View Full Version : Words And Their Nuances

23rd November 2011, 12:48 PM
Many, many years ago, words were bright pictures put together cleverly to communicate ideas. Pictography, as it is known now, is the first form of writing.

It became necessary to reduce the pictures into their diminutive forms because of the sheer number of pictures needed to communicate ideas.

For example, instead of a whole picture of a cow, the image of a cow’s head with two horns represented a cow.

Hieroglyphic and cuneiform were ancient forms of writing used by the early Egyptians, Persians and Assyrians – before letters of the alphabet were invented.

Combination of letters of the alphabet, instead of pictures, were used to write. Learning to read and write entailed committing words of a language into memory and learning to script them down on paper.

For example, the letters “g” and “o” stand for “go” and “c”, “a” and “t” for “cat” in the English Language.
The letters “c”, “a” and “t” produce the picture of a cat on the screen of a person’s conscious mind.

Non-use of pictures in writing does not mean that man has ceased to communicate with pictures.
Writing has now become a delicate art. The goal of writing is achieved when one has succeeded in communicating vividly, frankly and accurately to another person.

What a person wants to communicate in writing is in his/her mind in the form of images. The burden of communication, generally, is to transmit, either in speech or writing, those images into the mind of another person.

The person who seeks to communicate is the Communicator; words put together are the Message; the mouth, books, newspapers, radio, television and computer are the Channel; and the receiver of the communication is the Recipient.

The communication process breaks down into the following four aspects: the Communicator, the Message, the Channel and the Recipient.

In social science terms, the four aspects are represented by the following: the Encoder, the Message, the Channel and the Decoder.

In trying to communicate, one is bound to encounter limitations and problems.
The cause of limitations and problems can be traced to one or more of the four aspects of the communication process.

Limitations and problems may be caused by Channel Noise, Semantic Noise, Stored Experience and Dissonance.

Channel Noise can be explained broadly as anything that acts as a distraction between the Communicator and the Recipient during the communication process.

The principle of redundancy is the solution to Channel Noise. Repeating the Message through the Channel a number of times or listening to or reading the Message again and again can help to eliminate Channel Noise.

Semantic Noise may happen when the Recipient of the Message misunderstands the Message. The reason may be use of words and materials unfamiliar to the Recipient or use of words that have both denotative (dictionary meaning) and connotative (emotional or evaluative) meaning.

Emotional or evaluative meaning of the words may not be what the Communicator intends to put across.

When connotative meaning is the cause of the communication problem, the best solution is to refer the matter to the Communicator for confirmation.

When a Recipient’s stored Experience or his/her “ego-related” and ingrained beliefs and those of groups of persons he/she belongs to are opposed to the Message, the Recipient may do one of the following: reject the Message; distort the Message;
deliberately misinterpret the Message or look elsewhere for a Message that supports his/her cherished values and beliefs.

Dissonance or discord may occur when Recipient acts on a Message and regrets doing so and looks elsewhere for another Message to back or support his/her actions.

Immediate feedback from Recipient and prompt confirmation or clarification or otherwise from the Communicator may help eliminate problems associated with dissonance and stored Experience.

Communicating political Message often presents problems and limitations.

I have come by some of the problems in my work as a communicator and a communication expert.

The political campaign for the 2012 elections provides some examples, where use of certain words has created problems.

Phrases such as “all die be die” “Heroes Fund” and “at all costs” are typical examples.

On the international scene, Mr David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, used the following words: “human rights” “homosexuality” and “withdrawal of financial assistance” to countries hostile to homosexuality.

Use of those words created uproar in Ghana quite recently. The words, “all die be die” were construed as a call to violence and warfare – after Nana Akufo-Addo uttered them at a political campaign meeting.

When put in their proper contest and historical background, those words do not sound like a call to violence.

“All die be die” is a local pidgin English expression that conjures up courage and fearlessness.

The equivalent in Standard English is: “cowards die a thousand times before their death”.

The historical and psychological background of “all die be die” rest with the Tain constituency experience of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) in January, 2009.

The then President, John Agyekum Kufuor, the then presidential candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo, and senior party executive left Tain in a stampede – two days before the run-off of the Tain elections.

President Kufuor and the party executive claimed they were ambushed and that Tain was not safe for the NPP to campaign.

The NPP boycotted the Tain constituency elections for that reason.

It is not surprising that at the beginning of the 2012 elections campaigning, the NPP executive announced that the party would set up prayer camp at all constituencies.???

The phrase, “at all costs” occurs often in everyday use of the English Language. The dictionary meaning of the phrase is: cost what it may” (The concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English).

The Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English puts it as: “whatever the cost may be”.

Commenting on Nana Akufo-Addo’s use of the phrase, “at all costs”, in a political speech, President John Evans Atta Mills’s assessment of the phrase in the context of Nana Akufo-Addo’s pronouncement was slightly different from the dictionary meaning.

President Mills’s construction connotes use of violence, among others, to win the 2012 elections.

The President gave an evaluative and emotive meaning to the phrase.

In context, the NPP flag bearer did not state that he would use violence in the electioneering campaign. Indeed, the NPP did disclaim the meaning President Mills attached to the phrase.

Heroes’ Fund is the title of a fund established by the National Democratic Congress (NDC) this year to reward party members who have made outstanding and courageous contributions. Mr Jewel Ackah, a notable High Life exponent, was the first beneficiary of the fund. He was awarded GH˘10,000.

Some NPP executive later described the fund as an NDC ploy to reward its violent foot soldiers.

The NPP attached a connotative meaning to the phrase, “Heroes Fund”.

The British Prime Minister’s use of the words, “human rights”, “homosexuality” and “Withdrawal of financial assistance” aroused bitter feelings in Ghana because Ghanaians took it as a threat by Mr David Cameron to punish the country for being anti-homosexual.

President Mills came out to respond to the perceived threat in strong terms.

The British Government picked the feedback and quickly clarified Mr Cameron’s pronouncement in a statement from No. 10, Downing Street in London.

The lesson from the example mentioned above is that the Communicator or Encoder is the final or last resort of meaning of words he/she uses to transmit ideas, facts and figures.

Source: Daily Graphic