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A communicative situation can be defined as a complex of circumstances and conditions of the communication process. At a general level, a communicative situation involves the following elements [slide]: interlocutors, a subject/referent situation, a message, communicative channel[s], [the potential] for feedback, the chance of noise, place and time.
Interlocutors – partners of communication who are involved in the process. They can be single individuals, groups or even organizations. Communication researcher Wilbur Schramm, using ideas originally developed by psychologist Charles E. Osgood, developed a graphic way to represent the reciprocal way of communication. [slide] This depiction of communication shows that there is no clearly identifiable source or receiver. Rather, all the participants, or “interpreters”, are working to create meaning by encoding and decoding messages. A message is first encoded, than is transformed into an understandable sign and symbol system. Speaking is encoding, as are writing, printing, and filming a television program. Once received, the message is decoded; that is, the sign and symbols are interpreted. Decoding occurs through listening, reading, or watching that television show. The Osgood-Schramm model demonstrates the ongoing and reciprocal nature of the communication process. There is, therefore, no source, no receiver. As communication is happening, both interlocutors are simultaneously source and receiver. In interpersonal communication – communication between two or a few people – there is no feedback because all messages are presumed to be in reciprocation of other messages. Even when your friend starts a conversation with you, for example, it can be argued that it was your look of interest and willingness that communicated to her that she should speak. In this example, it is improper to label either you or your friend as the source – Who really initiated this chat? – and, therefore, it is impossible to identify who is providing feedback to whom.
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A subject or a referent situation is a fragment of physical or abstract reality which is in the focus of interlocutors’ attention. The elements of the communicative situation are not an exception, as they can also be focused on and discussed (for example, we can discuss this lecture-hall or the weather today). Ronald Langacker compares communicative interaction with “focusing camera lens” on a certain fragment: what interlocutors see “in the objective” is the subject or the referent situation. Interlocutors’ fixing their attention on the same referent situation is a prerequisite to a successful communication. Having in focus different fragments may cause communicative failures [screening “American Beauty”]. However, even when interlocutors are concentrated on the same reality fragment, it does not mean that they have the identical mental image or conception of this situation. This case is an ideal one which means it exists as an abstract and unattainable idea [slide]. According to Oleksander Opanasovich Potebnia to communicate does not mean to transfer your ideas to others, but to incite in others their own ideas. From this point of view, the identity of interlocutors’ thoughts is an exception, an illusion, and the meanings shared in the process of communication are corresponding but not identical [slide]. A reason is that interlocutors interpret situations, or see them from their individual points of view, or perspectives. Even occupying different places in space causes different perceptions of the world (remember the scene from “Dead Poets’ Society” [slide]), not to mention that we all have different physical features, knowledges, thoughts, make different evaluations, we are also bearers of typified characteristics (traditions, norms, values, habits, rituals, ideology) of the groups we belong to (according to our age, education, gender, race, culture, political convictions, religion, profession, social status and so on). To sum up, the understandings of a referent situation is limited by interlocutors’ perspectives. [slide from “Pulp Friction”]
Messagesare the actual physical products interlocutors produce. When we talk, our speech is the message. When we write an e-mail, what we put on the screen is the message. When our television presents Ukraine’s Got Talent, the programs are the message. Human being usually have a large number of messages at their disposal that they can choose to send, ranging from the simple but effective “No!” to something as complicated as Darwin’s On the origin of species. Messages can be directed at one specific individual (“You turkey!”) or at millions (People magazine). Messages can be cheap to produce (the spoken word) or very expensive (Jacques Tati’s Playtime: he had to create the enormous set, to shoot the film, to create sounds effects among all). Some messages are more under the control of interlocutors than others. Think about how hard or easy it is for you to break off communication during this lecture or while watching a TV commercial.
Communicative channelsare the ways the message travels to interlocutors. Sound waves carry spoken words; light waves carry visual images. Air currents can serve as olfactory channels, carrying messages to our noses – messages that are subtle but nonetheless significant. What kind of message do you get from someone who reeks of Chanel No. 5? Of champagne? Of garlic? Touch is also a channel (e.g. braille). Some messages use more than one channel to travel to the receiver. Radio signals travel by electromagnetic radiation until they are transformed by receiving sets into sound waves that travel through the air to our ears.
