14.1023, Review: Anthropological Linguistics: Poyatos (2002)

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LINGUIST List:  Vol-14-1023. Sun Apr 6 2003. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 14.1023, Review: Anthropological Linguistics: Poyatos (2002)

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Date:  Sun, 06 Apr 2003 18:50:40 +0000
From:  Sherida Altehenger-Smith <AltehengerSmith at aol.com>
Subject:  Nonverbal Communication Across Disciplines, Volumes 1, 2 and 3

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Sun, 06 Apr 2003 18:50:40 +0000
From:  Sherida Altehenger-Smith <AltehengerSmith at aol.com>
Subject:  Nonverbal Communication Across Disciplines, Volumes 1, 2 and 3

Poyatos, Fernando (2002) Nonverbal Communication across Disciplines,
Volume 1: Culture, Sensory Interaction, Speech, Conversation; Volume
2: Paralanguage, Kinesics, Silence, Personal and Environmental
Interaction; Volume 3: Narrative Literature, Theater, Cinema,
Translation, John Benjamins Publishing Company.

The announcements for these three volumes can be found at:
http://linguistlist.org/issues/13/13-1219.html (Volume 1)
http://linguistlist.org/issues/13/13-1303.html (Volume 2)
http://linguistlist.org/issues/13/13-1234.html (Volume 3)

Sherida Altehenger-Smith,
International Department, University of Karlsruhe, Germany

Non-verbal communication is not only an important academic field of
research but has also become a popular theme of many ''advice books''.
F. Poyatos three volume edition offers a highly explicit taxonomy of
non-verbal communication in all of its facets. In his general
introduction to the whole edition, Poyatos states that non-verbal
communication is in its very nature interdisciplinary and should be
examined as a tripartite ''what we say-how we say it-how we move it''
-  activity of speech. He defines communication as ''the emissions of
signs by all the nonlexical, artifactual and environmental sensible
sign systems contained in the realm of a culture, whether individually
or in mutual construction, and whether or not those emissions
constitute behavior or generate personal interaction''. (Vol. 1, xvii)

The seriousness and in depth treatment shown in Poyatos' study can be
seen in the scope of the three volumes of ''Nonverbal Communication
across Disciplines'' and their corresponding subtitles: Vol. 1:
Culture, Sensory Interaction Speech, Conversation; Vol 2:
Paralanguage, Kinesics, Silence, Personal and Environmental
Interaction; Vol. 3: Narrative Literature, Theater, Cinema,
Translation.  Each chapter ends with a conclusion and twenty-five
suggestions for further research at various levels. These volumes
contain a vast amount of information that can only be touched upon in
this review, not doing them justice.

Chapter 1 in volume 1, which is to be read ''as an introduction to the
realistic approach to language and its associated nonverbal
behaviors'' (Vol.1: 27), defines culture as ''a series of habits
shared by members of a group living in a geographic area, learned but
biologically conditioned, such as the means of communication (language
being the basis of them all), social relations at different levels,
the various activities of daily life, the products of that group and
how they are utilized, the peculiar manifestations of both individual
and national personalities (in their cultural context, its patterns
and prohibitions), and their ideas concerning their own existence and
their fellow people (men)'' (1:2).

Based on the assumption that culture is communication, culture is
understood as a communication continuum consisting of active and
passive, interactive and non-interactive forms. This concept proves
useful to both collect and differentiate living cultural subjects
(active) and non living objects (passive) as for instance people in
interaction dealing with any items, states, symbols, rites etc. on the
one hand as well as ongoing communicative exchange between an emitters
of signs and the respective receivers (interactive) and ''a delayed
transmission of codified information'' (non-interactive) on the other
hand, with all categories being broken down to allow for further
differentiation. Attention is then drawn to inherited (genetic) habits
in opposition to learned (cultural) habits through space (keyword:
behavioral geography) and time as the temporal dimension of such
geography. The next step is concerned with the perceptive modes given
to grasp the elements of the two broadest classes of activities
(interactive and non-interactive ones) within a culture: sensible (by
senses) and intelligible (by mind) presenting classified examples in
an elaborated figure.

