What You Need to Know About : Language and Communication

Although people use a variety of code systems to create and express meaning, language is obviously central to the communication process, as the extensive theoretical literature so amply demonstrates. Many fields of study have contributed to this literature, including most centrally linguistics and its offshoots in psychology, sociology, anthropology, and philosophy. As an introductory overview, this entry begins with basic ideas from classical linguistics and moves to outline a few important applications of language theory in communication.

Although the study of language has ancient roots in both Asia and Europe, the beginnings of modern linguistics in the 20th century are usually attributed to the work of Ferdinand de Saussure, whose influential Course in General Linguistics was published posthumously by his students in Switzerland in 1916. Saussure called attention to the structure of language, particularly speech sounds, words, and grammar. The structure of the language system is based on difference, as one element is distinguished from others. Thus, a speech sound is distinguished by virtue of its difference from other speech sounds, words are distinguishable because of their phonetic (sound) difference from other words, and grammatical structures vary too in ways that differ from other structures. For Saussure, language does not reflect reality, but actually creates the world of experience for the language user.

This has been an extremely important idea in the contemporary study of language, and we return to it later in this entry. Still, Saussure emphasized the study of the structure of language rather than its practical use. The former he called langue, which is the relatively stable structure of language over time amenable to formal analysis. Language as spoken in its various rich forms in actual communicative situations Saussure referred to as parole, and he was much less optimistic about our ability to theorize this linguistic context, an assumption later called into serious question in the communication discipline.

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

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Gayes Mahestu
Edwina Ayu Kustiawan