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Boryana Ruzhekova-Rogozherova


Summary: The article aims at studying language communication in the light of the original information transmission model which lay the foundations of communication theory. Both types of communication (or information conveyance), at technical and linguistic levels, are compared. Linguistic message encoding / decoding mechanisms are commented on. ELT implications stemming from presented views are considered and exemplified.
Key words: communication, message, encoding, decoding, production, reception, noise reduction

Резюме: Статията има за цел да разгледа езиковата комуникация в светлината на първоначалния информационно-предавателен модел, който поставя основите на теорията на комуникацията. Сравнени са двата вида комуникация (или пренос на информация), на техническо и на езиково равнище, съответно. Коментирани са лингвистичните механизми на кодиране и разкодиране на съобщението. Третирани са някои приложения на представените позиции в обучението по английски език; предложени са илюстративни примери.
Ключови думи: комуникация, съобщение, кодиране, разкодиране, продукция, рецепция, редуциране на шума


1. Introduction

The objective of the current paper is to consider language communication in the light of communication theory, on the one hand, and, on the other, to present views as to ELT implications stemming from this relationship exploration. We deem the study of this topic crucial as it is tightly related to insights into communicative language teaching as well as to language competence building various parameters. General, as well as language communication issues, are of utmost importance nowadays, in our modern world of sophisticated communication technologies and media assisting our human relationships, in the context of multicultural and multilingual communication and constant demands of knowledge practical implementation. Examined subject is also a multidisciplinary one, to some extent, being connected with IT, along with various fields of linguistics, applied linguistics and ELT.


2. Paper layout

To achieve stated objectives, first, we will examine communication theory basic tenets. Secondly, we shall discuss observations related to communication theory model implementation in language communication description. Thirdly, conclusions will be made as to language communication functioning and ideas will be suggested concerning the implementation of proposed statements in ELT in the purpose of more efficient communicative competence building.


3. The original communication theory model and its components

Shannon & Weaver’s 1949 communication model consists of the following components, included in the diagram just below (Chandler 1995)1.


Fig. 1

As it can be seen (fig.1), communication is carried out by means of: (1) source, (2) transmitter, (3) channel, (4) receiver, (5) destination and, inevitably, (6) noise. The enumerated components perform the functions of: message production (1), signal message encoding (2), transmission (3), decoding (4), message reception (5), and interference, information loss (6). The model presented, mechanically describing merely technical information conveyance, though quite simplistic, exhibits numerous analogies with language communication processes. Short comparison will be established between both communication types, linguistic and machine ones, in order to achieve more profound understanding of language communication.


4. Linguistic and mechanical communication models

In compliance with Shannon & Weaver’s 1949 model, information is generated by a source, then it is encoded into signals in order to be conveyed through a channel, a receiving mechanism deciphers signals so that the message can finally reach its destination. "Noise" is related to technical problems only not allowing the information to arrive at its destination in the same quantity or/and quality as the original message. Likewise, in human language communication, there is a message sender, a message channel (language) and a message receiver; there is also noise representing a combination of factors hampering adequate, integral and full-value message transmission.

Notwithstanding language communication similitude to its technical counterpart, various discrepancies are to be mentioned. To researchers, such as Reddy 1979, Lakoff & Johnson 19802, Garrett 1975, Linell 1982, Chomsky 19753, etc. language functions merely as a conduit of thoughts and feelings from sender to receiver. Though partially true, this statement is unsound to a great extent. All functions of language, such as cognitive, emotive and practical4, are intertwined and dependent on context, in its broadest handling5, sender’s message is not simply "translated" into words governed by grammar rules, but the message itself is constructed, elaborated and perfected in the course of "clothing" it into language6. Similarly, reception is not just "taking in" (term of Bowers 1988)7 message information as reception represents a multilevel process, involving numerous checking procedures performed by means of feedback, prior knowledge comparison, fitting and analysis of various language level characteristics so that overall information may be coherent, adjustment of various functions and meanings of used categories to general context, in its most comprehensive interpretation. Thus, we consider message reception as closely involved with production and vice-versa, message generation, with reception, due to "feedforward"8 or sender’s anticipation of receiver’s reaction. Consequently, as Chandler 1995 states, "meaning is not "extracted", but constructed".


5. ELT (FLT) teaching implications

Studying language communication versatility in juxtaposition with mechanical information transmission naturally leads to ELT (FLT) implications, all of them focused on the improvement of communicative competence parameters9. Research testifies to the fact that linguistic communication is dependent on multifaceted and recurrent processes of encoding and decoding, within both, sender’s and receiver’s parts. Composition and decomposition, construction and deconstruction, production and reception, equivalent to encoding end decoding are simultaneous and parallel processes. Thus, full-value teaching of receptive skills (listening and reading) cannot be accomplished without the teaching of productive ones (speaking and writing), and vice-versa. Neither of these should be disregarded as they complement each other and mutually influence each other’s progress. This statement has been supported by FLT specialists’ practice and investigation, e.g., Teaching (n.d.), Receptive (n.d.).

