Home reading PR III semester Text 1. What is communication?
What do writing in a diary, watching television, talking with friends, speaking on the telephone, and reading a menu have in common? They are all forms of communication. It has been estimated that people spend more time communicating than they spend in any other complex activity in life. Even so, communication is a word that most people have difficulty defining and talking about. The word communication may be used to identify activities that do not involve people—for example, the word communication may be used to describe the ways that animals relate to each other. Similarly, it is often said that electronic devices communicate with each other. Communication usually refers to activities involving people, however. Thus, communication may be defined as the means through which people exchange feelings and ideas with one another. While this definition is clear and simple, much more needs to be said.
The Use of Symbols. Unlike things, feelings and ideas are difficult to exchange. People wishing to exchange physical objects may simply hand them to each other. Feelings and ideas, however, are without physical substance. They cannot be handed directly to another person. Rather, they must be exchanged through the use of symbols—things that represent or stand for other things. In oral, or spoken, communication sound patterns are used to stand for other things. The secret to learning an oral language is to discover which sound patterns are associated with which meanings. Very young children often point at objects as they say “Dat?” They have learned that the word “dat,” which is their word for “What is that?”, causes older children and adults to help them learn the sound patterns that stand for objects they wish to identify. As children start to associate sounds with meanings, they are acquiring language. Oral communication, however, involves more than just language. In the above example, young children use higher pitch at the end of the sounds “dat” to show that these sounds are intended as a question. When people use such a vocal characteristic to help clarify the intent of the sound patterns being used, it is often said that they are using paralanguage. Since para stands for besides, or in addition to, paralanguage may be defined as the vocal characteristics—rate, pitch, loudness, and so on—that accompany sound patterns and help to indicate meaning. For example, if a child shouts “dat” with no elevation in pitch, what change in meaning has occurred? “Dat” now is being used to stand for “Give me that.” Sound patterns may also be accompanied by nonverbal symbols. Facial expression, gestures, and eye contact help speakers to make their meanings clear. For example, when a child says “dat” (meaning “give me that”), he or she is likely to look at and point to the object in question. If the child's request is not answered, expression on the child's face will indicate disappointment unless “dat” is provided. While nonverbal symbols normally add to sound patterns, or language, they may also be used by themselves. When members of a football or basketball team hold their hands high in the air with the index fingers extended, the audience knows that the athletes are proud of their victory and consider themselves to be number one—the best team in the league. Many other gestures have meaning when used by themselves. People who have serious hearing problems, and cannot communicate through sound patterns, become unusually skillful in signing—using hand signals to indicate their meaning. They also become skillful in using eye contact and facial expression to add to signing. One special type of nonverbal communication involves the use of objects or designs rather than gestures, facial expressions, or movements. Traffic lights and highway road signs are examples. So too are religious symbols and national, state, and company flags. Symbols are also used in written communication. It is important to recognize, however, that both individuals and societies begin with oral language. Children use language to communicate through speaking and listening several years before they learn to read and write. Nearly one third of all the people in the world over the age of 15 are illiterate—incapable of reading or writing. Still these people use language, paralanguage, and nonverbal symbols to communicate with others. Similarly, societies begin with oral languages. Later they may seek to represent their languages with written symbols. Many societies, however, do not have written languages. Of the approximately 2,800 languages in the world, fewer than half have been transcribed into written symbols. The cultural heritage of these societies is passed on to succeeding generations by tribal elders through oral communication. In North America there were once 200 Indian languages. Many of these languages have been lost forever because tribal elders died before the languages could be transcribed. Essentially a written language uses printed symbols to stand for sound patterns. In English the 26 letters of the alphabet are the main symbols used to represent sounds. As there are approximately 47 sounds in the English language, however, the letters of the alphabet used alone cannot represent all of the sounds. Consequently, various groupings of letters are used to represent some sounds. For example, the letters t and h are used to represent the first sound in the word thinking. Some letters and combinations of letters may stand for more than one sound. For example, all of the vowels (a, e, i, o, u) stand for more than one sound in English. In addition to using letters to represent sounds, a written language contains punctuation marks that stand for paralanguage. For example, a period and a comma stand for a pause, a question mark stands for a change in inflection, or pitch, and an exclamation point stands for increased volume and intensity. Nonverbal aspects of oral communication have no direct counterpart in written language. Charts, graphs, pictures, and drawings, however, may be used to help the reader understand the printed text. Pictures and other graphic forms may hold meaning for people who speak different languages and who come from different cultures. A picture of a starving child, for instance, has meaning for people throughout the world. Most forms of human communication, however, require that people share the same symbol systems. Language, paralanguage, and nonverbal symbols must be shared. In addition, people must share the same knowledge of what in a language can be used properly under various social situations. This varies from one culture to another. So, when learning a second language, it is important also to learn about the people who use that language. A Process People sometimes forget that communication is a process—a series of ongoing events. Instead, communication is often thought of as a thing. A book, an encyclopedia, a phonograph record, and a magazine are indeed things. But each of these things is, by itself, not communication. It is, rather, a message that is but one part of the whole communication process. This process begins when a person feels a need to communicate. For example, a student may feel that his or her hair looks messy after gym class. To check it out, the student encodes, or places into sound patterns, a message: “Does my hair look messy?” Person two hears the sounds and decodes, or assigns meanings to, the message: “Chris is worrying about messy hair again.” The friend then encodes a response into sound patterns: “Your hair looks great, Chris. Stop worrying.” Chris hears the sounds and decodes their meaning: “Oh, great. Pat thinks my hair doesn't look messy.” This illustration shows how the communication process works for one person-to-person exchange involving a single idea or feeling. In ordinary conversation the communication process is unlikely to stop with a single exchange. In the preceding illustration the communication process was interactive—person one and person two directly exchanged ideas. However, this is not always the case. For example, this article was written by a person whom the reader will never meet. To the degree that the editors alter the message, it is partly theirs. In some respects, the encyclopedia's business managers, a secretary or two, and others are also sources of the message. It is also unlikely that the reader will try to send a message to the author. So, in this case communication is a one-way process. Similarly, radio and television programs, newspapers, films, and magazines are usually one-way messages created by teams of people. In all of these cases, a great deal of communication has taken place between people as they planned for, encoded, revised, and edited the message that is read, seen, or heard. The ideas included in a one-way message seldom remain only in the head of the receiver. Students use information from encyclopedias to create their own oral and written messages. People often encode messages about other messages as they talk with or write to others about things they have seen or read or heard. Consequently, a single communication process is often linked with other communication processes. In schools separate time slots are sometimes set aside for reading, writing, and oral communication instruction. When this is true, language instruction is organized around the modes, or ways, of communicating—reading, writing, listening, and speaking.When people communicate in real life, however, they seldom use the language modes in isolation. As people write, they talk to other people about their ideas, read printed materials to get additional information, and listen to helpful explanations or reactions. In fact, communication usually begins with a purpose rather than a mode.