What is Proxemic Language? Main Characteristics

He proxemic language refers to forms of nonverbal communication related to the distance and location of people within a specific space.

This concept was coined by Edward Hall. This anthropologist was interested in identifying the way humans use space as a form of non-verbal communication.

What is Proxemic Language?  Main Characteristics

Proxemic language can be identified in everyday situations of very different nature. In addition, it is often fundamental in human relationships despite its silent and implicit nature.

The personal space

Personal space refers to the distance that people establish in their daily relationships.

It is considered that there are four ranges of interpersonal distances, but these can vary according to the different cultures and their socialization standards. The main characteristics of each range will be detailed below:

1- Public space

It refers to the distance that is conserved in front of a public figure or a speaker in a massive event.

In these cases, a distance of 4 meters is maintained, and this space makes it possible for the speaker to communicate simultaneously with all the people who occupy the room, but not in a personal way.

2- Social space

It refers to the distances that are preserved within contexts of formal or professional socialization. This is the case of working or commercial conversations, contexts in which there is no closeness or intimacy between speakers.

In these cases, the separation can be between 1 and 2 meters. In this way you can hold a personal conversation without entering situations of greater confidence or intimacy.

3- The personal space

It refers to situations in which there is even greater closeness and trust among the speakers.

This space is linked to personal and family relationships, and the distance can go from 0.5 to 1 meter.

4- The intimate space

This refers to the distance between two people who share intimacy, particularly when it comes to couples or close friends.

In this case, the distance goes from less than half a meter to directly be in physical contact with the other person.

Variations of proxemic language according to culture

These range ranges are often variable according to culture. There are societies more prone to closeness, as well as others that have as social norm to maintain distances.

In order to understand the forms of proxemic language in different cultures, Edward Hall divided them into two basic categories: contact cultures and non-contact cultures.

However, other researchers later expanded this division into three categories: cold, warm, or reactive non-conflicting cultures. The specifics of each of these three categories will be detailed below:

1- Cold, logical and non-contact cultures

These cultures include the United States and the Nordic countries.

They are characterized because the speakers are direct and sometimes impatient. They are also reserved and interested in facts rather than emotions.

2- Multiactive, warm, impulsive and contact cultures

This classification refers to cultures in which speakers express themselves enthusiastically and emotionally.

They prefer personal stories rather than facts, tend to interrupt during the conversation and show their emotions more openly.

This category includes cultures such as Arabic, Italian, French, Latin American and Turkish.

3- Non-conflicting reactive cultures

These cultures value decorum and diplomacy over facts and emotions.

Its speakers are listening patients who moderate in their body language and the expression of their emotions. This set includes cultures like Japan, Vietnam, China and other cultures of Southeast Asia.


Territoriality refers to the forms that human beings use to delimit spaces that they consider their own.

These marks of territory can be made in very different forms, ranging from the subtlety of the custom to explicit forms of marking.

For example, in a family it is possible that a chair belongs to the father simply because he always uses the same. It is also possible to observe in a square that a group of young people mark with the initials the soil or the walls of a place, to demarcate its territory.

There are basically three types of territory:

1- Main territory

It refers to territories that are explicitly or implicitly recognized as the property of a person. A room, a bed inside a room, a car or a specific armchair inside the room are an example of this.

For example, if a person encounters his or her roommate in his or her room and sits on his or her bed upon arrival, it will be understood as a violation of space.

2- Secondary territory

The seat that is occupied in the classroom or a table that is chosen in a bar are their own territories during the time in which they are used, but in reality do not belong to anyone specifically.

For example, if a person has a favorite table in the bar that he frequents but when he arrives it is occupied, he can not complain about it. However, while the occupation is implicitly understood that no one else can occupy that space.

3- Public space

It is the space that belongs to everyone and nobody at the same time. For example, the streets, squares and stations of the Metro. They are spaces by which anyone can move freely, without invading the terrain of other people.

Disposition within the space

The disposition of the people within a certain space usually says a lot about them and their role within it.

For example, in a classroom, students know they should be located in the back of the classroom if they do not want to be seen. On the contrary, if you want active participation, they should be located in the front zone.

Exceptional situations

It is common to observe that people suffer situations of anxiety when faced with codes of proxemia different from those assumed. This can occur when another person approaches more than expected, generating an automatic response of fight or flight.

This situation has exceptions in which people consciously renounce their personal space in specific cases. An example of this is when they get on a very crowded train or an elevator.

According to the investigations, the intention still exists to control the situation; this control is reflected, for example, by avoiding the eyes of those present on the train or in the elevator. This evasive action allows to control the feeling of intimacy with the other, even though it is in close physical contact.


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  4. Study Body Language. (S.F.). Proxemics. Retrieved from: study-body-language.com
  5. Study.com. (S.F.). Proxemics. Recovered from: communicationstudies.com

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