written to the song: Stay — Kygo ft. Matty Noyes
“Take a lover who looks at you like maybe you are magic” — Frida Kahlo
Language and power go hand-in-hand. Language is “unstoppable”, where words, jargon, and new dialects are constantly modernizing and adapting to fit new trends within society (Pinker, 2006). The way you speak can influence the way you are perceived by your classmates, your grandmother, and the person who is interviewing you. For example, a study on pauses per minute and social perception shows that the more pauses a speaker takes while having a conversation (often) expresses thoughtfulness and sympathy (Markel, 1990). Moreover, the valence of the words you choose and the way you choose to order the words (passive vs. active voice) can influence an individual’s reaction to your claim. In terms of accents, in certain places like England or Chile, an accent can reveal social class.
Use of certain terminology can make you seem smarter (or not, if mispronounced or used in the wrong context). In terms of politicians, language, vocabulary, pronunciation, (and even conjugation in some cases) can reveal a lot about political stances. This is evident when saying “Yehuda v Shomron” versus “West Bank” and defines Republican vs. Democrat stance on Iraq (IrAck ([iræk]) over IrOck ([ihrɑ:k]) (Boberg, 2009). Language is extremely powerful. Though, I believe that unspoken language (at times) can be more powerful than language itself.
Take the idea of eye contact. There is the accidental eye contact and the intentional eye contact, and there is a major difference between the two. Have you ever experienced zoning out? You feel super drained like a zombie, or maybe you are having a very intense thought and your eyes fall on the stranger sitting opposite to you in a coffee shop. You aren’t saying anything, but when your eyes meet both strangers jump and awkwardly look away as if nothing happened. Why is it awkward? Nothing was verbally said.
Then you have intentional eye contact, where the length of eye contact can reveal intention. In many cultures, eye contact is linked to intimacy. For example, before travelling to Turkey, I was encouraged to not make eye contact with men in conversation.
Naturally, we use our eyes to scan an area or to analyse a person’s features to try and understand their motives (Todorov, 2008). In North American culture, eye contact can be linked to politeness, where in a job interview, public speaking, and when having a conversation, eye contact is expected and is seen as a sign of confidence. Then you have intentional eye contact between friends or lovers. Long and intentional eye contact is magnificent. It is intimacy and love and sadness and perfection without even saying a word. It is the twinkle of the eyes, the glint of hope, and the deep blink of emotion where you hope your eyes can capture the moment. SoulPancake released a study titled “How to Connect with Anyone” on eye contact and mindfulness, where couples who stared into each other’s eyes for four minutes felt more appreciative and more in love (SoulPancake, 2015). How powerful is that? The eyes are magnificent and are open, as revealed in the quote: “the eyes are the window to the soul”.
Eyes reveal anger, jealousy, and intention (where does the concept of “evil eye” come from?). Yes, language is powerful, but unspoken language is a vivacious language of its own (Danesi, 2002). How can so much be expressed without even saying a word?
Boberg, C. (2009). The emergence of a new phoneme: Foreign (a) in canadian english. Language Variation and Change, 21(3), 355–380. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0954394509990172
Danesi, M. (2004), Messages, Signs, and Meanings. (pp. 52–53). Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press. Print.
Markel, N. (1990), Language in Society. Speaking Style as an Expression of Solidarity: Words Per Pause. (pp. 81–88). Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4168106.
Pinker, S. (2006), What Our Language Habits Reveal. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/steven_pinker_on_language_and_thought#t-428232.
SoulPancake. (2015), How to Connect with Anyone. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/Xm-T3HCa618 list=PLzvRx_johoA8PC6S5k5S2SszRQOR8oSEa
Todorov, A. (2008), Evaluating Faces on Trustworthiness. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1124: 208–224. doi: 10.1196/annals.1440.012