We can affirm with conviction that above views as to ELT (FLT) implications of language communication mechanisms have been corroborated by our own teaching experience as well, and namely, we have established that learners failing to develop components pertaining to productive or receptive abilities fail to develop neither of these fully and adequately. Thus, for example, impaired reading due to poor scanning, skimming or lack of intensive reading abilities, such as note taking, paraphrasing, key word noticing, interest in new vocabulary and grammar, analysis of structures and periphrases, etc. most often leads to unsatisfactory writing as well. It has been proved that reading can promote writing skills improvement (ref. Tze-Ming Chou 2011, Harmer 2007). Likewise, writing exercise characterized by emphasis on coherent layout, grammar category meaning and use, appropriateness of vocabulary and structures, inevitably leads to reading improvement.

Production and reception are not only complementary and interdependent, but they are also performed at several stages being multilevel procedures involving the coherent fitting of language components pertaining to various language levels. Overall meaning is built up through the adjustment of every single element, all components containing information essential to message encoding and decoding, in the purpose of achieving message unequivocalness and clarity to the greatest extent. This statement can be corroborated by the fact that quite frequently learners’ errors stem from the lack of complete, right and unequivocal message understanding, resulting from the absence of adequate and integral awareness of the meaning and functions of all level message components as well as from the poor development of abilities related to message componential analysis. Consequently, learners need to be taught to properly decipher in order to be able to successfully encipher, and vice-versa or they should be trained to understand the logical connections uniting vocabulary and grammar, sentences and paragraphs, and apply these insights in a pragmatic situation. The better language awareness (or the better comprehension of the working logic of language)10 they acquire the better message encoders (senders, producers) and decoders (receivers) they will be. Quite often the insufficiency of language awareness, along with problems deriving from the inadequate judgment of pragmatic and sociolinguistic situations, plays the part of noise in communication process. In contrast to the above presented original and mechanical communication model, noise in language communication is likely to impede not only reception (decoding), but production (encoding) as well.


5.1. Examples and comments

We shall proceed by the presentation of some language awareness problems which can lead to noise, in line with our teaching experience, along with related comments of our own in the purpose of supporting the above enunciated thesis of alternating encoding and decoding (ref. Chandlers 1995, "meaning is not "extracted", but constructed").

As it has already been mentioned, many learners fail to differentiate between the uses of various already taught categories, to analyze and fit meanings of individual components into the overall message interpretation. In other words, they fail to encipher and decipher adequately when forming utterances with them. To exemplify observations more easily, correct learner production has been underlined. Solutions relevant to presented types of errors will be put forward in compliance with overall meaning construction ideas.

  • Failure to differentiate between -ing and -ed adjectives11

He was "annoying" instead of "annoyed" when he lost his key.

Losing his key was an "annoyed" experience instead of "annoying" experience.

They lay on the beach all day long; it was so "relaxed" instead of "relaxing".

They lay on the beach all day long; they were so "relaxing" instead of "relaxed".



Referred to examples confirm that encoding and decoding represent a several-stage process. Erroneous production (or reception) is quite likely to stem from the lack of analysis of meaning building factors (as suggested above) because learners manage to reach correction after analysis has been performed. Thus, expression and meaning-related questions students may be asked, prove really efficient as they help learners fit and adjust various message components, which finally obtain meaningful coherence, e.g.: What do annoying and annoyed refer to (activity or state, result derived from a process)?; If you compare -ed and -ing adjectives with corresponding related forms, such as participles, continuous and perfect, what conclusions can you make as to their general meaning - process or state?; Is He (action doer) performing an activity or not?; Are feelings processes or states, results stemming from them?; What was relaxing?; If they had been really "relaxing", what would it have involved?; Does this interpretation fit the overall utterance meaning and context?; How do you translate in Bulgarian (and / or French) annoying, relaxing, annoyed and relaxed?; Do corresponding forms possess the same meanings of process or state as in English?

  • Failure to differentiate preposition for meanings

He has worked for that multinational company for 5 years and then he left to set up his own business. instead of He worked for that multinational company for 5 years and then he left to set up his own business.



The same statement as to erroneous message coding and decoding can be supported here as well; this can de due to the lack of analysis of meaning building components. Quite frequently, questions, as above, lead to correct production and reception, this way reducing (or eliminating) noise, e.g.: Is he still employed in the same company?; Which form, the past simple or the perfect reveal connection to the present (extended now)?; What does the preposition for mean?; What periods of time can it express, finished, unfinished or both?; How can we prove that the period referred to above is a finished one?; What type of activity is described by he left?; What does then mean?; What type of adverb is it?; If it is a sequencing word, what information (as to worked or has worked) does this provide us with?; Can a finished and subsequent process follow an unfinished one?; Are they compatible?; Can you translate above examples into Bulgarian (and / or French)?; Which forms, the present, the perfect or the aorist, are compatible with overall message meaning?