To provide means for a systematic analysis of culture, Poyatos
continues by introducing an interdisciplinary model of ''culturemes'',
defining a cultureme as ''any portion of cultural activity or
non-activity perceived through sensible and intelligible signs with
symbolic value and susceptible of being broken down into smaller units
or amalgamated into larger ones '' (1: 10), explaining the term in
detail using examples from different cultures and outlining a
progressive analysis from the broader culturemes to the simplest ones.
A final note links this model to its theoretical and methodological
complement, being discussed in Volume III, based on a sign typology
which allows to carry out a progressive and exhaustive analysis of
behavioral and non-behavioral cultural manifestations --
distinguishing systems, subsystems, categories, subcategories, forms
and types -- helpful in a minute study of communicative systems or
even material components of a culture (1: 15).  In the following
paragraphs the author discusses relationships among sensible and
intelligible, somatic, extra somatic and environmental systems,
illustrates barriers of intercultural communication by personal
experiences, questions the traditional language teaching ideal of
acquiring fluency by (just) verbal skills and confronting it with the
(additional) need of verbal and nonverbal cultural
fluency. Reflections on the concept of verbal and nonverbal usage and
on semiotic-communicative processes of language and nonverbal systems
close this chapter.

Chapter 2 (Vol. 1) focuses on ''language in the total communicative
context of its bodily and environmental systems'' (1: 31), first
drawing attention to a fu ndamental consideration: ''the mutual
confrontation of two human bodies as two socializing organisms'',
acting and interacting as emitters and receivers of signs in and with
a given environmental setting in space and time. P.  stresses the
nexus of the different constituents and nets of constituents generally
relevant in communicative interaction grasping a full face-to-face
interaction as consisting of at least two ''triple structures'' or
language-paralanguage-kinesics compounds temporarily linked by
''intersomatic channels along which are perceived any type of personal
signs''. This so-called Somatic Communication System is then
graphically elaborated, mapping ''the channels of intersomatic
emission and perception in interaction''.

Chapter 3 outlines the audiovisual production of speech that includes
two of the three areas of main carriers of communication -- language
and paralanguage. Elements can be divided into permanent, changing,
dynamic and artificial.  Poyatos considers the speaker's facial
features as a fundamental basis of speech -- although he states that
these are also basic features of kinesics.  The main point is the
inseparability of sound and movement coactivities.

Chapter 4 is theoretically important as it defines the basis of human
communication as a triple structure ''language -- paralanguage --
kinesics''.  Verbal language seen as a ''spoken string of words and
sentences'' can be divided into its segmental layer formed by
phonemes, morphemes etc and its suprasegmental layer consisting of
intonation, stress, pitch and terminal junctures. Paralanguage or
''nonverbal qualities and modifiers of voice and independent sounds
and silences'' can be divided into four categories: primary qualities
which individualize: timbre, resonance, intensity or loudness, pitch
register, intonation (monotone-melodious) syllabic length and rhythm;
qualifiers which are different types of voice as i.e. whispering,
hoarseness, grunting, mumbling etc; differentiators such as laughter,
crying, sighing, panting, coughing, spitting, sneezing etc; and
alternants which are word-like utterances outside of the ''official''
lexicon of a language, i.e. 'Uh-hu'.  'Mm' etc. Kinesics includes
''conscious and unconscious gestures, manners and postures of visual,
visual-audible, and tactile and kinesthetic perception, isolate or in
combination with words and/or paralanguage or any other somatic or
extrasomatic signs.'' (Vol. I: 116) Poyatos goes on to classify the
conditioning background of these three elements into
Biophysico-psychological, environmental, cultural patterns,
socioeconomic-educational levels and shared behaviors.

