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浅谈身势语-A Brief Discussion on Body Language

来源:  作者:叶显萍 [字体: ]

[Abstract] Body language is an important part of nonverbal communication and it is connected with culture. In order to make successful exchange in cross-cultural communication, we should know the body language from different cultures. And we should realize that body language, like verbal communication and culture, also has many similarities all over the world. However , body language from different cultures has many differences because of different regions, races and cultural customs. And it is restricted by its culture and has different cultural connotations. That is to say, the same body language has different meanings in different cultures and has different social functions. This article devotes to a comparison and contrast of body language in different cultures in terms of eye language, gestures, postures, facial expressions and touch. It aims to illustrate the differences and similarities of body language and put forward the principles of reducing barriers in communication so as to achieve efficient communication and to avoid misunderstanding.
[Key Words] Nonverbal Communication; Body Language; Cultural Differences and Similarities; Principles

【摘 要】身势语是非语言交际的重要组成部分并和文化紧密联系在一起。为了在跨文化交际中能够成功地进行交流,我们应该了解不同文化的身势语,必须承认世界各国的身势语与语言和文化一样,也有相似之处。然而,由于地域,种族,文化习俗的差异,不同文化的身势语有许多差异。它们由文化制约并拥有独特的文化内涵。也就是说,同样的身势语在不同文化背景下有不同的含义,行使着不同的 社会 功能。本文致力于从目光语,手势语,身体姿态,面部表情,体触语方面对不同文化的身势语进行对比。目的在于通过列举身势语的文化差异与共性,并提出交际中遵循的原则,从而促进有效交流,避免误解。
【关键词】 非语言交际;身势语;文化异同;原则
1. Introduction

People can communicate with each other through not only verbal communication but also nonverbal communication. Moreover, the latter plays an essential role in human communication. Nonverbal communication is connected with cultures and it is the result of cultures. But many people pay great attention to the acceptance and correctness of the verbal communication and overlook the influence and cultural difference of nonverbal communication. The n the misunderstanding and cultural crash often occur in the cross-cultural communication. So in the process of communication, it is not a complete communication while ignoring the cultural differences of nonverbal communication. A famous anthropologist E.T.Hall pointed out “Silent language expresses more information than verbal language. Because it contains much information.” According to some researchers abroad, in people’s daily life, nonverbal communication takes part over 65% in all of information exchange. And body language is an important part of nonverbal communication. Many experts have shown the importance of body language in the cross-cultural communication. “A psychologist proposed a formula: the total impact of message = 7% verbal + 38% vocal +55% facial expressions and behavior.”[1]p89 It is clear without body language we can’t finish our informational exchange. Body language, like verbal language can express emotions, exchange ideas and deliver information. So we must know the cultural differences of body language to achieve efficient communication.

2. Definition and Functions of Nonverbal Communication

2.1 Definition of Nonverbal Communication

“Nonverbal communication is a process in which communicators use the natural features of thEir bodies to deliver information and express specific meaning instinctively to the other communicator.”[2]p90 The study of nonverbal communication covers three major parts: Proxernics, Kinesics or Body Language, and Paralanguage.          Proxernics refers that people keep certain space with each other when they communicate and the meaning it suggests. For example, Arabians like to keep close while Englishmen like to keep a certain distance. It is funny to see they are in conversation. Arabians will come closer and closer but Englishmen will withdraw further and further. When they finish the conversation, they are far away from the place they stood. Kinesics is also called body language, which studies the meanings of the movement of all parts of body and it includes many nonverbal behavior such as eye language, gestures, postures, facial expressions, touch and so on. We will discuss it in details later. Paralanguage refers to all kinds of sound signals made by mouth, which can express certain emotions and ideas. Paralanguage is not the phrases and sentences with clear meanings. It is to transform information by sound, such as “Ouch”. Besides this, the pitch of tone and loudness or quietness of voice also belongs to paralanguage. And some researchers believe that clothing belongs to paralanguage, too.

2.2 Functions of Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal communication, like verbal communication is also a part of culture and the carrier of a certain culture. The function of nonverbal communication in the whole communication can’t be overlooked. “In the daily communication, we can see people can’t communicate efficiently by verbal language alone. And nonverbal communication will express clear meanings in a certain context. And a certain nonverbal communication should be connected with verbal communication or the other nonverbal communication to provide correct information.”[3]p37 So in communicative activities, nonverbal communication also plays a great role. Of course, we should pay close attention to the functions of nonverbal communication. “In any case, when verbal communication conflicts with nonverbal communication, people are willing to accept the information nonverbal communication delivers. Because nonverbal communication sounds more natural, more instinctive and it is hard to pretend.”[4]同[1]p90 Obviously, we should make full use of nonverbal communication to achieve efficient communication. Now, we will discuss the functions of nonverbal communication.

