Monday, 6 May 2013

Communication: General Overview

Communication can be defined as the act of communicating and transmission, where there is the exchange of thoughts, messages, emotions and information, by speech, signals, writing, or behaviour (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language).

In other words, communication is a two-way process; the process of sharing ideas, thoughts, emotions, information, and messages with others in a particular time and place. Communication includes writing and talking, as well as non-verbal communication, such as facial expressions, body language or gestures, visual communication (as in the use of images or pictures, such as painting, photography, video, or film) and electronic communication (that is the use of telephones, electronic mail, cable television, or satellite broadcasts). Communication is an important part of personal life and in business, education, and any other situations where people encounter each other (Baskaran, 2004; Comrie, 2003).

Human Communication

1.     Verbal Communication

Humans have developed complex systems of language that are used as a tool to ensure survival, to express ideas, thoughts and emotions, to tell stories and recall the past, to negotiate and to communication with one another. Language is the set of rules, shared by the individuals who are communicating. In spoken language, the structure of a message cannot be too complex because of the risk that the listener will misunderstand the message. Since the communication is face-to-face, the speaker has the opportunity to receive feedback from the listener and to clarify what the listener does not understand, a characteristic unique to spoken language.

Spoken language is a feature of every human society or culture. Anthropologists studying ancient cultures have several theories on how human language began and developed. The earliest language systems probably combined vocal sounds with hand or body signals to express messages. Some words may be imitative of natural sounds, or also called onomatopoeia. Others may have come from expressions of emotion, such as laughter or crying. Language, some theorists believe, is an outgrowth of group activities, such as working together and dancing (Comrie, 2003).

2.     Non-verbal Communication

Although language is primarily oral, it can also be represented in other ways when spoken language cannot be utilised, such as in writing, body language or gestures, and sign language, among other media.

A.     Writing

Writing can be viewed as a permanent physical record of the spoken language. However, written and spoken languages tend to be different from one another, partly because of the difference in medium. Sentence structures in written communication can be more complex because readers can return to an earlier part of the text to clarify their understanding. However, the writer usually does not have the opportunity to receive feedback from the reader and to rework the text immediately as in spoken language, so texts must be written with greater clarity. The written language makes use of linking words that are normally left implicit in spoken language, such as however and because (Comrie, 2003).

B.     Body language or gestures

Body language refers to the conveying of messages through body movements other than those movements that form a part of sign or spoken languages. Some gestures can have quite specific meanings, such as those for saying good-bye (waving hand in the air) or for asking someone to stop (holding out palm towards that someone). Other gestures generally accompany speech, such as those used to emphasize a particular point. Body language can also tell others whether someone is bored, tired or not interested, such as by the way he sits or using facial expressions. Although there are cross-cultural similarities in body language, differences also exist both in which body language is used and in the interpretations given to it. For example, the head gestures for “yes” and “no” used in the Balkans seem inverted to other Europeans, and the physical distance kept between participants in a conversation varies from culture to culture, such as a distance considered normal in one culture can be considered as aggressively close in another culture (Comrie, 2003).

C.     Sign language

Sign languages, which are different from signed versions of spoken languages, are the native languages of most members of deaf communities. Only recently linguists have begun to appreciate the levels of complexity and expressiveness found in sign languages. As in spoken languages, sign languages are generally arbitrary in their use of signs. Sign languages also exhibit dual patterning, where a small number of components combine to produce a range of signs, similar to the way in which letters combine to make words in English. In addition to that, sign languages use complex syntax and can discuss the same wide range of topics possible in spoken languages (Comrie, 2003; Yule, 1994).

Communication among Animals

Humans are not the only creatures that communicate. Animals also exchange signals and signs, and this interaction between animals in which information is transmitted from one animal or group of animals affects the behavior of other animals, most commonly of the same species. Animals typically exchange information using a signal, such as facial and body expression, sound, visual display, chemicals or touch. Communication between animals helps them coordinate the important functions of their survival, such as gathering food and hunting, staking out territory, mating, caring for young, and defending themselves.

For example, the apes transmit information by multiple signals, such as a combination of gestures, facial expressions, and sounds. This use of multiple signals makes possible a more extensive vocabulary for communicating. Whales and dolphins make vocal clicks, squeals, or sing songs to exchange information about feeding and migration, and to locate each other. Honey bees dance in specific patterns that tell other members of the hive precisely the distance to and location of the food. Most reptiles have body parts that inflate, such as the flared neck skin or hood of the cobra, or vibrate, as the tail of the rattlesnake to show aggression. Primates, particularly baboons, gibbons, and chimpanzees frequently embrace each other and also may lightly touch, push, nibble, or kiss. Grooming is a more structured form of tactile communication that helps primates establish social dominance and strengthen emotional bonds. Many land mammals, such as wolves and cats, use pheromones released by specialized glands to claim an area as their own. Other uses of pheromone signals include trail marking by ants, which enables other colony members to find food (Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Deluxe, 2004).


----  (2003). Animal Communication. Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Deluxe 2004. Microsoft Corporation.

Baskaran, L. (2004). Developmental Linguistics: Communication and infancy. Language and Linguistics Faculty, UM.

Comrie, B. (2003). Communication. Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Deluxe 2004. Microsoft Corporation.

Jannedy, S., Poletto, R. Weldon, T. (Ed.). (1994). Language Files (6th Ed.): Materials for an Introduction to Language and Linguistics. Department of Linguistics: The Ohio State University.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th Ed.). (2000). Houghton Mifflin Company. Retrieved 7th January 2004 from

Yule, G. (1994). The Study of Language: An introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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