Unit 3


Verbal Communication

I. Revising the theory

Exercise 1. What are the purposes of verbal communication? Add to the list below.

Verbal communication can be used to: inquire, inform, discuss different topics, argue about smth, teach, learn, convey emotions, build relationships …

Exercise 2. Agree or disagree with the following statement: “Verbal communication is far more complex than simply talking”. Give your reasons.

Exercise 3. Comment on the four groups of verbal means that can help the sender of the message to enhance the pragmatic effect of communication.

  • Abstraction;
  • ambiguity;
  • immediacy;
  • metaphors (figurative language).

Exercise 4. Below are the possible reasons of misunderstanding a verbal message. List them in the order of their importance.

Language barriers (due to geographical, social, cultural differences, etc.), faulty communication techniques, poor word choice, inappropriate topic, different perspectives and opinions of the communicants, different styles of communicating.

II. Practicing

Exercise 1. Read the following piece of information about Jakobson’s six functions of language and complete the tasks below.

Beside the main functions of language (communicative, cognitive, etc.) Jacobson singled out six more functions – referential, emotive, conative, poetic, phatic and metalingual. Each of them corresponds to a certain component of communication – context, sender, receiver, message, contact and code.

  • The referential function corresponds to the “context” factor and describes a situation, object or mental state. It is normally carried out through descriptive statements.
  • The expressive (also called “emotive” or “affective”) function relates to the addresser and is exemplified linguistic means that do not alter the denotative meaning of an utterance but do add information about the addresser’s (i.e., speaker’s) internal state.
  • The conative function directly engages the addressee and is best illustrated by vocatives and imperatives.
  • The poetic function focuses on “the message for its own sake” and is best exemplified in poetry.
  • The phatic function is associated with the “contact” factor and involves using verbal (or nonverbal) means for the sake of interaction. The phatic function can be observed in greetings and casual discussions of the weather, particularly with strangers.
  • The metalingual (also called “metalinguistic” or “reflexive”) function is connected with the use of code to discuss or describe itself.

Adapted from: http://dictionary.sensagent.com/Pragmatics/en-en/

1. Pronounce three utterances that have the same denotative meaning but differ in their emotional colouring. What linguistic means did you use to convey the speaker’s emotions?

2. Provide three examples where the phatic function is carried out with the help of:

  1. verbal means only;
  2. nonverbal means only;
  3. both verbal and nonverbal means.

3. In what cases is the use of the metalingual function typical?

4. Is the poetic function associated only with poetry?

Exercise 2. Read the following texts. Dwell on the role of abstract language and ways to overcome its shortcomings.

Abstract language: What’s wrong with it?

By R. Jacobsen

The biggest problem with abstract words is that it’s hard to get a grip on what exactly they mean. As you replace specific words with abstract ones, things drift farther out of focus. One of the meanings of abstract is “to take away,” and that’s what abstraction does: it takes away form and detail.

Even when an abstract term is familiar, it can still mean different things to different people. William Zinsser explains it this way in On Writing Well:

Use specific detail. This avoids dealing in generalities, which, being generalities, mean nothing. “The play is always fascinating” is a typical critic’s sentence. But how is it fascinating? Your idea of fascinating is different from someone else’s. Cite a few examples and let your readers weigh them on their own fascination scale.

Love is another great example of an abstract word. Ask 10 people what it means and you’ll get 10 definitions.

In some cases, abstract words have become almost entirely detached from any specific meaning. Fascism used to be used to refer to a specific form of government; now its various forms are mostly used as a general-purpose slur. “You’re a fascist” is just another way of saying “I really don’t like you.”

People like concrete detail. We use specific instances of things in order to understand abstract ideas. Concrete details give us something to picture and therefore to quickly understand.

Writing is all about using words to convey ideas from one mind to another. Most writers want to convey ideas clearly and correctly. Too much abstract language, without adding concrete, specific detail, doesn’t help you do that.

Abridged from: http://writingclearandsimple.com/2007/04/25/abstract-language-whats-wrong-with-it/

Dealing with abstractions? Try metaphors.

By R. Jacobsen

What do you do when you have to write about an abstraction?

The same thing that writers and poets have done for millennia: use a metaphor.

Metaphors, and the closely related rhetorical devices, simile and metonymy, are ways to describe a thing by making a direct comparison to another thing. Saying someone has “muscles of steel” is a metaphor: The person does not literally have muscle tissue made of steel, but the speaker is trying to convey the idea of strength by comparing them to a known strong material.

Metaphors are wonderful tools to use when you have to talk about abstractions. For example, Thomas Jefferson wanted to make a point about needing to be unyielding when it came to matters of principle, but to not be so rigid in other matters, so he used the metaphors of water and rock to do so: “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” We’re all familiar with what it looks like to move with a river’s current, and how immovable a large rock is, thus we can almost immediately grasp the abstract ideas he’s trying to convey.

Don’t be afraid to try coining your own new metaphors, they’re all around us. This morning, as I was considering getting a pocket knife for my son, I started thinking about how teaching a boy to use a knife is a metaphor for teaching him how to be a man. You must carefully control the knife’s blade; use it carelessly, and you can injure yourself or those around you. In the same way, as a boy grows to manhood, he has to learn to control himself; otherwise, he will harm himself and those around him.

What else could a pocket knife be a metaphor for?

Abridged from: http://writingclearandsimple.com/2007/07/17/dealing-with-abstractions-try-metaphors/

Using Abstraction to Obscure the Truth

People also use “abstract language” to conceal the truth from others.

Language varies in its level of abstraction.

At a very low level of abstraction, words provide specific details about what is going on – information about who, what, where, when and why.

On the other hand, at a high level of abstraction, events and actions are described in very broad and general terms.

The following examples help illustrate these differences:

Low Level of Abstraction High Level of Abstraction
granny smith apple fruit
reading e-mail working
running 5 miles exercising
watching a Seinfeld rerun relaxing

When speaking at a low level of abstraction, others have a fairly good idea about what is going on.

By comparison, speaking at a high level abstraction obscures the details. “Exercising” can include many different activities, whereas “running 5 miles” is more descriptive and concrete.

Or say your husband tells you he’ll be home “in a little bit”. Does he mean 30 minutes or several hours?

People often use abstract language when trying to conceal the truth (details) from others.

For example, imagine that you call your wife at work and ask, “What are you doing?”

And you get one of the following responses:

“I’m talking to Chris about our fight this morning.” (low level)

“I’m busy right now.” (high level)

If you notice your partner speaking abstractly, it might help ask for the details: “What exactly are you doing?” or “What exactly do you mean?”

But, keep in mind that asking detailed questions does not guarantee that the truth will be told.

Ultimately, the best way to get the truth is to create an environment where people are comfortable being honest with each other.

Abridged from: https://www.truthaboutdeception.com/lying-and-deception/ways-people-lie/abstract-language.html

Exercise 3. Read the text and dwell on the role of metaphors in public and private discourse.


Metaphor is a figure of speech which makes an implicit, implied or hidden comparison between two things that are unrelated but share some common characteristics. In other words, a resemblance of two contradictory or different objects is made based on a single or some common characteristics.

In simple English, when you portray a person, place, thing, or an action as being something else, even though it is not actually that “something else,” you are speaking metaphorically. “He is the black sheep of the family” is a metaphor because he is not a sheep and is not even black. However, we can use this comparison to describe an association of a black sheep with that person. A black sheep is an unusual animal and typically stays away from the herd, and the person you are describing shares similar characteristics.

Furthermore, a metaphor develops a comparison which is different from a simile i.e. we do not use “like” or “as” to develop a comparison in a metaphor. It actually makes an implicit or hidden comparison and not an explicit one.

Common Speech Examples of Metaphors

Most of us think of a metaphor as a device used in songs or poems only, and that it has nothing to do with our everyday life. In fact, all of us in our routine life speak, write and think in metaphors. We cannot avoid them. Metaphors are sometimes constructed through our common language. They are called conventional metaphors. Calling a person a “night owl” or an “early bird” or saying “life is a journey” are common conventional metaphor examples commonly heard and understood by most of us. Below are some more conventional metaphors we often hear in our daily life:

My brother was boiling mad. (This implies he was too angry.)

