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The Language of Unspoken Words

Since ages, men like any other animal used different methods like symbols, gestures and verbal communication to communicate with each other. With the growth of civilization, the verbal communications were standardized and different languages were evolved as a means to communicate with each other. The emergence of language was a defining moment in the evolution of humans. It was an innovation that changed radically the character of human society. The need to preserve the communication has given rise to the written language.


How language contributed to the growth of human civilization is easily understandable since a “word” in a language can express quite complex concepts and knowledge which can be understood by others easily. The written language ensures that such concepts are preserved and communicated to a large number of people from one generation to another generation.


Yet the understanding of the “intended” message through language is not an easy task as the literal meaning of the language often fails to convey the right message as evident from the following story.


A man wanted to borrow a horse from his neighbor. He went to his neighbour and requested him to lend his horse. The neighbor said “sorry” to the man and told him that he has already landed his horse to another person.


 The man was about to return when he heard the sound of the horse which was actually in its barn. The man beamed with happiness and said to his neighbour, “Aha! You said that the horse is not with you but the horse is there in your barn”.


The neighbor said, “What a man you are. You can understand the language of the horse but can’t you understand the language of the man?”


Many questions come to our mind after reading this story. What is the mystery behind the language of neighbour which the poor man failed to understand? Who was at fault? How  the man could have understood “real” message of the neighbour that he did not want to give his horse? How do we understand such messages which often literally convey just the opposite meaning?


Communicating the right message to the desired person is often the most difficult task for the man. The parents always give “right” instructions to their children to study hard, respect elders, eat the right food, make good friends, avoid bad habits like smoking, drinking and become successful in life. Yet many children do just the opposite ignoring the instructions of their parents. A government of a country always tells the citizens to follow law, shun corrupt practices, and maintain peace and harmony in the society. Yet the citizens often do just the opposite by defying the power of the state and inviting severe punishment for their action.


We all know from our experience that written or oral words are not really the most effective was of communication of messages. When we are face to face with the person, we in addition to the words also see the facial expressions and gestures of the person, hear the tone of the voice, and observe his body language which all put together conveys “more complete” message from one man to another. It is for this reason we learn better when we learn directly from the teacher as compared to the books. Even to understand the book, one has to interpolate many words and messages which are not written in the texts but come in the mind of the reader while reading the book. Any person who can’t interpolate these messages can never understand the meaning of the written texts. Since the interpolation of this “hidden” message is specific to the individual based on his own experience and personality, thus each person understands the same book differently. The unspoken or hidden words in verbal and written communication plays a very important role in conveying the “correct” message which are expressed through the written or spoken words.


This article discusses the limitations of the language (written as well as oral) in communicating the message to other human being. It investigates the mechanism by which language communicates the message from one person to other. Finally it suggests the methods which can be applied in better communication of information and message between human beings.



The Mechanism of Communication of Message

Communication of feelings, emotions, messages and information is the requirement of every living being. Man is the only animal in the world which uses language for communication of the information. All other animals communicate through sound or gestures which carries the message. The mode of communication could be the actions of any body parts which can be sensed by the eyes or sound which can be sensed by the ears, or smell which can be sensed by the nose or it could be even physical touch which can be sensed by the skin or taste which could be sensed by tongue.


Scientists recognize the importance of nonverbal communication. They believe that we communicate not only by language of words but also by the language of body. They call it body language. When we are saying “I am sorry” we are not using only words but also express the same emotions from our face. When we are saying “Pleased to meet you”, we are also smiling and expressing our feelings by the appropriate body language. If our body language is not same as the verbal language, the message is not communicated properly. The receiver does not trust the verbal communication, if it is contrary to the body language


Scientific analysis, however, stops on body language as the only other means of nonverbal communication. They believe that there are only two means of communication, the first is the language of words (spoken or written) and the other is the body language. They believe that the sum of the two, make the total communication possible. They may be right from the scientific point of view since verbal and nonverbal communications are material (perceptible ) in nature which can be seen and measured. For the scientists, anything which can’t be seen and measured falls beyond the scope of scientific investigations. However if the communication is interpreted literally it can create funny situation as illustrated in this short story.


A boy wanted to buy a toy from a nearby market. He had, however, no experience of bargaining. His mother explained him the trick of bargaining. She told him that whatever price the shopkeeper tells, he must offer only half the price to the shopkeeper.


The child went to the shop, selected a toy and asked the shopkeeper.


Boy:             What is the price of this toy?

Shopkeeper:   $40

Boy:             Will you give me for $20?

Shopkeeper:   OK. Take it for $20.

Boy:             Will you give me $10?

Shopkeeper:   OK. Take it for $10.

Boy:             Will you give me for $5?

Shopkeeper:   Oh, Take it for FREE and go away.

(Feeling extremely irritated)

Boy (thought for a while):    Will you give me TWO?


Where the boy did went wrong? After all he was only following the instruction of his mother.


The language can be considered as the body of the message but it can’t represent the soul or essence of the message. Words are not more than letters if their appropriate meaning, and contexts are not understood. The real meaning of the messages can be understood by the recipients only intuitively. For illustration, let us read this beautiful poem by Joy Allison.


Which Loved Best?


“”I love you. Mother,” said little John;

Then, forgetting his work, his cap went on,

And he was off to the garden swing,

And left her the water and wood to bring.

“I love you Mother,” said Rosy Nell-

“I love you better than tongues can tell”;

Then she teased and pouted full half the day,

Till her mother rejoiced when she went to play.

“I love you Mother,” said little Fan;

“Today I‘ll help you all I can;

How glad I am that school doesn’t keep!”

So she rocked the babe till it fell asleep.

Then, stepping softly, she fetched the broom,

And swept the floor and tidied the room;

Busy and happy all day was she,

Helpful and happy as child could be.

“I love you Mother,” again they said,

Three little children going to bed;

How do you think that mother guessed?

Which one of them really loved her best?


When we read this poem, we actually visualize the busy mother and her three little children. Surely, you might have guessed that the little Fan was the one who loved her mother best. Isn’t the answer is quite obvious?  Yet this poem is not intended to be a quiz to test the verbal ability of the reader. This poem surely carries a much deeper message which the poet wants to convey to us. However the message is not evident from the written words as it is hidden in these words. It can never be understood by us if we focus our attention to the written words alone. What is the real message of the poet? We shall discuss it later.

Author:Awdhesh K Singh



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