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Role of Silence in Communication

Silence is not merely the absence of sound. It is a statement in itself and conveys meaning in communication. Covino discusses only one aspect of silence, the silence that can be taken for agreement. Silence might signify something quite different in another context. We can find many instances in which silence denotes agreement, but we can also find instances in which silence denotes anger, disagreement, an attempt at self-control, fear, and a wide variety of other emotions. Silence communicates something different according to when and where the silence takes place.

Covino points to a scene in Jane Austen's Persuasion in which the silence of the woman after a speech by the man signifies her agreement and also demonstrates certain power relationships between the sexes. Covino indicates that a silence after a speech act makes a statement about the emotional state, or pathos, of the audience. In the example given, the man flatters the woman, and since she agrees with his statement, she says nothing. Her silence thus suggests her agreement and perhaps her reticence to agree verbally and so to seem to be praising herself. Silence does the job without raising the latter issue.

However, if the circumstances of the speech were different, the meaning of the silence might also be different. In the case raised by Covino, Wentworth is the man praising Louisa Musgrove. Covino states that Louisa behaves after the speech in the manner a pupil would to a teacher or "like a less powerful individual would with someone more powerful" (Covino 69). Even then, silence might not mean agreement. If Wentworth were threatening Louisa, for instance, her silence would not be agreement with what he stated or with what he wanted from her. It instead could be a manifestation of fear, the certainty that if she spoke up he would carry out his threat and harm her. Silence then would be a matter of personal discretion to avoid harm. The power re...

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Role of Silence in Communication. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 07:35, February 21, 2017, from