Communication involves assigning meaning and exchanging it among people. It is a type of ritual which is performed by people using meaning from a particular language. Communication may also occur among other living things like animals to initiate behaviors like mating, call for alert against danger and even eating (Georgen and Tojo 803). However, the substance of this paper is communication among human beings. To understand this better, it is important to know the nature of human communication and how language helps to shape human behavior and actions during communication.
Communication can be thought to be a process of moving a message from one entity to another. It is a process, mediated by symbols, between two or more agents who share a catalogue of signs and symbols. Thus, it involves a trade of thoughts, opinions or information via a medium such as speech, written works or even visual signs (Miller 4). It may happen within a person or among persons with the goal of delivering a message. For instance, a college professor perusing his lecture program just before a class session can be said to be communicating to himself: He proofreads the program, notes what should be changed for the benefit of his students and concludes, in his thoughts, that the program is sufficient. In this case, the lecturer will be getting information through written work done by him, based on the universal symbols of writing, and making responses about what to be changed. Similarly, a student may offer a morning greeting to her teacher. This is interpersonal communication. In this case, the student shares with the teacher common signs constituted in greetings. For example, saying “good morning” may indicate that the student is inquiring about how the teacher is feeling. The teacher, also invoking the sign of greeting, responds to the greeting by answering the student in the usual good-morning-to-you reply. This sums to interpersonal communication (Schramm 320).
There are two dimensions involved in a communication process. One is that it involves transmission of messages. The other posits that the message is sent to an agent who may respond. Messages sent amid communication process are usually transmitted through a channel or medium whose target shall receive and decode for perception and hence complete the process. Transmission requires that the communicating parties have a communicative harmony. For example, auditory media like speech, song or voice tone and non-verbal means like sign language, body movements and written message must be shared. In this case, transmission of messages is governed by three levels of semiotic rules (Schramm 322). That is, the syntactic level which is the universally shared properties of signs and symbols in a particular setting, the pragmatic level which is the relationships between the expressions of the sender and the target, and the semantics which involve the study of relationships between symbols and what they actually mean (Miller 5).
The stimulus response dimension means that communication is only perfect if it conveys information and gives the receiver a chance to respond through feedback. The communication process takes the path of a sender conveying the message to the receiver via a specific medium like voice (sound), the sender gets back the receiver’s response which may be the request for clarification, and the sender will repackage the message for clarity which will be rephrased by the receiver and form notable responses as intended by the sender (Schramm 323). This process involves the sender and the receiver sending messages to each other to stimulate responses. The stimulus response dimension involves the communicator’s reception of stimuli in that the agent receives the message through the sensory organs like ears, eyes, skin or even tongue which direct the stimuli to the brain for perception and eventual response. The communicator filters the message through cues provided by the signs of communication in their respective culture thus the meaning may be altered to fit their perceptions (Miller 6). The channel of communication may also impact on the perception of the message. For instance, a person reading a notice in an illegible handwriting may either skip some parts or misread the notice altogether. Thus a person’s ability to communicate, the medium of communication used and the packaging of the message is important in achieving the intended response. This may occur at all levels of communication. At an intrapersonal level, it may mean a person’s sensing of a foul smell and decided to move away from the spot. At interpersonal level, it may involve a politician trying to put his manifesto before the electorate who may decide whether to vote him or not. In a mass communication case, this takes the form of an advertiser announcing the introduction of a new product and waiting for the audience to decide to buy. In all these levels, the recipient of the message is seen as powerful and able to make a decision from the perceived stimuli (Schramm 323).
Communication involves manipulation of signs of a particular language to formulate the message. In this case, communication is a cultural practice. It may involve conferment of knowledge, advice or instructions, seeking of information or praising someone using a medium affordable to the communicators. It involves at least two parties using a language they both understand and intend to share the message though reciprocation (Whorf 27).
Communication is a creative and dynamic process, not just a discreet trade of information (Schramm 324). People use different media to communicate at different times. For example, political parties must keep changing their proposals to woe voters. Members of the parties’ executive committees meet and identify issues of national interest (which keep changing) and allow their candidates to present them in media that will achieve the greatest reach. Thus communication is necessary to build up the society. Members relate to one another through communication. Although it may change the medium or signs of use, communication patterns usually rely on the dynamic nature of cultural patterns. The society uses communication to perform intricate actions such as convincing someone to be your girlfriend, instructing students to do an assignment, coaching players to win a match and even making jokes among friends (Boroditsky 1).
Language is a system of encoding and interpreting messages by assigning meaning to various symbols (Whorf 38). A language has rules for using its symbols for communication and helps to assign meaning based on the context of use. Language can affect what people think and act about the world (Begley Para.2). For example, the mental activities of speakers of different languages vary. Sensory perceptions such as how we describe objects can be inherently associated with different phenomena in different languages. Language can shape what we see. For instance, people can remember colors better if different hues of the same colors have distinguishing names like, say, navy-blue, dark-green, or even yellowish-orange. Although some scholars argue that people’s recollection of what they see in verbal and visual form is not proof of understanding the distinctions, it has been proved that having a name for every object allows one to fix its experience in the mind for long (Boroditsky 3-4). And this helps in understanding things clearly. As such, we can argue that the reason why messages given in some languages could be vague is because of lack of sufficient terminology. For instance, most African native languages only have two names for colors; black and white.
