In the Absence of Language

In the Absence of Language

In the Absence of Language

What is body language?

Ever wonder why you tend to get a certain impression of people without having spoken to them, or how a sense of dishonesty creeps up as you listen to some people but not others… well, we often tend to ignore these signs as “intuition” or as being “too judgmental for one’s own good”. However, the mind unconsciously processes these hidden signs and clues to form a bigger picture that extends beyond the frames of spoken communication in another form of language commonly known as Body Language.

Body Language is a non-verbal form of communication that depends on interpreting the movements of the body, including facial gestures, hand movements, eye movements, boundaries and physical limits, and many other components that are situation-specific. Therefore, and on the contrary to what is generally thought, Body Language is not universal. It is, in fact, interpreted with regard to many cultural, social, and personal variables. For example, what is considered the epitome of elegance and respect in one culture could be regarded as the complete opposite in a country across the globe; it is a tricky science that requires careful interpretation and extensive analysis.

How Body Language is used to convey information

With the right skills, one can easily interpret the opposite’s emotional state; simple reactions can convey feelings of approval, fear, excitement, discomfort, and even dishonesty. For example, a simple raise of the eyebrow usually introduces a sense of warmth, honesty, and friendliness. Another example is a person’s eye gaze; it is generally told that less-honest speakers tend to break eye contact more frequently, while it could also be a sign of discomfort or distraction. Another common sign is covering the mouth or constantly touching one’s nose during speech, which could also be noted as a sign of dishonesty. However, many variables arise at this point to suggest that one’s nose is itchy or simply regarded as an unruly behavior!

A few more common gestures are interpreted as follows:

·        Crossed hands: a sign of discomfort and defence

·        Hands on the hips: a sign of comfort, aggressiveness, or dominance

·        Tapping and fidgeting: a sign of boredom or stress

·        Leaning forward: an expression of interest, open-mindedness, and relaxation


Body Language in Culture

Along with the different traditions of every region varies the body language in terms of politeness, acceptance, and movements regarded as taboos; understanding the culture-specific body language is half the formula to effectively communicating with speakers of foreign tongues. However, the different connotations can leave one even more confused as to the meaning intended versus the meaning received. One example that comes to mind is the Greeks’ and Indians’ shake of the head for affirmation, while most other cultures use the shake as a “no” and the nod as a “yes”.

Eye contact can also be interpreted in multiple ways; in Europe, maintaining constant eye contact with the speaker is regarded as a sign of respect and displaying interest while it is regarded as a sign of disobedience and disrespect to elders in some parts of Asia. In this case, one can easily imagine a clash of cultures when it comes to body language.


Interpreting body language correctly is a tricky, but crucial, skill that can be acquired through practice and constant engagement in society. However, understanding your own, personalized body language is even more important as it enhances personal growth and motivates insight into one’s character and emotional state. After all, in a virtual world where ordinary spoken language is non-existent, body language would be the dominant, most effective means of human communication.