Repetition. For example, when we tell people how to get to the nearest hospital, we are not only telling them the direction but also pointing to the direction with hands. Supplement. For instance, we greet people with a smile. Smile functions as a supplement to the pleasure of meeting people. Replacement. When we communicate with others, we will frown instead of asking directly to hint that we don’t understand and expect repetition or explanation. Emphasis. When we are talking or making a speech, we often raise our voice to stress the content. And sometimes, we say, “It is my fault” while hung down our heads. We smile and say, “Welcome”. We shout out to the people while waving our fists. All the nonverbal communication here emphasizes what we say. Adjustment. We often suggest that our talk is over by our tone, eyes, head nodding and other nonverbal communicative behaviors. For example, the manager stands up to show the end of the interview.

3. Classification of Body Language

We have discussed the importance of nonverbal communication. And we also know body language reflects a certain cultural background. On the one hand, in a certain tradition, body language is determined by its customs and traditions. Violating them will cause communicative disconnection and misunderstanding. On the other hand, the meanings of body language in a certain culture are developing and changing. With the development of technology, traffic and contact all over the world, the meanings of body language are renewing every day. In this essay, we intend to make a comparison and contrast of the similarities and differences on body language in order to avoid misunderstanding and make efficient communication.
In general sense, the study of body language began in 1950s. And during 1970s, the study of body language entered a fully developing period. From the late of 1970s to the early period of 1980s, body language contained more contents, and had a great influence on the other fields. And Doctor R.L.Bird Whitell is the representive of study of body language. His research indicated: eyebrows could change for 23 positions and people could make 250,000 different facial expressions. “And psychologist David Aberconbie also pointed out: ‘we speak with verbal organs but we talk with our body.’”[5]p34 Body language contains eye language, gestures, postures, facial expressions, manners and behaviors and touch and so on. As the most important part of nonverbal communication, body language, like verbal language, has notable cultural features. Some parts of body language are innate, some are acquired and others are conscious. For example,

(1) A baby can cry when it is born. It can suck its fingers when it is hungry. When we are excited, our pupils will enlarge distinctively. Our eyebrows will move rapidly when we greet. And we will frown when we are unsatisfied. We are yawning when we feel sleepy.

And acquired body language is greatly affected by social environment and accepted through common practice. It often becomes a distinctive culture. Every country, every nation, and even every region has its own historical and cultural background. So the body language people use is quite different. For example,

(2) Americans like to shrug when they have no idea about something. But Chinese don’t do the same thing. Stretching out one’s tongue means contempt in America, but in China it means surprise and respect for guests in Tibet.

We can control some body language and we can do some postures consciously. For example,

(3) If a public speaker is fiddling with a pencil or with his glasses all the time while he is talking, he is telling quite clearly that he is nervous. But some experienced speechmaker will pretend well and show confidence.

4. Cultural Differences of Body Language

Different believes are the causes of the differences of body language. According to the theories proposed by American anthologists Barnettt Pearce, Verrion Cronent, people’s behavior, the way of thinking and so on are affected by thEIr believes. And every culture has its distinctive belief system. A normal action in this culture will be abnormal in another one. A positive behavior in one culture will be negative in another. People from eastern world advocate modesty, tolerance, mutual-support and responsibility for the group. But western people admire independence, self-respect, free development, and requiring individual space and so on. Next, we will go to the differences of body language from five parts.

4.1 Eye Language

As saying goes “The eyes are the window of the soul”. That is to say, we can read one’s mind through his/her eyes. Eye language can express complicated feelings and it is an important way to judge the intimacy of communicators. People from English speaking countries have more eye contact when they are in conversation. According to American tradition, communicators must gaze at each other. “But there are many rules about eye language: Whether to look at the other communicator or not; when it is the time to look at them, how long we can look at; who we can look at and who we can’t; they all imply different meanings in communication.”[6]p94 In Juliets Faster’s book “Body Language”, there is a paragraph which can explain the problem. “Two strangers sit face to face in the dinning room in a train; they can introduce themselves to each other. When they are eating, they can talk anything else. They also can avoid eye contact and do not show interest in each other. A writer described this situation in an article “They look over the menu again and again, play with knives and look at their nails. It seems that they look at them for the first time. If their eyes meet, they will turn away immediately and look out of the window.”

