Communication is like a bridge between people, the way in which it happens depending very much on the art of communication, the creativity of the human beings, the message of the communication and on the context in which it takes place. Because of its complexity, communication has been defined in many ways, some definitions being “broad and inclusive, others restrictive” (Littlejohn, Foss, 2008:3): “The process that links discontinuous parts of the living world to one another” (Ruesch, 1957:462), “A system for communicating information and order” (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, 1986:460), “A participative, two-way sharing of understanding, commitment and purpose, leading to appropriate action” (Robbins et al, 2000:633).
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Communication is an interdisciplinary concept as it is approached from different fields such as linguistics, psychology, ecology, mathematics, etc., enabling us to transmit and share facts, ideas, data, feelings, attitudes. It plays a key role in all the fields of activity, therefore it should be effective so as to be an element of success for every relationship, organization, meeting, research, etc. Still, there are many barriers to effective communication (e.g. language, inappropriate choice of words/channel, different cultural backgrounds, difference in attitudes and values, etc.) which lead to misunderstandings and failure in interaction. Communication is not based just on a simple verbal interaction between people, but also on the body language and the facial expression which are also means of communicating a message. More than that, communication and technology have developed so much lately that we can even speak of forms of communication that move from the traditional human forms toward impersonal communication with entities to which we cannot transmit feelings or experiences, e.g. banking networks, computers, phones, etc. and we can also speak not only of human or impersonal communication but also of animal communication.
However, if we are to consider a simple model of communication which states that it is a process of information transfer from a sender to a receiver via a medium, the process starting from an inner state of the sender which produces the transfer of the signal and ending with an inner state of the receiver when the signal is delivered (Shannon&Weaver, 1949), we can ask ourselves if this simple model is suitable for communication in general, be it human, impersonal or animal.
In their book “Animal Signals” Maynard Smith and Harper (2003:3) defined the signal as: “any act or structure which alters the behaviour of other organisms, which evolved because of that effect, and which is effective because the receiver’s response has also evolved”. Here, the signal is understood as having a corresponding response, a modification of behaviour. Still, it may fail sometimes, for example because of poor design or noise. On the contrary, communication means a successful accomplishment of the signalling act, so there is no such concept as failed communication. Thus, it is this possible failure that makes the clear distinction between signalling and communication. In the previous definition, there is no reference to the notion of “information” but this does not mean that signalling does not use it. If we think of both impersonal and animal signalling, the idea that the signal carries information is implicit, even Maynard Smith and Harper (1995:305) stated that: “it is not evolutionarily stable for the receiver to alter its behaviour unless, on average, the signal carries information of value to it”. Hence, information is carried but the relevance of the signal is important as the receiver may ignore the signalling behaviour if the signal is of no use to him and has nothing to gain from it. An important difference between human communication and animal signals (maybe we could even think of this difference when referring to impersonal devices signalling) is the presence of language. People are able to communicate with the help of language, having the power of combining and creating different messages by using symbols, words and their creativity. More than that, people have thoughts, desires, beliefs being able to show and recognize their intentions to communicate, they may use different stimuli to attract the receiver’s attention and to engage in activities with similar goals and objectives. Animals, on the other hand, have no intentional system (Davidson, 1982) and none of the above mentioned human traits. The speech acts mark also a difference between human communication and animal/impersonal signals. The communicative acts help us not only to communicate but also to influence each other in various ways.
In conclusion, if we take into consideration the particularities of human communication and the limitations of animal/impersonal signalling, we can notice that there are similarities but also differences, thus it would be difficult to say that a simple model would cover all cases. The general terms of human communication being established, we turn to examine other important aspects/models of successful and effective (human) communication.
Characteristics of communication
Two-way process: The two-way process refers to a communication where the participants take turns in being speaker-listener, writer-reader, the process being complete only if there is a feedback from the receiver to the sender on how well the message is understood.
Verbal and nonverbal: Verbal communication uses sounds and language to express ideas and concepts while non-verbal communication uses gestures, touch and body language to send and receive wordless cues between people.