Language can help to shape our personifications. Grammatical gender associations of a man, for instance; as strong, courageous and perseverant can help to imagine that rocks are strong and tough. Hence you may hear statements like, ‘he is a rock!’ It helps individuals to give life to inanimate objects in communication. Language also provides imagery that people can use to provide descriptions for various aspects thus reducing on the use of many words (Begley Para.5). For example, we can say, ’he is a lion’ which could imply that he is cruel, overbearing, furious, and all other descriptions that a lion is.
Languages shape our communicative acts (Begley Para. 6). For instance, Lera Boroditisky discovered that the Mandarin native speakers described time in vertical terms while English speakers in horizontal times. English speakers described time using words like before and after. Mandarins used words like earlier, above and below. Those who had lived to understand the two languages spoke of time either in vertical or horizontal terms depending on when they began to learn the other language (3-8). According to Lee Whorf, distinctions of each language preserve a way of understanding the world. The differences in languages make the thoughts of their speakers to align to the language used in speech (40). One’s native language can influence his thoughts about conceptual phenomena like death, time or even love. It was discovered that a native speaker speaking a foreign language will rely on descriptions in his native language to make foreign language sentences. This is because his native language exerts some biasness of speech (Boroditisky 10 -11). Hence, we can deduce that language provides analogies that speakers can infer in their thoughts. It provides illustrations that shape our ideas. It helps to shape the way we describe our thoughts especially if the information about them is scarce to our senses (Whorf 40). For example, we can say the color of death is black not because we’ve seen it but because our languages have provided fillers for the lacking information about death’s color.
Language can impact on how we understand communication theories. For example the Language Expectancy Theory (LET) identifies the impact of variations in language on persuasion. It assumes that every language has its own rules and people usually develop certain standards and anticipations regarding suitable attitudes and actions towards persuasive language (Georgen and Tojo 805). In persuasion, every language gives certain expectations that depend on the trustworthiness of the source, normative prospects of the receiver and the social situation within a particular culture. The expectations are sourced from the cultural norms. In this respect, cultural forces like customs, language, beliefs and practices determine what can convince an audience to accept the message (Miller 13). It is important for communicators to familiarize with the culture of the audience before formulating persuasive messages and achieve intended results. In most cultures, it is usually normal for men to use language more aggressively than women (Georgen and Tojo 809). Hence, a male politician can be expected to intensify his arguments by use of expletives to woe voters. Violations on these expectations usually lead to the audience rejecting the message. That is, the acceptance or rejection of the persuasive message is controlled by cultural expectations about the use of language. An abusive language used in an ad is likely to turn away probable buyers than when the language used is decent. In this case, persuasion theory borrows from language use (Schramm 325). LET assumes that speakers with higher credibility can freely select various language tactics to develop their arguments, people who can not be trusted by the audience must conform to the limitations of the language to be effective in persuasion (Georgen and Tojo 811).
Language is important in organizational communication because it helps to develop approaches of circulating information within a business setting. It asserts that people in an organization are bound by the organizational culture which provides ways of communicating to members (Georgen and Tojo 812). For example, the organization may make decisions by allowing individual contributions from members and the organizational culture helps to eliminate distortions to information flow. Members may have email addresses with passwords where information is sent to avoid interference. Hence, the proper use of language in formulating information can help the organization to make rational decisions (Whorf 43). At interpersonal level, individuals must use a common language to understand each other better. For instance, a scholar talking to a high school graduate should avoid terminology used in his field of speciality to enhance the graduate’s understanding. Interpersonal Interaction can also be enhanced by avoiding the language that infringes on the other’s privacy or rights but emphasizes on the respect of the other.
In conclusion, we have seen the nature of communication and identified how language shapes communication. Language is culture-bound and people use language based on the rules sourced from a particular culture. Communication can only achieve its target if communicators learn rules of the language.
Begley, Sharon. “What is in a word? Language may Shape our Thoughts.” Newsweek. 2009. Web.
Boroditsky, Lera. “Does Language Shape Thought? Mandarin and English Speakers’ Conceptions of Time.” Cognition Psychology. 43(2001): 1-22.
Georgen, Kenneth and Joseph Tojo. “Psychological Science in Post-modern Context.” American Psychologist. 56.10(2001): 803-813.
Miller, Katherine. Communication Theories: Perspectives, Process, and Contexts. 3rd Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill. 2006.
Schramm, Wilbur. “How Communication Works.” The Process and Effects of Mass Communication. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1954. 320-326.
Whorf, Benjamin L. Language, Thought and Reality. Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf. Ed. Carroll Benjamin.Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1956. 326-230.