Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Where Is the "Message" in Communication Models?

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Where Is the "Message" in Communication Models?

Article excerpt

IN MOST communication models, the "message" floats somewhere between the "sender" and the "receiver." In the telephone-based Shannon-Weaver model, the "message" must first be "encoded" and then sent along a "channel," or wire. It is then "decoded" at the destination, and delivered to the "receiver."

I will argue that we cannot apply this technological model to interpersonal communication. The "message" in these models is a metaphor. Yes, something goes through the wires, or flies through the air. But in human communication it only becomes a message when a person gets it.

Let us take an archetypal communication situation: a mother and a son and a daughter, sitting around a table, talking. The mother says she is going to the mountains for the next week. The children will stay at home with father. In this situation, there is not one message. There are at least three. 1) The message the mother means to send. 2) The message received and reconstructed by the daughter. 3) The message received and reconstructed by the son.

Each of these "messages" may be quite different. The mother may be intending to send a message about her independence. The daughter may be reconstructing a message that she is not wanted. The son may be reconstructing a message that tells him he will have more time to himself next week.

Communication scholars have understood that there is a difference between the message sent and the message received. One of the central questions in any given communication situation is how "well" the "messages" sent and reconstructed by different parties "fit. …

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