In part 1 of this series, I covered the general idea of language and drew some preliminary parallels between learning a language and learning to see photographically. In this second part, I will address the essential idea of a language and how we communicate. Much of this post comes from my days of teaching marketing communications including the graphic, although I drew it fresh!
The Essence of Communication
Communication is about creating “commonness” of ideas in our minds. A sender encodes a message and puts it in a medium, often interfered with by noise, which is anything that may interfere with the process. And a receiver intercepts the message, decodes it, and establishes the commonness of minds. It is imperative that for the communication process to succeed, the frame of reference of the sender and the receiver must overlap, preferably in a significant way.
If I want to share the charm of a nice flower in my backyard, I can cut it and bring it to you, and we share that common thought of a nice flower. I can share the size and skin detail of an elephant by taking you to the zoo, or how a ball bounces by throwing it at you. This is called object-oriented communication, and its limitation of only relating to objects are self-evident. We do not want to be limited in our communication to what we can see and touch, as object-oriented communication requires.
An improvement on this would be an iconic communication method, where agreed upon icons are used to convey ideas. A drawing of the flower above would create an icon, so will that of an elephant. Today, we use iconic communications in many places and many ways from road signs, to exit signs in buildings, to restrooms, and many, many more.
The limitations of object-oriented or iconic communications forced humans to develop symbolic communication methods, languages like English, Turkish, French, etc. The symbols we use in this kind of language are letters and words, which are used to convey ideas. Babies learn language initially with proximal (nearby) stimulus. When a baby is hungry, he starts to cry, which continues until he feels the nipple at the end of the bottle between his lips. After a while, he notices that as this flying object gets near his face, it eventually touches his lips and he satisfies his hunger. His mind has shifted from proximal stimulus to distal (remote,) simply seeing the bottle stops the crying. As time goes on, he starts associating some sound utterances like “here comes food” along with the flying object carrying his food and stops crying as he hears the same utterance “here comes food.” The communication has become progressively more abstract and moved to the symbolic domain.
This process continues while the baby learns the round bouncy thing as “ball,” the fuzzy four-legged thing that moves as “cat,” and the learning of the language continues with mistakes, confusion, mispronunciation, misuse as the baby grows. So far the baby has learned the spoken language and only to some extent. One thing in this process is very important to highlight: until the baby associates in his mind the round bouncy thing with the utterance of “ball” there is no meaning in the utterance. This may come as a surprise to you, but spoken or written words do not have meanings at all. They are merely symbols that trigger the meaning in the mind of the receiver. The education of the baby, then the child, and an adult continues along the similar ways as they acquire more “meanings” to be triggered by different symbols. So when we encode an idea in words, we are not sending a message but what we hope to trigger the message in the mind of the receiver. Bu cümle çoğunuza anlamsız gelecektir. In the previous sentence, I used a different encoding system from what you expect to receive; the sentence will be meaningless to most of you. Further proof that words do not have meanings in themselves.
Learning to See Photographically
This is the way of the language, any language. We agree to think of the same thing when we look at the same symbol (words in this case,) be it a bird, flower, lovers, baby, tree, skyscraper, … Through this agreement, the language emerges and is modified, enriched as new ideas become necessary to share. Early writers never needed to use nor did they know what a transistor, radio, LP, mp3, the Internet is. We added these and thousands of others to our languages as the needs arose.
This post is about the nature of a language and its most basic elements. In the next post, I will conclude by exploring how the language idea applies to photography. As the spoken or the written language consists of symbols used in encoding messages and decoded using the same paradigm, photography too has a way of using its symbols to encode and decode messages. That will be the subject of the next post.