Thursday, May 31, 2012

Muted Language

Communication covers a broader terrain than most of us realize.  Since language is one of man’s most distinctive characteristics, we sometimes slip into the error of thinking that all communication must be verbal.  Executives and administrators – whether in education, industry or government – are especially prone to this fallacy.  This, of course, is not surprising, for the world is largely a verbal one.

     To persist in this narrow view of communication is folly.  Yet few training programs escape such folly; most of them ignore the entire range of non-verbal communication, the muted language in which human beings speak to one another more eloquently than with words.  Spoken and written language can be compared with blowing the trumpet with its throat open; non-verbal language can be compared to music played with a mute in the horn.  In the first place, the notes come out sharp and clear; in the second, they may be muffled but certainly no less evocative.  (Anyone who has ever listened to the muted trumpet of Louis Armstrong or Jonah Jones can testify to this effect.)  

To avoid the narrow view we must start by recognizing that man communicates to his fellow man with his entire body and with all his behavior.  We shall not discuss verbal communication; enough has been said about it.  Instead, we shall confine our remarks to muted language:  the language of the eyes and hands, of gesture, of time and of status symbols, of unconscious slips which betray the very words we use.

Excerpt from "Muted Language," by Prof. Andrew W. Galpin, University of Utah, The School Review, vol. 68, no. 1, Spring 1960, pp. 85-104, University of Chicago Press.


Top and Bottom:  Masaccio, The Expulsion From Eden, Brancacci Chapel, Sta. Maria del Carmine, Florence, 1426-27.

Center:  Judean desert limestone mask, pre-pottery neolithic B, circa 7th millenium B.C. 9 in. (22.8 cm.) long.

Jonah Jones Quartet -- Jumpin' With Jonah (link).


  1. I'm glad you liked this. The idea for the post came to me when I saw the limestone mask and I mentally connected it to the book Nonverbal Communication by the American poet Weldon Kees and Swiss psychiatrist Jurgen Ruesch. I Googled a combination of the words and found Prof. Halpin's article and chose this excerpt. The Masaccio seems to be one of the most eloquent examples possible of "body language" represented in art. When we finally visited the Brancacci Chapel a few Novembers ago, it was incredibly great. When we emerged, we were in Florence during the week when the new olive oils came to market, so the experience was pretty wonderful. Curtis