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Chapter Outline

  1. The nature of language is characterized by the following features.

    1. Language is symbolic; words are symbols and have no inherent meanings.
    2. Language is rule-governed, as illustrated by the following rules.

      1. Phonological rules govern how sounds are combined to form words.
      2. Syntactic rules govern the way symbols can be arranged.
      3. Semantic rules help us understand the meaning of individual words.
      4. Pragmatic rules tell us what uses and interpretations of a message are appropriate in a given context, and the coordinated management of meaning (CMM) theory suggests that pragmatic rules are used to create and interpret messages.

    3. Language is subjective; people attach different meanings to the same message.
    4. Language and worldview can be understood by the theory linguistic relativism, which states that a culture is shaped and reflected by the language its members speak. The best known declaration of linguistic relativism is the Sapir–Whorf Hypothesis, which states that concepts do not exist if the words for them do not exist.

  2. Language can have a strong effect on our perceptions and how we regard one another.

    1. Names are a reflection of ethnic identity and an indicator of status.
    2. Speech can also be a way of building and demonstrating solidarity with others, known as affiliation.

      1. Convergence is the process of adapting one's speech style to match that of others with whom the communicator wants to identify.
      2. Divergence is the strategy of speaking in a way that emphasizes differences between communicators and others.

    3. There are a number of language patterns that add to or detract from a speaker's power to influence others.
    4. Sexism and racism can affect the self-concepts of women and men.

      1. Sexist language uses words, phrases, and expressions that unnecessarily differentiate between female and male.
      2. Racist language reflects a worldview that classifies members of one racial group as superior and others as inferior.

  3. Language can shape the way we perceive and understand the world, but potential problems can arise out of language as well.

    1. The goal of language is not always clarity, and vagueness serves useful purposes.

      1. Ambiguous language consists of words and phrases that have more than one commonly accepted definition, which can cause problems and can also be useful at the same time.
      2. Abstraction can be used at a high level to generalize about similarities between several objects, people, ideas, or events and can be thought of as being on an abstraction ladder.
      3. A euphemism is an innocuous term substituted for a blunt one and is typically used to soften the impact of information that might be unpleasant.
      4. Relative language gains meaning by comparison and is vague because the relative word is not linked to a more measurable term.
      5. Static evaluation is a description or evaluation that contains the word "is," which makes the mistaken assumption that people or things are consistent and unchanging.

    2. Language reflects the speaker's willingness to take responsibility for his or her beliefs, feelings, and actions.

      1. "It" statements replace the personal pronoun "I" with "it," which avoids responsibility for ownership of a message.
      2. A "but" statement has the effect of canceling the thought that precedes it.
      3. "I" language is a way of accepting responsibility, while "You" language expresses judgment of another person, and "We" language implies joint concern and responsibility for both the speaker and receiver.

    3. Disruptive language occurs when there is understanding but conflict still occurs.

      1. Fact–opinion confusion occurs when factual statements can be verified as true or false, while opinion statements are based on the speaker's beliefs and can never be proven or disproven.
      2. Fact–inference confusion may occur when inferential statements are conclusions arrived at from interpretation of events; arguments often arise when we label our inferences as facts.
      3. Evaluative/Emotive language seems to describe something but in reality announces the speaker's attitude toward it.

  4. There are similarities and differences in the way females and males use language.

    1. There are two approaches that represent different sides in the gender and language debate.

      1. Significant differences have been identified by social scientists who have acknowledged that there are some fundamental differences in the way men and women behave socially, and some acknowledge significant differences in the way women and men use language.
      2. The minor differences argument is belied by research that shows that when differences exist, they are often small and are matters of degree and not kind.

    2. When accounting for gender differences, occupation, gender role, and power trump sex differences.

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