Apart from verbal-language communication, there is another important
communication that occurs which is identified as non-verbal language.
It's so powerful that the message sent can sometimes outweigh the
verbal language, similar to the Chinese saying "此时无声胜有声（silence
is louder than words now )”.
On one hand, non-verbal language can help smooth out and effect
the communication; on the other hand, it can be more of a hindrance
than a help, due to different cultures' details in intercultural
communication. Therefore, it's important to be aware of these details
and cultural rules of non-verbal language to help our interpretation
of a message, and also to modify our behaviour to fit the cultural
situation we're in.
According to some anthropologists, non-verbal language consists
of artifacts (objects 物体), haptics (touching 触觉), chronemics (time
时间), kinesics (body language 体态) and proxemics (spatial distance
This unit covers these identified areas with an emphasis on body
language and spatial distance in different cultures. Body language
is further detailed by including gestures, posture, facial expressions,
and eye contact.
1. Artifacts / Objects
Artifacts are objects often used to communicate information
about oneself. Artifacts include clothes, jewelry, trinkets (小饰件）,
accessories (小配件 ）like handbags, umbrellas, fans, hats, and
colors, to express one’s interests, hobbies, status, or lifestyle.
With artifacts, one can be distinguished from others demonstrating
his or her own taste of life and philosophy. However, different
cultures have different interpretations of these artifacts.
One of the most influential artifacts a person possesses is
one’s wardrobe. Research in psychology and communication supports
- at least in the observer’s eyes - clothes do make the man
What colour clothes do you prefer to wear? The colours you choose
can often tell something about your personality.
Red indicates an assertive, passionate and enthusiastic nature
Orange means you are warm-hearted, quick-witted and active
Yellow indicates cheerfulness, optimism and originality
Green shows you are responsible, hopeful and into green issues
Blue displays a cool, calm and peaceful nature
Violet means you are sensitive, tasteful and artistic
White is innocence, enlightenment, and efficiency
Black means you are mysterious, unconventional and dominant
Brown indicates a trustworthy, reliable and home-loving nature
Grey shows a desire to be anonymous
2. Haptics / Touching
Touching is experienced in many ways, such as handshakes, pats,
and kisses. These touches are used to express various feelings
and emotions, either ritual or affectionate. But touching has
culturally specific meanings.
Different cultures emphasize various ways of touching. According
some anthropologists, cultures can be categorized as high contact
or low contact, depending on which senses a particular culture
For example, American culture is classified as low contact
because there's less touching than in Arabian cultures which
are recognised as high contact cultures.
And Chinese people use
touching between family members and close friends with
whom they have an intimate or very personal relationship, than
Northern European cultures.
In other words, there are
different cultural rules of touching in the world.
3. Chronemics / Time
Each of us has the same number of hours in
every day, but that time can be used differently. Time can
be saved, wasted,
kept, bought, sold or even killed. Time perceptions include
punctuality and ways of social interactions. Usually people's
lifestyles, such as daily routines, making appointments, body
speech speed and taking a turn in the conversation are affected
by different time perception.
Time perception differs in various cultures, which can create
misunderstandings if a person is unaware of the cultural differences.
For example, in America time flies. People are pressured and constrained
by time because they are trying to control it. They are always
living a hectic life. In the business world, Americans are expected
to arrive to meetings on time, and usually, even early. On the
other hand, they arrive late to parties and dances.
While in some countries, such as China and Spain, time walks.
People don't feel as pressured. They would rather take it
easy than live a busy life. But in China, to not arrive on
for a business meeting would cause the host to "lose face".
4. Kinesics / Body language
Kinesics, or body language, is one
of the most powerful ways that humans can communicate non-verbally.
It's used to portray moods
and emotions, and can emphasize or contradict what is being
Body language contains gestures, postures, facial expressions,
and eye contact.
1) Offering or accepting a gift
-- In China, both hands
are used to show respect.
-- In Britain or America, one hand is used, and can
be either hand; unless the gift is too large or heavy,
then both hands are.
-- In Muslim countries, only use the right hand, or both
hands, never the left hand which is considered unclean.
2) Patting a child’s head, but not a teenager or adult’s
-- In China, shows affection, otherwise might cause
-- In Britain or America, means giving comfort, consolation
or encouragement between close friends.
-- In India, Sri Lanka and Thailand, it would be shocking
and offensive, as the head is believed to be the seat of
3) The ring gesture.
(The tip of the thumb and the tip of a finger meeting to
create a ring.)
-- In America - "OK"
-- In Japan -"money"
-- In France -"zero or worthless"
-- In Tunisia - " I’ll kill you! "
4) The single finger beckon
-- In Yugoslavia and Malaysia
-- In Indonesia and Australia for prostitutes
-- In South America -- an attractive woman
5) The eyelid-pull
-- In France and Greece -- “You can’t fool
-- In Spain and Italy -- “You should be alert”
-- In South America -- an attractive woman
6) The thumbs-up sign
-- In Britain and
America -- "OK", and for hitch-hiking
-- In Greece -- an insult
7) The ear-tug
-- In Spain -- a sponger
-- In Greece -- a warning
-- In Italy -- homosexual
8) Ear rub
I can’t believe my ears—someone making this sign
suspects the speaker of telling a lie.
The following gestures with the hand are different ways a person
will initiate or respond in a handshake, and the meaning behind
that gesture in the West.
