Types of nonverbal communication

EP-Journalism Prize-2011-winners-are-from-France,Italy,Finland-and-GermanyImage credit: European Parliament, “EP Journalism Prize 2011 winners are from France, Italy, Finland and Germany” October 19, 2011, via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Nonverbal means of communication (NMC) have recently come to attention of linguists, anthropologists, psychologists, communication and discourse studies scholars. It is now a widely admitted fact that they play an important role in a communicative act. However, how exactly NMC contribute to communication between individuals still remains an open question. Moreover, the complexity and particularities (including micro and macro contexts) of a given conversation may further complicate the case. This post provides a list of useful categories which may be in play in a given situation.

First of all, let us define nonverbal communication. So, nonverbal communication can be defined as a system of non-linguistic signs which complement or substitute linguistic signs. This system includes the following components (Pankovskyi, 2010):

1) adornment – items of clothing, hairstyles, and jewellery;
2) chronemics – time use such as waiting and pausing;
3) haptics – tactile communication or, simply, touch;
4) kinesics (= body language) – foot tapping, gestures, nodding, shrugs, waving by hands, and other body movements;
5) locomotion – displacements in space such as limping, stumbling, running, walking;
6) facial expressions – such as smiling, frowning, and squinting;
7) oculesics – eye movements (e.g. winking, closed eyes, eyes wide open);
8) olfactics – kinds of smell (e.g. pleasant, strong, strange, like Church incense, etc.);
9) paralanguage – variations in voice qualities and manner of speaking:

a) silence – pauses, secrecy;
b) sound symbols – grunting, mumbling (e.g. ah, hm, uhu);
c) vocalics – speed, timbre, tone of voice, and volume;

10) posture – position of the body;
11) proxemics – use of interpersonal space (see also Proxemics: Personal space post).

I hope that these types of NMC may help you and me to do better conversation and discourse analysis or contribute to our knowledge on NMC. Please, feel free to add your comments. Thank you!


Pankovskyi, I. (2010). “Nonverbal means of communication: Benefits for SLA”. Nauka I studia: Przemyśl, Poland, 31-44.



  1. I prefer nonverbal communication because it is harder to fake than verbal communication. You can learn a speech, but you can’t fake your eyes and gestures.

    • Dear FridaKahlo,
      That’s true, it is much more difficult to be insincere with our eyes or gestures than with words. Why do you think this is the case?

  2. Because things we do with our hands, facial expressions etc are more automatic, while we think before we speak. Body language is an instant reaction.

    • Thanks, FridaKahlo,
      It makes sense. Indeed, we often think before we say, while nonverbal means of communication are often spontaneous. But how about a formal smile? A formal smile is displayed not because somebody is amused, but rather as a sign of politeness or to solicit a purchase. A formal smile can be considered as a fake expression; however, people can usually discern where a smile is real and where it is formal.

  3. vidya v

    your article is really helpful. how can u find someone is not interested in conversation with their body language??

    • Hi vidya v! I am happy that you found it useful. I am fascinated by nonverbal communication just as you are!


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