Sunday, September 28, 2014

Limitation of Language in Communication

People communicate with each other using language and not one but many. The languages which got developed as part of human development in different parts of world. 

Language is a pattern of sound, which in many cases works at two levels. There is an alphabet level and combining alphabets, more complex sound pattern is created. A,B,C, D are alphabets in English language and apple, bat are the patterns created using alphabets. The other dimension to the language is pronunciation. B exists in both English and German but are pronounced differently.

The construct of language helps humans to communicate to each other in an easy way. Languages
attempt to assign a form to every thing in the world, tangible or intangible. For example, dog, aeroplane are tangibles whereas love, hate are intangibles. 

Languages can be said as an attempt to digitize the world in certain forms and structures. The problem is that when we digitize, we start loosing the continuity of things and that's where the limitations of languages start appearing. It's no surprise that in spite of alphabets and grammar, developing communication skills is such a huge industry.  

Let's take an example of when someone says "The place is beautiful." Take this statement and go to different parts of world. The same simple statement will bring out different impressions in different people mind. On a lighter note, I am purposely not saying "I am beautiful", as everyone is one form or other thinks he/she is beautiful. Coming back to our statement of "The place is beautiful", different people will explain it in different ways and people have  a tendency to carry opinion. Some examples of the impressions could be

"The place must be built using the best architect and best building material with lavishly done interior."

"The place should be a serene place in a forest with a waterfall."

"It should be a library with tonnes of book around."

The examples will reflect that in spite of same language construct, it starts generating a different impressions in individuals mind. I am purposefully taking a very simple example to bring out the point as many of you would say that the next question we would immediately ask is "Which place?" Though this statement is very simple but what I want to bring out us the impressions that starts flowing in our head the moment we hear an impression. 

Let's take another example. Say "Someone is good." What goodness means. Is it the same impression of goodness that is carried in all of us. We all roughly understand what is good in a given context and coloured by our interpretation, but it evokes different set of impressions.

Another thing that codification in language  losses is the depiction of intensity.  For example statements like "I love you." or "I hate you" can be exchanged between different persons. Does both have the same intensity of love or hate though in language terms both will use the exact same set of words in same order. We have created adjectives or more words to deal with that situation a little bit. For example warm and hot but there are many temperature values in between.

The biggest reason that language is limited is as mentioned above is the inability to capture all the variations of the world. We thing that the command over language will make as perfect in communicating our ideas and that's where the disconnect happens. Communication is more than language and it not only captures the language part of it but tries to capture other variations. That's why you would realise that after writing a mail or letter you need to call the person and make sure that the impression that is generated in the mind of other mind is same as what you want it to be. And that would require many times taking help of other senses like speaking, touching and where possible facial expressions. 

Many of us think that if I have said something, other's should exactly understand what I mean. It's very common to hear statements like "I have said that" or "I meant that" and that's where language as a construct has done it's job but communication failed. 

So for good communication what are the important elements:
  • Make sure you understand the context and situations of other in which you are trying to pass a message.
  • Codify your message in a language and pass it to the other party in suitable format. It could be an email or a phone call or a visual imagery.
  • Get into discussion using other sensory mechanisms which include expressions and touch and more of writing and speaking.
This will overcome the limitation of just using language and will establish a better communication. What do you think?

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