Chapters 5 through 8 provide a practical application of the theory
discussed in the preceding chapters. Chapter 5 offers a model for the
analysis of interactive speech and a discussion of the possibilities
of integrating non-verbal communication into foreign language
teaching. How to identify, observe, and study ''nonverbal categories''
is handled in the next chapter.  ''The structure of conversation''
introduces the tools necessary within the framework of Poyatos
approach for the analysis of conversation. The importance of
turn-taking and the relevance of ''silence'' are pointed out.  Chapter
8 develops a model for consecutive and simultaneous interpretation
involving verbal and nonverbal components.  The importance of
paralanguage and emblems (defined as nonambiguous gestures) especially
in intercultural encounters is highlighted to end the first volume of
the trilogy.

Volume II:  Paralanguage, kinesics, silence, personal and environmental

This second volume deepens Poyatos detailed analysis of those
components involved in the nonverbal structure of speech.  His first
topic -- paralanguage -- is an element of the triple structure of
speech, language-paralanguage-kinesics, as discussed in Volume 1.  The
first four chapters are devoted to the various elements of this most
important part of nonverbal communication.  Paralanguage is defined

''the nonverbal voice qualities, voice modifiers and independent
utterances produced or conditioned in the areas covered by the
supraglottal cavities (from the lips and the nares to the pharynx),
the laryngeal cavity and the infraglottal cavities (lungs and
esophagus), down to the abdominal muscles, as well as the intervening
momentary silences, which we consciously or unconsciously supporting,
or contradicting the verbal, kinesic, chemical, dermal and thermal or
proxemic messages, either simultaneously to or alternating with them,
in both interaction and noninteraction (Poyatos 1993a:6)

Based on this definition segmental and non-segmental categories are
established. The primary qualities of paralanguage, the first of the
non-segmental categories, are those voice qualities that differentiate
individuals: timbre, resonance, intensity, tempo, pitch, intonation
range, rhythm.  These characteristics are based on biological (e.g.,
age, sex), physiological, psychological, sociocultural and
occupational factors (for example, speaking softly to patients as a
doctor or yelling if working on a construction site).  These primary
qualities can be modified by so-called qualifiers or voice types.  For
example breathing may be controlled resulting in aggressive speech,
laryngeal control could produce soft whispering, a creaky voice, a
harsh voice, among others.  The communicative importance of the
qualifiers is found in their sociocultural functions -- some being
universal and others culture specific.

Primary qualities and qualifiers occur only as modifications of verbal
utterances whereas differentiators, the third non-segmental category,
cannot only possess this quality but also function as a quasilexical
item.  Laughter, crying, shouting, gasping, spitting, belching,
sneezing etc, are placed within this characterization.  All these can
be produced naturally, i.e. uncontrollably, or voluntarily and some
are ritualized in certain cultures (crying during mourning).  Of
particular interest is the short cross-cultural study of sneezing or
better the verbal rituals attached to this physical action

The fourth paralinguistic division is the alternants -- terms
integrated into communication as segmental elements with a lexical or
quasi-lexical value.  Examples would be utterances like 'Ugh', 'bzzz',
'Uh-hu'. 'Mm', etc or the way animals are called: a cat in English
''Here kitty, kitty'' in German ''Mies, Mies, Mies!''. These elements
may again be combined with qualifiers such as loudness or whispering
to communicate different intentions. Momentary breaks in speech
activity or the speech stream, regardless if they are voluntary or
involuntary, should be identified as silent alternants.  Some of the
possible functions include speech markers (that is, taking the place
of interpuncutation in verbal discourse), turn-opening, hesitation,
word search, self-correction, etc

Chapter five covers kinesics -- perhaps that area most commonly
associated with non-verbal communication -- defined by Poyatos as
follows: ''Conscious and unconscious psychomuscularly-based body
movements and intervening or resulting still positions, either learned
or somatogenic, of visual, visual-acoustic and tactile and kinesthetic
perception, which, whether isolated or combined with the linguistic
and paralinguistic structures and with other somatic and objectual
behavioral systems, possess intended or unintended communicative
value'' (Volume 2 p. 186)

These activities are to be perceived visually, audibly (such as
snapping the fingers), tactually or kinesthetically -- that is
experienced through a transmittor, i.e. the vibrating of a table or

