Language as a window into human nature
Language and meaning are a fascinating subject – as illustrated in the video below, which shows the way, in which, speakers attempt to put meaning into words – sometimes producing the desired effect and sometimes failing miserably.
One of the most widespread misconceptions regarding communication is that we can transfer meaning, as a speaker, directly into the minds of the listener – much as a direct form of implantation – this is just not true, even if some sort of meaning is decoded.
Anyone who has tried to talk about a great film that they have seen, or attempted to retell a particularly funny joke, will know just how untrue this notion is.
Although the listener ends up with virtually the same knowledge as the speaker has on the subject, there is little control on the qualitative results of the communication – the speaker attempts to inject meaning into their words, but it is then left to the listener to take out and set the meaning into their own set of knowledge, experience and emotions.
Arguably, this illustrates the point that words cannot convey meaning – they can only carry a set of instructions from speaker to listener of how meaning is meant to be construed (from the point of view of the speaker).
Another illustration of this point is the way that written words can often cause problems in communication – see our post on written communication pitfalls.
Think about any book that you have read and enjoyed, only to be largely disappointed when you have seen the film – it is very rare that a film exceeds the book.
This is also true for the times when we have attempted to carefully craft a message – only for it to be misunderstood by the receivers – teachers and advanced learners may like to have a look at the video, which deals with these difficulties in a humourous way…
In this RSAnimate Steven Pinker shows us how the mind turns the finite building blocks of language into infinite meanings.