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Precise communication

One of the major ways in which human beings communicate with each other is by the use of natural languages, with estimates indicating that the five most used of these natural languages are Mandarin, Hindi, Spanish, English and Arabic.

In as much as most natural languages are based on some grammar i.e. rules on their structure and use, it is highly likely that you will find that the concepts covered in this section are relevant regardless of your native language.

For our purposes here we'll discount the barriers to communication where the people communicating speak differing natural languages. Instead we'll look at some of the barriers to precise communication that exist even when the people communicating share a common native language, such as English. We'll then examine ways in which we can improve the precision of our communication with others.

First let's consider some of the factors which can make precise linguistic communication difficult to achieve:-

How many words in the English language?

Despite my best efforts I've failed to find a definitive answer to this question but the general concensus seems to be that there are, at the very least, a quarter of a million distinct words in the English language. The Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition (OED2) is cited in this Wikipedia article as including 600,000 word definitions. If distinct word senses are counted i.e. fast meaning speedy and fast meaning abstinence from food, the number would be closer to three-quarters of a million.

The map is not the territory

If you've studied the section entitled The map is not the territory you'll already appreciate the premise that we humans necessarily do not act directly on the world. Rather we build internal mental maps of reality which we use to guide our behaviour.

The information we store in our individual maps of reality is unique to each of us, having been subjected to the modelling processes of deletion, distortion and generalisation. Equally, the language which we use to describe to ourselves and communicate to others the information held in our unique model is subject to deletion, distortion and generalisation.

It is also important to note that the words we use have no meaning in and of themselves. Words are simply arrangements of symbols (26 of them in the English alphabet) arranged in recognisable groups to provide symbolic labels (words) which we humans apply to the infinite unique experiences which our world has to offer each of us.

Even though we share a common language therefore, because we each apply meaning to the words we use from our own unique, internal models of the world, the meaning of a particular word for one person can vary quite significantly from the meaning of that same word for another person.

Linguistic shorthand

Without even being aware of it when most people communicate linguistically with each other (or speak to each other if you prefer) they do so in what I've decided to label 'linguistic shorthand'.

Bandler and Grinder's first book on the subject - The Structure of Magic I, explains this in a far more elegant and detailed way than I can here, but I'll give you my description as a starting point.

To make this description easier to write, and hopefully in turn easier to follow, I'm going to ask you to forget that rather than describing something real, I'm describing a model which, if it were a true reflection of the actual mental processes involved, would produce the same observable results.

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