Communication between people happens in more ways than just through talking. Communication involves people exchanging symbols that have a shared meaning, receive feedback, and are shared through various channels (Mullin, 2020a). This includes the use of verbal and nonverbal aspects. In the show Young Sheldon, season 3, episode 13, titled “Contracts, Rules and a Little Bit of Pig Brains”, there are a number of different interactions between characters.
In one scene, the family is at Missy’s baseball game. Sheldon has no interest in the game. He’s reading a book, surrounded by yelling and clapping families of the players, including his parents and grandmother. His mom tries to get him to watch his sister play, but he’s more interested in his book and doesn’t think anything interesting is happening in the game. His dad tries to explain what is happening, and why it is exciting. Then his grandma interjects saying they only need one more out to win. Sheldon still doesn’t really care. Tension in the game increases and Sheldon’s family gets nervous. His grandmother tells his mom to pray. Sheldon still has no interest in the game.
The use of verbal and nonverbal types of communication in the scene demonstrates that the way one communicates can either get someone interested in something or not. The family ineffectively uses both verbal and nonverbal techniques. The family fails to get Sheldon interested in the baseball game because of their use of low-language, speech accommodations, poor use of paralanguage, and kinesics.
Low language and high language are used throughout the scene. According to O’Hair, Wiemann, Mullin, and Teven (2018), low language is an informal way of speaking. A more easy-going way of talking. It is often used in more comfortable environments, like a baseball game and it can often involve slang. For the most part, everyone in the family, except for Sheldon uses low language when talking in this particular scene. This is because a baseball game is a casual location. High language, on the other hand, is “a more formal, polite, or mainstream” way of speaking. It is often used in professional “business settings, in the classroom, or at formal social gatherings” (O’Hair et al. 2018, p. G-6). Giving a speech at a political rally, for example, would warrant the use of high-language, whereas, having dinner with your family, using high-language would be strange because you are at a casual dinner with your family, so you should use low-language.
In the scene in Young Sheldon, the family uses low-language because they are at a baseball game, a casual setting. In any other circumstance, the use of low-language in the scenario would be effective, but because Sheldon is using high-language, the family’s message does not get across to him. If Sheldon spoke in a more low-language he would have understood what his family was saying about the baseball game and might have been interested in the outcome. At the same time, however, his family could have spoken in high-language so they could get their point across to him.
Speech accommodation is commonly used when talking to adults versus talking to kids or babies. When talking to adults you simply speak as you would normally, but when speaking to kids, you might use simpler words, like instead of “Did you get hurt?”, you might say “Do you have booboo?” or instead of saying “Do you have to go to the restroom?”, you might ask “Do you have to go potty?”. According to O’Hair et al. (2018), speech accommodation is a “change from one repertoire” to another as a situation warrants (p. 80). It’s adjusting your language and style of speaking towards the different people you are communicating with.
An example of this would be speaking English all day at school to all your peers and teacher, then going home to your family who only speaks Spanish. You wouldn’t speak Spanish at school, because no one else speaks Spanish, and you would not speak English at home because your family does not understand English. Another example is of a person going from sending texts to sending emails. When texting you might use slang and shorthand and not use punctuation or correct grammar because of the fast-paced nature of texting. Sending emails, however, you’ll probably use full sentences, correct grammar, and proofread the email before sending it since it’s not as quick as texting.
In the baseball scene, Sheldon’s grandmother goes from yelling encouragingly at Sheldon’s sister, Missy, in the game to talking to Sheldon about the game. When the grandmother is yelling at Missy, she is speaking in the way most people do in sports events, yelling at the players, coaches, and referees. Then she switched to talking to Sheldon as adults do when they talk to kids, talking down to them. She says “If Missy throws one more strike they’ll win,” she says this with inflection and excitement in her voice, as she tries to get Sheldon interested in the game. Sheldon’s dad does something similar, he also yells encouragingly at Missy and then switches to a more fatherly, parenting tone when explaining the current state of the game to Sheldon.
Talking down to Sheldon did not get Sheldon interested in the baseball game because, even though physically he is a child, Sheldon has the IQ of an adult. If his family had spoken to him as an equal, or how they would normally talk to other adults, he would have been more interested in what they were saying.
