The Reality of Communication

Posted Jul 20, 2011

The ability to exchange information is truly a fascinating issue.

To help explain, I've made two symbols for this article.

= Understand
= NOT understand

Pretty simple, yeah? Do you or do you what these mean?

And with this, we hint at the simple, yet hard to grasp fundamental of communication:


That's it. That's the key. All in one simple word. We (meaning you and I) have agreed that means "understand" and means the opposite. We could have assigned any meaning we wished to those symbols (which I quickly made just prior to writing this article) but those are the ones I assigned. And you agreed to it, so there we are.

I know some of you still so I'll explain more.

Any language: English, Spanish, Japanese, etc. is learned by understanding what each word and nuance means. As babies, we have no frame of reference to hang these words onto, so we learn slowly, over years, as experiences are gone through again and again. Eventually, we learn that thing is a person, and that it's called Mom. and we learn what a chair or food is.

But in different places, a chair is called, stuhl, silla, židle, ??, and more. Even in the same language, we could call it a chair, stool, bench, recliner, rocker, sling and more, depending on the specific type of chair, or what "nuance" or local dialect we use. And often different languages affect each other. The similarity between stuhl & stool is not a coincidence in this case. One word lead to the other. Many languages had a common "source" language, which helps explain why they're often similar. English, Italian, German, Spanish, etc. were all derived from a "mother language" and have been influencing each other for many generations. Chinese, Japanese, Ancient Egyptian and other languages are (were) more pictograph oriented, while the Latin inspired ones are based more on letter combinations. Both ways work fine as a language.

So once we start assigning words to items (nouns) and determined a few actions (verbs) we can start to combine those. And then we can create "decorative" language, making adjectives and adverbs to describe in better detail.

The phrases "take a seat", "have a chair" and "plant yourself" all mean the same thing as long as you what they mean. Or perhaps you don't speak English, in which case they're simply random sounds strung together that you .

Consider this: You could translate this article into a whole different language that you , but if these images I've added are still here, your eyes would find them and them, even if you anything else on the page.

So as we grow, and our experiences increase, we can add more and more words to more things, actions, etc. BUT we have to use the words that are taught to us by others.

What does San mean? In English, not much, but in Japanese, it usually means three, trey, drei or something else depending on your native language.

See how words you may never have known before you are know learning their meaning? They are assigned to things you . And with enough repetition, you would come to recognize them and use them easier and easier. Now you're learning a different language.

And that's what a language is: Agreed on symbols & syntax

And because we sometimes don't agree 100%, you have "local versions" or dialects. Go to different parts of China or America, and you'll find that even if they seem to use the same wording, the speech patterns are sometimes surprisingly different.

So, what about situations that have never occurred before? Where came the first words for stars, cars, computers, etc.?

If you follow word etymology, you'll find that most often, the source of new words comes from a few places:

Most often we use words that are close or similar to the situation. For example, they were called the "horseless carriage". We combined the words "autos" and "mobile" which was meant to imply "self moving". At some point after a few other changes, we simply called them cars.

Other times, we simply create a nonsense sound or word, but we try to use something that, to our ear, sounds like it conveys what we're trying to tell others. This is often what occurs with new technology, or processes for example. The company owner, program maker, or whoever has to convey some new item, activity, whatever and has to assign a name to it for others to use. Though this happens a bit less than the prior method.

The third case is when we (often mistakenly at first) use a specific product to describe a broad category. For example, we hand someone a kleenex when we mean tissue. We google something, meaning search the internet for information about it. Altering pictures on a computer is called photoshopping it. These words may well live on in our English language long after these products are gone.

And the issue of language and communication goes far beyond a simple English lesson. The symbols on your computer that allowed to to navigate here. The icons that help you turn on and use your browser. You agree with the software makers that the icon you clicked opened up your Chrome, FireFox, Internet Explorer, or whatever browser you used. The icons, arrows, symbols, etc. The search site. The fact that we all agree that underlined words means a link. You read all these non-English (or non-native) symbols in order to reach this article. Something you could never have done had you not agreed to the meaning of certain symbols. Consider carefully how many symbols you "read" at work, in stores, during your travels, at home, on the computer, etc. Without learning and agreement, those symbols mean nothing at all.

Now taking all this into consideration, I want you to think carefully about this: What happens when we do not fully agree on the definition of words like freedom? What happens when we think we are working with the same definition but we aren't?

So now do you better the issue of language and communication or do you still ?

Only an hour after I made this article, I ended up watching a TED video titled Kathryn Schulz: On being wrong. Watch the first 1:37 of it and reflect on this article. Then watch the rest of it and reflect on my first rule of understanding.

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