Language familiarity: Effective communication means that the sender must use a language the receiver is familiar with, otherwise the communication will be a failure.
Interest in the message: The receiver has to be interested in the subject the sender has to convey, so that the communication process is successful.
Perception: There should be a consensus between the message that is sent and the one that is received. The intended meaning has to be the same for an effective communication.
Continuity: Communication is continuous because in everything we do, we have to convey or receive information, the exchange of information being a continuous process.
Formal or informal: Formal communication conforms to established professional rules and standards while informal communication is casual, unofficial and does not conform to any regulations.
Components of communication
Communication becomes effective when it achieves the desired response from the receiver. These are the components by means of which communication can be effective:
Context – every communication starts with a context and is affected by the context in which it occurs. The context could be cultural, social, physical, etc. and it is the sender who chooses the message to communicate within such a context.
Sender/encoder – This is the person who conveys the message. He/she uses words, visual aids or body language to send the message and produced the desires response, the verbal or nonverbal symbols chosen being essential for a correct interpretation of the message by the receiver.
Message – The message is the essence of what the sender wants to communicate and it is the starting point of the communication process because the sender starts by planning the message he/she wants to transmit.
Medium – It is the channel which is used to conduct the communicative act. It is essential to choose the right medium in order to have an effective communication.
Receiver/decoder – This is the person to whom the message is addressed, the understanding of the message depending also on the relationship between the sender and the receiver, but also on the reliance that the encoder has on the decoder.
Feedback – Feedback is very important for the communication process as the sender has the possibility of analysing the efficacy of the message and to understand if the message has been interpreted correctly.
Models of communication
There are many code models for understanding the communication process and it would be difficult to consider all of them in this paper, therefore we are going to consider only some significant models which serve the purpose of understanding the process of communication.
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle was the first to give a model of communication. Incorporating few elements, his model is suitable for public speaking (www.eou.edu).
SPEAKER – MESSAGE – LISTENER
According to this model, the speaker/sender has the most important role in communication, taking complete charge, carefully preparing and presenting his thoughts in order to influence the listener/receiver. Aristotle’s model is the most common model for public speaking where the message is sent to influence the receivers and make them act accordingly.
Shannon and Weaver (1949)
Claude E. Shannon was an electrical engineer and mathematician who published a paper which referred to a theory of probability for evaluating the success of electronic transmission of information, a concept which became known as the information/communication theory. His model was based on five constituents involved in the process of communication:
1. An information source which produces a message or a sequence of messages to be communicated to the receiving terminal. â€¦
2. A transmitter which operates on the message in some way to produce a signal suitable for transmission over the channel. â€¦
3. The channel is merely the medium used to transmit the signal from transmitter to receiver. â€¦ During transmission, or at one of the terminals, the signal may be perturbed by noise.â€¦
4. The receiver ordinarily performs the inverse operation of that done by the transmitter, reconstructing the message from the signal. â€¦
5. The destination is the person (or thing) for whom the message is intended. (Shannon, 1948:380, 1949:4).
In 1949 Shannon’ s theory was reviewed by Warren Weaver who actually extended the term communication, using it in a very broad sense and making the understanding of the theory easier for those who were not familiar with mathematics. Shannon and Weaver published a work together “The Mathematical Theory of Communication” which contributed significantly to the application of the communication theory within different fields.
MESSAGE SOURCE – TRANSMITTER – CHANNEL – RECEIVER – DESTINATION
Roman Jakobson (1960)
Jakobson’s model of the functions of language makes a distinction between six factors of communication that are necessary for the communication to take place: addresser, message, addressee, context, code and contact.
The ADDRESSER sends a MESSAGE to the ADDRESSEE. To be operative, the message requires a CONTEXT referred to (“referent” in another, somewhat ambiguous, nomenclature), seizable by the addressee, and either verbal or capable of being verbalized; a CODE fully, or at least partially, common to the addresser and addressee (or in other words to the encoder and decoder of the message); and, finally, a CONTACT, a physical channel and psychological connection between the addresser and the addressee, enabling both of them to enter and stay in communication. (Jakobson, 1960:353).