As first step in kinesic research gestures, manners and postures
should be differentiated. Gestures are not only conscious movements
of, i.e. the head, the face, the extremities but also unconscious and
even uncontrollable movements.  Manners, according to Poyatos, are
mainly learned and socially ritualized. The author including how
cloths are worn; how one walks, perform a greeting, or how one eats;
and how one laughs, coughs etc. as a questions of manners.  Postures
are static and ritualized being capable of communicating gender,
social status, cultural background, mood, etc.  Expanding kinesics
beyond a restrictive scope, eye posture, eye contact, gaze aversion,
and touching (haptics). Closing this chapter Poyatos offers a
methodology for the analysis of cultural and subcultural kinesic

After having analyzed the nonverbal elements of speech in their
audible and visual dimensions, an area outside the triple structure of
language-paralanguage-kinesics is introduced in Chapter 6 called
phonok inesics.  When we move we produce audible kinesics with our
body movements -- we have contact with ourselves, other people animals
or objects.  For example, we can click our teeth, our fingernails or
the heels of our shoes on the floor; we can knock at a door or zigzag
when we walk.  Audible body extensions -- the sound of object-mediated
activities -- such as banging, patting, rattling, take on meaning in
communication, as do the sounds of the environment.  It is important
to take the cultural perspective when analyzing these elements of
communication.  Certain actions, like clicking your fingers for a
waiter, can evoke different reactions in different cultural settings.
Poyatos stresses that ''The human body is a communicator far beyond
our knowledge of language and even of paralanguage, kinesics,
proxemics and the other communication modalities ...'' (p. 278).

Chapter 7 contrasts silence and stillness with sound and movement in
the following realms: human, animal, the general cultural environment
and the natural environment. The alternation of silence and sound can
vary from culture to culture.  Silence can be interpreted as the
pauses between sounds which can evoke meaning.  Poyatos develops a
extensive taxonomy of silence and stillness in their various functions
from the positive ones -- environmental natural silence, silence of
compassionate love, for example to the negative functions such as the
expression of negative attitudes or oppressive silence.

The last chapter brings the approach presented in the first two
volumes together to suggest a detailed model for the study of personal
and environmental interaction.  Poyatos identifies the possible
personal and extrapersonal components of face-to-face interaction and
our interaction with the environment.  Importance is placed not only
on the interpersonal encounter but also on the ''setting'', being
divided into internal and external, personal objectual and
environmental components. The author suggests that the analysis of our
everyday interactions that might appear to be uncomplicated can often
be the tip of the iceberg. The hidden depths of nonverbal
communication are yet to be extensively analyzed.

Volume III:  Narrative Literature, Theater, Cinema, Translation

The final volume of Poyatos' trilogy concentrates on the description
and analysis of nonverbal communication in narrative literature and
its presentation in the theater or cinema based on the approach
developed in the first two volumes. In the first four chapters the
model is explicitly discussed from the perspective of the reader when
applied to the novel and from the spectator when applied to theater or
cinema.  The problems that can occur when the cultural and personal
interpretation system of the original author must be interpreted by
someone from a different cultural background are discussed.  The
author divides between the verbal and non-verbal elements of a text as
found in a novel -- the common factor being that all are described by
the writer of the text. When such a text is transformed to the theater
or cinema certain parts of the complex perception of sensible signs
are absent.  The novel can describe internal body sounds, olfactory
perception, tactile perception, i.e. which are absent for the
spectator in a theater or cinema adaptation.

The interpersonal relationships between the writer and the reader, the
playwright and the spectator, the actor (an extended case of reader)
and the text, are interwoven in the interpretation of the non-verbal
communication.  The kinesics of the text are fully dependent upon
description.  This is also a question of the cultural background -- if
the kinesics are explicitly described intercultural difficulties could
arise when ''translated'' into another language/culture. These
elements and other ''stage directions'' are the key factors of the
naturalness or lack of it that is sensed in a theater performance.

