Other metaphors of communication

William Mann bill_mann at SIL.ORG
Mon Apr 30 16:53:10 UTC 2001

English and other Western languages make elaborate use of the Container
metaphor of communication, in which words and sentences are packages to be
transmitted to recipients.  The packages contain ideas, so that someone who
successfully unpacks a set of sentences, for example, will then "have" a set
of ideas that were sent by the speaker.

The Conduit metaphor is a close relative.  There is a pipeline from speaker
to hearer, and the ideas flow through it.

Another close relative is the Code model, in which (comparing to the
Container metaphor) the operation of packaging is like encoding in Morse
code, the operation of transmission is like radio signal transmission, the
operation of unpacking is like decoding Morse code (with similar sources of
difficulty, and similar underlying simplicity.)

All of these patterns seem to be stable and widely accepted, at least
outside of the professions that study communication.  (Reddy (1979) and many
others  have seen these metaphors as socially destructive.)

Taking these three as variants of one underlying orientation, it occurs to
me that the whole world may not talk this way.  There may be other metaphors
of communication in Asia or Africa or even among Western minorities.

I would be very interested in hearing about other orientations toward
communication and language.  Surely many folks subscribed to this list know
about other traditions.

Please share them with us.

With thanks in advance,

Bill Mann

Reddy, Michael J.  (1979).  The Conduit Metaphor: A case of frame conflict
in our language about language In A.  Ortony (eds,).  Metaphor and Thought,
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 41.

 William C. Mann
6739 Cross Creek Estates Road
Lancaster, SC 29720
(803) 286-6461

 bill_mann at sil.org

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