(4) Americans pay great attention to the time and the way of eye contact. In common conversation, they will look at each other about one minute and then they will look away. If two Americans gaze at each other, which indicate they are intimate. In North America, the children there have learned to look at the other communicator directly. If they don’t, they are regarded lack of enthusiasm or confidence. They believe the saying “Never trust a person who can’t look you in the eyes.”[7]p36

(5) If two Arabians are in conversation, they will look at each other warmly. Because they think eyes are the key of their existence. But in American eyes, they think this behavior is unsuitable or a homosexual behavior. The educated Englishmen believe direct eye contact with our communicators is gentlemanly. But Swedenians use eye language more often than Englishmen. And the French especially like to look attentively at the other communicators with admiration. Japanese often look at the other communicator’s neck when they are in conversation. They believe eye contact is impolite. And Chinese consider gazing people is an unfriendly behavior and it is a challenge. Some South American Indians used to look at different directions when they are talking. In the Middle East, it is considered extremely provocative for a woman to let a man catch her eyes, let alone, return his gaze.

(6) Another example, Americans have a trip to a village and the local people stare at them. They are annoyed and think the local people are rude. In fact, it is normal in the village. They are just curious. “American social psychologist Michael Argyle found out: People who like each other have more eye-contact than people who dislike each other.”[8]同[5]p35 In communication, looking down frequently can indicate submissiveness or embarrassment. Looking away constantly may express dissatisfaction. Females are likely to communicate with more eye contact, especially among females. But too long eye contact will cause embarrassment. Most people feel uneasy and uncomfortable under the strong staring. When people always stare at us, we will feel we are threatened or suspect their sincerity. From what is mentioned above we can conclude that different cultural background has a great influence on body language. And eye language also reflects different cultures and believes. So we need to observe and compare and contrast carefully so as to improve cultural exchange and to blend well.

4.2 Gestures  

“Gesture means we communicate and express by the movement and manners of our hands and fingers.”[9]p123 “Without gestures, our world will be static and colorless. We may literally roll up our sleeves when talking about cleaning up the room and run to meet the person we are eager to see. It seems natural to clench our fist or perhaps even pound to the lectern to let every one realize the importance of our message when trying to communicate a strong feeling, which emphasize our words.”[10]p64  In our daily life, every one makes gestures, but many gestures have distinct regional and cultural features. “Don’t assume that every one in the world understands one gesture in the same way.”[11]p44 For example,

(7) Americans often touch their temples to express somebody’s cleverness. But this action means there is something wrong with one’s mind or one is stupid to Chinese. Chinese are often surprised to see Americans lay their hands on their necks when they are full. Because it is an suicide action to Chinese, who used to express fullness by patting their stomachs. And another example,

(8) In western culture, people stretch out one’s fore finger and swing it left and right, which signals to warn somebody not to do something. The phrase “cross one’s fingers” means blessing somebody’s good luck. The gesture of thumbing a ride signifies asking for a free ride in motor vehicle by stretching up one’s thumb. In America, people hold their thumbs and fore fingers into a circle and stretch up the other fingers, which means “OK” in America, but it means somebody is fired by boss in Japan. In China, holding up one’s thumb means good, and raising one’s litter finger means bad. But Japanese will hold up their little fingers to express one is their lover. In America, waving one’s hand means goodbye. But South Americans will not leave when they see this gesture, in turns; they will run towards you.

(9) People from English-speaking countries turn around their rings constantly to show nervousness or uneasiness. Now people from Taiwan and Hong Kong also have this gesture. But if people in the mainland of China act like this, they will be regarded they are showing off richness. It is clear to see the same gesture with different meanings in different cultures, and people from different cultures will express same meaning by different gestures. So it is necessary for us to know the cultural difference to avoid misunderstanding.

4.3 Postures  

“Posture is a matter of how people sit, walk, stand and move.”[12]同[8]p65  What kind of posture people use also can reflect the cultural differences between east and west. “Hewes pointed out culture mostly determined what kind of postures people use and the meaning and emotion they suggested.”[13]同[7]p35

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