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Notes to Edward T. Hall's Proxemic Theory

Silence speaks in some cases, and distances can speak too. Below are some influential social-anthropological estimates that were developed by the US anthropologist Edward T. Hall. Basic things he shows, can be easily identified, measured, or surveyed in daily life. This etched out knowledge should be good for you. Yet one is to allow for individual differences and peculiarities and cultural ones too in this field.

1Very close (ca. 7.6 to 15 cm) Soft whisper; top secret
2Close (20 to 30 cm) Audible whisper; very confidential
3Near (30 to 50 cm) Indoors, soft voice; outdoors, full voice; confidential
4Neutral (50 to ca 92 cm) Soft voice, low volume; personal subject matter
5Neutral (92 cm to 1.5 m) Full voice; information of non-personal matter
6Public Distance (1.75 to 2.4 m) Full voice with slight overloudness; public information for others to hear
7Across the room (2.4 to 6.1 m) Loud voice; talking to a group
8Stretching the limits of distance (0 to 7.3 m indoors; up to 30.5 m. outdoors) Hailing distance; departures.

Source: Edward T. Hall: The Silent Language, p 163-64.

Much communication is nonverbal, and comfortable distance, loudness of voice, and degree of intimacy band together fairly well, much as the table shows.

Hence, if anyone shouts at you, perhaps like an army sergeant, at very close range, or on purpose throws a firecracker that explodes next to your ear without even warning you, a decent moral or code of conduct seems severely violated, or perhaps urgency is involved somehow, as during warfare.

Dr. Hall's proxemic ideas no doubt work best cum grano sale, with some reservation, for (a) there are cultural differences in the uses of space, and (b) individual ones. But as a rule of the thumb with somewhat flexible boundaries, it works.

"People in various cultures utilise both time and space as well as body positions and other factors for purposes of communication. Hall's "silent language" of nonverbal communications consists of such culturally determined interactions as the physical distance or closeness maintained between individuals, the body heat they give off, odours they perceive in social situations, angles of vision they maintain while talking, the pace of their behaviour, and the sense of time appropriate for communicating under differing conditions.

"Kinesics and proxemics may also, in certain instances, involve vocalizations as accompaniments to nonverbal phenomena or as somehow integral to them.

"Some anthropologists claim that within the vocabularies of kinesics and proxemics are the virtual building blocks of spoken language," says Encyclopaedia Britannica. [sv. "communication"].

Distances Speak, Proxemics, Edward T. Hall, Literature  

Hall, Edward. Beyond Culture. New York: Doubleday, 1981.

Hall, Edward. The Hidden Dimension New York: Doubleday, 1982

Hall, Edward. The Silent Language. New York: Doubleday, 1981 (1959).

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