SUMMARY: Ed Wilson discusses the importance of context in understanding language
Hey, it is talk like a moose day. Ok, not really, but it can be. The challenge is to talk like a moose all day. Can you do it? You see, the thing is a moose does not have a tremendously large vocabulary. In fact, as far as I know a moose only has one word. They say, “moooooooooooose.”
Given the constraints on vocabulary, how does a moose communicate? They do so with tone, facial expression, and context. I have read that over 90 percent of what we communicate with one another is done non-verbally. I may say, “Yes, I would love to go with you.” But my tone of voice, my ‘body language’ (such as crossed arms and feet, tilt of my head, my eyes, the corners of my mouth) all may be saying, “dude, I would rather have match sticks shoved under my toe nails and set on fire, than to go with you.”
To bring in these subtle contexts into ones writing can be a challenge. Here are a few recommendations for bring in the non-verbal aspect of communication:
1. Study body language. You can do this via observation. Watch what people do with their hands, feet, how they shift their body, move their eyes, or tilt their head when they are talking with someone. Listen for tone of voice, non-verbal pauses and utterances when someone is speaking. All of these convey much more meaning than mere words.
2. Read a good book on body language. There are tons of books about body language, look at the reviews and pick one. Or better yet, go to your public library, and ask the librarian for help.
3. Practice writing.
4. Read good writing. Go to the library, and peruse books written by excellent writers. See how, or if, they handle the non-verbal stuff.
Here are a couple of examples:
She looked at me and said, “Of course I love you.”
“Yeah, I know,” I replied.
Here is another example:
I studied her carefully. She exhaled. She slumped back into the chair. She crossed her arms. I noticed her foot began tapping. It tapped, and tapped, and tapped. It was like Morse code. I don’t know Morse code, but I knew what it was saying, she had found someone else. Finally, she looked straight at my chin, and spoke.
“Of course I love you. I always will. Till death do we part. Remember?”
I felt cold and began to tremble. That’s what I am afraid of.
“Yeah, I remember,” I replied.
Conveying the non-verbal communication is a great chance to “show, don’t tell.” So, remember, today is talk like a moose day. Pay attention to the non-verbal communication around you, and when you are ready, give it a go. Remember, a writer writes.