  • Failure to differentiate meanings of since

She has worked on her essay since she has come back home. instead of She has worked on her essay since she came back home. Since they have examined the properties in detail, the study will be likely to succeed.



The fitting of information building components, similarly to already examined instances, can be achieved quite successfully by means of questions, helping the learners realize individual element meaning within sentential one, e.g.: What functions of since are you aware of?; How does since function in all three examples; where is it a preposition and where, a conjunction?; If it is a preposition, what meaning does it express (period of time or point in time)?; In case it is a conjunction, what semantic relationship does it express?; Shall we analyze above utterances and try to fit both meanings of since so that examples are coherent?; Which one turns out not to be coherent (1st one) and why?; Can you explain now the reason why has come back is impossible in the first utterance, why it is erroneous?; Does the phrase since she has come back refer to a cause or a point in time and, if it does refer to a time point, can the perfect be used?; Can the perfect refer to a definite point in time?; Which form really does it?; Can you translate utterances again into Bulgarian (and / or French) and explain meanings of equivalents to since?; Can you rephrase correct utterances to reveal message meaning more evidently?12

  • Failure to differentiate meanings of categories, such as present and perfect, perfect and past

He knows her for some months only. instead of He has known her for some months only.

She has lived there all her life. / She lived there all her life (both grammatically correct, though meaningfully opposite).



Similarly to above comments, overall meaning "extraction" through the fitting of acceptations of individual components can be again successfully performed by means of elicitation questions13, e.g.: Does the English present simple express current relevance (extended now)?; Which form in English has this function?; How different are two time periods modified just by means of the perfect/past simple?; Why is the first utterance grammatically wrong and why are the second and third ones, right?; Translate examples into Bulgarian (and / or French) and explain the use of present, past simple and perfect equivalents.

Quite frequently, some learners manage to correctly encode and decode typical perfect meanings of result or current relevance (extended now). However, on many occasions, they fail to comply with the same regularities they had previously obeyed. Thus, for example, although many students encode and decode correctly He has worked as a teacher for ten years / since he left university, they build erroneous utterances similar in overall and componential meaning to the above instance. Individual componential meanings within right and wrong messages are to be analyzed and fitted again by means of elicitation questions, e.g.: How long has he worked as a teacher?; Is he still a teacher?; When did he get introduced to her? (ref. above erroneous message); Does he still know this person?; Does the process still go on?; Does examined usage differ substantially from He has worked as a teacher for ten years / since he left university, apart from the fact that work is an activity verb and know, a state verb?; Do both messages obey the same regularities?; Translate both utterances into Bulgarian (and / or French).; Comment on translation equivalents.

  • Failure to differentiate between an -ed adjective use and a passive diathesis use; between past and passive; failure to identify contracted passive

The window was broken. / The window was broken by the workers.

The air is polluted. / The air is polluted by the numerous vehicles on the roads.

The factory closed down. / The factory was closed down./ The factory is being closed down.



Overall meaning adjustment, here again, can be achieved through comparing the acceptations and functioning of -ed adjectives with these ones of past simple forms, past participles, perfect and passive structures14 as well as by means of elicitation questions, e.g.: Do we know when, why, etc. the window was broken?; Do we know who the window was broken by?; Does that type of information matter?; Is the sentence The air is polluted. just a statement or are we interested in the reason why it is polluted and which factor it is polluted by?; What is the specific acceptation of the preposition by in the above utterances?; Which are the main components in the passive voice periphrasis?; How do they function?; Is closed a past simple or a past participle form and why?; Which component is the doer of the action?; Is closed down in the sentences The factory was closed down. and The factory is being closed down. an -ed -adjective or a passive voice structure component?; Why?; How is its status related to activity?; Translate exemplifying utterances into Bulgarian (and / or French).; How are meanings of forms dependant on activity / state relationships?

  • Problems related to passive structure formation

Bicycles were been produced instead of were being produced in that factory during the 1950s.

The chairs was damaged / instead of were damaged.

Spanish is speaking instead of is spoken in numerous Latin American countries.

A book was written about / by / from / for his uncle.



