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Communication derives from the Latin term ‘communicare’ meaning to share or impart and to make common. In contemporary English usage, it refers to interactive processes that create shared meaning. Meaning is shared within and across a wide array of contexts and media, ranging from intrapersonal self-talk through dyads and groups all the way up to international computer and broadcast networks. In the simplest forms of Communication messages are sent from a sender to a receiver via a medium. In more complex forms feedback loops link receivers back to senders and enable interactive exchange. As senders express ideas they are encoded into symbolic forms such as language and images which are decoded as the receiver interprets their meaning.

The plural form, Communications, is used to refer to transmission patterns and networks. Where a Communication perspective focusses on people sharing meaning or content, a Communications perspective draws attention to data flow issues and send/receive protocols.


Birds and higher mammals communicate via vocalized signals, where a more or less standardized call is made to announce the existence of an immediate situation or condition, such as discovery of a new food source or the approach of a predator. Early human communication developed animal signalling into symbolism, where participants use standardized vocal patterns to Italic textrepresentItalic text things and conditions that are not necessarily in effect at that particular time. Symbolic thought and exchange, the ability to reflect on and collaboratively address the not-here and not-now, is the evolutionary branch that distinguishes human from animal communication.


Specialised fields focus on various aspects of communication, and include

  1. Mass Communication
  2. Communication Studies
  3. Organizational Communication
  4. Small Group Theory
  5. Sociolinguistics
  6. Conversation Analysis
  7. Cognitive Linguistics
  8. Linguistics
  9. Pragmatics
  10. Semiotics
  11. Discourse Analysis

Communication as a named and unified discipline has a history dating back to ancient Greek Socratic dialogues, in many ways making it the first and most contestatory of all early sciences and philosophies. Seeking to define "communication" as a static word or unified discipline may not be as important as understanding communication as a family of resemblances with a plurality of definitions as Ludwig Wittgenstein had put forth. Some definitions are broad, recognizing that animals can communicate, and some are more narrow, only including human beings within the parameters of human symbolic interaction.

Nonetheless, communication is usually described along three major dimensions:

  1. content,
  2. form, and
  3. destination.

With the presence of "communication noise" these three components of communication often become skewed and inaccurate. Between parties, communication content includes acts that declare knowledge and experiences, give advice and commands, and ask questions. These acts may take many forms, including gestures (nonverbal communication, sign language and body language), writing, or verbal speaking. The form depends on the symbol systems used. Together, communication content and form make messages that are sent towards a destination. The target can be oneself, another person (in interpersonal communication), or another entity (such as a corporation or group).

There are many theories of communication, and a commonly held assumption is that communication must be directed towards another person or entity. This essentially ignores intrapersonal communication (note intra-, not inter-) via diaries or self-talk.

Interpersonal conversation can occur in dyads and groups of various sizes, and the size of the group impacts the nature of the talk. Small-group communication takes place in settings of between three and 12 individuals, and differs from large group interaction in companies or communities. This form of communication formed by a dyad and larger is sometimes referred to as the psychological model of communication where a message is sent by a sender through channel to a receiver. At the largest level, mass communication describes messages sent to huge numbers of individuals through mass media, although there is debate if this is an interpersonal conversation.

Communication media

The following model of communication has been criticized and revised.

The beginning of human communication through artificial channels, i.e. not vocalization or gestures, goes back to ancient cave paintings, drawn maps, and writing.

Our indebtedness to the Ancient Romans in the field of communication does not end with the Latin root "communicare". They devised what might be described as the first real mail or postal system in order to centralize control of the empire from Rome. This allowed for personal letters and for Rome to gather knowledge about events in its many widespread provinces.

In the last century, a revolution in telecommunications has greatly altered communication by providing new media for long distance communication. The first transatlantic two-way radio broadcast occurred on July 25, 1920 and led to common communication via analogue and digital media:

Communications media impact more than the reach of messages. They impact content and customs; for example, Thomas Edison had to discover that hello was the least ambiguous greeting by voice over a distance; previous greetings such as hail tended to be garbled in the transmission. Similarly, the terseness of email and chat rooms produced the need for the emoticon.

Modern communication media now allow for intense long-distance exchanges between larger numbers of people (many-to-many communication via email, internet forums). On the other hand, many traditional broadcast media and mass media favor one-to-many communication (television, cinema, radio, newspaper, magazines).

The adoption of a dominant communication medium is important enough that historians have folded civilization into "ages" according to the medium most widely used. A book titled "Five Epochs of Civilization" by William McGaughey (Thistlerose, 2000) divides history into the following stages: Ideographic writing produced the first civilization; alphabetic writing, the second; printing, the third; electronic recording and broadcasting, the fourth; and computer communication, the fifth.

While it could be argued that these "Epochs" are just a historian's construction, digital and computer communication shows concrete evidence of changing the way humans organize. The latest trend in communication, termed smartmobbing, involves ad-hoc organization through mobile devices, allowing for effective many-to-many communication and social networking.