ADDRESSER CONTACT ADDRESSEE
According to Jakobson (1960) each of these factors determines a different function of language (termed by him as referential, emotive, conative, phatic, metalingual and poetic), each verbal message fulfilling more than one of these functions.
M. A. K. Halliday (1978)
David Crystal (2003)
In “A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics” Crystal defines communication using a classic variant of the model of communication.
Communication refers to the transmission of INFORMATION (a ‘message’) between a source and receiver using a signalling system: in linguistic contexts, source and receiver are interpreted in human terms, the system involved is a LANGUAGE, and the notion of response to (or acknowledgement of) the message becomes of crucial importance. In theory, communication is said to have taken place if the information received is the same as that sent (Crystal, 2003:85).
SOURCE – LANGUAGE – RECEIVER
Possible diagram of Crystal’s model
The examples presented here prove the long existence of the different models, each of them having a pattern of development, a contribution and an influence on the process of communication. However, an important aspect of the communicative process is language which helps us to communicate, to actually convey the message to other individuals, to interact and create systems for communicating. In general linguistics, language is analysed as a formal system, Noam Chomsky (1975) referring to it as being innate, a biological necessity and a highly abstracted individual competence. Still, when communicating, people do not rely only on the rules of language as a formal system, but also on the environment, the social context and the knowledge they have of the topic. Even if linguists like Chomsky or Pinker claim that people are somehow “wired” to language, people also have the ability to become aware and to respond to the environmental cues when using the language. It is because of these abilities and reactions that language plays an important role in communication and has an impact on human interaction. Language performs many communicative functions, one of the main functions being the communication of information, and even if there have been many attempts to give some general rules for the main functions of language, the results have been inconsistent, this functional approach being “less well documented” (Brown and Yule, 1983:1). Brown and Yule used only two terms to refer to the main functions of language, the distinction being made between “transactional language” and “interactional language”, which actually correspond to the classifications “representative/expressive” found in Buhler (1934), “referential/emotive” (Jakobson, 1960), “ideational/interpersonal” (Halliday, 1970b) and “descriptive/social-expressive (Lyons, 1977) . According to Brown and Yule (1983), transactional language is that language which is efficient, the speaker (or writer) having in mind “the efficient transference of information”, the receiver having to get the message correctly, as there is no place for misinterpretation because of the terrible consequences that it may have, for example a teacher giving the wrong information to students at the beginning of an exam or a fireman misguiding his colleagues during a fire. Interactional language refers to the language used in everyday conversations or social relationships, the sociologists and sociolinguists being the ones concerned with “the use of language to establish and maintain social relationships” (Brown and Yule, 1983:3). Everyday conversations are more subject to interactional than transactional use of language, phrases like “Terrible weather, isn’t it.” or “That’s a nice shirt/blouse” suggesting the speaker’s intention to develop a conversation and be friendly not his/her intention to convey a message. Conversational analysts such as Brown and Levinson (1978) believe that agreement and a common point of view are essential for this type of language, repetition being one of the means by which agreement is emphasised.
A distinction has to be made here between spoken language which is generally considered to be more interpersonal than informative, and written language which is considered to be primarily transactional. Spoken and written language are produced differently and with different effects.
Spoken versus written language
There are differences between the spoken and the written language which refer not only to the way that they are produced and to their effects, but also to their evolution and independence. Language is considered to be a natural ability, the capacity to acquire it being innate. Still, the views are different when referring to spoken or written language. There are many linguists who believe that written language is a human invention and not a natural ability. Darwin (1871) wrote about the instinct of speaking that we can observe even with little children while there is no such instinct as writing that can be observed with children. Saussure (1916) stated that writing exist only to represent speech, while Bloomfield (1933) claimed that writing is only a way in which speaking can be recorded, there being no such term as written language. Even if this view about writing has been sustained by many renowned linguists, it is not universally accepted. Linguists from the Prague Linguistic Circle, such as Pulgram (1965) or Vachek (1973, 1989), view written language as an independent system equal to spoken language, the two systems mutually influencing each other .
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