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Does his body say that he's an easy man to beat? Does her body say that she's a phoney? --Book jacket of Body Language (1970)

Anatomical signs. 1. "The bodily gestures, postures, and facial expressions by which a person communicates nonverbally with others" (Soukhanov 1992:211). 2. "Body language and kinesics are based on the behavioral patterns of nonverbal communication, but kinesics is still so new as a science that its authorities can be counted on the fingers of one hand" (Fast 1970:9).

Usage: "Body language," the lay term for "nonverbal communication," was popularized in 1970 with the publication of Body Language by Julius Fast. Though college textbooks (e.g., Burgoon et al. 1989) omit references to the book and its author, Julius Fast--more than any academic--brought public attention to the expressive force of gestures and body-motion cues.

The negative. On the downside, Fast oversold body language to the public by suggesting (on the book's dust cover) that kinesic cues could be used to tell if one was "loose" (i.e., too sexually receptive), "hungup," "lonely," or "a manipulator." And, despite Fast's repeated warnings to use caution when interpreting body-language, arm-crossing, leg-crossing, and other nonverbal signs came to be overly meaningful signals in popular magazine and newspaper articles (i.e., as negative, defensive "barriers" to rapport).

The positive. On the upside, body language has entered the lexicon as a phrase with which to label a key channel of human communication apart from spoken and printed words. Body Language has gone through dozens of printings, and is still available in bookstores today. Moreover, thanks to research completed during the 1990-2000 Decade of the Brain, many of the nonverbal signs and cues Fast wrote about in 1970 now have meanings backed by neuroscience (see, e.g., NONVERBAL BRAIN).

The promise. "The science of kinesics has added a new dimension to human understanding. BODY LANGUAGE can make you a more perceptive human being, and it may influence your approach to every relationship in which you are involved" (dust jacket of Body Language, by Julius Fast).

Media. "The dynamic personality [i.e., the body language] of Humphrey Bogart dominates the whole picture, and his playing in the leading role is a fine example of the value of dramatic under-emphasis and intelligent modulations in voice and expression" (Today's Cinema review of 1947 movie, Dead Reckoning [Columbia; cited in Frank 1982:49]).

E-Commentary: "I am writing to you from the British Broadcasting Corporation, in England. We are developing an idea for a television documentary on body language--how to read it, and how to modify your own body language in order to control the impression you give other people. We are particularly interested in how public figures and celebrities are increasingly aware of the importance of their own body language in preserving a positive public image.

"Our proposed documentary will be for Discovery Channel USA, and will feature a well known British zoologist-turned-presenter with an expertise in body language. We are looking for contributors with an expertise in reading body language. I would very much like to know more about your research and the Center for Nonverbal Studies." Susie Painter (4/2/01 9:59:44 AM Pacific Daylight Time)


Copyright© 1998 - 2001 (David B. Givens/Center for Nonverbal Studies) Illustration detail from Body Language (1970; 4th printing)



Square smile


Open mouth

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Slow lick-lips


Quick lid-lips


Moistening lips

Lip biting




Pursed lips


Retreating lips

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A man stands inside of a closed glass phone booth. You cannot hear a word he says, but you see his postures, gestures, and facial expressions. You see his kinesics. --Marjorie F. Vargas (Louder Than Words, p. 67)

Linguistic analogy. 1. Founded by anthropologist Ray Birdwhistell (1952, 1970), kinesics is the study of nonverbal communication using the methods and concepts of American descriptive linguistics of the late 1940s. 2. The anthropological term for body language.

Usage: Students of kinesics searched for a grammar of body movements, facial expressions, and gestures, much as descriptive linguists formulated a grammatical structure of words.

Birdwhistell-isms: 1. "Social personality is a tempero-spacial system. All behaviors evinced by any such system are components of the system except as related to different levels of abstractions" (Birdwhistell 1952:5). 2. "Even if no participant of an interaction field can recall, or repeat in a dramatized context, a given series or sequence of [body] motions, the appearance of a motion is of significance to the general study of the particular kinesic system even if the given problem can be rationalized without reference to it" (Birdwhistell 1952:5). 3. ". . . all meaningful [body] motion patterns are to be regarded as socially learned until empirical investigation reveals otherwise" (Birdwhistell 1952:6). 4. "No kine ever stands alone" (Birdwhistell 1952:15).

RESEARCH REPORTS: 1. "I suggest that this separate burgeoning evolution of kinesics and paralanguage alongside the evolution of verbal language indicates that our iconic communication serves functions totally different from those of language and, indeed, performs functions which verbal language is unsuited to perform" (Bateson 1968:615). 2. "The first premise in developing this type of notational system for body language, Dr. Birdwhistell says, is to assume that all movements of the body have meaning. None are accidental" (Fast 1970:157). 3. "A kineme is similar to a phoneme because it consists of a group of movements which are not identical, but which may be used interchangeably without affecting social meaning" (Knapp 1972:94-95). 4. "Not everyone agrees with Birdwhistell that kinesics forms a communication system which is the same as spoken language" (Knapp 1972:96). 5. The linguistic analogy was popular in the 1970s, e.g.: "This [the authors'] model draws its components from several social sciences, especially linguistics. Its basic idea is that face-to-face interaction can be construed as having a definite organization or structure, just as language is understood in terms of its grammar" (Duncan and Fiske 1977:xi). 6. "The system developed by Birdwhistell (1970) is by far the most elaborate and famous example of a structural approach" (Burgoon et al. 1989:42). 7. "So as you can see, Birdwhistell based his category system of behaviors on a model taken from the categories of verbal communication (allophone, phone, phoneme, morpheme)" (Richmond et al. 1991:55). 8. "Her [Margaret Mead's] dilemma was how to acknowledge universals in facial expression [discovered by Paul Ekman] and not disavow [her student] Ray Birdwhistell's conclusion that there were no universals" (Ekman 1998:388).

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