As we have established, passive periphrasis formation problems most frequently stem from the lack of understanding of its compounds and their functions. Overall meaning adjustment eliciting questions can likewise be used to facilitate and speed up encoding and decoding, e.g.: What is the role of the verb to be in passive periphrasis?; Is there such a compound form like were been?; Is there a compound form have been?; What does it express?; What tense / aspect restrictions does during the 1950s impose?; Does were being produced satisfy these restrictions?; What function does The chairs perform in the periphrasis?; Does it assume the activity passive result?; Is this component in singular or plural?; Does Spanish actively perform a process or play the passive subject role in the utterance?; How would you transform the wrong example into a correct one keeping is speaking?; What do the prepositions about / by / from / for mean?; What type of relationships do they express?; Which prepositions are possible in the example and why?; Which preposition will you use to mean that his uncle performed the activity?; What information changes does about introduce?; Can you translate correct examples into Bulgarian (and / or French)?; Comment on equivalents.

  • Failure to differentiate tense / aspect characteristics

The animal was hearing the noise and was disappearing / disappeared. instead of The animal heard the noise and disappeared.

She was turning and spoke to her neighbour. instead of She turned and spoke to her neighbour.



Need of componential analysis and adjustment of information bits into overall sentential message is here again exemplified, learners’ awareness of tense / aspect characteristics being enhanced and students’ production and reception being improved. We shall suggest similarly to above a few relevant elicitation questions, e.g.: Do hear and disappear express punctuality or a continuous activity?; Are they compatible with the continuous aspect and why not, most usually?; Provide examples in which disappear can express continuity.; Answer the same questions about turn.; Are activities in both utterances simultaneous or consecutive?; Are they finished or not?; Is there a connection between consecutiveness and completeness of processes?; Translate examples into Bulgarian (and / or French) using alternatively the aorist and the imperfect. How are meanings different?


6. Conclusion

The paper supports the argument of the occurrence of multilevel processes of encoding and decoding in both, language production and reception, which is proved by the necessity of individual componential meaning adjustment in the purpose of a coherent and meaningful message construction. Componential analysis in ELT (FLT) can be stimulated by means of further explanation and purposeful training through elicitation questions, often involving elements of contrastive and comparative teaching, that not only compel learners to analyze all message parts in terms of structure and semantics, but also help students to treat them as units building a whole. Thus, language communication proves to be much more varied, complex and intricate than technical message transfer, notwithstanding already presented common features of both information conveyance systems. It follows from presented observations that learners need to be trained equally well in productive as well as in receptive skills, on the one hand, and, on the other, they really have to become aware of inter-componential relationships within a message and learn how to fit the meanings of separate units into an orderly whole. This is a way to reduce "noise" to a considerable extent in production and in reception and, consequently, to contribute to message adequate expression and comprehension. This is also a method to promote learner independence, motivation and creativity.




1. Although Shannon & Weaver were not linguists, but engineers working for Bell laboratories (ref. Chandler 1995), the model they created played an important part in language communication theory development due to existing analogies. Both researchers had the objective of ameliorating telephone services, and the model they had developed proved really useful for that purpose; in case it is appropriately implemented, it can similarly lead linguists to fruitful insights in various spheres of linguistics and ELT (FLT). [back]

2. Ref. as to quoted researchers in Chandler (1995). [back]

3. Ref. as to quoted researchers in Linell (1982). [back]

4. Ref. in Linell (1982). [back]

5. Context represents to Richards (1936) (ref. Griffin 2011) "the cluster of events that occur together". To Griffin this "means that context is not just a sentence, or even the situation in which the word is spoken. Context is the whole field of experience that can be connected with an event - including thoughts of similar events." [back]

6. In line with Linell (1982) where the author holds that "...speakers elaborate their messages through the verbalization process itself, i.e. form and content are created simultaneously.’ [back]

7. Ref. Chandler (1995). [back]

8. Richards (1968) (ref. Griffin 2011) introduced this term to refer to reframing the message as a result of anticipating or pretesting receiver’s reaction. [back]

9. Ref. to language awareness (LA) procedures of grammatical communicative competence improvement in Ruzhekova-Rogozherova (2013b). [back]

10. Ref. Ruzhekova-Rogozherova (2013a) on LA enhancement through the application of CT (contrastive teaching) and CpT (comparative teaching). [back]

11. Ref. Ruzhekova-Rogozherova (2012a) on -ed/-ing adjectives, their essence, similarities to other categories as well as teaching suggestions. [back]

12. Learners may rephrase this way: She has worked ... since her coming back home (nominalization helps to realize the event since when a process has developed as a time point); The study will be likely ... as (due to the fact that) they have examined...; The fact that they have examined ... means that ...successful, etc. [back]

13. Ref. Ruzhekova-Rogozherova (2011) on contrastive teaching of English simple past and perfect. [back]

14. Ref. Ruzhekova-Rogozherova (2012a, 2012b) on deverbal adjectives and passive periphrasis contrastive and comparative teaching. [back]




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© Boryana Ruzhekova-Rogozherova
© E-magazine LiterNet, 08.12.2013, № 12 (169)