The assignment was a breeze. (This implies that the assignment was not difficult.)

It is going to be clear skies from now on. This implies that clear skies are not a threat and life is going to be without hardships.)

The skies of his future began to darken. (Darkness is a threat; therefore, this implies that the coming times are going to be hard for him.)

Her voice is music to his ears. (This implies that her voice makes him feel happy.)


From the above arguments, explanations and examples, we can easily infer the function of metaphors; both in our daily lives and in a piece of literature. Using appropriate metaphors appeals directly to the senses of listeners or readers, sharpening their imaginations to comprehend what is being communicated to them. Moreover, it gives a life-like quality to our conversations and to the characters of the fiction or poetry. Metaphors are also ways of thinking, offering the listeners and the readers fresh ways of examining ideas and viewing the world.

Abridged from: http://literarydevices.net/metaphor/

Exercise 4. Consider the following examples of metaphors and think of contexts where their usage will be appropriate.

  1. The light flows into the bowl of the midnight sky, violet, amber and rose.
  2. In capitalism, money is the life blood of society but charity is the soul.
  3. The child was our lone prayer to an empty sky.
  4. Think now: history has many cunning passages and contrived corridors.
  5. His fine wit makes such a wound that the knife is lost in it.
  6. Waves of spam emails inundated his inbox.
  7. This job is the cancer of my dreams and aspirations.
  8. My House of Life is weather-stained with years.
  9. Men and women pass in the street glad of the shining sapphire weather.
  10. At night the lake is a wide silence, without imagination.
  11. From its blue vase the rose of evening drops.
  12. This world of life is a garden ravaged.

From: http://www.ereadingworksheets.com/figurative-language/figurative-language-examples/metaphor-examples/

Exercise 5. Here is a list of some commonly used metaphors. Which of them are familiar to you? Which of them do you use in your speech (if any)?

Anger bottled up inside
An endless night
Apple of my eye
Battle of egos
Better half
Blanket of flowers
Broken heart
Chain reaction
Choices are crossroads
Consumed by love
Couch Potato
Disaster area
Domino effect
Early bird
Food for thought
He was a Lion on the battle field
Homework is a breeze
House of Cards
Infinite crisis
Life is a journey
Life is a struggle
Light of my life
Love is a battlefield
Love is an ocean
Melting pot
Moral compass
Necessity is the mother of invention
Night was falling
Night Owl
Peace of mind
Point of no return
Profits fell last year
Sea of love
Shooting the messenger
Slippery slope
Stable economy
Stubborn stains
Sweet dreams
Sweet smell of success
Tell it to the marines
The bitter end
The evening of one’s life
Their ideas are difficult to swallow
Tiger Cub Economies
Time a thief
Walk the plank
Wheels of justice

From: http://literarydevices.net/a-huge-list-of-short-metaphor-examples/

Exercise 6. Read the text. Dwell on the role of ambiguity and explain how it is different from related notions.


Ambiguity occurs when something is open to more than one interpretation. Ambiguity is possible in literature, ideas, statements, arts, music, and math. At times, ambiguity is reliant on context; something can be ambiguous in one situation while unambiguous in another. For example, consider the short phrase, “I read the book.” This sentence alone could refer to the present or the past, as the word “read” in English is spelled the same way in the present and past tenses. However, if we change the sentence to “I read the book when I was 7,” that clears up the ambiguity and places the context in the past tense.

Difference Between Ambiguity and Vagueness

At first glance, it may seem that ambiguity and vagueness are nearly homonymic, as the definition of ambiguity allows for more than one potential conclusion. However, the possible interpretations of an ambiguous situation or phrase are limited and stem logically from the information presented. Vagueness, on the other hand, refers to a situation in which no interpretation can be successfully drawn because the information given is not clear enough.

