The Various Contexts of Speech

Speech is essential to our being human. It affects who we are and how we develop as individuals, how we learn and share what we know, and how we interact with others in our world. Speech does not take place in a vacuum but is always contextualized. This means that when we speak, there is always a reason, which includes the purpose, audience and the situation, or event. There are three types of speech contexts: intrapersonal, interpersonal (further divided into dyad and small group), and public.

Intrapersonal Communication

Intrapersonal communication, as the name implies, takes place within a single person. This is the type of speech used when we talk to ourselves. Most of the time, we do this silently in our head (internal discourse) so we can understand, clarify, or analyze a situation we find ourselves in.This can also be said out loud (solo vocal communication) to admire or appreciate something unexpected, clarify our thoughts, rehearse a message intended for others, or simply let off steam. Psychologists include both day dreaming and nocturnal dreaming in this category. Prayer, contemplation, and meditation are also part of intrapersonal speech, even though prayer may not solely be internal. Dramatists and screenplay writers capitalize on intrapersonal speech to show how a character thinks or what he truly feels, such as in Hamlet’s soliloquy. 

Interpersonal Communication

Interpersonal communication is what we normally think of as communication since it involves at least one other (dyad) or some others (group). There are at least five contexts in which this happens:

  1. Psychological context refers to the participants and what each brings to the interaction. Needs, desires, values, personality, and habits—all form the psychological context.
  2. Relational context concerns the relations the interactors have to-ward each other and how close or distant that relationship is.
  3. Situational context deals with the psychosocial “where” the ex-change happens. An interaction that takes place in a classroom will be very different from one that takes place at a picnic.
  4. Environmental context deals with the physical “where” they are communicating. The room arrangement, location, noise level, temperature, and time of day are examples of factors in the environmental context.
  5. Cultural context includes all the learned behaviors and rules that affect the interaction. Some come from a culture where it is considered rude to make long, direct eye contact, and will avoid eye contact out of politeness. Then there are those from a culture where long, direct eye contact signals trustworthiness. This difference in cultural context can cause misunderstanding and communication breakdown.

Public Communication

Public communication is at the heart of society, whether in economics, entertainment, or religion—it is in fact in every aspect of life. People use it to preach, get elected, improve businesses, and promote social causes, movies, or even themselves. Public speech uses ideas and im-ages, persuasion and information, strategy and tactics in a smart message targeted to the right audience in creative and innovative ways. While public speaking can be frightening, it is also most rewarding.

Solidify Your Understanding

Intrapersonal communication is talking to oneself. When one does self-reflection, examines his own attitudes, beliefs, opinions, thoughts, ideas, and aspirations, one does intrapersonal communication. Even from simple to complex decision-making tasks, i.e., from deciding what clothes to wear in the morning, to taking a hike or a jeepney or a cab to school, to expand a business, to hire or fire an employee, one does intrapersonal communication. Other forms of intrapersonal communication include doodling, making gestures while thinking, interpreting signs, symbols, nonverbal communication, gestures, and writing journals or reflections. The source who encodes and the recipient who decodes, therefore, are one and the same person while the brain is the channel.

When one person talks to another, shares his thoughts, ideas, and aspirations to that person or to a group of persons, this is interpersonal communication. It means relating or communicating with a being other than oneself. The source who encodes is different from the recipient who decodes while the channels may be face to face, person to person, telephone or mobile phone, letters, multimedia or text messages, among others.

Lastly, public communication is talking to a considerable number of persons or a crowd or the public. Addressing the whole class, to addressing the whole assembly, community, country, or the world is public communication. In which case, channels or media may be employed to reach a big audience such as public address system, television, radio, newspapers, or Internet publications, to name a few.

Nonverbal behavior may vary in each speech context. In intrapersonal communication, you either smile, frown, doodle, scratch your head, cross your arms, and the like, depending on how you usually feel about what you are doing or thinking.

In interpersonal communication, however, body movement, posture, eye contact, pitch, tone and speed of talking, distance or proximity, facial expression, and some physiological changes like sweating show the level of intimacy and interest between or among the parties in a conversation. For example, two persons holding hands and looking directly into each other’s eyes indicate intimacy while two persons with considerable space between them, sweating, frowning, and crossing the arms convey a less intimate picture. Nodding and smiling to a pair or to a group member who is tasked to speak in front of the class signal encouragement and appreciation.