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The Emergence of Advanced Forms of Communication

This is an excerpt from History and Philosophy of Sport and Physical Activity by R. Scott Kretchmar,Mark Dyreson,Matthew Liewellyn & John Gleaves.

As noted earlier, one of the most important developments during the Neolithic Revolution was the development of more sophisticated forms of communication, particularly the earliest forms of written language, which developed about 5,000 years ago in the form of Sumerian cuneiform scripts and Egyptian hieroglyphics. (Today, scholars estimate that more than 600 languages are spoken around the world.) Although we know that writing appeared relatively recently, we also know that sophisticated verbal languages preceded that event by thousands of years, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of years. The importance of communication in the Neolithic Revolution can hardly be overemphasized. The shift toward living in communities put a premium on cooperation and collaboration. Both of these aspects of human behavior presuppose communication that is clear and concise. If effective communication was needed by hunter-foragers (and it was), it was even more needed by individuals who attempted to work out political, religious, military, and other social arrangements in larger communities.

We must remind ourselves, however, that much communication occurs in the absence of symbolic language, whether verbal or written. Recent studies of animal behavior show that many species of mammals, for example, communicate in surprisingly effective ways. For instance, animals can inform one another about dangers of different sorts, advertise mating opportunities, and issue warnings through the sounds they make and the gestures they use. Humans, of course, do much better than this. Our extensive vocabularies, rules of grammar, regulations of syntax, and the like allow us to say far more - and to do so with greater efficiency and, one hopes, very little ambiguity. Even so, we need to remember that communication transcends symbolic, verbal language. It transcended language during the Paleolithic and Neolithic Revolutions, and it transcends it today. We continue to communicate in many ways, and most of them involve the body and physicality.

Most fundamentally, we communicate with our posture, our gestures, the way in which we hold ourselves, and the ways in which we move. We "read" faces to determine whether a stranger is a friend or a foe. Our style of walking can communicate volumes about us and our self-image. People who stand erect and those who are bent over with their heads down send very different messages. In the realm of sport, many athletes play with a flair that communicates, without verbal or written supplementation, a great deal about who they are and what they value in life.

Our fine arts also serve as nonverbal means of communication that typically require high levels of physical skill. Music, painting, and sculpting often communicate ideas that are arguably difficult to put into words. For instance, we can go to a concert or art museum and feel carried away without hearing or uttering a single word or sentence. In another example, mime is a current art form designed to communicate through gesture, suggestive movement, posture, and facial expression. To see how effective, and sometimes humorous, this form of communication can be, go online and view performances by Marcel Marceau.

As kinesiologists, you will need to be able to listen to your clients and students. The take-home point here is that this process may well involve not only hearing what they say but also reading between the lines. This "reading" may include interpreting their gestures, postures, eye movements, and multiple other cues. Some practitioners have even suggested that this kind of communicative sensitivity forms the basis for true expertise in kinesiology.

By now, the importance and power of nonverbal communication should be obvious. However, a simple exercise can drive the point home by showing you how much can be done through pointing and pantomime - that is, without using words.

We will probably never know exactly when formal languages developed. In all probability, they grew gradually over a period of more than a hundred centuries. Undoubtedly, it took considerable time for our ancestors to transition from (more or less) hardwired animal sounds and postures to intentional pointing and pantomime and then to abstract symbols systems replete with rules of grammar, extensive vocabularies, and syntactic meanings. Whatever the specific facts of this story may be, it is clear that the Neolithic Revolution stood on the shoulders of enhanced communication and of the collaborative and cooperative cultural developments fostered by that communication.

Communicating and Cooperating Without Using Verbal Language

Student Exercise

Your assignment is to invent a new game, communicate how the game is played to at least one other person, and, finally, turn that game into a contest. It could be a simple game of throwing a piece of paper into a waste basket while standing a certain distance away. You might award one point if the paper comes to rest within a foot of the basket and two points if it goes in. The game might consist of five tries. Can you communicate all of this using only gestures, personal modeling, andnonverbalsounds? Once the other person shows that he or she understands the game and has had a chance to play it, turn the game into a contest, again without using words. That is, challenge the other person to see who can score higher.

Was your communication and cooperation experiment successful? Were you able to teach a new game nonverbally? Try to give at least two reasons for your success or failure.

Learn more about History and Philosophy of Sport and Physical Activity.

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