Chapter summary image

What makes human language unique?

  • The ability to learn words and to combine, invent, and give meaning make humans different from other animals.
  • Language is a system of arbitrary signs and symbols used to communicate with others.

How do the characteristics of language affect meaning?

  • Whereas signs often look like the thing they represent, symbols are arbitrary collections of sounds that in certain combinations stand for concepts.
  • Words have both denotative and connotative meanings and also differ in terms of whether they are concrete or abstract.

How do language and culture interact with one another?

  • The Whorf hypothesis claims that the nature of your language reflects your culture’s view of the world.
  • Individualistic cultures have an “I” orientation, whereas collectivist cultures have a “we” orientation.
  • People living in low-context cultures rely on words to convey meaning. In high-context, collectivist cultures, people rely on nonverbal behavior and the relationship between communicators to generate meaning.

How does language reflect gender differences?

  • Most languages have a gender bias that privileges men more than women.
  • Men tend to talk more than women even though many people believe the opposite.
  • Avoid gender bias by avoiding male and female pronouns when possible.

How does context affect language choices?

  • Code switching refers to modifying verbal and nonverbal communication during interaction with people from other cultures.

How do bypassing, exclusionary language, idioms and offensive language affect communication?

  • Communicators who look for meaning in words rather than in the people using words are more likely to bypass and be bypassed.
  • Exclusionary language uses words that reinforce stereotypes, belittle other people, or exclude others from understanding an in-group’s message.
  • People who rarely swear or use offensive language are seen as more intelligent, more pleasant, and more skilled at controlling their emotions.
  • Idioms are words or phrases that develop as informal or conversational language.

What strategies can improve your way with words?

  • You can improve your way with words by expanding your vocabulary, using oral language when you speak, speaking in an active voice, using the pronouns I and you wisely, and avoiding gobbledygook.
  • An excessive number of grammatical errors in your speech can derail a career or create a negative personal impression.