Power of Messages through Speech and Silence

Authored by: Sik Hung Ng , Ting Kin Ng

The Handbook of Intergroup Communication

Print publication date:  May  2012
Online publication date:  June  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415889643
eBook ISBN: 9780203148624
Adobe ISBN: 9781136513619


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Messages are the information that communicators convey to their audience through speech or silence. Speech is used here “as a surrogate for all forms of language” (Hymes, 2003, p. 36) to refer to written and oral messages. Silence is not a meaningless void but carries its own message. For example, in inter-cultural encounters, one party may use silence to show deference or defiance to the other party. In such an intergroup context, there is no speech and yet a (silent) message has been conveyed to the audience. Thus, although speech and silence have been studied separately under quite different theoretical and methodological approaches, both are integral to communication generally (Szuchewycz, 1995) and to intergroup communication, as the early work on convergence and divergence has shown (Giles & Powesland, 1975). This chapter will discuss the power of messages, both verbal (oral or written) and in the form of silence, to be grounded in social psychology of language, conversation analysis and rhetoric. Whilst the focus is on intergroup contexts and processes, links will be made with broader issues of power and “paradigm” shifts in relevant research, as the first two sections will unfold.

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