - Interpersonal Communication
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Page 143 CHAPTER PREVIEW 1 2 3 4 1 The Nature of Language 2 Appreciating the Power of Words 3 The Use and Abuse of Language 4 Improving Your Language Use WORDS CAN HEAL OLD WOUNDS Heartfelt words of apology can mend emotional wounds restore relationships and inspire change even when those words come half a century after the fact Such was the case when Elwin Wilson a white southern man apologized in 2009 for having attacked John Lewis an African American in the whites only waiting room of a Greyhound bus station in 1961 Lewis was a member of the U S House of Representatives in 2009 but at that earlier time he was a freedom rider in the racial equality movement of Martin Luther King Jr while Wilson was a young man aggressively opposed to racial integration After the election of Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008 Wilson began a personal crusade to make amends to those he had wronged When Wilson was reunited with Representative Lewis the congressman said For you to come here today it s amazing to me It s unreal It s unbelievable Maybe just maybe others will come forward because there needs to be this healing Good to see you my friend Page 144 F inding the right words can be challenging under the most ordinary circumstances let alone extraordinary ones We may not always know what to say to make someone feel comforted informed entertained motivated or persuaded If we know how to use language effectively however we can employ it to accomplish those goals in our personal relationships and many others 1 The Nature of Language Many species communicate in one form or another but we humans are the only creatures on the planet who use language Although most of us are born with verbal ability we have to learn the specific languages we use and like most learned skills our language abilities improve as we practice and learn about them In this chapter s opening story Elwin Wilson communicated his sincere apologies to Representative John Lewis in words Like Wilson we use language as a way to represent or symbolize our thoughts and feelings We can understand language as a structured system of symbols used for communicating meaning Many scientists believe that language evolved from early humans use of gestures to communicate 1 For instance many of us hold out our hands when we ask for something We share this gesture with other primates such as chimpanzees The human brain however appears to have a specific capacity for learning and using language that is not shared by other species Researchers in the field of biolinguistics have proposed that our advanced cognitive capacity has allowed humans to develop the symbolic system we know as language 2 The human brain seems to have a specific capacity for learning and using language that is not shared by other species This scan of the left half of the human brain contrasts the different areas used in aspects of language activity including generating words hearing words seeing words and speaking words You can probably think of many behaviors and items that represent or symbolize some type of meaning A smile often symbolizes happiness for instance a red traffic light symbolizes the need to stop Many gestures also have symbolic meaning in that they represent a particular concept or idea For example you probably wave to say hello or shrug your shoulders to say I don t know Significantly although traffic lights gestures and facial expressions all symbolize meaning none of those behaviors or items qualifies as a language Instead a language is characterized by the use of a specific type of symbol words Words are the building blocks of verbal communication As we ll see in this chapter we use words to represent ideas observations feelings and thoughts Words have a profound influence on how we relate to others One key point here is that the power of verbal communication isn t limited to the words we speak it also includes the words we write When we hear the term verbal we sometimes think only of spoken language In fact written messages are also verbal because they also use words Keep that in mind as we take a look at some of the most important features of language Language Is Symbolic Page 145 Language is symbolic That statement means that each word represents a particular object or idea but it does not constitute the object or idea itself For example the word barn represents a structure often used for storing hay grain or livestock The word itself is not the structure rather it merely symbolizes it Similarly the word five represents a specific quantity of something one more than four and one fewer than six but the word itself is not the quantity it simply represents it One way to understand the symbolic nature of language is to remember that different languages have different words for the same thing The English word barn for instance is schuur in Dutch celeiro in Portuguese in Korean and in Greek Those are completely different symbols but they all represent the same object or idea If you were to invent your own language you could create any term you wanted to represent the concept of a barn As an illustration of the use of different symbols to represent the same idea Figure 5 1 displays the word speak as represented in five different alphabets These include 1 the Roman alphabet with which you are already familiar 2 Braille an alphabet consisting of raised dots used by people who are blind to read and write 3 Morse code a system of long and short sounds used to communicate by means of a telegraph machine 4 American Sign Language a system of gestures and body language used to communicate with people who have hearing impairments and 5 Gregg shorthand a symbolic alphabet used for rapid note taking Notice how different those symbols look even though they are all symbolizing the same idea FIGURE 5 1 Alphabet SoupMany forms of language have their own alphabets Here is the word SPEAK according to several different language systems We saw in Chapter 1 that the meaning of words that is what they symbolize can change over time For instance awful used to mean full of awe and neck used to mean a parcel of land as in my neck of the woods Those terms now symbolize something different and it is entirely possible that they will represent something different in the future This example illustrates the important point that the symbolic nature of language is never static Rather it changes and evolves as words take on new meanings Language Is Arbitrary Mostly Why do words symbolize


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