Communication - a Social Interaction?
What is communication? In his text ‘Kommunikation als soziale Interaktion’ Roland Burkart tries to answer this question. He describes communication as a reciprocal communicative interaction between at least two beings, with the intention of exchanging a meaning though a medium.1 One of the conclusions he reaches is that complete understanding is never possible. To fully understand how he reaches this conclusion we need to look at his model of communication. According to Burkart people connect and exchange information through a medium with the help of signs and symbols. Stored meanings of these signs and symbols are invoked reciprocally and the personal and individual experience dimension2 is updated. When two people with the same native language communicate, their supply of signs will be (almost) identical. But their supply of meanings3 and the experience dimensions are based on all the previous experiences the person has made. Every person, even with the same cultural background has experienced different things and therefore meanings and experiences are personal and individual and will always differ, although due to diverse socialization mechanisms (e.g. the Media or Family) and the general convention of signs in a speech community, where artificial signs are given a specific meaning, there will be extensive similarities. 4 When person A and person B communicate though a medium and with the help of signs and symbols both activate their experience dimension and influenced by this associate differing meanings with these symbols. Provided there is some affinity between the two dimensions they will overlap. This intersection will result in understanding and communication. So even if the communication is successful it is only a result of the intersection. As long as the meanings and experience dimensions are not identical and congruent, which is theoretically impossible there will not be a complete understanding. But there are, as described before socialization mechanisms and a general convention of signs which ensure that the experience dimensions and the meanings connected to signs are very similar, if not almost identical within a culture. I believe that some conversations can reach almost complete understanding, especially between two people 1
Burkart, page 17
in German: “Erlebnisdimension”
in German: “Bedeutungsvorrat”
Burkart, page 33
from the same culture, with similar experiences, but there will always be thoughts and feelings provoked by the signal sent, which a person can’t possibly express and communicate to another person. One could argue against Burkarts thesis and say that these are not relevant for the process of communication and a complete understanding of the sent message is possible. For example when someone asks “What color is the chair?” and someone else answers “Green.”, the first person will understand the the answer and further associations, like if they like the color or not is of no importance to the conversation. Everything the two people wanted to say the other person received and understood, therefore one could consider this complete understanding. In the previously explained communicative interaction the two people communicating shared the same native language and cultural background. When two people with differing native languages and cultural backgrounds communicate meanings have to be negotiated before successful communication can take place. In my opinion, the first basic requirement for successful intercultural communication is mutual respect, empathy and open-mindedness. According to Burkart every communicative action requires a medium of communication (e.g. language), which acts as a method to transport the information in form of signs from one person to the other. If the two people, trying to communicate don’t speak a mutual language they can use gestures and facial expressions. Since cultures can not be considered...
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