Intrapersonal Communication


Intrapersonal Communication is defined as the communication process within an individual. The way that society communicates in our complex daily lives may only be understood after we are able to comprehend that communication utterly relies on our particular perceptions.

We will now take the time to introduce how the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is related to language and thought in communication. We will also explain how it is possible for psychology to play such a major and essential part of intrapersonal communication.


Language and Thought


The study of language and culture is known as sociolinguistics. Sociolinguistics is a broad term covering any study of language that makes significant use of social data, or conversely any study of social life that makes use of linguistic data.

In his writing about the principle of linguistic relatively, which states at least as a hypothesis that structures the human being language influences the manner in which he understood reality and believed with respect to it. Benjamin Lee Whorf wrote in 1936 in "a linguistic consideration of thinking in primitive communities" that linguistic is essentially the quest for meaning. The real concern of linguistics, he writes, "is to light up the thick darkness of the language and there by up much of the thought, the culture and the outlook upon life of a given community with the light of this .golden something" as I have heard it called, this transmitting principle of meaning. He was concerned more with the substance than with process, He was more interested in what in some abstract sense was being thought about than with the mental processes by which one might think, and this outlook led him to linguistics, full of "comment" rather than to psychology relatively "content less" in its concern with generalized stimuli-response mechanisms.

Whorf appears to believe, indeed, that the content of thought influences the process of thought or that differing content produces differing species of process, so that generalization about process becomes impossible without content being taken into account. He believes different in thought content and their corresponding effects on thought processes and behavior in general would be spectacularly revealed by comparison of different language structures.

The idea of linguistic relativity did not emerge in a full-fledged form until after Whorf had started studying with Sapir. Not until he began to analyze "Hopi", a language with a grammar much more complex and subtle than that of "Aztec" or even that of "Nlaya!', did he begin to appreciate that the nation of linguistic relatively could be developed not only in much more telling and effective way by noticing differences in "lactation", but also in grammatical structure.

In his research "Whorf" discovered that fundamental syntactic differences are present among language groups. The Whorfian hypothesis of linguistic relativity simply states that the structure of a culture in language determines the behavior and habits of thinking in that culture.

In the words of Sapir, human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society. The fact of the matter is, that the "real world" is to a large extent unconscientiously built-up on the language habits of the group we see and hear and otherwise experienced very largely as we do, because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation (Littlejohn 196).

This hypothesis suggests that our thought processes and the way we see the world, are shaped by the grammatical structure of the language. Whorf spent much of his life investigating the relationship of language and behavior. His work with the Hopi illustrates the relativity hypothesis, Like all culture groups, the Hopi possess a reality, which represents their view of the world at large.

One area of Whorf is extensive analysis of Hopi thought is the analysis of time. Where many cultures refer to points in time (such as season), as nouns, the Hopi conceive of time as a passage or process. Thus, Hopi language never objects time.

In our culture, three senses indicate location or place in a partial analogy; past, present and future.

In the standard European language SAE including English, we visualize time as a line. The Hopi conception is more complex. Suppose a speaker reports that "a man is running." The Hopi would seethe use of the word Wari, which is a statement of running as a fact. The same word would be used for a report.

As a result of these linguistic differences, Hopi and SAE culture will think about perceive and behave toward time differently. The Hopi tend to engage in lengthy preparing activities, Experiences (getting prepared) tend to aculeate as time "gets later."

In the SEA cultures, with their partial treatment of time, experiences are not accumulated in the same sense. The custom in SAE cultures is to record events such that what happened in the past is objective.

Whorf summarizes this view "concepts of time and "matter" are not given in substantially the same form by experience to all men, but depend upon the nature of the language or languages through the use of which they have been developed.


Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis (LI96) Revisited


An overall assumption of Sapir and Whorf is that, we are conditioned in our culture to be one way. This happens on many levels mostly at the came and effect level.

The Sapir Whorf Hypothesis is otherwise known as the theory of linguistic relativity. Edward Sapir worked with his protege Benjamin Lee Whorf, Whorf was best known for his work in the field of linguistics. To understand and follow the work done by these two theorists one must first be clear of the meanings of both linguistic determinism and linguistic relativity.

Linguistic determinism is a theory that holds that language determines what we do, what we say and what we think ... in fact it also limits what we do, think and say.

Linguistic relativity is a theory that the language we speak influences what we perceive and think. Since different languages catalog the world differently, speakers of different languages will see the world differently,

The Whorfian hypothesis of linguistic relativity states that the structure of a cultures language determines the habits, behaviors and ways of thinking within that culture. We are shaped by grammatical structure of the language in which we are a part of In the words of Edward Sapir,

  • Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for the society. It is quite an illusion to imagine that one adjusts to reality essentially without the use of language and that language is merely an incidental means of solving specific problems of communication or reflection. The fact of the matter is that the "real world" is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group ... We see and hear

    the otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation (Whorf 134).