The 5th chapter of the 3rd volume analyzes ''Punctuation as nonverbal
communication''.  Poyatos begins with a chronological description of
the arbitrary development of punctuation in general.  With the common
existing symbols of punctuation so-called ''momentary features'' and
''overriding features'' can be represented.  For example a primary
qualities such as loudness can be indicated by capital letter,
exclamation by an exclamation point and interrogation by question
marks. If a segment of a text is meant to be loud, it could be put in
italics or exclamation marks could follow it.  Silence, omission of
certain words or phrases, pondering, etc. are generally marked by
points and/or lines. The author comes to the conclusion that the
arbitrary punctuation system available limits the possibilities of
representation in such a way that its application evokes ambiguity.
Chapter 6 discusses the ''functional richness'' of nonverbal
communication in narrative literature and then in the theater.  The
more realistic a situation is to be depicted, the more important the
use of nonverbal communication becomes.  These descriptions help to
paint the picture of a personal environment and the psychological
realm of the character involved.  And exactly this makes the
translation of literature also a translation of cultural aspects.

The last chapter of Poyatos trilogy is devoted to the further
development of ''Literary anthropology'' an interdisciplinary
perspective on people, signs and literature.  The analysis of
nonverbal categories and culturemes from synchronic and diachronic
perspective allows the understanding of people as cultural and social
beings in their environments.  The author emphasizes that all the
models developed in the three volumes can be applied in literary
anthropology. This approach allows not only the comparison of the
cultural entity within itself or with another cultural group. Poyatos
has developed a model that he hopes will ''diminish the risk of false
interpretation and of half-way communication and decoding''.


In its extensiveness and thoroughness Poyatos' study in nonverbal
communication is sweeping.  His three volume opus magnum records the
complete range of topics considered in this field, elaborating on the
interwoven cultural disciplines and their contributions to it. Within
his tripartite framework of communication
(language-paralanguage-kinesics) the emphasis is, due to the subject,
placed first on paralinguistic then on kinesical phenomena. Both are
reflected considering the respective cultural background of their
occurrences. Expedient are the precise -- although sometimes broad --
definitions given as bases of following detailed classifications. Even
though some might frighten at first sight, they prove to be useful and
an asset for mastering the abundance of material, offered especially
in the paralanguage section. The latter part contains a complete
taxonomy, the components of which serve as a valuable reference for
anyone doing research in most areas of nonverbal
communication. Suggestions for further analysis at the conclusion of
each chapter highlight topics, the author feels need further
treatment. Each volume exhibits an extensive bibliography of
publications related to the topic -- a treasure trove for anyone
working in the field -- and a second of the narrative works cited.

The multitude of given examples for the various forms of non-verbal
communication (Vol. 1: 956 literary quotations, Vol. 2: 1608, Vol. 3:
1200 according to the publisher) are taken from narrative texts and
not from observed linguistic data. Whether these represent
''...systems that communicate nonverbally in real life and in its
interactions,...'' as stated in the first chapter of the third volume
(p. 1), must be validated through empirical data in the future. The
connotation of any nonverbal communication constituent could also be
differentiated according to the theory of markedness, without which
they remain mere neutral elements. Allowing for marked/unmarked
meanings would facilitate analytic interpretation in different
cultural co- and context.

Noticeable is that other authors limit the scope of kinesics to
gestures, postures, placing haptics, oculistics, proxemics, chronomics
at the same hierarchical level whereas Poyatos' defines kinesics as
encompassing all movements of the body. Although the former components
are mentioned, a detailed categorization is left for further research.

But these remarks should not dim the immense importance this
exhaustive categorization of the various facets of nonverbal
communication nor the fundamental quality of Poyatos contribution to
the study of nonverbal communication.


Sherida Altehenger-Smith, coming from a background in sociology
(Dipl.-Soz.)  and linguistics (PhD), lectures at the University of
Karlsruhe and trains in intercultural communication, presentations,
and ESP (Business and Technical English). She has publ1shed in the
areas of language planning and intercultural communication.


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