How is it that we are able to communicate at all?

Following hot on the heals of the previous entry, I share the numbered remarks below. The notes originated over 10 years ago when I was conducting a research project that was investigating English language learners, their acquisition of  "school discourse", and the teaching practices which assisted learning. There are 13 numbered sections, which all play around with the question, "how is it that a message is communicated at all, whether as intended or in an altogether new interpretation?" Please enjoy. Like any notes from old, I cringe at certain phrasings but would rather leave them as is.

1. The foundation of any communication depends upon messages expressed and messages received. 

  • <1.1> Not all messages (in fact, few messages) expressed will be received as intended.
    • <1.1.1> Messages expressed and received are encoded in a system of meaning which includes grammatical relationships; intrapersonal, interpersonal and cultural delivery; and a referential ontology, epistemology and ideology.
  • <1.2> Messages that are received do not necessarily and rarely do match the explicitly intended expressed message.
    • <1.2.1> The expresser and the receiver do not, in fact, have to be separate people and so can be the same person (communicating in order to transfer/solidify information)

2. The rules of communication (while providing an analytical framework) are flexible and under constant modification

3. The elements and forms of communication are multifaceted, varied and potentially limitless. Consequently, to assume that language is the basis of communication is a naive assumption. 

  • <3.1> Since much of communication is developed over time in a community of practice there is a significant need to initiate individuals and groups into the explication of the communication in order raise awareness to the functioning of the communication
  • <3.2> The initiation must, therefore, include an appreciation of the following qualities of the communication:
    • <> Reflecting on the reception of the message (requiring the identification and explanation of key features in the text and in experiences that influence the reception of the text) 
    • <> Explicit instruction on the composition of the message (requiring the identification and explanation of key features in the message, of the composer of the message and of the socio-cultural processes and functions of the message) 
    • <> A reconstruction of the context of construction; and an analysis of the context (sometimes in comparison to other contexts and in relation to other responders)
    • <> Thus forecast the impact of the message and the position of the message with the new information/knowledge in consideration
    • <> Respond appropriately to the message given the previous information. Therefore, we construct subsequent messages with the new knowledge in mind that reflect the role of the communication and the communicators engaged in
  • <3.3> Individuals must also be initiated into and be sensitive to the "grammars" (or rules and subtle features), "vocabulary" (mechanisms of expression), forms and forums of the modes of communication, and also be able to read, respond to and execute messages appropriately, critically and creatively.
    • <3.2.1> Individuals must also recognise that modes of communication can come to influence one another that when remaining open can create opportunities for insightful and illuminating fusions
  • <3.3> Certain communications are more legitimised (or valued) in any culture or subculture which will affect engagement and impact

4. The capacities to perceive and participate in communications are not equally distributed

  • <4.1> Neurological/cognitive capacity required to receive and process communicated messages are not equally distributed
    • <4.1.1> Different brains process information differently, and perform different cognitive tasks at different rates
  • <4.2> Social exposure and practices required to receive and process communicated messages are not equally distributed
    • <4.2.1> Not all social exposure and practices are equally beneficial in dominant as well as marginalised social spheres
    • <4.2.2> Lack of adaptation / communication is not exclusively contained within the cognitive abilities of the learner but in the social practices and ontology of the learner / communicator
  • <4.3> Learning involves enabling individuals with the mediating activities which influence how the individual accesses, manipulates and develops neurological/cognitive and social capacities (Kucer, 2005)
    • <4.3.1> Linguistic demands
    • <4.3.2> Cognitive demands
    • <4.3.3> Socio-cultural demands
    • <4.3.4> Individual's developmental pathway 
  • <4.4> Theory benefits from separating the neurological/cognitive and the social; however the two impact the overarching consciousness / ontology of the individual, as a variety of factors influence attention, perception, pattern identification and schema building. 

5. The study and understanding of communication becomes a matter of analysing, explaining and exploring the network of factors (including technological and historical) that come to give rise to, influence and shape the expression and reception of messages in societies/cultures.

  • <5.1> Expressed messages include authored messages, which involves understanding the construction of intended - though not necessarily conscious - and/or executed expressed messages. The messages become a tense struggle between the capacity and intentions of personal expression and factors of socio-cultural expression, including rules and conventions; ecocultural factors; and socio-cultural and historical factors
  • <5.2> Re-authored or Unauthored messages include messages that comes to develop meaning only through reconstruction / rearrangement of apparently unrelated phenomenon (the world is a text to be [re]read and [re]written), of minor messages (aggregate messages - like a photo montage) or messages that take a life of their own outside of any conscious (or semi-conscious) creator
  • <5.3> Received messages involves interpreting authored or re-authored messages. The reading of and engagement in intended messages will depend upon age and experiences (intertextuality), interpersonal factors (between composer/text, [re]presenter of composer/text, and reader) and intrapersonal factors (internal conflicts of value, perception and capacity) issues. One is  initiation into communicative practices so as to understand messages within a domain.
  • <5.4> Unauthored messages are messages that take a life of their own outside of any conscious (or semi-conscious) creator, though a creator can come to be attributed (eg nature as messenger).