  • Whorf spent much of his life investigating and analyzing the relationship of language and behavior. He discovered that fundamental syntactic differences are present among language groups. He is well known for the studies which he conducted with an Indian tribe in Arizona whom speak the Hopi dialect. Well known as the Hopi's. One area of the extensive Hopi analysis is the presence of time. The Hopi tribe conceives time as passages or processes and the language never objectifies time at all. In our culture we have three tenses of time that are indicated by locations or places in spatial analogy; past, present and future. Hopi verbs have no tense at all. In the same sense their verbs relate to duration and order. (Model la)

    In SAE , Standard Average European Language, in the English language, we visualize time as a linear process, whereas the Hopi see time as a more complex concept. As a result of these linguistic differences, Hopi and SAE cultures think and perceive time differently.

    The effect that society has on language, and also the effect that the environment has on language can be seen in a number of ways. In the thoughts and words of B. L. Whorf , "Every language is a vast pattern system, different from others, in which are culturally ordained the forms and categories by which the personality not only communicates, but analyzes nature, notices or neglects types of relationship and phenomena, channels it's reasoning, and builds the house of consciousness (Whorf, 252).

    There is many examples of physical environment and how it effects society as well as how it reflects language. In English for example there is only one word for snow, yet in the language of the Eskimos they have a massive number of words for snow, for obvious reasons due to their environment. In our language we can differentiate the word snow by using different distinctions such as fine snow, dry snow, powdered snow, but the Eskimos language is lexicalized or made by means of individual words. Other languages follow the same patterns depending on their physical environments. Such as the Northern Scandinavian language has many words for reindeer, and the Bedouin Arabic language has several lexical words to describe camels and horses in their vocabulary, This is because these objects are very important to the cultures.

    Sapir-Whorf's theory also looks at the social environment and how it reflects language and the structure of language. For example a societies relationship with the kinship system is generally reflected in it's kinship vocabulary (Rossi-Landi, 27). In English speaking societies important kin relationships am those signaled by single vocabulary words, i.e. mother, father, sister, brother aunt, uncle etc. However, in other communities the kin vocabulary differs. In the Australian aboriginal language of Njarnal

    the term mama signifies a single kinship relationship directly related to the father. For example mama refers to father's sister, father's brother, father's sister's husband. The word deciphers the use of the relationship with the male and the same is used with the word karna for the relationship with the females. This is proof that languages and communities have many differences on the social level. Language determines the structure of our behaviors and also the availability of words in a language will determine the sort of cognitive and cultural classifications which a person might make,

    The Whorfian theory goes beyond philosophical claims to make theoretical generalizations about how language operates in cultural experience. Joshua Fishman writes about the extreme nature of Whorf and Sapir's claims by saying, "the theory promotes two horrors, the horror of hopelessness, that people are trapped by their language, and the horror of helplessness, that there is no hope for the communication across cultures (Fishman, 323).


    Gestalt Psychology



    Gestalt Psychology includes the theory of perception. It is best explained in stating that we process information and what we see in the easiest form for us to understand based on our world. Gestalt Psychology is able to explain why there are so many variations on the way we perceive things, We often try too hard to make things make sense. We want to understand why things are as they arc and so we take with us the prior knowledge and experiences in our lives in order to form attitudes and

    assumptions about things. We are able to do this based on the three laws presented by Kohler, 1947. They are as follows:

    1) Principle of closure: this is when we see a figure that is disconnected or incomplete and we fill in the gaps - sensory organization (figure 1): this is when we see things in a pattern although they are not really in any particular pattern

  • - organized entities (figure2): this is when we see look at something and see something other than what we thought because someone tells us it is there
  • 2) Law of proximity: this is when we see things that are near each other as being with each other -stimulus situation (figure 3): this is the tendency to form pairs of things because of the way they are visualized

    3) Law of similarity: this is when we perceive something because we know that it is there -perceptional set (figure 4): this is when we look at something and we are able to see something other than what we first saw simply because someone told us that there was something else there.

    Katz of the University of Stockholm wrote a book entitled Gestalt Psychology: Its Nature and Significance in which he explored three additional ways that we may perceive many situations, They are the following:

  • I ) Law of closed forms (figure 5): this is the tendency to view things that enclose something else as being a part of that particular unit

    2) Law of common movement: this is when we group elements together simply because they move similarly and simultaneously.

    3) Law of experience: this is the way we comprehend symbols in communicating

  • - individual experience (figure 6): our individual experiences are based on the circumstances in which a particular situation is presented to us and that is why we are able to perceive things differently from one another.
  • I hope that I have been clear in showing that our social intercourse, social arrangement, and knowledge are reasons why we must always be clear when communicating. We are able to randomly make assumptions about things because we are trying to keep everything sensible and simple in our world. We want to understand and so we try to make sense of everything we encounter, thus, many symbols in human communication are accidental.

    Gestalt Psychology


    At every moment in our life, we are being bombarded with hundreds of different sensations. These sensations are caused by different stimuli. The way we process the stimuli is called perception. Perception as Butter reported is "a mental process in which we select, organize, and interpret the many stimuli that impinge upon us at any given moment."(p. 39). Gestalt psychology is the study of perception.