Common Examples of Ambiguity

We experience ambiguity on a daily basis, whether in ordinary language and conversation, or while watching politicians or comedians. Here are some simple sentences that have more than one possible interpretation:
The bark was painful. (Could mean a tree’s bark was rough or a dog’s bark communicated pain or hurt the listener’s ears.)
You should bring wine or beer and dessert. (Could mean that you must bring just wine, wine and dessert, or beer and dessert.)
Harry isn’t coming to the party. Tell Joe that we’ll see him next week. (The “him” could refer either to Harry or to Joe.)
A good life depends on a liver. (Liver may be an organ or simply a living person.)
Foreigners are hunting dogs. (It is unclear whether dogs were being hunted or foreigners are being spoken of as dogs.)
Each of us saw her duck. (It is not clear whether the word “duck” refers to an action of ducking or a duck that is a bird.)
The passerby helps dog bite victim. (Is the passerby helping a dog bite someone? Or is he helping a person bitten by a dog? It’s not clear.)
Some comedians have made jokes that rely on ambiguity in language that we take for granted. Meanwhile, politicians can cleverly use ambiguity to avoid having to really answer a question or state an opinion. For example, when President Bush was asked about finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he said, “But for those who say we haven’t found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they’re wrong, we found them.” In this case, “them” could refer to either the manufacturing devices or the banned weapons, and therefore skates around the issue of whether the actual weapons were found.

Test Your Knowledge of Ambiguity

1. Which of the following statements is the best ambiguity definition?

1. Which of the following statements is the best ambiguity definition?

2. Which of the following Mitch Hedberg jokes contains an example of ambiguity?

Abridged from: http://www.literarydevices.com/ambiguity,

Exercise 7. Read the following piece of information about the Coordinated Management of Meaning theory (CMM) that explains the linguistic choices we make. Consider the tasks below.

Coordinated management of meaning is a theory assuming that two individuals engaging in an interaction are each constructing their own interpretation and perception behind what a conversation means. A core assumption within this theory includes the belief that all individuals interact based on rules that are expected to be followed while engaging in communication.

There are two different types of rules that individuals can apply in any communicative situation – constitutive and regulative rules. Constitutive rules are rules of meaning used by communicators to interpret or understand a message. Regulative rules are rules of action used to determine how to respond or behave. Important to understand within this theory is the fact that these rules are always chosen within the context.

The context (or the situation) can be understood as a framework for interpreting specific events. There are a number of different levels (or elements) of context an individual can refer to when interpreting a communicative event. They include relationship, episode, self-concept and archetype (cultural values). Relationship assumes that there are mutual expectations between individuals who communicate. The individuals are related to each other in a certain way through the act of speaking (e.g. parent/child, teacher/student, strangers, business partners etc.). Episode refers to a specific event in which the communicative act is taking place. In other words, it is a situation in which the conversation takes place. Self-concept involves one’s sense of self, or an individual’s personal ‘definition’ of him/herself. It is the individual’s notion of who they are, a script for who they are, the role an individual plays. Archetype is one’s image of what his or her belief consists of regarding general truths within communicative exchanges. It is connected with the concept of culture, which in CMM relates to a set of rules for acting and speaking. During communication individuals act in accordance with their cultural values, and these rules govern what we understand to be normal in a given episode.

An integral part of the CMM theory includes the speech act. Speech acts are actions that you perform by speaking (e.g. compliments, statements, insults, commands, promises, threats, assertions, questions, answers etc.).

Adapted from: http://dictionary.sensagent.com/Interpersonal_communication/en-en/

1. According to CMM, what does interpretation of a communicative act depend on?
2. Can two individuals interpret the same communicative act similarly?
3. What two sets of rules guide communication? Explain the difference between the two.
4. Name the four levels of context that influence the interpretation of communication.
5. What is a speech act? How are different speech acts distinguished?
6. In an example of your choice, taken from your personal experience, identify the following: relationship, episode, self-concept, archetype.

III. Applying the model

Exercise. From your own experience provide an example of one of the following forms of verbal communication: a casual conversation between two friends, a written letter, an oral presentation, an email, a radio announcement, personal notes. Give a detailed analysis of linguistic means used in the text of your choice. Identify the functions of the language according to Jacobson’s theory and find the means of their manifestation.