Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Communication: Definition 1

According to Katie Wales in A Dictionary of Stylistics, communication can be defined as "the process of exchanging information or messages; and human language, in speech and writing, is the most significant and most complex communication system" (69).


  1. I inserted the semicolon (after "messages") where the original has a comma, just to make it clearer.
  2. This is a helpful definition that does not actually make reference to meaning.
  3. Just as it does not explicitly refer to meaning, this definition does not explicitly refer to intention, which is significant to communication. But the idea of "exchanging" probably implies intention.
  4. The word "process" makes sense, but it might make the definition sound a bit too scientific or mechanical -- something that communication (or at least the subcategory of human language) is not.
  5. The definition is broad enough to include all communication and helpfully distinguishes or reminds of the subcategory of human language, which is what most researchers in the humanities and social sciences are focused on.

What do you think?

Monday, July 31, 2017

Defining Communication

What is a good definition of communication? The next several posts here will consider several definitions from a variety of disciplines in the humanities (communication studies, of course, but also literary, cultural, and language studies).

Do you have a definition (personal or from some scholar) that you particularly like?

I have a preferred definition but I have never gone through this exercise of systematically considering and comparing a variety of definitions. And as a language teacher, I am also essentially a communication teacher -- and so we language teachers had better know what exactly we are teaching and talking about!

[Note: Any decent definition of communication will also mention or at least relate to the term meaning, so that will have to be the next round of definitions to consider.]

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Importance of Interest

In the detective short story "La muerte y la brújula" by Jorge Luis Borges, the detective makes the following observation to someone observing a crime scene and making uninteresting and unhelpful observations:
Usted replicará que la realidad no tiene la menor obligación de ser interesante. Yo le replicaré que la realidad puede prescindir de esa obligación, pero no las hipótesis.
[Translation: You will reply that reality has no obligation whatsoever to be interesting. I will reply to you that reality can dispense with that obligation, but not hypotheses.]
Detectives may agree with that, and researchers and intellectuals definitely should. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Towards a Christian sociopolitical ethic

Vincent Rougeau, in his work Christians in the American Empire: Faith and Citizenship in the New World Order, states precisely what I have been thinking for several years but have not been able to express nearly as clearly and winsomely as he does here:
Christians can and should continue to draw personal and group identity from history, language, and experience in a specific geographical place, but we cannot forget our moral obligations to the human community, both at home and abroad. (22)
That is about as good a statement of a Christian social and political ethic as I have ever read.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Linguistics and New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Discourse AnalysisLinguistics and New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Discourse Analysis by David Alan Black
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a helpful book in both understanding discourse analysis and moving beyond the level of word and clause study. The essays, however, do not all employ techniques of discourse analysis. In some cases, it appears that the authors simply included the term "discourse analysis" in their titles and then proceeded to use typical literary analysis, etymological studies, and background investigation to produce condensed commentaries of passages or books in the Bible. In other cases, however, normally the chapters written by linguists and translators rather than NT scholars, the techniques of discourse analysis are definitely observable. The first chapter, "Reading a Text as Discourse" by J.P. Louw, actually makes the book worthwhile all on its own.

View all my reviews

Friday, March 17, 2017

Today in Language: Derek Walcott

Derek Walcott, a master of the English language and incisive commentator on questions of postcoloniality, died today, March 17, 2017. He was comfortable in just about any literary genre, even the epic, and he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992.

Walcott differed from fellow Caribbean writers and theorists like Edward Kamau Brathwaite in that he wanted to appropriate the traditions of the English language and European literature for his Caribbean context, rather than oppose them outright. In this regard he is parallel to his deceased French counterpart, Aimé Césaire, but both men recognized and decried the historical situation that put created their social contexts.

In What the Twilight Says, for example, Walcott could write, "The common experience of the New World, even for its patrician writers whose veneration of the Old is read as the idolatry of the mestizo, is colonialism" (36). But he could also insist on the need not to be entirely defined by that history. He identifies writers who transcend the history of colonialism, a tradition of writers of which he was luminary:
The truly tough aesthetic of the New World neither explains nor forgives history. It refuses to recognize it as a creative or culpable force. This shame and awe of history possess poets of the Third World who think of language as enslavement and who, in a rage for identity, respect only incoherence or nostalgia. The great poets of the New World, from Whitman to Neruda, reject this sense of history. (37)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

"Most of the linguistic problems that we discover in translations result from mismatches between the source and receptor languages. Some translators will preserve the forms of the source language even when they make no sense in their home language. For mother-tongue translators, perhaps the most important benefit of studying texts in the source and receptor languages is when we discover mismatches between them. We can then replace literal renderings that make the translation unnatural or worse with correct and natural alternatives."
--Stephen H. Levinsohn, Self-Instruction Materials on Narrative Discourse Analysis, p. 10