Chapter 1 Conceptual Foundations: What is Communication?

David Lobato

2 de Septiembre del 2008

Universidad Anahuac México Sur
Teoría de la comunicación en E.U.A
Mtro. Fernando Cámara



Chapter 1 Conceptual Foundations: What is Communication?


Throughout this chapter we struggle to find a correct term or meaning that defines the concept of communication. Several have been the number of theorists, scholars and thinkers through out the 20th century that have tried to understand the communication process and the communication theory. Despite the amount of different points of view it is remarkable to mention that thanks to the interest of many in studying communication we can now identify it as a discipline.

People, in general tend to give different definitions to terms causing a great impact on each other, academically or in everyday life. It is now typical to give different meanings or to use words in several contexts making it very difficult to find a correct definition of a term. In other words it is better to evaluate definitions in terms of their utility than in terms of their correctness. However we shall remember, at the same time, that there is not always one single way to define a term.

Since the birth of communication as a discipline in the 20th century, many scholars took it as a hobby to try to find the best definition that could fit the concept of communication. Some include very broad definitions and explanations in which communication can occur and others are very narrow and focus on the basic system of communication; communicator, message and receiver. Among the most relevant definitions are the following: Hovland, Janis and Kelley described communication as a process by which and individual (communicator) transmits stimuli (usually verbal) to modify the behavior of other individuals (audience). W. Weaver defined communication as all of the procedures by which one mind can affect another. Emery, Ault and Agee described it as the art of transmitting information, ideas and attitudes from one person to another.

Furthermore, we should understand that communication is a process that is continuous, dynamic and complex and can never be isolated. David Berlo popularized the idea for over 40 years that if we label communication as a process then it also means that it does not have a beginning, end and fixed sequence of events. Therefore, if we approach communication as a process we should consider that simple interactions are influenced in complex ways by the past and will also have important implications for the future. However, this process was seen primarily as a linear one where communication moved from a source to a receiver by a single conduit, for example a source message channel.

The next step is categorizing communication as transactional where two concepts play a very important role; action and interaction. While considering communication as strictly action means the simple process of a source presenting a message to a receiver, not considering the reaction of the receiver or audience. On the other hand, if we see communication from the interaction perspective we not only consider the one way process, message and receiver. But we also take into consideration the reaction of the receiver, in other words feedback received after the message is much more important.

The third point is categorizing communication as symbolic, this time signs and the field of semiotics play an important role in order to understand this perspective. First semioticians see a sign consisting of two inextricably linked parts, the signifier and the signified. For example in a specific case, the word book is the signifier and the physical object is the signified.  The field of semiotics defines a sign as the relationship between the signifier and the signified. However, a theorist A. Richards who is an early scholar in semiotics makes a distinction between a sign and a symbol. For him a sign is something that signals the presence of something else. For example smoke is a signal of fire. In contrast, symbols don’t have a relationship with objects, but are vehicles for the conception of objects. Other semioticians explained the relationship in terms of the semantic triangle in which three points of the triangle are the symbol (word book), the referent (physical object) and the reference (the meaning of book when you use the symbol). However, this explanation has its complexity because the link between the symbol and the referent is very narrow since the meaning of the word book itself might be clear but the symbol might have different meanings for different people. Many objects can be referred to as books as well as many definitions or concepts can be given to the symbol. A specific example might be the relevance or importance of books for some people books can be seen as sacred and for others, they are merely “books”. To conclude when theorists say that communication is symbolic they mean that signs and symbols can often be seen as initiators of communication, such as the use of language and facial expressions.

Another important point established by important scholars is that communication is a social activity, in which an open debate arouses whether if communication requires two or more people or can also be intrapersonal. However, most scholars portray communication as the act between two or more people. Being language one of the most important tools to establish communication, here we make a distinction among the various ways we can look at language. The semantic level focuses on the links between signs and referents. The syntactic level studies the rules of language, grammar. And the pragmatic level studies the use of words. Therefore the most important to recall is that communication is a social activity that enhances progress.



I think this chapter as maybe the most important of the book because it is a deep introduction to a science: communication. Communication cannot be as simple as a communicator, a message and a receiver. Communication is much more. It uses grammar and language. It includes signs, symbols and meaning. It is a process, a social activity, an action and a reaction, a process and much more. Communication is a science.    




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