6. The centripetal and centrifugal forces (Bahktin, 1981, 1986) that come to influence communication

  • <6.1> Centripetal = the unitary forces of the communication (the forms and grammar one might say)
  • <6.2> Centrifugal = the individual message which seeks to express something novel and unique using the tools (words) that are familiar.
  • <6.3> Though social factors even come to impact the centripetal force, the diversity of reading potentials and lapses (the concept of revealing misreadings and alternative readings) are also given rise to by the above mentioned factors. In such case "misreadings" are valuable and revealing cases for investigation. In fact, all readings are "misreadings" and such become tense negotiations and navigation with said communication

7. The product of any communicated message (and response to a communicated message) must also be viewed with consideration of the sub-messages that contribute to the planning, processing and shaping of the eventual and subsequent messages

  • <7.1> Every expressed message and message responded to is in fact part of a broader history of responses that underpin reception, perception and response and therefore makes each expression and response as unique as the experiences of those involved in the communication acts.
  • <7.2> The broader history includes both the history of the "expresser" (if there is one), the "receiver" (if there is one), and/or the socio-cultural aspects of the communication act (intertextuality). As a consequence, this "broader history" requires a sophisticated dialogic space of which sophisticated communicators are aware for critical and/or strategic purposes
  • <7.3> Regardless, the principle indicates the need for individuals to be initiated into the communication (ie such acts are not naturally intuitive) as well as the need to maintain the socio-cultural histories of those communications whose extinction would threaten certain forms of life and ways of understanding.

8. Every communication has a broader socio-cultural history and reality that dictates (or at least influences) the rules of distribution (access and participation) and efficacy of the communication

  • <8.1> Such that external factors influence what and where communication is participated in and thus empowers (or regulates) participation.
  • <8.2> Also, communication (not being all the same to all) is received, perceived, engaged and expressed differently dependent on complex social and personal factors 
  • <8.3> Tools of communication (both physical and intrapersonal) are not equally distributed and thus impact the distribution, efficacy and role of communication in the socio-cultural and historical frames of reference A critical appreciation of such communication must be taken into account in the "reading" of any act of communication
  • <8.4> Every culture has dominant, generalised, specificied and subcultural communication modes which can come to define the participation of individuals and groups within the culture. Certain groupings of communication acts or modes are purposefully exclusive (ie they create their own rules and processes that are withheld to maintain the integrity of the ideas being communicated in the message [eg coded war messages or John Zorn's Gamepiece series]

9. Communication can be aided through technologies as well as permanent and semi-permanent texts

  • <9.1> The reading of communication becomes conditional to the capacity of the receiver to "receive" or "read" the components necessary for reception; However, technologies are available for certain communications that transform the mode into a related (but not same) communication to enhance reception and/or processing of the communication
  • <9.2> Technologies and texts can also contribute to or be conduits to action that has the potential to displace time and space in order to achieve what is not knowable or achievable otherwise
  • <9.3> Communication can bridge time, place and self [the communicator ] to bring about action. Indeed what action is still unknown. 
  • <9.4> Technologies and texts are not equally distributed and this unequal distribution will impact who receives the message, how the messages are received, and what impact this will have

10. No communication is neutral and not all communication is the same; how we communicate and what we "listen to" (what speaks to us) and how we respond (that is, if we respond or can respond) reveals the key aspects of living that govern our sense of reality (epistemology, ideology and ontology) and so go to the heart of who we are and what we do. 

  • <10.1> Every culture has dominant, generalised, specificied and subcultural communication modes which can come to define the participation of individuals and groups within the culture
  • <10.2> However, we do not participate in unitary communication patterns, but in a network of discourses that come to shape us heavily. These experiences are not mechanistic, though. It is not a matter of shifting unencumbered from one communication pattern to another as a procedural model might suggest. In fact, the matter is more "clingy"; and goes to the core of language and communication's role in identity and role formation

11. Information exists outside of communication, but communication shapes such information into that which is knowable and, in turn, can bring about understanding and action (or inaction, for that matter). The shaping and responses to the shaping thus become paramount both in the capacity of such shaping to bring about new understandings (and possibilities) and also the capacity of the receiver to interpret that shaping for new understandings (whether equivalent with the intentions of the expresser or in fact new to the receiver)

  • <11.1> The receiver shapes messages in internal (or other) communication in order to interpret the message into a new form that extends the history of the previous
  • <11.2> In addition, the receiver or the original expresser can revisit information and a message (potentially with new information and new skills) in the intention to re-shape it to construct a new understanding (or in fact to create new knowledge). The re-shaping does not coincide with progress and/or enhancement, though.
  • <11.3> In the case that an original expresser revisits a message, that expresser becomes the recipient of his/her own message
  • <11.4> Information, nevertheless, is contained within knowledge and so in communication. The process of extraction is an intricate skill. Extraction involves assessing the utility or meaning of the arrangement. This is assessed against objective or subjective observation as to the real impact of the constituents being communicated

12. Communicated messages when grouped together can come to reveal preoccupations that can provide insights into individuals, groups, societies, cultures or "people in general".

  • <12.1> The objects or focus of the preoccupations can be quite diverse, including certain preoccupations with modes of communication; with features, forms and manifestations; with the themes of communications; and with the participators in such communication.
  • <12.2> This detective-like investigation can reveal how communication, expressions and manners of reception can come to limit, shape or facilitate human consciousness within or across contexts
  • <12.3> Thus, such investigations have the potential to not only provoke understanding of the socio-cultural but also provoke an understanding of the psychological and anthropological.

13. Communication studies faces the risk of being too descriptive in their pursuits and, therefore, only describing and critically analysing the communication that is engaged in a culture and across cultures, in time and across time, etc. The universal underpinnings that gives rise to the expression and reception of communication is embedded deep in a psychological pursuit of expression, understanding and action.


  • Bakhtin, M.M. (1981). The Dialogic Imagination. Austin: University of Texas Press.
  • Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Austin: University of Texas Press.
  • Kucer, S. (2005). Dimensions of literacy: a conceptual base for teaching reading and writing in school settings. (2nd ed). London: Lawrence Erlbaum.