     As we are walking down the street, many of us might be thinking about a homework project coming up in the near future. At that moment, a breeze may blow pass you at the same time as you notice a man hanging his laundry. All of these things that you just noticed are examples of stimuli. What you feel and think about the stimuli is called sensation. What you label the sensation would be perception. The sensation felt when you thought about the homework assignment coming up might be that your stomach was turning. Weather you thought that the feeling was uneasiness about the assignment or hunger, would be the perception. What this means is that all of the different things that we notice in a given time or place, we process in different ways depending on our background, or past experiences. For example, one person may look at a photograph of a beach and enjoy it because of the way the sun looked in the background, whereas another may look at how many people were at the beach in the picture and dislike it. All of these different interpretations of the different sensations caused by the stimuli are examples of perception.


    There is a big difference between sensation and perception. The main difference between the two is that a sensation is what turns into a perception. For example, if someone felt an uncomfortable feeling in their arm, they could perceive this to be pain. The reason that they would perceive this sensation to be pain is because of past experiences where they felt the same sensation, and someone had labeled it as pain. The sensation part is only the physical reception of the stimuli. The perception part is what you actually perceive this sensation to be. According to Mc Davod, we learn to perceive as a result from our past experiences with many different people, places, and events. Perception is the way you choose to interpret the different sensations that you feel.

    There are many different principles of perception suggested by Gestalt Psychology. Some are the principle of proximity, the principle of good form, the search for order, and the principal of similarity.

     The principle of proximity deals with how we perceive things which are located, or grouped together. For example, if you were walking down the street, and noticed a man and a woman walking down the other side of the street, you might perceive them to be a couple. Another example would be if the two people looked similar, you might perceive them to be relatives.





  • In this picture, you would probably perceive the x’s and o’s to be grouped together.

    With Gestalt theory, it ties directly into intra personal communication, because it deals with how you perceive things. How you perceive things will make a difference in the way you communicate with yourself. It is easy to perceive things in certain ways, only because you aren’t looking close enough at a sensation, but instead rushing to a conclusion and perceiving something the way it wasn’t meant to be perceived at all.


    Figure- Ground

    Stephanie Wise

    Gestalt psychologists like David Katz have concentrated on form concepts in there studies psychology. In his book entitled, Gestalt psychology Its nature and significance, in particular he found a concept of Figure- ground. Figure-ground deals with perception in humans. How humans are able to process what they see and what strategies reused.

    In figure-ground pictures it is impossible to see the particular picture because of the background figures. Often you can not tell what part of the drawing is actually the back-ground or center of the picture because of the complexity of the picture itself

    An example would be Figure 7, it is impossible to see upright cross against a background of circles or a different cross against a background of diagonals. Another ambiguous drawing is shown in Figure 8. In the drawing there are TOWS of black letters. The letters shown is a letter "T" With a white background or a repeat white motif with a black background.

    In looking at drawings in Figure- ground what is important to focus on is the colors in the drawing. Most often there are at least to colors, one is a dominate color. For example black and the other color would be, for example white. Looking at the colors black and white, black is most often the background color. Most people would link this with the fact that in the evening it is dark and that would be the background color.

    The Figure- ground is of fundamental importance for psychology theory. There are all kinds of models made to be demonstrated as a Figure-ground model. I have only touched on a couple of drawings but there are other things you can use like for instance sound. However sound is much easier to differentiate what is background and what is not.


    In conclusion, intrapersonal communication is the foundation for all communication. It begins with language and thought itself, but includes our perception of what language and thought are. Every individual may see something and assume a particular attitude toward the subject, however, one can be certain that each assumption made is distinctly different. Intrapersonal Communication is a challenge because we have so many variations that arise from our perceptions at particular moments.



    Brooks, Wiliam D., & Emmert, Phillip. (1976). Interpersonal Communication. Dubuque, Iowa: William C.Brown Publishers.

    Butter, Charles M. (1968). Neuropsychology: The study of Brain and Behavior. Belmont CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Co.

    Fishman, Joshua (1960) "A Systematization of the Whorfian hypothesis." Behavioral Science 5. (p.323-329).

    Goldstein, E Bruce. (1996). Sensation and Perception. Pacific Grove CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Co.

    Katz, David (1950) Gestalt Psychology: Its nature and significance. United States; Ronald Press Company, (p.24-33).

    Kohler, Wolfgang (1947) Gestalt Psychology: An introduction to new concepts in modern society. New York; Liverright Publishing Corporation, (p. 83, 115).

    Littlejohn, Stephen W. (1196) Theory of Human Communication (fifth ed.). Belmont: Wadsworth publishing Co. (p. 196).

    Mc David, John W. (1968). Social Psychology: Individuals, Groups, Societies. New York: Harper and Row.

    Rossi-Landi, Ferruccio (1973) Ideologies of Linguistic Relativity. Mouton; Mouton and Co. The Hague. (p.27).

    Whorf, B.L. (1956) Language, Thought and Reality. New York; John Wiley and Sons, (p. 134/252).