October 1996

Root Page of Article: Feeling Between the Lines, by Joyce Menges

Building a Theory

One early nonverbal communications researcher, Mark Knapp (1972), has made the following estimate: considering that the standard spoken sentence takes only about 2.5 seconds, the average person actually speaks words for a total of only 10 to 11 minutes daily. Given this, the verbal dialog portion of an interaction will carry less than 35% of the social meaning of any particular situation. More than 65% will be carried nonverbally (p. 12). Other researchers would, however, disagree. “In part, [intellectual confusion] stems from a lack of agreement on the boundary between verbal and nonverbal and the distinction between communicative and non- communicative behavior” (Harper 1978, p. 3). Still there is tacit agreement here; regardless of the terminology or the parameters, there is an extraverbal component to human communication. It is my argument that this also holds true for electronic communication.

Some have narrowed their investigations to one discrete class of extraverbal cues. Nathan's (1986) work related to clothing for example, most have organized their study of nonverbals around one of two approaches, behavioral categorization or functional analysis. Categories of nonverbal behavior surveyed have included some combination of the following: touching, proximity, orientation, appearance, body movement (posture, head nods and gestures), eye behavior, clothing, smell, taste, paralanguage, nongrammatical aspects of speech such as tone, accent, speed volume, artifacts, and environment (Barker , 1990; Druckman, 1982; Hinde, 1972; Knapp, 1972). Functional theorists have, on the other hand, identified purposes for nonverbal communication which range from simple schemes like Hinde’s (1972) three functions: managing the immediate social situation, sustaining verbal communication or replacing verbal communication, to more complex conceptions such as Druckman's (1982) five functions which include such purposes as "Indicates pre-articulate feelings, provides clues to information processing, serving as emphasis in persuasive appeals, facilitates deception or holding back of information, and conveying subtle messages." (p. 19) A more common list, first articulated by Knapp (1972; see also Barker, 1990; Patterson, 1983) includes repeating, contradicting, substituting, complementing, accenting, relating and regulating. Mirroring the work of the face-to-face theorists, I have sought to discover and describe extraverbal devices and their function in text-based electronic communication. --

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