What You Need to Know About : Elaborated and Restricted codes

Codes used in communication may be characterized according to the extent of their elaboration within a specific message or in a communicative style. A message in an elaborated code carries all information needed to understand it within the message itself. Thus, elaborated codes are relatively context free. Restricted codes are context bound and cannot be easily understood without additional information beyond that in the message. This entry describes elaborated and restricted codes, discussing the implications of the elaborated–restricted code distinction for the study of communication.

The elaborated–restricted code distinction was proposed by Basil Bernstein in response to questions concerning learning differences among children. Bernstein held that restricted codes occur where social relations are based on closely shared identifications, expectations, and assumptions, where the subculture raises “we” above “I.” Their use creates social solidarity by restricting verbal elaboration of individual experience. In a restricted code, the intentions of a speaker are verbally unelaborated. Speech is normally conducted rapidly and fluently, often with few articulatory clues to the context of the message. From the viewpoint of a third-party listener who is unaware of the topic or context, the meaning gathered from a restricted-code conversation is discontinuous, condensed, and local. Meaning in a restricted code is implicit rather than verbally explicit and is carried in the how of saying more than in the what. Notions of causality, if present, are limited.

Littlejohn, Stephen W and Karen A.Floss. (2009). Encyclopedia of Communication Theory.USA:SAGE.654

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