On the Many Ways Language Can Go Wrong

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Friday, 03 July 2009

(02:05:24 CDT)

On the Many Ways Language Can Go Wrong

I have been thinking, lately, about the many ways that language can go wrong. The ways are practically indefinite, and can involve any number of gaffes, assumptions, falsehoods, and so forth but it seems possible to diagram and limit the process to a few key factors. For now, the aspect of lying is put to the way-side, but could be said to fit into the "encoding" process. Assumptions are summed up with expectations, but would also exist in the encoding and decoding process. Gaffes, meaning slips of the tongue or Joe Biden like moments over over verbosity, again fit into the encoding and decoding aspects. For the most part, though, I am examining the notion of fundamental failures of communication that can occur even when the message is true. To do so, I created a crazy ass diagram:

On the left side, you have the Transmitter. The Transmitter is broken down into the Speaker, the understanding and expectations of the speaker, and the ability of the speaker to encode the message into a linguistic form. On the right side, you have the Receiver. The Receiver is likewise broken down in basically the same way.

On the top, you have the "Linguistic Environment", which can also be called "The Set of Things, Actions, Facts, and Processes in the World which Impact this Specific Act of Communication". The LE influences every other portion of this diagram.

In the middle, you have the encoding, the medium through which the message travels, and the decoding. This is the process we call Language. Encoding is shared between the Transmitter and Languague, and decoding is likewise shared between Receiver and Language.

The Transmitter's Understanding (TU) involves not only understanding the Speaker, but also the modes of encoding and the Listener (as well as how the Listener will decode the message) and the LE. Likewise, the Receiver's Understanding (RU) must know the Speaker, the modes of decoding, and the LE.

Now that we have these out of the way, let's elaborate some on how it can go wrong.

How It Goes Wrong
(Four Basic Ways)

Unmutual Expectations: If the Speaker and the Listener have differing expectations about the outcome, this will affect not only the entirety of communication, but will specifically give false positives on the understanding of the encoding/decoding process.

Lacks of Understanding: If the Speaker does not know how to word his or her question, or answer; does not understand what he or she is really wanting; does not understand the LE or how the medium works; or, does not understand the Listener, then the encoding is bound to fail slightly, making proper decoding impossible. If the Listener fails to understand similar things, then decoding is not fully possible.

Changes in the LE over Time: As the LE changes, the sum of the message might change. Linguistic differences might arise, expectations might have altered, understandings might alter, and even the identity of the Listener might change.

Limits of the Medium: Finally, the last primary way that language can go wrong in this model is by some limit imposed by the medium. Maybe not all the proper understanding can be imparted into the medium, maybe there are expectations of the medium that are unfair, maybe the medium truncates the message, and maybe the medium adds some encoding or decoding step that does not function properly.

Steps that Can be Taken to Limit Mistakes

"Communication over Information": This is something of a growing buzzword lately, and it means just what it says. Treat such language cycles as cycles. Even if you are the listener, or the speaker, be ready to change positions and accept a feedback loop. While doing so, allow yourself to alter your expectations, your understandings, and adjust the medium as needed to better fulfill the desires of both (or more) parties.

Be Aware of, and Control, Expectations: Note when some expectation is applying pressure to the communication, be aware of what expectations are figuring in, try to limit unnecessary expectations, and, from the feedback loop above, work on letting some expectations go while fine tuning the ones best suited.

Learn the Limits of the Medium: self-explanatory. Is the way you are communicating, including the terms and symbols inherent in the encoding and decoding process, changing the what you are communicating? Probably yes, but learning out how much and how to work with it, instead of struggling against it, is tantamount to not creating unexpected falsities and failures.

Learn which Understandings to Hold, and Which to Let Go: Once a communication loop is established, it is likely that understandings will have to change or alter as well as the expectations. Care and attention to learning will help to teach both Speakers and Listeners how to evaluate and communicate new understandings.

Be Aware of the Environment: Lastly, for now, care should be given to understanding the environment in which the communication is occurring. What limits or constraints does it add to the table?

In Conclusion,

Well, this is not really concluding anything. This is practically a ramble meant to help sort the brain. It does illuminate a few things, though, namely the high level of interactivity that expectations and understandings play with current communication, despite the fact that little communication exists that will not alter them. Also, the medium threatens to bottleneck communication and strip it over key aspects of the Listener and the Speaker.

For now, though, I will conclude that proper communication requires a loop and some care.

Si Vales, Valeo


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