9) Fingertip Flitter
If a person just makes a grab for your
fingers, they are insecure and wish to keep you at a distance.
10) On Top
The person who grasps your hand with their palm down, and
yours beneath their palm, feels confident, superior and
is trying to
People who grasp your hand with both of theirs want you
to think they're honest and trustworthy. This is also a type
used by people who have a warm and friendly attitude
towards the person they are shaking hands with.
People sometimes modify the basic "arms
crossing just one arm,indicating that they are uncomfortable
or they lack confidence.
People who continually fiddle with their
sleeves, watches or bracelets use a very sophisticated version
of the arm barrier.
don't want you to realize they are nervous will often
According to some psychologists there are
six basic emotions: surprise, fear, disgust, anger, happiness,
and sadness. Shock,
revulsion, fury, ecstasy and grief are their corresponding
strongly-felt variants .
There are some differences between groups in terms of emotional
expressions within societies. For instance in most cultures, men
are expected to control their emotions while women are expected
to express their emotions more freely. As a child, a boy is often
told to be courageous and to control his emotions, especially sadness.
A crying girl is more tolerated than a crying boy.
In addition, different societies have different expressions for
their emotions. For example, the Japanese tend to conceal their
feelings, especially negative ones such as anger or sadness, much
more than most Americans.
The important rules concerning eye contact focus on when to
look and how long to look at another person, in addition to
and who is not to look at the other person. The appropriate
rules vary from one culture to another.
Usually, when sitting opposite a stranger there are two responses
that can occur, depending on the person's culture and the situation.
Either there is no eye contact made, or behaving in a friendly
manner by naturally glancing at the other person and remaining
silent, or even exchanging small talk.
When speaking in public, frequently looking at your audience is
the normal practice.
In China, to look at somebody while listening to him or her is
a sign of showing respect.
Eye contact rules among the British
People try to avoid staring, but at the same time avoid ignoring
the person when passing a stranger in the street. (The
usual habit is to glance in the direction of the person until
are about 8 feet away, then you adjust where you're walking
if necessary and also change your glance.) ---the closer
(nearness) the greater the tendency to avoid eye contact
with a stranger.
Communicating with one another requires proper eye contact, though
it doesn't have to be constant. Not looking at the other person
could imply fear, contempt, uneasiness, guilt or indifference.
In addressing an audience, a British lecturer should look at his
audience now and then.
5. Proxemics / Spatial Distance
One of the terms used in non-verbal language is proxemics. It
studies how closely one person stands to another. Edward T. Hall
coined this term in the 1950’s and 1960’s for interrelated observations
and theories of man's use of space as a specialized elaboration
Four Main categories of distance:
a) intimate distance ranging from direct contact to about 45cm.,
which applies to the closest relationships such as husband and
b) personal distance, 45 to 80cm.,usually maintained for conversations
between friends and relatives;
c)social distance 1.30 to 2 metres, which covers people working
together or meeting at social gatherings
d)public distance, beyond social distance, such as that kept between
a lecturer and his audience.
Cross-cultural differences in personal space:
trying to keep the normal distance between themselves and
their partners might seem “stand-offish”; while
tending to keep a much closer distance might seem a bit
Words and Expressions
1. Idioms composed of gestures
Put one’s hand in one’s pocket: to be ready to spend or give money
Give somebody /get a big hand: to applaud somebody loudly
Keep one’s hand in: to do an activity occasionally in order to
remain skilled at it
Ask for a woman’s hand: to propose marriage
Lay a finger on somebody: to touch with the intention of harming
Hold somebody’s hand: to comfort or help somebody in a sad or
Keep one’s hand on the pulse: to know all the latest news or developments
Put one’s finger on something: to identify an error, or cause
of a problem
Keep somebody at arm’s length: to avoid becoming too friendly
or involved with that person
Within arm’s reach: something in a place where you can easily
2. Words concerning eye contact
"Stare" - To deliberately look at someone or something for
a long time without moving your eyes; for example, because
shocked, or very interested in that person
- Don't stare at people, it's very rude.
- As the boy was drowning in the river, she just stood
and stared in disbelief.
"Gaze" - To look at someone or something for a long time,
for example because they are beautiful or interesting, especially
that you are doing it
- Jim and Sue lay down and gazed
at the clouds passing overhead.
- Sam gazed at Julia Roberts, unable to believe he was
so close to her.
"Gape" - To look at something or someone for a long time
out of surprise or shock, especially with your mouth open
- He stood there gaping at her, too shocked to speak.
- Jeremy gaped, open-mouthed, trying to remember what he
"Gawk" - To gape stupidly, foolishly
- Don't' stand there gawking, give her a hand!
"Glare" - To angrily look at someone for a long time
- Ida didn't say any words, but just stood there glaring
"Glance" - To give a quick short look (subjectively 主观上)
- He took/ cast a glance at his book.
- He could tell at a glance (saw immediately) that something
"Glimpse" - To see (something) for a very short time, or
only partly see it
- When entering the hall, he thought he caught a glimpse
of Maggie at the exit, wearing black, but soon she was
out of sight.
"Peep" - To have a quick and often secret look
- They peeped at the kids through a hole in the fence.
- She was peeping through the curtains at him in the garden.
"Peer" - To look carefully or with difficulty
- When no one answered the door, she peered through the
window to see if anyone was there.
- Jenny peered over her father's shoulder at the computer
screen and asked about the pictures.