Sunday, June 13, 2010
A Story of Paralanguage
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We understand that the meaning of what we say is contained in the words, but how we say those words also contains messages.
Paralanguage refers to the non verbal elements of communication used to modify meaning and convey emotion. It can be expressed consciously or unconsciously, and it includes the pitch, volume, and in some cases, intonation of speech. (Wikipedia.org)
In his book ¨Semantics and Communication¨, John C. Condon Jr. tells us a story from the book ¨The Joys of Yiddish¨, by Leo Rosten. Rosten suggests that part of the richness of Yiddish lies in the many meanings of some words as determined by a ¨Yiddish tone of voice.¨ He tells the story of a Russian man who received a telegram from his wife which read: DOCTOR SAYS OPERATE OPERATE. The husband then cabled back immediately this telegram: DOCTOR SAYS OPERATE OPERATE. This exchange aroused the suspicions of the authorities, who immediately investigated to sep if this was some secrete code. But the husband protested that the authorities were misreading the telegram. Clearly what the wife said was: ¨Doctor says operate. Operate?¨ And the reply: ¨Doctor says operate, operate!¨