Verbal Communication

 Learning Objectives


3.1  Explain the structure of language and the functions of its different components.

3.2  Describe the role of speech communities and speech networks in creating meaning.

3.3  Identify the relationship between language and thought.

3.4  Identify the functions of language.

3.5  Explain how we use language to make meaning.

3.6  Effectively use language to protect self-identity.




As you learned in Chapter 1, you are what you communicate. When specifically considering verbal communication, your “choice of words is choice of worlds” (Penn, 1990, p. 116). In this chapter, we’ll discover how that choice is open to many different possibilities, each with the potential to aid us in making meaning for ourselves and those around us.



  • Activity: Contemporary Brain Science on Language and Meaning Making

Search for the 2012 article in Salon, Where Does Language Come From? Read it and then see if you can reconcile its explanation of contemporary thinking on how the brain aids in meaning making with this chapter’s discussion of the linguistic relativity hypothesis.

  • Activity: A Deeper Look at the War on Drugs Metaphor

The American Civil Liberties Union maintains a website devoted explicitly to the War on Drugs. You can find it at Visit this page and read the ACLU’s position on the impact of this war. Then follow its links to blogs, videos, and other materials to develop your own take on which cultural truths this metaphor highlights and which ones it obscures.

·                          Activity: A Look at Your Campus’s Rules on Sexual Harassment

Your campus, like virtually all large organizations, has a well-codified set of protocols and policies laying out what constitutes unwanted sexual attention and how individuals should deal with it should it occur. Obtain a copy of your schools rules and determine, given what you’ve read in this chapter, how clear, thorough, and effective they may be.




1.      Differentiate between a speech community and a speech network. Identify a speech community and a speech network to which you belong and describe the kinds of communication interactions that take place in each.


Sample answer: A speech community is made up of people who speak the same language, who interact by talking to one another, and who agree on the proper and improper use of their language. In my speech community (English-speaking college student) I know when it’s OK to identify myself by first name only or by first and last name. When a classmate asks, “What’s up?” I know what kind of answer is expected. But I also belong to a speech network. These are people with whom I regularly interact and speak. We know the language, its rules, and how to interpret what we hear, just like a speech community. But because members of my speech network frequently talk, we’ve built and we share a specific common language, and because of that, we’ve built and we share a greater understanding of one another. My co-workers and I have our own “language.” My teammates on the intramural basketball team and I have our own expressions for success and failure. My friends and I have our own language consisting of nicknames, made-up words, specific slang expressions, and idiosyncratic greetings and farewells.


2.      What is the theory of metaphor? What does it tell us about how we communicate verbally to make meaning? Use examples in your answer.


Sample answer: The theory of metaphor says that cultural reality is expressed in a language’s metaphors. These unstated comparisons between things or events that share some feature suggest deeper cultural realities that may not be apparent in the words’ denotative meanings. One out of every 25 words we hear is a metaphor, and those metaphors structure what we perceive, how we get around in the world, and how we relate to other people. Metaphors play a central role in defining our everyday realities. But metaphors hide differences in the compared concepts at the same time they highlight their similarities. For example the “Argument as War” metaphor implies that disagreement is a battle, but it hides the fact that the person with whom we are disagreeing is not an enemy, just someone who disagrees with us.


Go to the Source

Brown, P., and S. Levinson. (1987). Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Chomsky, N. (1957). Syntactic Structures. The Hague: Mouton.

Chomsky, N. (1965). Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Hayakawa, S. I. (1978). Language in Thought and Action. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Lakoff, G., and M. Johnson. (1980). Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Tohidian, I. (2008). “Examining Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis as One of the Main Views on the Relationship between Language and Thought.” Journal of Psycholinguist Research, 38: 65–74.


  • Perfecting Workplace Communication Skills: Verbal Communication.

This site from MMM Training Solutions offers a brief, to-the-point how-to for perfecting your on-the-job verbal skills.

The LSA is a scholarly and professional organization that works to advance the scientific study of language. It supports and disseminates scholarship on verbal communication to both professional linguists and the general public.

The AAAL is a professional and scholarly organization interested in a multi-disciplinary approach to verbal communication. Its interests run from language education, to language acquisition and loss, to bilingualism, to use of language for special purposes, to language policy and planning.