“a collection of symbols governed by
rules and used to convey messages
between individuals”
Language is symbolic
Symbols- represent a communicator’s
 We experience the world through symbols
 Examples of symbols:
---Words, gestures, and signs
Meanings are in people not words
People give words their meaning
People often interpret words differently
A common communication error takes place when
we assume that everyone attaches the same
meanings to words that we do.
We need to clarify meaning when communicating
with others
Language is rule governed
Phonological rules: how we pronounce
 Syntactic rules: how we structure language
 Semantic rules: how we assign meaning to
specific words and symbols
 Pragmatic rules: tell us how to interpret a
message in a particular context
Language shapes attitudes
The way we speak gives others certain
impressions of us
 Credibility and status are often decided
according to the language we use
We need to be aware of how the
language we use may effect
By avoiding sexist language
 By avoiding racist language
 By avoiding stereotypes
A riddle to solve:
A young boy was riding in a car with his
father, together they got in a horrific car
accident, the father died and the son was
rushed to the hospital for critical surgery.
 The boy was in the surgery room when the
doctor walked up, looked at him, and said “I
can not operate on this boy, he is my son!”
 How is this possible?
Sexist language
Language that favors one sex over another
What is wrong with the following
“I now pronounce you man and wife.”
 “I can’t believe Ann kept her name when
she got married.”
 “John stayed home with his son while his
wife went grocery shopping.”
 “He is a male nurse”
 “She is a female lawyer.”
 “She is an actress.”
Racist language
The use of derogatory terms used to label
people outside of “the group”
Language based on stereotypes
Stereotypes – mistaken generalizations we
make about others
What is wrong with these
“My friend Hachividi is from India, but he
acts like a regular guy.”
 “Asian people are smart”
 “Everyone from France is rude”
 “All Italian men cheat on their wives”
The language of
Equivocal language – words that have two
Produce- fresh farm products (fruit or vegetables)
Produce- to create something
Tear-a drop of clear salty liquid that lubricates the
surface between the eyelid and eyeball
Tear- to pull apart into two or more pieces
Relative words
Gain their meaning by comparison
The meaning we attach to relative words depends
on what they are compared to
Large/ small
A lot/ a few
Near/ far
Cheap/ expensive
***Using relative words without explaining what we
mean may lead to misinterpretations
Language that is used within a particular
group of people who tend to identify with
one another
What are some examples of slang?
“ I’ve got the bling bling”
“That car is dope”
“He lives in a phat pad”
Specialized vocabulary that is used by
people with common backgrounds or
 A simplification of words or concepts
 Often only known and understood in a
particular group
What are some examples of
Computer Jargon
Sports Jargon
Educational Jargon
Abstract language
A way of speaking that is unclear or vague
 Speaker is usually not aware that they are
being abstract
 Abstract language causes problems:
1. Stereotyping
2. Confuses others
3. Misunderstandings
Abstraction ladder
A ladder of descriptions of objects, people,
or events
Items lower on the ladder are more
Items higher on the ladder are more
Example using Abstraction ladder
Top of ladder (most abstract):
-blue car
-small car
-two door car
-sports car
- 2003 Porsche, midnight blue, convertible, 911
Twin turbo with bucket leather seats
- Bottom of ladder (least abstract)
Behavioral description
Helps us to clarify message
One of the best ways to avoid abstractions
Move down the abstraction from more general
descriptions to more detailed descriptions
***In studies couples that use behavioral
description rather than blame tend to be
more satisfied with their relationships
A thorough behavioral
description should answer:
1. Who is involved?
2. In what circumstances does the behavior
3. What behaviors are involved
Disruptive language – language
that causes conflict
Three ways to avoid disruptive language:
Avoid confusing facts and opinions
opinions – statements based on speakers beliefs
Avoid confusing facts and inferences
Inference- conclusions made based on speaker’s
Avoid emotive language – language that comes
across as descriptive when in reality it is filled
with the speakers attitude toward something
Evasive language
A type of language used that is vague and
 Avoids clear meaning
 Speaker is aware of using vague language to
mislead others, or avoid conflict
Two types of evasive language:
1. Euphemisms – a pleasant indirect term
used to replace a not so pleasant direct term
2. Equivocation – a vague statement that
can be interpreted in more than one way
Gender and language
Men and women tend to talk about different
 Men and women have different reasons for
 Yet, the ways men and women
communicate tend to be more similar than
Culture and language
Two cultural ways of using language:
Low-context cultures – use clear, and direct
language (U.S. and Canada)
-- speak to the point
 High-context cultures – use less clear and more
abstract language in order to prevent conflict, and
hurting the other person (Asian and Middle
Eastern countries)
--beat around the bush
Language and worldview
Linguist determinism – language is a reflection of
- the language a culture speaks is determined
by what is important to them
- each culture’s language emphasizes specific
words and meanings that are of importance to that
particular culture
 Linguist relativist – the language a culture speaks
affects the way they view and interpret the world
Whorf-Sapir hypothesis
– theory that states that our language shapes
the way we see the world

Language - CSU Fullerton