[The potential] for feedback.Feedback refers to those responses of an interlocutor that shape and alter the subsequent messages of another interlocutor. Feedback represents a reversal of the flow of communication. The original source becomes the receiver; the original receiver becomes the new source. Feedback is useful for the source because it allows the source to answer the question How am I doing? Feedback is important to the receiver because it allows the receiver to attempt to change some element in the communication process. However, if we remember our discussion concerning the Osgood-Schramm model of interpersonal communication, it is really hard to say in many cases who is the source, and who is the receiver, and, consequently, who provides feedback to whom. Feedback or information in return got by the receiver is a one-way process. Interpersonal direct communication is stimulated by interlocutors verbal and non-verbal reciprocal actions that influence the course of interaction.
Communication scholars have traditionally identified two different kinds of feedback – positive and negative. In general terms positive feedback from the receiver usually encourages the communication behavior in progress; negative feedback usually attempts to change the communication or even to terminate it.
Consider the following telephone call: [slide]
“This is Harold. I sit in front of you in econ class.”
“Are you the one who keeps scratching head with a pencil?”
“…Gee, I never noticed it. I guess I do it unconsciously. Say, I was wondering if you would like to have coffee with me sometime after class.”
“Are you kidding?”
Negative feedback. The original receiver terminated the message. Another conversation: [slide]
“Bambi, this is Rod.”
“Oh, hi, Rod. Has your leg healed up from the last game yet?”
“How are your classes going?”
“I can’t get econ.”
“I’ll be over in twenty minutes to give you some help. OK?”
Positive feedback. The original receiver encouraged the communication.
Feedback can be immediate or delayed. Immediate feedback occurs when the reactions of the receiver are directly perceived by the source. A speech maker who hears the audience boo and hiss while he or she is talking is getting immediate feedback. On the other hand, suppose you just watched the latest film at the cinema. Question: How can you provide your feedback? How different would that be without the Internet, in the pre-digital age? And now, why do you think I took [the potential] in square brackets? Comment: yes, if in the previous industrialized world with the production and distribution of mass products (records, tapes, CDs, DVDs and so on) the process of feedback was a long and sometimes an impossible one. In the post-industrial era, when artists upload their works directly on the Internet, have personal web-pages, anybody in no time can provide a feedback. So, the potentiality of audience feedback in the industrial world is substituted by its actuality in the post-industrial one. [Screening: Press. Pause. Play. “Industry is Dead” 16:47-24:20]
The chance of noise.Communication scholars define noise as anything that interferes with the delivery of the message. A little noise might pass unnoticed, while too much noise might prevent the message from reaching its destination in the first place. There are different types of noise. [slide]
Semantic noise occurs when different people have different meanings for different words and phrases. Some examples: If you ask a New Yorker for a “soda” and expect to receive something that has ice cream in it, you’ll be disappointed. The New Yorker will give you a bottle of what is called “pop” in the Midwest. An advertising copywriter penned the following slogan for a cough syrup company: “Try our cough syrup. You will never get any better.” Question: Think of your examples of semantic noise?
Channel noise interferes with the transmission of a message, e.g. radio static, a keyboard with withabrokenspacebar [slide], or T9 autocorrect device was the course of numerous funny or not always funny situations. In this connection I always remember the situation described in the book “99 Francs” by Frédéric Beigbeder when telephone subscribers were offered free connection if they agreed their conversations to be interrupted by advertisements. Likewise, we can all experience a stream of digital noise when we surf the net, when it is impossible, for example, to watch a film without watching an advertisement first. Question: Think of your examples of channel noise?
Environmental noise refers to sources of noise that are external to the communication process but that nonetheless interfere with it. Some environmental noise might be out of the communicator’s control – a noisy restaurant, for example, where the communicator is trying to hold a conversation. Some environmental noise might be introduced by interlocutors; for example, you might try to talk to somebody who keeps drumming his or her fingers on the table. A reporter not getting a story right because of a noisy room is an example of someone subjected to environmental noise. Question: Think of your examples of environmental noise?
Psychological noise is mental interference that prevents you from listening. If your mind is wandering when someone is speaking to you, the noise in your head is preventing communication.
Physiological noise is any physiological issue that interferes with communication. For example, if you have a migraine, it may be difficult to speak to others or listen to them when they speak to you.
Place and Timeof communication: where (the location of interlocutors in space, environment with its physical characteristics) and when (the part of the day, the season, as well as the historical, cultural, social and political period).
All the discussed elements of the communicative situation determine the form and the meaning of the message. For example, [screening “Great Gatsby”1]. Question: how do the message and its content change with the change in the time of screening this scene?
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