ozarque (ozarque) wrote,

This journal has been placed in memorial status. New entries cannot be posted to it.

Linguistics; pragmatics; three Miller's Law questions...

[Miller's Law: "In order to understand what another person is saying, you must assume that it is true and try to imagine what it could be true of." In "Giving Away Psychology in the 80's: George Miller Interviewed by Elizabeth Hall," Psychology Today for January 1980, pp. 38-50 and 97-98; on page 46.]

1. Question from sculpin:

"Does Miller's Law apply to nonverbal as well as verbal communication? I've been thinking about younger women who display that classic Invisibility Reaction around (some? all?) older women. Aggravating though it may be, perhaps they are saying something that is true for them. Perhaps that true thing is even a bit surprising. I wonder what it might be."

**The answer is yes, it applies to both verbal and nonverbal communication. Because Miller's Law is a law about spoken language -- about utterances -- and there is no relevant way to separate the words of an utterance from the nonverbal communication that goes with the words. [That is, you could of course separate the words from the NVC mechanically, but that's not relevant for understanding the meaning of an utterance, on the spot, in real world communication.]

[Your question about younger women whose language behavior when (some? all?) elderly women are around seems to say that those elderly women are invisible isn't as easy to answer. My assumption would be that the meaning of the utterances -- words plus NVC -- would vary from one young woman to another, case by case.]

2. Question from crossfire:

"I wonder...can you apply Miller's Law to a silence? I mean, obviously they aren't saying anything, so you can't apply it directly. But if the silence itself is meant to communicate something, can Miller's Law tell us anything useful? Or is there just not enough information?"

**Yes, you can apply it to a silence. When you say something and the response is a silence, the assumption is that if the silent person were speaking the words would be something along the lines of "I'm not going to say anything in response to what you just said," plus the accompanying NVC -- which would include at least posture, gesture(s), and facial expression. (There is of course no intonation or tone of voice with a silence.) Applying Miller's Law means assuming that the message of the silence is true and trying to determine what it's true of. Observation of the NVC would answer questions like these: Is the silent person silent because he/she is angry? Is shocked? Is baffled? Needs time to think? Is in distress of some kind? And so on. There will be times when that's not enough information; there are also times when that's the case for responses that aren't silences. Much of the time, however, it will be enough.

3. Question from bernmarx:

"I'm not familiar with Miller's Law, beyond its phrasing. How does it apply to deliberate lying?"

It depends entirely on how skilled the speaker is at lying. Many people -- me, for example -- lie very badly, and the obvious mismatch between the words they're saying and the NVC that accompanies those words will immediately alert the other person in the conversation to be wary. The default strategy when that sort of mismatch is spotted is to believe the message in the body language rather than the message in the words, unless you have some reliable explanation for the phenomenon. (Like knowing that the speaker's face is numb from dental anesthetic, for example.) Conversation with a highly-skilled liar is always dangerous, and that's as true with regard to Miller's Law as it is for any other aspect of that sort of communication.

A partial index to the posts in this journal is at http://www.livejournal.com/tools/memories.bml?user=ozarque .

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