Thursday, September 11, 2014

Language, Thought and Communication

photo credit:

Does language influence thought? Over the last century, there has been a lot of debate on this question. Current researchers, however, take it for granted that language and thought are related and that they interact with each other in complex ways. The question they ask now is what does this relationship imply?

19th century German Philosopher Wilhelm von Humboldt claimed that language was directly connected to thinking. In the 1920s linguist Edward Sapir and later, his student Benjamin Lee Whorf theorised that thoughts are controlled or influenced by the language we speak. This thesis, also widely known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, is called linguistic determinism.

However, in 1994, psychologist Steven Pinker and other linguistic relativists countered the deterministic claims made by the Whorfians. The relativists believed that language and thought were not as intrinsically connected as previously thought.

We now take for granted that language shapes our perception of our world with researchers like Lera Borodotsky proving that the languages we speak in fact do shape our perception of the world around us. Current experiments and research have proved conclusively that peoples' relations with time, space, colour as well as the objects around them are certainly affected by language.

The structures, vocabularies and boundaries of the language(s) we know have indisputable influence on how we think. On the other hand, the structures, vocabularies and boundaries of the language(s) we know are also influenced by the histories, geographies, memories, values, attitudes--the realities--of a particular people.

Language is thus, both the begetter of our cultural thought-processes and our collective personalities and the result of our cultural thought-process and our collective personalities.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Transmission Models: An Introduction

image credit:

To transmit is to send out,  to convey, to pass on or to spread.  Transmission models, thus, are conceptually concerned with the sending of information from one point and its reception at another. Examples of such models would be Lasswell's formula and Shannon and Weaver's "information model." 

Typically, in models such as these, communication is shown as a one-way, linear process that goes through a Source-Message-Channel-Receiver format. The emphasis is on the conveyance of information with the automatic assumption that meaning is "contained" in the message.

This is generally known as the conduit metaphor of communication. The sender encodes thoughts and ideas into words, gestures, or other means. This "package" of information encoded for a specific receiver or receivers is the message.The message is sent on its way using an appropriate tool or "medium" that travels via a channel--a route or link between the sender or receiver.  Once the message has reached him, the receiver can simply and without too much effort, open the package to retrieve the infomation it contains.

Transmission models are sender-centric: they assume that the entire onus of as well as the primary control of the communication task rests of the sender while the other end of the line is more passive--a mere recipient of what has been actively sent. It is the sender who creates the message in keeping with his predictions about what will have due effect on the receiver. It is the sender who chooses the appropriate medium and the most effective channel.If the sender has done everything right and has used the correct medium and channel, the effect of the message on the receiver can be taken for granted.

These kinds of rudimentary models are not really suited to interpersonal communication. While they are invaluable because they chart the physical process of the transfer of information from point A to point B,  Transmission models are not equipped to deal with the more cogent and more difficult issue of meaning. How can we insert meanings 'into' the encoded message and how can the receiver simply take the meaning out of the message he has received?

Later interaction and relationship models are less concerned with the transfer of information and take more notice of the all-important issues of meaning and semantic noise in communication. However, the journey of discovery into the complexities of the interpersonal communication process could take place only once the physical process of the transfer of information had been charted by Transmission models.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Diogenes on Communication

Diogenes de Sinope (called so because he was born in Synop which is now in Turkey) is also known as Diogenes the Cynic, the founder of Cynicism. He lived between 412 and 323 BC and died in Corinth (a place that is also famous or a particular style of ancient Greek pillars.)

Of course, cynicism didn’t mean then what it means now and the Cynics were actually the precursors of the Stoics, who came later with Zeno.

Like most of my icons, Diogenes was provocative, both in thought and life and he courted controversy so that he could bring in social change. The son of a banker, he was involved in a scandal about defacing currency in Synope and moved to Athens. Here, he challenged the Athenian ethos in every way imaginable. He slept in a tub in public view, ate in the market-place and did other unspeakable things in public against the prevailing social etiquette. He had no shame in begging and exulted in his extreme poverty. Among the many evergreen Diogenes quotes is this one: “He has the most who can make the most of the least.” 

Diogenes made a habit of arguing with Plato and disrupting his lectures on Socrates. He is also known as the man who lived after insulting Alexander. True to his flagrantly outrageous life, he was captured by pirates and sold into slavery.

We know about Diogenes of Sinope from the writings of another Diogenes (Laertius) who wrote a book called Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers in which he writes anecdotes about Diogenes’ life and talks about his writings.

But why am I telling you about Diogenes? This post is not really a digression from the topic I thought I’d continue from my last post.

Diogenes de sinope is responsible for one of my most favourite sayings. In fact, whether or not they attribute it to him, this is one of the most used Diogenes quotes by people all over the world. I use it often to illustrate the importance of one of the most vital, most difficult to master, most underrated and least understood verbal communication skills: Listening.

We have been given two ears and one tongue so that we may listen more and talk less.

Thus spake Diogenes.

If you're interested in knowing more about Diogenes of Sinope, you can read about him here and here: