User:CalypsoTT/Communication/Description of Communication

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The study of communication interfaces or overlaps with areas such as business, organizational development, philosophy, languages, composition, theatre, forensics, literary criticism, sociology, psychology, anthropology, semiotics, international policy, economics and political science. The breadth and the primacy of communication in many areas of life is responsible for the ubiquity of communication studies, as well as for the resulting confusion about what does and does not constitute communication.

Communication can be seen as a cornerstone of society. A general view holds that communication is a central daily ritual that helps form as well as sustain communities. In what is called the transmission model of communication, which we will study later in Unit 3, a technical explanation of communication is given. Accordingly to this model, communication links the ways messages are transmitted and received via technology with the composition of these messages and the analysis of the effects of these communicative acts.

Let us explain this further.

The word communication is the derivative of the Latin communicare. It literally means to put in common or to share. The term originally meant sharing of tangible things such as food, land, goods and property. Today, the word refers to information transmission among living things or non-living things such as computers. While many subscribe to this description of communication using the maxim "who says what to whom", others seek to expand on this description by incorporating historical, economic and social contexts. For the purpose of this Course, however, let us describe communication as the process of transferring information from a sender to a receiver with the use of a medium in which the communicated information is understood by both the sender and the receiver. For communication to take place, the parties involved, e.g., the sender and the receiver, must share a common language that is exchanged between them.

Living organisms exchange information through several means including auditory means (e.g., speaking, singing and, sometimes, tone of voice) and non-verbal physical means (e.g., body language, sign language, para language, touch, eye contact or the written form). Thus, communication is the articulation of sending and receiving a message, through different media, be they verbal or non-verbal.

Communication happens at many levels and in many different ways, (even for one single action), for most living beings as well as certain machines. Several fields of study dedicate a portion of attention to communication, and so when we speak about communication, it is very important that we must be sure about what aspects of communication we are speaking about. For instance, the descriptions of communication range widely depending on the contexts in which it is used. Some descriptions are quite broad-based and include communication among animals or intrapersonal communication through, for example, diaries, self-talk, etc. However, some descriptions are focused solely on communication or communication involving information transmission governed by the following three levels of semiotic rules:

  1. Syntactic, i.e., the formal properties of signs and symbols.
  2. Pragmatic, i.e., that which is concerned with the relations between signs/ expressions and their users.
  3. Semantic, i.e., the study of relationships between signs and symbols and what they represent.

Communication, thus, is social interaction, where at least two interacting agents share a common set of signs and a common set of semiotics.

Communication theorists identify the following three main branches of communication study:

#Semiotics: This is the study of signs and symbols and how they combine to convey meaning in different social contexts. That is to say, semiotics as a branch of communication studies is mainly concerned with how verbal, non-verbal, visual and aural signs and symbols combine to create messages. Note that we will discuss the concept of semiotics in Unit 4. #Media effects: This is the study of behaviour and interaction through exposure to messages. It emphasizes measuring, explaining and predicting communication effects on knowledge, perceptions, beliefs, attitudes as well as public opinion. It is strongly influenced by scientific methods from the fields of psychology and social psychology. #Message production: This is the study of the large-scale organization of communications through social institutions and systems (e.g., mass media, political organizations, government, advocacy groups), their history, regulation and policy-making impact. It is strongly influenced by the scientific methods from the fields of Sociology, Political Science, History and Public Affairs.

Note that we will study, at a reasonable length, communication theories in Unit 2. At this juncture, we must also note that just as no single behavioural theory explains and predicts all human behaviours, no communication theory explains and predicts all communication outcomes. Some view this positively as a productive theoretical diversity, conducive to the understanding of human activity in many, complex dimensions. This stems from the recognition that an individual’s behaviour is shaped/formed in the context of the larger community and social environment in which he or she lives.

Some others, however, view this with reservations suggesting that the theory of communication represents a fragmentation in understanding the role of communication in human affairs. For our purposes of this Course, we take the positive view that communication theory is still in the stage of evolution and will continue to be so as long as it deals with human behaviour, which is non-finite and can’t be predictive.