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Date of Award


Access Type

Campus Access

Document type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


First Advisor

Donal Carbaugh

Second Advisor

Benjamin Bailey

Third Advisor

Elizabeth Krause

Subject Categories



The research investigates reports of inexpressible experience as a cultural phenomenon, employing a complementary set of theoretical and methodological frameworks (Ethnography of Communication, Cultural Discourse Analysis, Speech Code Theory). Each is designed to conceptualize and analyze the relationship between culture and communication. In early chapters, I identify and analyze a routine act sequence within which inexpressible claims occur, and further analyze the meanings and functions of each act. I conclude that inexpressible claims and the sequence in which they routinely occur, are a deeply cultural accomplishment, as knowledge of shared premises about communication itself are required for their successful performance. Interlocutors must share premises about the variety of communicative channels that exist for human expression, and the capabilities and boundaries of each of those expressive forms in order to interpret and produce these claims in conversation. I further conclude that inexpressible claims are a routine practice that can be put to strategic ends by culturally competent interlocutors, while also implicating a deeply felt cultural truth that our expressive desires cannot always be accomplished in the verbal channel. The research affirms that communication is practiced in distinctive ways across cultures as evidenced in the comparative analysis of Zen Buddhist discourse. In that analysis I conclude that not only do the forms, meanings and norms of communication vary across cultures, but that the boundaries we believe exist for what can and cannot be spoken are shaped, maintained, and sometimes strategically invoked, in cultural discourse. This research also affirms the existence of multiple codes of communication that employ distinctive premises and rules for the interpretation and production of speech, while also upholding that the boundaries of these codes are not fixed and rigid, but flexible, and overlapping.