Paralanguage is a way of sending nonverbal messages. They are vocalized sounds that accompany spoken words. Which can include crying, laughing, grunting, and gasping (Mullin, 2020b). An example of this is when your friend comes up to you and sighs. The sigh is paralanguage. Without even saying any words, you know your friend is feeling either stressed or sad. They then go on to explain that they just got fired from their job at the post office. Even before a single word came out of your friend’s mouth, you knew they were upset just based on the sigh they emitted.
Paralanguage does not always have to be an intentional vocalized sound that a person consciously makes, like a sigh or grunt. They can be unintentional vocalizations, like crying or laughing. Sounds that you don’t mean to make. For example, you walk up to a group of colleagues that are standing around in the office break room, laughing. Right of the bat, you know something funny happened. Maybe someone said something that made everyone laugh, or maybe they were watching funny videos. No matter the cause of the laughter, you know something funny happened and your co-workers found it amusing. When you approach them, you ask what was so funny and they tell you they saw a video of your boss singing at karaoke night at your local bar. You laugh, letting your peers know you found the video funny as well, without verbally telling them in words.
In the episode of Young Sheldon, Sheldon’s dad and grandmother are cheering for the baseball team. This tells Sheldon that they are enjoying the game, but when he tells his dad that it didn’t look like anything was happening in the game, his dad sighed. This told Sheldon his dad was slightly irritated with him because he doesn’t understand baseball and has no idea what was happening in the game. This likely turned Sheldon off from enjoying the game because his dad was irritated with him when explaining what was happening. If Sheldon’s dad hadn’t sighed with irritation and instead smiled and explained what was happening in the game, Sheldon might have been more receptive.
Kinesics is the use of body movements that send messages to others. According to lecture, kinesics includes gestures and body movements that can reinforce, manage, or convey a verbal message (Mullin, 2020b). Body movements can include anything from a thumbs up to a yawn. For example, when your mom tells the story of the time a squirrel attacked her while on a run, she uses her hands to emphasize certain details and physically acts out the part when the squirrel jumped at her face. Your mom is using kinesics to regulate the conversation by using her hands when she speaks and reinforces the details of the squirrel attack when she recreates the squirrel jumping for her.
In the baseball scene in Young Sheldon, whenever one of Sheldon’s family members talk to each other, they turn their body towards the person they are speaking to. This is an element of kinesics that’s purpose is to regulate the conversation. Because all the family members turn towards the person they are speaking to, they are paying attention to what they are saying and are comprehending it. Sheldon, however, does not do this. Meaning, he is showing his family that he doesn’t really care what they are talking about. Another conversation regulator Sheldon’s family uses is pointing. Sheldon’s mom taps his shoulder and points at Missy, telling Sheldon to watch his sister play. Both the shoulder tap and the point are regulators.
The tap was to get Sheldon’s attention, to start the conversation, then the point was directing his attention to the subject of the conversation. This does not effectively get Sheldon interested in the baseball game. If his mom had waited until she had his attention and knew that he was listening before pointing at Missy, he would have been more interested because he was giving it his full attention.
Sheldon’s family, to get him interested in his sister’s baseball game, used the language concepts: low-language, speech accommodations, and the nonverbal codes: paralanguage, and kinesics.
They did not effectively convince Sheldon to watch the game because they didn’t take into account his verbal and nonverbal cues. While his family was using low-language to casually talk about baseball, Sheldon was using high-language. This created a divide between Sheldon and his family because while they were being casual, Sheldon was being very formal in an informal environment.
Sheldon’s family’s use of speech accommodation to explain what is happening in the game, Sheldon is spoken down to, which he is not responsive to. When his dad uses paralanguage his sigh negatively affects Sheldon’s feelings towards baseball, which further pushed him away from watching and enjoying the game.
Because Sheldon didn’t pay attention when his family was talking to him, the use of kinesics failed to get Sheldon interested in his sister’s baseball game.
Mullin, D. (2020a). Defining Communication Part 1. Class lecture for Communication 1, Department of Communication, University of California, Santa Barbara.
Mullin, D. (2020b). Nonverbal Communication Part 2. Class lecture for Communication 1, Department of Communication, University of California, Santa Barbara.
O’Hair, D., Wiemann, M., Mullin, D. I., & Teven, J. (2018). Real communication: An introduction (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Bedford/St.Martin’s.