The Semantic barrier in communication can be defined as the misunderstanding and interpretation of meaning which restrict effective communication. It can be in form of language, sign and symbol. The word semantic is credited to the Greek word “semantikos” which indicates “significant”. Semantics is a broad interdisciplinary study which deals with philosophical and logical understanding behind the language. The Semantic barrier can be caused in every type of communication. The variations of meaning in language are visible between individuals in minor and cultures in major. Thus semantic barrier is an important element in communication theories at different levels. Differences in dialect, cultural differences, body language, and the choice of word, pronunciation differences and spelling errors are the main causes of a semantic barrier.
Studies on Semantic Barrier
Communication scholars like Garfinkel (1984), Jovchelovitch (1995;2007) and Lunenburg (2010) studied on semantic barrier of communication and explained how it affects the interpersonal and social relations. For an example, the conversation between two close friends about their day will be meaningful between them but it is impossible for an outsider to understand. This is not because the outsider can’t follow the language (text) but the relationship between text and situation (context). Similar kind of communication barrier is found in understanding concepts also. For example, Socialism is a broad political and social concept where the control and regulation of society and economy are by the community as a whole regardless of caste, religion and class. But one who follows Gandhian ideology, the understanding of socialist state is where people belong to various caste, religion and caste are treated equally and lead as a single community regardless of their differences.
Types of Semantic Barrier
There are two types of semantic barrier of communication. They are as follows:
- Denotative barriers which are based on and caused by the direct meaning of a word. These kinds of barriers happen when sender and receiver disagree with the meaning of the word. The word “comment” for new generation Facebook users are different from the older generation who never used or aware of social media networking websites.
- Connotative barriers refer to the differences in the meaning of the defined word. In addition to its exact or lexical meaning, words also acquire implied meanings called connotative meanings. Connotations are understood based only on an individual’s experience. Here both sender and receivers are aware of the meaning of the word but the disagreement occurs when the context, situation and emotion behind the word will be different. The meaning of the word does not arise by itself but in the relation between the text and the context. This barrier becomes much complicated since the significant meaning needs a mutual level of understanding for effective communication. For example, in the context of instant messaging, the popular reply words like “ok” or “hmm” are used as giving feedback. The word “hmm”(non-lexical filler) from receiver provides agreement with the sender but also leaves a space for disagreement in the new media scene.
Here is a simple example, the word “bat” is common but the meaning changes from sports equipment to a mammal. The word “touch” is having a physical meaning of touching once body but on other hands it is having a psychological meaning of touching the soul. The usage like “master touch”, “final touch”, “keep in touch” are some examples.
Similarly, examine the word ‘cheap’ as an adjective. You will enjoy a ‘cheap holiday’ because you spend less than the real cost. Industries desire ‘cheap labour’ to reduce the over all cost of production. These connotations of cheap as an adjective are different from the connotations in expressions like “cheap popularity’ and “cheap joke”. If the receiver does not understand the connotation attributed by the sender, miscommunication takes place. But when words are used for denotations alone, not much damage will be done.
To avoid such semantic barriers, the communicator should choose the precise and exact word that will carry the same meaning for the receiver in the given context. The meaning of the word is related to the context at the connotational level. A complimentary expression may derive a connotative derogative meaning which will ruin the communication process. If you examine the word ‘fellow’, you will find so many connotations to it. The word used with adjectives such as ‘nice’ and ‘lousy’ change the complexion of the word ‘fellow’. A ‘nice fellow’ and a lousy fellow’ are poles apart. If you call someone a ‘fellow scholar’, he is your contemporary. A ‘fellow traveller’ is simply your co-passenger on a train, but in another context, he is a sympathizer or a secret member of the communist party. Fellowship simply means companionship/friendliness. However, in special contexts it can have different connotations. You can be a scholar with the UGC (University Grants Commission) getting a fellowship.
Overcoming Semantic Barrier
It is very important to overcome the semantic barrier in any communication. In order to achieve effective communication, both sender and receiver should understand the attitude, communication skills, knowledge, social system and culture of their corresponding communicator (Berlo,1960). The Berlo’s SMCR model of communication (1960) and Shannon Weaver’s Model of Communication (1949) stress on effective communication and overcoming the barrier. However, the semantic barrier of communication is overlapping with linguist, cultural and psychological barrier of communication. The semantic intolerance is also considered as the lack of quality that restrains the better conversation. Since it deals with variables like values, beliefs, laws, rules and religion.