Communication barriers

The following factors can impede human communication:

Not understanding the language
Verbal and non-verbal messages are in a different language. This includes not understanding the jargon, acronyms or idioms used by another sub-culture or group.
Not understanding the context
Not knowing the history of the occasion, relationship, or culture.
Intentionally delivering an obscure or confusing message.
Inadequate attention to processing a message. This is not limited to live conversations or broadcasts. Any person may improperly process any message if they do not focus adequately.
Improper feedback and clarification
In asynchronous communication, neglecting to give immediate feedback may lead to larger misunderstandings. Questions and acknowledgment such as ("what?") or ("I see") are typical feedback mechanisms.
Lack of time
There is not enough time to communicate with everyone.
Physical barriers to the transmission of messages, such as background noise, facing the wrong way, talking too softly, and physical distance.
Medical issues
Hearing loss and various brain conditions can hamper communication.
World-views, religions, and cultural differences may discourage one person from listening to another.
Fear and anxiety associated with communication is known by some Psychologists as communication apprehension. Besides apprehension, communication can be impaired via processes such as bypassing, indiscrimination, and polarization.

Technological barriers

The following factors can impede technological communication;

  • Bad network coverage can stop text messaging and phone calls being made.
  • Power failure can stop emails, text messages, and other communication based which relies on electricity to function.
  • Other technical difficulties.

Other examples of communication


Almost all communication involves periods of silence or an equivalent (e.g. spaces in written communication). However, computer or electronic communication is less reliant on such delimiters.

In certain contexts, silence can convey its own meaning, e.g. reverence, indifference, emotional coldness, rudeness, thoughtfulness, humility etc.

Also see the Prisoners and hats puzzle



  • Written and spoken language
  • Hand signals
  • Body language
  • Territorial marking (animals such as dogs - stay away from my territory)(and when you place a back pack in a desk in a class room or a purse on the you want to site in at church or putting a name plate on the door of your office - see discussion page)
  • Pheromones communicate (amongst other things) (e.g. "I'm ready to mate") - a well known example is moth traps, which contain pheromones to attract moths.
  • Touch


A language is a system of arbitrary signals, such as voice sounds, gestures or written symbols which communicate thoughts or feelings.

Human spoken and written languages can be described as a system of symbols (sometimes known as lexemes) and the grammars by which the symbols are manipulated. The word "language" is also used to refer to common properties of languages.

Language learning is normal in human childhood. Most human languages use patterns of sound or gesture for symbols which enable communication with others around them. There are thousands of human languages, and these seem to share certain properties, even though many shared properties have exceptions.

There is no defined line between a language and a dialect, but Max Weinreich is credited as saying that a language is a dialect with an army and a navy.

Humans and computer programs have also constructed other languages, including constructed languages such as Esperanto, Ido, Interlingua, Klingon, programming languages, and various mathematical formalisms. These languages are not necessarily restricted to the properties shared by human languages.

Mass communication

Mass communication refers to communications in mass society, or with very large numbers of people, through various mass media, which is a term used to denote, as a class, that section of the media specifically conceived and designed to reach very large audiences (typically at least as large as the whole population of a nation state). The term was coined in the 1920s with the advent of nationwide radio networks and of mass-circulation newspapers and magazines (which date somewhat earlier to the yellow journalism and circulation wars of Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. The mass-media audience has been viewed by some commentators as forming a mass society with special characteristics, notably atomization or lack of social connections, which render it especially susceptible to the influence of modern mass-media techniques such as advertising and propaganda.


Telecommunication is the transmission of signals over a distance for the purpose of communication. Today this process almost always involves the sending of electromagnetic waves by electronic transmitters but in earlier years it may have involved the use of smoke signals, drums or semaphores. Today, telecommunication is widespread and devices that assist the process such as the television, radio and telephone are common in many parts of the world. There is also a vast array of networks that connect these devices, including computer networks, public telephone networks, radio networks and television networks. Computer communication across the Internet, such as email and instant messaging, is just one of many examples of telecommunication. Teleconferencing and videoconferencing, conferences over telephones and webcams respectively, also fall into this category.

Animal communication

Animal communication is any behaviour on the part of one animal that has an effect on the current or future behaviour of another animal. of animal communication, called zoosemiotics (distinguishable from anthroposemiotics, the study of human communication) has played an important part in the development of ethology, sociobiology, and the study of animal cognition.This is quite evident as humans are able to communicate with animals especially dolphins and other animals used in circuses however these animals have to learn a special means of communication.

Animal communication, and indeed the understanding of the animal world in general, is a rapidly growing field, and even in the 21st century so far, many prior understandings related to diverse fields such as personal symbolic name use, animal emotions, animal culture and learning, and even sexual conduct, long thought to be well understood, have been revolutionized.